Nomadic Life in Mongolia

Cultural Immersion with A Nomadic Family

We here at BMI love to delve deep into the culture and ways of life of the people in the countries that we visit. Now, being back in the US I can reflect on just how special the people of Mongolia are. We were lucky to be invited into the inner nomadic sanctuary of the Mongolian people, into the lives of the families that live as they have for 1000's of years, and not much has changed.

Chimgee, a slender, pretty, tough as nails matriarch, wife and mother was our host for a couple of days in one of the homestay's during our trip. She was protective of her space but not in a cold standoffish way, more so in fact because this space is her and her families whole life. Where supplies, canisters, cups, plates, glasses, notebooks, and a single pen where coveted possessions for this nomadic family. To the extent that she was so happy to receive our empty plastic water bottles after we had finished drinking from them when we first got to her Ger (Yurt). She said that they would come in very handy when they had to move again as she exchanged them for a cup of hot yak milk tea to warm us up from our hike in. 

We immediately got into the swing of things and were helping out with the day to day chores that went beyond just cleaning up, these were to survive in the beautiful although sometimes harsh conditions. We all helped fetch water, 10 gallons at a time, to fill a larger 55 gallon drum to be used for bathing, cooking, cleaning and washing. To heat this water you need wood to burn in the central heater/cooker/ dryer/ warmer/ defroster appliance that is at the heart of their lives and survival. So we chopped and carried wood to fill her quota for the next couple of days, there was a lot of wood as the fire is kept burning 24/7.

This way of life is tough, especially for someone who lives in a completely opposite way where every convenience is right outside your front door, but for them its normal. They adapt to what their life is as we all do as human beings, we not only survive we thrive. Things were going to get a lot more interesting as we were told that it was now time to go herd the yaks. Chimgee and our guide Muugie asked if we wanted to go and without hesitation we unanimously said yes with a childlike enthusiasm that I think took them off guard.

We grabbed our headlamps, bundled up, and started hiking from the Ger. They explained that the yaks go where they want to so we would have to find them. They didn't seem to be in the usual vicinity so we continued to hike toward the mountain in the distance. The women, Chimgee and her sister who was now helping us, picked up the pace and started gaining ground in front of us and soon they were out of site but we could still hear the echoes of the calls they were making to communicate to each other and the yaks. It was a beautiful symphony of choreographed chaos.

Muugi stayed with us as we hiked up the steep mountain chasing the sounds of the yak calls and navigating our way in the freshly falling snow. It was getting dark and cold, the snow was coming down and we couldn't see very far in front of us due to the reflection of our headlamps on the falling snow. We had been at this for about 3 hours and no sign of the yaks, as far as we could tell, then out of no where we hear the hooves and grunts of the yaks running down the access path we were on straight toward us. We managed to leap on the side of the mountain, literally our bodys were laying slightly less that upright on the side of the mountain as support. We watched as the yaks stampeded past us, grunting and yaking, and as the last one passes Muggie yelled out "we must follow them down and herd them to the pen". So Muggie and I ran after the yaks, down the steep mountain with our headlamps guiding us across unfamiliar terrain.  The yaks were already down the mountain and headed back to their home which they knew exactly where it was even if i didn't. 

As I approached the flat area i found myself in a half frozen, swampy, muddy mess with my shoes completely covered in sludge, having to look down at the ground with the light to navigate where i was going as to not be gobbled up by the soft earth. It was at this moment I heard a loud, guttural grunt and as I looked up with my headlamp shining in his face there was a huge male yak staring me in the eye only a couple feet away. I could see the steam coming from its nose and its horns were long and curved up to a tapered point.  It was just him and I and he was letting me know I was about to be in his space. I said "hey little buddy, i mean no harm, just passing through" and with that I took a couple steps back as he went on continuing to eat. I stopped, pinched myself and in absolute amazement in the moment asked.... "where in the world am I"..... and in my head i had to remind myself of the bigger picture...I was on a mountain, in Mongolia, herding yaks, at night, in the snow, with a hot cup of yak milk tea and dinner waiting for me in the Ger... and in that moment I was so grateful, for life and this experience which I will treasure every time I tell the story! It was a magical night!

One Love-  Scott