As a travel photographer and filmmaker, I have had the privilege of traveling to some very cool places. One country I can’t seem to get away from is Mongolia — for the last three summers, I have spent at least one month there filming different projects for the Mongol Ecology Center, an environmental NGO. This year, I was tasked with filming a motorcycle rally through the iconic Gobi Desert on the way to Otgontenger Mountain. Even though I had been to Mongolia before, this journey south was going to be very different from my previous trips to the northern Mongolian taiga.
The goal of this trip was to deliver 10 motorcycles to park rangers in Otgontenger’s protected area. The rangers usually patrol on foot or on horses, so having an all-terrain vehicle like a motorcycle would make their work a lot easier. The event is called Rally for Rangers. So far, this event has brought 47 Yamaha AG200 motorcycles to park rangers in Mongolia. The motorcycles are delivered at no cost to the rangers and are maintained with parts provided by Mongol Ecology Center.
Sleeping in a ger is a very different experience from sleeping in a camping tent. There are carpets for floors, usually gaps in the doorway, and the ceiling has an opening for the stove pipe so you can see the stars — it’s best to avoid sleeping under that opening when it rains.
The next day we departed at 9 AM after a hearty breakfast. We were about to enter the Gobi Desert, which was something I had been wanting to do for 10 years.
We made it to the singing sand dunes later that day. I immediately pulled my drone out of the back and started burning battery packs to get the sun setting and some choreographed shots of the riders.
We left the singing sand dunes the next day and started to make our way north towards the mountains.
The hospitality of the Mongolian people is like no other. We would come across small homesteads and the inhabitants would invite us into their homes and offer us cheese curds and airag (fermented horse milk). They would change the entire course of their day because a stranger had arrived.
Our last day was a long 300-kilometer stretch of patchy roads and river crossings into the mountains where rangers were patiently waiting for their new (slightly broken-in) motorcycles.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a big group and dinner party. I was looking forward to my first proper meal in 7 days, but first, I needed to capture the large glacier-covered mountain in the background that I had come so far to see.
The next day, we headed to Otgontenger mountain. The riders took their bikes and I followed in the support vehicle with my driver Boro to the Sacred Lake at the base of the mountain. The lake is a place of offering and is off limits to women.
I spent the next few days at Otgontenger filming my interviews and shooting as much as I could. There was a large ceremony where the riders handed off the bikes to the park rangers, who were thrilled.
On our last night at the base of the mountain, a party was thrown in honor of the riders and the crew. The night was filled with throat singing, traditional dance performances, and traditional Mongolian food.
I never thought I would go to Mongolia once, let alone three times, but when you go to Mongolia, you leave a piece of your heart behind and you always return to retrieve it.