Y is for Yarmag, in Mongolia.
The taxi dropped me off in the middle of what would usually be the Mongolian steppe, near the village of Yarmag, somewhere outside the capital Ulaan Baatar. Usually the fields would be grass and empty of life as far as one could see. But now, in July, the land was occupied by yurts, people and horses- lots of horses.
Naadam festival was upon us, and the nomadic horsemen were here to compete, to tie their kids to horses and send them off on 20km races across the grassy steppeland to win the prizes, the honour, the glory, to enter into fable.
I was shooting a photo reportage of the Naadam festival, a black and white story with my trusty Leicas. I’d been to the training camps of the wrestlers, I’d seen the archers, I’d hired a jeep and gone out into the land they come from, and now I would shoot more horse photos.
The sun beat down mercilessly on the open expanse of land, burning all moisture from the red earth leaving only the dust, dust which would then be kicked up by every passing horse. It was one of those days which when finished I would be sunburnt, red ears, nose and neck, with dust in my ears, in my nose, in my hair.
I wandered in amongst the yurts, and even though hungry I avoided the dreadful food stalls. I shot images of youths filming their steeds with camcorders, images of horses having haircuts. I watched the races from the finish line, expectant crowds waiting, waiting, waiting for the first glimpse of horse coming back from some far off distant race- ‘there !” the cheer would go up, a horse was coming from a point on the horizon. It grew larger, the crowds surged forward, and now we could see the rider, the jockey- a mere toddler almost, a child of 4 or 5 years, tied to the horse, bouncing around in ungainly fashion, the horse taking them home. Men wore wide brimmed hats and flags fluttered, the landscape was wide and accommodating for the crowds and for my images. It was hard to go wrong.
I found an area where winning horses would go, people pushing to touch it, to touch the sweat of the animal, to feel the glory and to hopefully gain some of the tired, panting animal’s luck. The crowds pushed in, and men lashed out with horse whips, a riot of manes and tails and leather, men in Mongolian traditional coats, long knee length boots which looked like family heirlooms. Another roll of film, and another, and another.
Weary with luck, weary with walking I’d decided the day was spent, the moment gone, my energy reserves depleted. My white shirt was no longer white, my skin was now pink, my lips dried and burnt. Somehow I got back to the capital, a short drive away.
I headed for a Chinese restaurant I’d found and which had become my favourite eatery. I took a table, ordered food with a beer to wash it down. I emptied my films from pockets onto the white table cloth, and counted them, 17 in total. A good haul, enough that my left eye had the focussing square of the rangefinder burnt into my retina.
The food came, my favourite dish, chilli beef and rice. I’d ordered it in this restaurant three straight nights in a row, and now, for the third night it arrived in timely fashion, and now for the third time, the meal was something entirely different from all previous orders.
-You can also read a Naadam story here, on EPUK, about one particular image.