Land of the Reindeer
Deep in the taiga, also known as boreal forest, in the far north of Mongolia live around 40 reindeer-herding families. The Mongolians call them the Tsaatan, the “people with reindeer”, but they call themselves the Dukha. This journey is a multi-day horse trek into the wilderness where these people live. It is only accessible by horseback so some riding experience is required.
Split into two communities, the Dukha herd around 1,500 reindeer, moving between seasonal pastures. Taiga reindeer husbandry offers a viable and sustainable form of land use that has been practised for centuries in a fragile and vulnerable ecosystem. The reindeer are rarely killed for meat, but are relied upon for milk and transport. The Dukha follow a unique and endangered Shamanic tradition and the reindeer also play a central role in the Dukha’s social and spiritual life.
The Dukha face many challenges from unregulated mining, forest logging, loss of access to natural resources, climate change, and also tourism. Tourism can provide much needed income, but it also reduces the herders’ mobility as they choose to stay where they can be easily accessed. Although staying in one pasture for a long period can negatively affect reindeer health, herders feel they have no choice as they are dependent on the income. There is common consensus that increasing reindeer herd sizes is the main priority for the Tsaatan, but this is impossible whilst current migration patterns are followed.
With the Itgel Foundation, an American/Mongolian NGO, the herders built the Tsaatan Community Visitors Centre (TCVC) in Tsagaannuur village. Owned and operated by the Dukha the TCVC provided information, transportation and tour guide services to the Taiga. In this way horses, guides and cooks were trained and hired for visits to the communities. Sadly the organisation is no longer in operation due to most tourists organising their trip through outside companies or hiring wranglers in Tsagaannuur. In this way, apart from the sale of carvings and handicrafts, the Tsaatan are cut out of the value chain altogether.
Panoramic Journeys had always worked with the TCVC in visits to the Tsaatan. Now we hire guides, cooks and horses from the communities themselves, paying the Tsaatan families directly for hosting us in their tipis, showing us their homeland and way of life. We will ride deeper into the taiga to support herders in endeavouring to preserve the health of their reindeer in remote parts of the wilderness.
The Dukha believe that their ancestors’ ghosts live on in the forest as animals that give guidance to the living. Our visit is timed to coincide with the full moon, when the shaman communes with the spirits. Join us on this incredible journey to meet the oldest reindeer herding culture in the world.