The nomadic reindeer herders, the Dukha people, are some of the last people on earth who ride, hunt and live with the magnificent reindeer, relying on them for all aspects of daily life in an area called taiga. “Tsaatan” is the Mongolian name for the Dukha reindeer people, simply meaning “reindeer people” but they call themselves Tuva, and the language they speak is Tuvan. There are only around 40 families who still live as nomadic herders, and visiting them is an experience that makes you stop and think about your place in the world
From Ulan Bator to the remote plains.
The remote plains and stark countryside spread out in every direction, finally winding through mountains, forests covered in an orange carpet of pine needles, gently bubbling streams and frozen valleys, to eventually reach the lands of the reindeer. But finding a group of isolated and nomadic people in a place as remote as Mongolia is not easy, but with an experienced guide and pack horses you will eventually come across narrow, well-worn tracks that bring you to a wild, windy and rocky land, high in altitude.
A strange yet magical world
Your first experience with the reindeer herders will seem like a strange and unfamiliar world, yet inspiring to realise that people spend their lives with the harsh realities of the terrain and climate.
Each night, hundreds of reindeer are herded down to a pen at camp, milked and tied up safely to protect them from the wolves which roam the countryside.
Inside a teepee, crowded around a fireplace, you’ll get to experience true hospitality of a Dukha family and have the chanceto eat reindeer cheese, fried flatbreads (gambir) and donuts (bortsuk) and even “suutei tsai” tea made with reindeer milk.
Each family has their own incredible stories to tell, thanks to a long heritage of traditional hunting, craftsmanship and reindeer herding. If you’re lucky you might get to hear stories from a shaman, sometimes lighting a mysterious foot-long pipe while telling you about their religious beliefs.
A Strong Connection To Nature.
Visiting the Dukha, it’s striking how much their lives differ from ours. Their community revolves almost entirely around the reindeer, which are almost considered almost as family members, and provide the means to survive by providing milk, transportation and meat.
And it’s the reindeers that are one of the highlights of Mongolia. Spindly, bow-legged, reindeer with their strange grunting bark echoing through the forest are everywhere - towing wood to make tepees; heading to the river to fetch water; mother and baby animals grazing together, intertwined velvety antlers silhouetted against the sky.
The next generation of the resourceful Dukha are attempting to balance their lives between a modern education and traditional ways of life. As the link to the outside world, they are trying to encourage sustainable tourism while staying true to their ancestral heritage and strong root - in many ways, the fate of their culture and the reindeer themselves depend on it.