A photographic journey to The Land of the Blue Sky

A journey to a faraway land. Here is an invitation to journey in time and space, a captivating ride through an immense territory of steppes and mountains, in a country that was at one time the cradle of the largest Empire in human history. Mongolia: a single word that kindles your imagination.

Pilgrim on his way westwards

The country, surrounded by Russia in the north and China down south, has been independent since 1911 and became a democracy in the early 1990’s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Indeed, Mongolia came quickly under Russian influence, being what we called a satellite state. One might deservedly wonder why on earth I am, while chewing dried curds made on yak and camel milk, talking about this and how it can be related to the Cultural Heritage Group.


Throat singing (Khöömii), a tradition in Mongoliahttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXoVcZDkAHQ

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In 1985, about 800 hundred negatives of photographs were donated to Uppsala University Library by a 95 year old man named Joel Eriksson. Although blind at the end of his life he was able to depict each picture about his personal experiences and adventures in “the Land of the Blue Sky”.

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When I came upon this collection, I was instantaneously mesmerized by the faces and landscapes, these moments of life captured through the eyes of a sensitive and undoubtedly talented photographer who stayed around 25 years in this country, which is still nowadays the one of the least densely populated in the world.


A young prince (1936)

Tibetan Buddhism, which was subjected to religious repressions during the communist era, is the main religion in Mongolia. However, missionaries has been regularly sent there to try to spread the Christian religion.


1923-24 four children from an orphage

Joel Eriksson, Swedish citizen born in 1890 in a small village in the north of Uppsala, was one of these propagators.


In 1910, the Swedish Mongolian Mission (a protestant society founded in 1897) sent him to the Livingstone College, London, in order to acquire a missionary and medical education. Four years later, he arrived in Mongolia. On the train trip from Helsinki to Beijing he met Annie Almquist, a Swedish missionary too, that became his wife in 1918.




The expatriate and his family were highly appreciated among the Mongolians; Joel’s medical skills were especially well liked.





Blues master Paul Pena and throat singing master Kongar-ol Ondar : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVfzQVlVAUA

In 1938, Joel, Annie and their children returned to Uppsala. The Swedish Mongolian Mission was closed in 1942 because of the Japanese occupation.

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After the World War II, Joel Eriksson tried to reorganize the activities but the civil war in China made it impossible. He continued his work for the missionary society in Sweden and died in Uppsala 1987 at the age of 97.

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Don’t forget to have a look on the database where you can find few pictures of this wonderful collection.

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My warm thanks to Åsa Henningsson, head of the maps and pictures department, for her precisous help.



The cave of the yellow dog, a Mongolian/German movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xlan8eCU-sE