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The Herder- Western Mongolia

 

This experience happened on my first ever trip to Mongolia and the memory is vivid.  Since then, I have felt a strong connection with the Mongolian nomadic people. Within their demeanor lies a raw innocence and an authentic endearing warmness.

It’s 8am and -5 Celcius. Holy smokes.  Oooooh! It’s sooooo bloody cold! Getting dressed under the three sleeping bags, in the back of the Land Rover is no mean feat. 
The sun creeps over the distant snow capped mountains and streams into the car; stirring the thin layer of ice on the windows. 

Camped on a hill, the scene is magnificent despite the icy temperatures. A call to prayer wafts up from the small picturesque town of Olgii, which lays down in the valley.
The Muslim influence stems from it’s close proximity to the border of Kazahkstan.
 
Allen is already up, frozen fingers and all, tussling with a puncture in the tyre so we won’t be leaving in a hurry.  He is making grunting noises and murmurs about the “mongrel Korean tube.” 
It’s sticky sweet rice with sultanas for breakfast on this glorious morning under a magnificent sapphire blue sky.

I clamber up the nearest hill which is rocky and devoid of any vegetation as three boys in worn clothes wander past, collecting  dried dung in their sacks.

The familiar whistles of the herder sing on the wind. Moments later a herd of over a hundred sheep and goats, of every colour, swarm up over a rise.
The herder sits astride a white horse as he takes the flock up into the hills to graze. With binoculars I get a closer look at an older man, short with a very chunky build. He’s dressed in a dark traditional ‘del’ with a bright orange sash. The Mongolian dismounts, leaving his horse and walks in our direction.

As he approaches, he appears to stagger, leaning forward as he walks. “Vodar! Vodar!”, he calls out; distress evident in his tone.  At ten metres away, I see that he has his hands clasped together, under his chin and they’re  covered in thick, dark blood. In fact there is blood everywhere, half of his face is covered, pouring through his fingers, dripping down onto his ‘Del’. The man tilts his head, peering up at me, with a look of imploring helplessness. I rush to him, handing him toilet paper and with a bottle, I pour some water into his cupped hands. The water is icy and he gasps, as he splashes it over his nose and chin but it does nothing to stem the flow of blood. 

I put the kettle on to warm some water and drag a chair over to him. Sitting for a few seconds, he leans back then choking and spitting great globs of blood he quickly gets up again. He has a big bloody, chunk….of what?… sticking out of his huge bulbous nose…”Bloody hell, Allen”, I call out, “he’s been gored by one of his goats and half his nose is hanging off!”  Allen looks up then calmly says, “No, he’s just got some tissue shoved up there. Don’t worry, he’s just having a serious nose bleed from the cold.” “Are you sure?” I ask, tremendously relieved that I don’t have to stitch him up.

I pour some warm water onto a cloth and hand it to the herder.  He has the biggest nose I have ever seen, red, bulbous with many blue veins near the surface of his skin. He appears to be Mongolian, though his eyes are pale blue, very bloodshot and he wears a Kazakh skullcap. As the bleeding slowly subsides he cleans blood from his face and hands. Bending over, he wipes blood from his boots and the front of his dark green winter del. Momentarily he looks away into the distance then his pale blue eyes turn back to me. They’re a stark contrast to his deep reddish brown skin; a man who has spent his life in the elements. I hand him fresh clothes, which he stuffs down the front of his del.

Looking deeply into my eyes, he leans over and takes my hands firmly into his huge calloused, warm hands. The human connection is palpable. Walking off a few steps, he stops and turns back to look at me again and with a slight nod of his head, he turns towards the distant mountains and strides away, back to his herd. Back to his life in the devastingly harsh yet stunningly beautiful country which is Mongolia.