The country, known as “land of blue sky”, has about 250 cloudless days a year. Average temperatures over most of the country are below freezing from November through March and close to it in April and October. Winter days are mainly – 25 °C (-13 °F) but sometimes can drop to −35 °C (−34 °F) in most years.
Every season, these nomadic shepherds move their livestock to different pastures. During the seasonal spring migration in western Mongolia Kazakh nomads herd their horses, camels, yaks, cattle, sheep, and goats from their winter pasture to the spring grasslands. Their spring home in Tavan Bogd National Park in western Mongolia.The Kazakhs of western Mongolia, known for hunting with eagles, are a nomadic people whose lives revolve around the movement of their livestock. Between February and April, about 200 families travel cross the Altai mountains on a 150km journey – it takes them about five,six days. Most of the nomads chooses to move their animals in February – before the lambing season. While the journey can be much harder than in March or April, it should mean fewer fatalities among his flock of pregnant ewes. Crossing frozen lakes and mountain passes, the nomadic Kazakhs of western Mongolia make an epic journey with their livestock every spring.
Most of the families and possessions travel to their spring camp on a truck, but the livestock must cross the mountains on foot to find fresh pastures.
The herders’ camels carry frozen meat and a stove so the men can cook up a hearty evening meal. Some is kept for lunch the next day to be eaten with bread. The nomadic diet is heavy with meat and dairy products. Few vegetables grow in western Mongolia and imported produce would quickly freeze solid during winter journeys. There are clusters of drovers’ huts dotted along the route. Provided by the Mongolian government, they are positioned at popular overnight camping spots and near the high mountain passes where bad weather often forces herders to seek shelter.
Camels carry everything that might be needed to survive in the wild – but in reality herders will only need to camp out if they are stopped by bad weather or if the migration route is busy and the drovers’ huts are full. The small huts that provide shelter for people on the move can fill up quickly. Herders bring animal skins to sleep on. Each day families starts to move the animals before first light when the temperature is still very low.
Neighbouring families often make the journey together, but there can be problems when different herds accidently begin to mix. Separating them is hard and time consuming.
The herders carry long-wave radios so they can listen to weather reports. If the weather gets too bad on the days they plan to cross high passes, they must wait until it improves. On the lower sections of the migration route where there is no snow on the ground, the wind can quickly whip up a dust storm. The herders must then round up all the animals and wait for the wind to die down.
As the animals begin to climb, the weather becomes harsher. So there’ll be less grass. Since that’s what the animals eat, they could be at risk. There are some really bad weather. Sometimes herders lose cattle, and they would die of cold or because of the storms. Their life revolves around finding pasture for the herds, and every spring, families on a risky journey.
During the so-called transhumance, entire families play a game of chance with their animals and their health, as they cross iced rivers and travel on narrow roads at an altitude of 2,000 metres. In the icy mountains, the temperature can reach -40C and there is always the threat of wolves attacking the herd.
This tradition offers a magnificent spectacle. The chance to experience this unique lifestyle was the motivation for a rather unconventional trip.