Hooked on airag,
fermented mare’s milk:
Marc Steinmetz and
writer Ralf-Peter Märtin


I’ve always wanted to do a ‘dirt story’, a
picture story on an archaeological subject.
The assignment I got, though, was a tough
call. Apart from a few dozen people digging in
the dirt there was little to see in Karakorum.
No spectacular artifacts, nor graves, nor
picturesque temples. ‘Dirt stories’ can push
you to your limits when you’re not dealing
with a magnificent royal tomb and you’re
running on a budget too tight even for an
aerial shot from a helicopter.
     With every story I do the same questions
keep haunting me: How to translate the topic
into exciting images? How to visualize the
invisible? All this brooding even keeps me
awake nights. Those ten days in the ancient
Mongolian capital were no exception.
     I had hoped to find remnants of the past
living on in today’s traditional crafts, but
there weren’t any to be found in the area. So
I retreated to an idea which I had developed
earlier: to evoke the spirit of the palace’s
architect by a simple yet elegant mirror trick.


The dogs that rule Khar Khorin at night are
responsible for the most exciting adventure
I experienced there. Thousands of them roam
about in wolflike packs and keep you awake
with their incessant howling and barking.
     One midnight after an elaborate night shot
at the KAR2 dig I walked the 3 km back to
the hotel, weighed down by heavy equipment,
when all of a sudden a pack of dogs went
after me! Barking, growling, snarling. And
damn fast! My ballast made running away
impossible and my shouting didn’t impress
them much. The only option I had was to
fight. When they had almost reached me
I went berserk, and before I knew what was
happening I roared like mad and roundhoused
my tripod and heavy Maglite torch.
     That worked! The bastards fell back
angrily and I was able to retreat, walking
backwards, always keeping an eye on them.
Back at my hotel yurt I was mighty proud of
myself, but my knees wouldn’t stop shaking
for quite a while.