Sun, Oct 16, 2011 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE:Mongolia turns to tourism to augment rural incomes

Reuters, The Gobi, Mongolia

Gantsetseg, a member of a camel-herding family, milks goats in the Gobi in Mongolia on Sept. 19. Some of Mongolia’s nomads are offering homestays to supplement their incomes.

Photo: Reuters

The carcass of a freshly slaughtered goat lies under the bed in a nomadic family’s ger in Mongolia as the sleeping bags of visitors are rolled out on the floor next to its remains. Its head, with fur and horns intact, lolls in a corner by the door.

The temperature is near freezing, but the felt-lined, wood-lattice structure provides shelter from the blustery winds of the Gobi. The thick portable tent of the typical nomadic home traps both heat and the gamey smells of mutton boiling on the stove and strips of meat hung from the ceiling. Milk in a large cloth sack is left to strain into a metal bucket nearby.

While the Mongolian government relies on the country’s resources such as gold, copper, coal and other minerals to attract foreign investment, some of its nomadic population are offering homestays to supplement their rural incomes, capitalizing on the opening up of their country.

“We are happy to let visitors stay in our ger. In Mongolia, we can drop in on friends and people can visit us without any notice,” said Tovshinto Vaanchig, a 51-year-old horse herder who also owns sheep and goats.

However, getting to the homestays, often in the herders’ own one-room gers, remains tough.

Visitors must endure hours in four-wheel drives on bumpy terrain across sweeping steppes. The landlocked country remains in a time warp, with many of its people living side-by-side with animals and retaining old traditions.

Tour guide Oyunbolor Demberel and her father, Demberel Otgon, rely on tourists who want to see the unspoilt natural wonder of the Gobi’s sand dunes, mountains and steppes for work during a few months each year from May to September.

After a few hours of driving around a region of the desert inhabited by horse herders, Otgon finds a family who have suitably calm, wild horses for tourists. Mongolian children learn to race these small horses when they are about six years old and many are expert riders who use no saddle.

Apart from horses, cows, goats and sheep, Mongolia’s herding economy depends on the hardy, two-humped Bactrian camel which is indigenous to Central Asia.

Enktuya Borokhin, 52, is the matriarch of a camel-herding family. She moved six weeks ago to find pasture for 400 animals and will relocate again in a month in search of better shelter for winter. The Gobi has extreme temperatures, from minus-40?C in winter to more than 40?C in summer.

Borokhin’s tourist ger is spartan, but the walls are decorated with colorful cotton cloth from China. The family moves their only stove into the ger for guests and end up cooking all their hot meals with their visitors.

The daily staple is meat, such as mutton and goat, although Mongolians also eat camel, horse and beef. Milk tea is commonly served with curd and fried biscuits.

They cook a stew by candlelight. As night falls, the camp eases into sleep, lulled by sounds from braying camels to barking dogs.

Borokhin is up at dawn when the sun pokes through the horizon in a soft haze of pink.

Her daughter Gantsetseg skillfully lines up goats for milking behind the gers. The necks of the animals are tied with rope woven so that they are lined up in two rows facing one another. The milk, cheese and other animal produce, including wool, are sold.

Borokhin says she is pleased that three of her children are studying agriculture and technology in the city, while three others have chosen to live in the countryside as herders.

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