Mongolian Nomads - Last Of The Eurasian Nomads

Visiting Mongolia to see Mongolian nomads and their culture?

As you travel through Mongolia, you will have many opportunities to enjoy nomadic hospitality.

Many tour companies can even arrange for you to stay with Mongolian nomads.

Below you will discover the best time to visit, what a nomad uses for money, and what they put in their tea...

Nomads' Land

Mongolian Nomads Land And Gers

Mongolia has a lot of land: central Mongolia contains vast unfenced steppe; in the North lie ancient coniferous forests; in the South the Gobi desert; and in the West, snow-capped mountains.

But Mongolia has little farming land and so can only support a small population. In fact, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world! The population that does live here has developed a life of nomadic herding.

A Nomads' Work - Nomadic Herding

A typical nomad family has about seven members, and several hundred head of livestock. Mongolian nomads spend all day looking after their animals - herding, combing, milking and hunting.

For transportation, nomads use two-humped camels to carry heavy loads over long distances. Their sports car is the horse, providing the nomads with fast efficient transport.

Mongolian Nomad Catching Horse With Lasso

Their livestock supply all their needs: dairy products, meat, candy, clothing, alcohol, and even building materials.

Sheep provide the nomads with meat, leather and wool - which they turn into insulating felt for their homes. Goats provide milk and cashmere, the value of their wool literally saving their hide. Cows and yaks provide milk and leather.

Nomad Food And Drink

Mongolia's national dish is mutton. A family of seven can live of a single sheep for two weeks. The traditional winter menu amounts to one cow and seven sheep.

Sound appetizing?

Maybe not! But the nomads discovered the benefits of a high protein diet millennia ago - they look slim, have bright eyes, and sparkling white teeth.

And what nomads know is healthy, they also want to share. Delicacies you could encounter include...

  • Airag - fermented mares' milk and a national favorite. Though they deny it, the alcoholic content often matches beer - try some and see!
  • Aaruul - nomads use yak and cow's milk to make yogurt, cheese and aaruul. Aaruul is the nomads' candy. It is made by leaving squares of cheese to dry in the sun and wind on the roof of a ger. Once dried, aaruul becomes as hard as stone. Take care; you don't want to break a tooth!
  • Marmot - nomads fill marmots with hot stones and cook them from the inside out.
  • Tea - Mongolian tea consists mainly of milk with a little water. Instead of sugar they add salt!

A Nomads Home - The Mongolian Ger

Mongolian Nomad's Ger And Camel

Nomads live in a circular white tent called a ger, or yurt by the Russians and Turks.

Mongolian nomads assemble their homes without using a single nail. It can survive high winds in spring and minus-fifty Celsius in winter.

A typical ger's furnishings include a central stove, several beds, and the family altar. Although never locked, every ger also has a wooden door!

But some Mongolian nomads live in a quite different tent. The reindeer people live in homes which look remarkably similar to American Indian tepees!

Nomad Etiquette

Nomadic etiquette works differently from what you're used to.

Mongolians traditionally believe in a mother earth and father sky. In between, a host of spirits inhabit and govern all that we see.

These beliefs have led to a deep respect for nature. Mongolian tents do not even pierce the earth.

If that surprised you, you'd better read on...

  • If you pass an empty ger, it's rude NOT TO walk in and help yourself to refreshments!
  • Never shake hands with gloves on, even if it's winter and minus-fifty Celsius!
  • Never stand on a threshold - the base of the wooden frame which forms an entrance. You should also follow this practice when visiting an apartment.
  • Move around a ger in a clockwise direction.
  • Follow your hosts lead and receive food or drink with the right hand or with both hands.
  • You don't have to eat and drink what you're given but at least have a sip or nibble.
  • Always tuck your feet out of harms way, whether kneeling or sitting.
  • Men traditionally sit on the left of a ger (the west side); and women on the right side. The North side accommodates the family altar and honored guests.
  • It's impolite to offer adults money. You can give gifts of money to Children who will pass it to their parents once you have left.

Nomad Money

If you could buy an Apple Mac on the steppes of Mongolia, a few thousand dollars won't get you far. But a herd of goats might! Mongolian nomads operate a barter economy.

There are some nomadic traders who earn hard currency by selling cashmere. Mongolian nomads lead the world in cashmere production.

When To Visit

Mongolian nomads survive in the winter and thrive in the summer.

Winter sees temperatures drop as low as minus-fifty Celsius! If you want to visit in the winter, I recommend visiting the reindeer herders.

Spring sees sandstorms that can make a black goat white! If you like chasing dust devils, and enjoy the taste of sand, visit in spring.

Summer sees by far the best weather - temperatures hover in the twenties, and humidity is low.

You will see the Mongolian steppe at its most beautiful in autumn. Autumn temperatures can vary a great deal. Make sure you bring enough layers to suit all situations.

Check out my Mongolia weather page for more information.

Have You Met Mongolian Nomads?

Tell us about your experience. You can share your photos too!

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