8 Things To Do While Staying With Nomadic Family

8 things to do while staying with nomadic family

8 things to do while staying with nomadic family

A very special way to discover the lifestyle and traditions of the Mongols is to homestay few days with nomadic families.

Mongolian nomads live in ger, a round felt-covered dwelling, which has been used by Central Asian nomads for centuries. The word ger is literally translated as home in Mongolian, while its Turkish term “yurt” means homeland. Indeed, the ger provides shelter in a landscape that is both beautiful and harsh. Without visiting this ancient accommodation and meeting families living there, one would never truly get an honest taste of the nomadic lifestyle that Mongolians still treasure to this day. About three- quarters of the country's population are estimated to be living as nomadic herders. These people are renowned for their wonderful hospitality towards visitors, because of their tradition of helping one another and isolation from the outside world. And we present you 9 things you can experience while staying with Mongolian nomads.

1. Taste Mongolian milk tea along with other treats

Mongolian climate requires nomads to follow a high protein diet. Therefore, stimulating hot beverage is crucial in cold winter, and the Mongols opted to drink milk tea on a daily basis. There are at least 15 different variations of milk tea depending on the components and brewing techniques. However, in general, families of the Western mountainous regions prefer a thick, salty tea that can replace a light meal while herders along the Eastern steppe make a thin and non-salty tea brewed from loose leaves. Mongolians also enjoy their milk tea with some meat dumplings, turning it into a hearty meal. The complex ingredient of milk tea can include meat dumplings, ribs, tail fat, rice, or millet, and some dried meat. Customarily, the Mongols have to offer any visitor a cup of tea without asking whether she or he would like to drink or not. As a gesture of appreciation, you would have to take a sip before placing it on a table. As the milk tea is white in color, it is considered a symbol of pure-heartedness and good fortune. Thus, when someone goes for a long journey, family members spray tea or milk to the direction the traveler is departing to wish good luck. Other treats you will be offered will include homemade bun, foods based on curd and meat. 

Nomadic woman making milk tea

2. Cook Mongolian food & make dairy products

When you stay with a nomadic family, you can always help them prepare dinner. In our era of globalization, much of Mongolian cuisine remains peculiar to the outside world, just like its people. The traditional meals are tasty and rather simple comprising mainly meat, flour, rice, and few vegetables, including potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions.  The most popular Mongolian dishes are Buuz and Khuushuur. The principal difference between them is that buuz is steamed whereas the huushuur is fried. Indeed, it is basically a dumpling filled with minced mutton or beef, which is flavored by salt and onion. The khuushuur is the nation’s version of a handheld meat pastry similar to Russian and Turkic cuisine. Mongolians believe that eating hot food with their hands increases blood circulation and energy. Other common dishes combine the meat with rice or fresh noodles made into various stews. Noodle cooked with beef or mutton and a dash of carrot and potatoes, is the man’s favorite dish in Mongolia. The meatiness of the stew blends with the opposing flavor of vegetable and generates a distinctive taste. The traditional soup is a mutton soup served with noodles and vegetables. As the soup is deemed to be full of nutrition, it is given to women upon giving birth. And you can also learn various techniques of making dairy products, distilling vodka in a traditional way, fermenting mare’s milk to make airag. Traditionally, everyone passing by a family making airag must help with the stirring to ensure that all portions of the milk are fermented evenly. The airag, Mongolian’s summer drink, is served mostly in summer during the Naadam festival, weddings, and other celebrations.

Tourists making Mongolian dumplings

3. Assist nomads with herding and other special events

In contrast to its 3 million human population, Mongolia houses more than 70 million livestock, comprising sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and camels. On average, one Mongol herding household of 5 members owns over 300 animals. And looking after the herd is a lot of work for the family. Thus, they are always grateful if someone offers them a helping hand with daily tasks, like herding yaks or cattle, milking cows, and collecting water or fuel for the fire. Even if you have never experienced nomadic lifestyle before, the family will always find work suitable for you. Or better, they would not really mind teaching you themselves. The Mongol herders are extremely self-sufficient, operating almost everything with hand tools. They shear their sheep with a pair of scissors in early summer, comb their goats for cashmere in late spring, and brand their foals in autumn.  By participating in nomadic families’ daily lives or special events, one would certainly connect with them on a different level and create a lifelong memory.

Helping Mongolian nomads with milking cows

4. Learn Mongolian horse culture and horsemanship

Mongolians use a rather "hands-off" method to her and care for their horses. In Mongolia, barns, pastures, and stables are not common. Horses live outdoors all year, dealing with temperatures from 45 °C in summer, down to −45 °C in winter. Horses are not bathed or fed special foods like grain, vegetables, or hay. They graze on the steppes and dig through snow with their hooves to find grass to eat in winter. For water, they eat snow or drink from rivers and lakes. Since they cost little to nothing to raise, horses are not a luxury item like in Western culture.  The horses that are ridden daily are mostly tied up to a hitching post. The rest of the horses roam freely on their own, without much supervision from a herdsman. Children in the countryside learn to ride horse when they are 3 to 5 years old and start racing from 6 to 12. When you stay with a horse breeder family, you can ask them to find you a horse that fits your riding skills and their kids can accompany you to teach about Mongolian horses.

Learn Mongolian horse culture from nomadic families

5. Play games with children

Naturally, children all around the world are born learners, with a natural curiosity to figure out new things. Even without understanding each other’s language, you can easily play international games such as tag, red rover, and hide and seek with the nomads’ children. At the same time, you can also learn Mongolian traditional games from them. The most original Mongolian games are played with cleaned and polished sheep knucklebones. Each side of the knucklebone represents different animals: horse, sheep, camel, and goat. The best example of knucklebone games is the “horse race”. Several knucklebones are lined to represent a racing track, and other bones are placed aside to represent participants’ horses. And players throw the knucklebones and move their horse forward each time it falls on the side that represents a horse. The first player who reaches the end of the track wins. Warning! Don’t be surprised if they try to teach you about training golden eagles, riding reindeers and camels.

Tourists with nomadic family children

6. Train golden eagles with the Kazakhs

The Kazakhs are Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority with a population of about 100,000, forming about 4% of total Mongolian population. The Kazakhs are known for their delicate handicrafts, their lovely songs, and the dombra, their traditional two-stringed musical instruments. But most of all, the Kazakhs are known for practicing the ancient tradition of training and hunting with Golden Eagles. This unique tradition of capturing, training and hunting was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. When you visit and live few days with the Kazakhs in Western Mongolia, you will have a chance to learn from golden eagle hunters about the secrets of this unique tradition, from snatching the chick off the nest, raising and training it, and until the bird is sent back to the wild. And of course, the highlight of your stay will be riding with them in the high Altai mountains for an authentic first-hand impression of hunting with golden eagles. 

Tourists going on a hunt with Golden Eagle hunter

7. Ride reindeers with the Tsaatan

Tsaatan, one of the most interesting ethnic groups of Mongolia, or better known as The Reindeer People, is a small tribe of people consisting of about 40 families living with their herds of reindeer in the forests around the lake Khovsgol. These graceful animals provide the tribe with all its basic needs - milk, transportation, meat, skin, bones, and antlers used as building materials and for tools. A journey to the Tsaatan requires serious length horseback riding through the famous Taiga. But once there, you will experience Reindeer people's remarkable lifestyle by sleeping in their teepees and participating in their lives’ daily chores such as herding and riding reindeers, milking and drinking it with tea. Depending on the visiting season, you will learn distinct aspects of their lifestyle. In summer the Tsaatan choose to live in lower lands as reindeers feed mostly on green grass, whereas in winter they live in a deep forest at higher altitude for their reindeers' need for special moss.

Reindeer or Tsaatan people of Mongolia

8. Migrate with camel caravan

Nomadism requires a good understanding of natural cycles and an appropriate selection of pastures to satisfy the needs of the different animals. Each season, families must move to a suitable location for a camp and two-humped Bactrian camels are used for transportation. Mongolia is probably the last place on earth where camel caravans are being utilized to mobilize the nomads’ camps and joining one such family to witness this rapidly declining tradition which now gives way to trucks and other modern means of transportation is once-in-lifetime experience. We will help the family take down their ger, pack their belongings, and join them as they migrate to their next camp. According to the Mongolian tradition, if a family moves past, one must invite them to share tea and curds.

Moving Mongolian nomads with camel caravan

At last, homestay with genuine nomadic families to observe and learn about their simple yet unique lifestyle is relatively easier in Mongolia than anywhere else in the world. Rest assured, our homestay tours will bring you much closer nomadic families and their lifestyle.

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