Kate Humble Recounts
Living with nomads in Mongolia
“Kate Humble: Living with Nomads” was a series on BBC Two that aired in 2015. Kate travelled with Panoramic Journeys to Mongolia to experience nomadic life in one of nature’s harshest environments, the Gobi Desert. This is a must see for anyone interested in Mongolian culture or nomadic living. To find out what life was like whilst filming, we asked Kate to share her thoughts with us;
We gather that nomadic lifestyle has always intrigued you since you were a child, what is it that has drawn you?
I loved the idea of the freedom I assumed being nomadic gave you, the choice to move on whenever you felt like it, of not being constrained by the regulations of settled society. My childhood dream was to live in a horse-drawn caravan. I loved – and still love – the idea of having all you need in one small, mobile space.
How did experiencing life in some of the most inhospitable landscapes on the planet live up to your expectations?
Living with nomadic families, like the one in Mongolia, gave me a less fairy-tale insight into their lives. They have challenges and concerns just as we settled people do. The fact that they are mobile doesn’t mean they are constantly running away from responsibility. But what I did envy and admire in equal measure was the skills they had to allow them to live in remote places, and the connection and knowledge they have of their environment and the creatures they share it with. It is a hard way of life, but I still feel it is somehow more honest and more noble than the way we live. My dream is definitely not shattered!
Were there any differences between the three nomadic groups which really stood out for you?
The Mongolian herders were probably the most complex of the groups I travelled with. All of them are extremely well educated and absolutely have the choice and opportunity to take lucrative jobs in the burgeoning mining sector or elsewhere. Their choice to remain herders is clearly considered. I felt they remained herders, not simply because that was their tradition and culture – although that was hugely important to all of them – but because they had the skills, knowledge and experience to make it an entirely viable way of life.
What aspects of modern life were you most surprised to learn that the Mongolian nomads had adopted?
They had adopted some aspects of modern life to make life easier and more efficient – like mobile phones, satellite dishes and a 4WD truck, but they absolutely realised the value of their skills as livestock herders and how those skills allowed them to make a living without having to resort to working for someone else.
Do you think the Mongolian’s level of conformity with the modern world is likely to increase or can their way of life be more easily preserved than the other two you visited?
They were masters of their own destiny – something of which they were enormously proud. And it is this informed, educated choice to remain herders that makes me believe that it is a way of life that will – and can – continue, as long as their land and natural resources are not decimated by the mining industry.
What was the most challenging food you were confronted with in each country?
In Mongolia we were there at the time that some of the young animals as castrated. It is an important ceremony and many members of the family came to be part of it. By 11am I had eaten three sorts of testicle and drunk quite a lot of vodka. It was a memorable breakfast! In Siberia I was given raw reindeer liver and fish that was still frozen, neither of which I was particularly looking forward to eating, but both were surprisingly palatable. With the Raute in Nepal I went foraging with them and collected young fern fronds which they boiled and cooked with chilli. They were delicious, a bit like asparagus.
All opinions and thoughts come from Kate Humble as an individual and not the BBC