The Nomadic Herder of Mongolia

King of the vast steppes, master of a thousand herd: he is Mongolia‘s nomadic herder.

Armed with a pole-guided lasso, the herder picks a goat from the herd

I’ve been visiting Mongolia since 2004 and had literally taken hundreds of pictures of this exotic land of Genghis Khan. From the cold, crowded streets of the capital city of Ulan Bator, the dunes of the Gobi Desert, the land of horse-eating Kazakh tribes of Bayan Olgii, and the vast lakes of Uvs and Khuvsgul provinces — each trip was always an unforgettable adventure, each photo taken always worth a thousand words.

The chosen goat was lassoed and dragged away from the herd

The goat is led to the nomadic camp. It will be herder family's food for a few days.

I was fortunate to have visited a herder camp in the Central Aimag (province) during my last visit in 2009. I was busy with my work  in Ulan Bator during most of my 2-month visit but a good friend and I were able to squeeze in a short drive to the steppes one weekend to visit another old friend who lived among nomadic herders.

The vastness of the Mongolian steppes is almost indescribable and the absence of both natural or man-made landmarks makes finding a herder camp in these infinitely wide open spaces literally comparable to finding a needle in a haystack.  We had a small problem when we lost track of our guide car but fortunately it was in an area where the mobile phone had a signal and our guide eventually found us again after several exchange of calls.  My momentary anxiety, however, was immediately rewarded with fantastic photo ops including the one in my blog header above (see my page “Equestrian Moon).

The herder camp we visited. The white nomadic gers (felt tents) are clustered in a strategic location in the middle of the steppe. It can be noticed that one herder has taken to using a motorbike instead of a horse.

I chose to start off my Mongolia series with the photos of this nomadic herder who, after doing one of the chores for the day which was to catch a goat from the herd for the family’s food; posed and showed his moves for my camera atop his Mongolian horse without so much of a communication with me other than a faint smile on his pinkish, wind-swept face.

The pink marks on a herder's face are said to be caused by the skin's extended exposure to the cold wind in the steppes.

The "delh" - the thick robe-like coat -and leather boots are the herder's main protection from the elements.

Unlike those used by western cowboys, the nomadic herder's lasso is attached to a long pole which is used both to prod and to catch the animal.

The Mongolian horse is modest in size but is legendary and believed to have played a major role in Genghis Khan's military campaign across most of Asia and parts of Europe. The horse can travel great distances and is able to withstand inclement weather including extreme winters where temperatures can drop to as low as -50 degrees Celsius. Understandably, for most part of the steppe life, it's the horse which makes the herder king.

Author’s Note:  I chose to start 2012 with this post which is the first of a series of photo essays about Mongolia.  I will be  focusing the series on some interesting topics about this exotic land using photos taken during the several visits I made since 2004.  I hope you’ll have fun and share the experience with me.  Happy new year! 🙂