Visiting the Reindeer Herders
on Sarah in Mongolia (Mongolia), 03/Aug/2010 11:35, 34 days ago
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I took a Russian jeep from Khatgal at the end of the Khuvsgul lake 12 hours drive to the most Northerly town in Mongolia - Tsaagan Nuur. Tsaagan Nuur is the starting off point for all trips into the Northern Mongolian border areas close to Siberia(taiga). Before the border with Mongolia was properly established many of the herders who lived with their reindeer around the border area moved back and forth between the two countries. During the war many fled to live in Northern Mongolia - the only area that has the food and climate the reindeer need to survive.In November I met a Mongolian girl who had studied in the US before and she was dating a reindeer herder and would be returning to the Taigai to live with him. She invited me to visit them at any time and I decided to take her up on that.The herders move 6-8 times a year between different camp sites where they set up their tepees at varying distances from the town, and in mid summer they are at the furthest point meaning it was an 8 hour horse ride up to the camp site. It is also one of the wettest parts of Mongolia so it is 8 hours of horse riding through marshy wet swamps, what fun! And there was no nice cushion on my saddle and it was horribly uncomfortable!! However the scenery was beautiful, mountains, lakes and lots of greenery. There were even still blocks of snow and ice on the hills in mid August!The camp was set up with 11 families all living in tepees! It was a magical view. Zaya and her boyfriend invited me to stay with them in their teepee which was fantastic and they fed me really well as well!!Unfortunately for the first day and a half it rained constantly which meant that the reindeers were out grazing and many of the visitors missed seeing any reindeers at all! So that meant we spent the day doing indoor "womens tasks"!! This meant cooking bread on a stove, lunch, cleaning and then watching Zaya's boyfriend doing his carving. There are very few ways for the herders to earn money so selling their carvings to visitors is one of the few ways they can earn, so they work hard at this.Amazingly they also have TVs and satellites so we did some TV watching and card playing too. To be honest it was nice to have a good break after such a long few weeks of travelling.Luckily the weather improved and I got a day and a half of beautiful weather and the reindeer spent the time down around the camp. There was one day where I was the only tourist there, and as a friend of Zaya I wasn't seen as a tourist and so I was able to get hands on involved in the running of the camp. We caught the reindeer, milked the Mum's, ate lots of bread and milk tea and walked up the surrounding hills. It was a fun 2 days of playing house, but not something I would want to have to do every day!Unfotunately I did have to leave eventually and we managed to do the ride down in 6 hours - the fastest time ever apparently with a tourist! I then had to get from the drop off point to the town. The only transport available was a motorbike which was held together with masking tape!! With only one topple we made it to the crazy ferry, which we boarded along with 4 other motorbike and 6 horses and which was pulled across the river!I was supposed to get back to the town and head out the next day, unfortunately I had to wait around for 3 days for a lift to the big town. Tsaagan Nuur was a small town and there was not even an internet cafe to hang out in. It was a very long 3 days! But I eventually got a lift on a poragon (russian minivan) which left at 6pm and took 15 hours to get there, with 2 flat tires, the second of which we tried to fix by gluing the two flat tires together - this was of course not a success!!I made it into town just in time for the bus back to Ulaanbaatar with about an hour to spare. Of course this meant I was too late to get a seat on the bus, the only seat left was in the aisle. I really didn;t want to have to wait another day so I took the seat on top of a box in the middle of the aisle. It was a very long, very bumpy 20 hour journey back to UB and by the time I got back I was ready to never leave again! Except I was locked out of my apartment. Needless to say it was not a great return!