Woody Packard

Words + Pictures

Khovd Again

Public Sculpture and Water Tank
It was a peculiar sensation landing in Khovd, stepping off the plane to a place where we lived, for almost a year, on our first visit to Mongolia. Even from the air descending through our approach, the land felt familiar in a way that it really shouldn't. This is not my country, and there are any number of visible reminders of that fact, even from several thousand feet in the air. Yet for the ten months that we lived here I made it my business to learn this land, to find out about the people who lived here, and to see it closely. Surely that investment counts for something.

Another workshop for Judy brought us back here for just a few days, and while she spent her time helping secondary school teachers with their struggle to build English vocabulary for their students, I spent my time catching up with the changes that have occurred in the time we've been gone.

For the ten months we were here, I marked some of the incremental changes that took place from a view I selected from the central square. In the nearly two years since my last exposures there, the change is abrupt. An electronics store has been built across the street from the Polytechnic College, new street lights have been installed, stone has been laid across much of the expanse that had been asphalt. Streets have been paved, and brick planters have been built between many sidewalks and the roads. Five voluminous sculptures have been built that double in function as cisterns, for watering plantings that have been made nearby. These, as well as many of the other construction projects, were just getting started as we left, a windfall from anticipated mine money and the fact that Mongolia's president comes from Khovd aimag, that have since dried up.

We got a chance to catch up with some people who we haven't seen since we left—teachers from the university and some from local secondary schools who we met through our Wednesday night Mongol-ish meetings; vendors at Ikh Buyant, as well as the ladies in the produce shed at the Big Market; students, mostly my freshmen, who are now juniors. I said hello to the portrait photographers who work, in all weather, in the square, and got a big hug, with a double-cheek kiss, from one of the construction workers who was laying stone around Galton Bushig's statue when I last saw him. Practically all of them we imagined we'd never see again once we left, so there were a few very emotional reunions. On our last night, teachers from the university took us out to dinner at a resraurant that didn't exist when we were there. News that I was learning the morin khuur had been leaked all the way across the country, and they presented me with a framed likeness of their national instrument made from black velvet and sequins.

Climbing, Looking Toward Bayan Ulgii
Finally, there was some unfinished business to take care of. Although Ulaanbaatar is surrounded by mountains, they are not anything like those that surround Khovd, which are not only strenuous physically, but steep enough to present a challenge in picking a route up and down—it's not the only reason I miss Khovd, but it is a big one. Northwest of town, across the Buyant River and hovering as though it is just a few minutes walk away (it's over an hour from its abrupt base to the square) is an un-named mass of rock that I had promised myself I would climb before leaving. For one reason or another the time just got away, and even though it was on my list of last minute things to do, other last minute things won out. This week I made just the right day of it, for the next day it was snowing.

Close Story—Back to Pictures

Khovd Again

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Mongolian Boot Cistern

Watermelon Cistern

Snuff Bottle Cistern


Cows, Shopping

Vendor, Vegetable Shed

Salt Vendor

Aika and her Daughter

Aika and her Daughter

Javkhlant, Judy

Judy, Davaa



Judy, With Tsagaana

Tsagaana, Family

Sarul, Yanjika, Barbies

Local Hero

Mountain, Northwest


Dust Devils, Khovd

Mountains, Southwest

Center, Update