Goats and gers as Mongolia embraces tourism

Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:18am EDT
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By Jacqueline Wong

GOBI DESERT, Mongolia (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 Desert. 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.

But 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.

The Gobi Desert, which spans northwestern China and southern Mongolia, is notable in history as part of the great Mongol Empire and the Silk Road. More recently, the desert has been a treasure trove for anthropologists and miners.   Continued...