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  • Wandering life: the nomadic people of Mongolia

    For thousands of years, the peoples living in the stepped of Central Asia have followed their own path, living by their own traditions, without letting themselves be influenced too much by the ever changing ‘modern’ standards of living. For many of us, life outside urban settlements, without cars, sky-scrapers, internet, appliances and gadgets seem almost unimaginable, but nomads are the living proof that life in close communion with nature is indeed possible even today, and some argue that it’s even more enjoyable and uplifting that our so called ‘civilized’ lives. If you want to experience the nomadic lifestyle, you can join an eco-tour, but you might as well go on your own if you’ve got the guts. All you need is a Mongolian phrasebook, a well-stocked backpack and resilience.

    Adapting to a nomadic lifestyle is hard to imagine in the western world, but inĀ  Mongolia it isn’t unusual to lead a nomadic life, seeing as about half the population is still roaming the vast steppes. Nomads move several times a year.

    They live by their livestock, so when there’s no more food for the animals in one place, they move where the grass in greener. Most nomads farm sheep and goats for milk and meat, staple items in their diet, and the skins of the animals are used to craft various things and to cover the gers.

    Goats are more difficult to raise than sheep, but their meet is more appreciated, and besides, their coats are used to make cashmere (Mongolia is one of the biggest cashmere exporters in the world). Gers are more commonly known under the name of yurts, but the Mongolians themselves resent the term because it’s of Turkish origin.

    If you want to travel the steppes o Mongolia, there are some etiquette issues that you should be aware of. First of all, i you happen to pass a ger, it’s rude not to stop by. Hospitality is a big thing among Mongolians, and it’s not polite to not even taste the refreshments you’re offered.

    When shaking hands, always take your gloves off, even if it’s in the middle of winter. Also, if you want to thank your hosts, it’s impolite to offer them money, so you should offer some gifts instead. And speaking of money, if you want to buy something, dollars might not get you very far, as nomads often barter their goods.

    It’s not a piece of cake to carve a living in the steppes at the best of times, and in winter it can be positively dangerous to visit for someone who is not used to very low temperatures. It’s not easy at all even for the nomads, who have been living this way for generations.
    So if you’re serious about visiting Mongolia, you should do so in the summer, when the weather is milder, or in autumn, when the steppe is at its most beautiful (bring layered clothing, because temperatures can vary a great deal).

    All in all, you shouldn’t worry too much about visiting Mongolia. Ulan Bator is a great city, full of expats who fell in love with the country and stayed there, but if you want to see the real Mongolia, don’t bother spending too much time in urban areas. You’ll meet the friendliest people in Asia and you’ll get the chance to discover an amazing culture!

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