How to visit the Reindeer Herders of Mongolia

Who are the Tsaatan Dukha or Reindeer herders tribe?

The Dukha are Mongolia’s only reindeer herders, known to the Mongolians as Tsaatan, or “reindeer people”.

After a long history, most of the Tuvan people were left on the Russian side of the border and the others settled in the far-northern Khuvsgul Province of Mongolia. They are genetically connected to these Uigur people, one of the branches of many Turkic-origin tribes in Mongolia like Urainkhai. For many hundreds of years, these people still herd reindeers and pass their nomadic tradition over to the next generations.

“Tsaatan” term in Mongolian: Someone who has reindeer/s. The correct term would be Tsaachin (Reindeer Herder)

“Dukha” term in English: Reindeer Herder

Tsaatan language: This Ancient Turkic-origin language is endangered and only about 500 or fewer people speak it in the North of Mongolia.

Why East or West Taiga?

Map of Khuvsgul province with west and east reindeer tribe division

Since the Reindeer people have a nomadic culture, moving from one place to another place is essential to them. They have settled both sides of the Shishged River. This river was impossible to cross during the warm season in the old days (now there is a bridge). Because of this division, the east river bank people are called “East Taiga Tsaatan” while the west bank people are called “West Taiga Tsaatan”.

Where is the Reindeer herder’s tribe?

These tribes are in Ulaan Uul & Tsagaan Nuur town in Khuvsgul Province in the northern parts of Mongolia. There are about 500 people who speak their Tuva language (a variety of Turkic language) in this region.

Some reindeer herders move temporarily to Khuvsgul Lake – one of the most sought out destinations for travelers during the tourist season, but only 2-3 families. Most of the Tuva people live in Russia today and they still have relatives on each side of the border since their split in the 1950s.

How to get to Tsaatan Dukha Reindeer herder’s tribe in Mongolia?

A journey to Reindeer herders is an incredible experience that will take you to a completely different corner of the world! Imagine staying with this small nomadic community made of 40-45 families at any time of the year.

You should be aware that traveling to this region will take you longer than it looks as making there in a short period of time will be too tiring. A tour to this destination with vulnerable and sensitive nature and people could easily fall apart when organized by inexperienced tour companies. Please make sure to respect the local reindeer community and nature.

Nomadic Trails has been organizing this type of tours since 2007. Our expertise offers you a great opportunity to easily overcome the common difficulties of traveling to this sensitive location. Remoteness, bad road conditions, poor connections with local communities, or being inexperienced in conducting and coordinating for a horse riding trip.

Horse riding to Reindeer herders camp

For organizing this special tour, we respect the local community and we still support them since our first trip to the Taiga. This is one of many advantages of Nomadic Trails, having the trust and keeping this trust of the local people.

It has been many trips since we have started visiting these special tribes more than a decade ago, and since then we even established a foundation to support these tribe people by also involving some of them to make a decision. We are happy to announce 5% of your payment for this tour goes to this fund to support this local community by health, education, and reindeer. We also always support them by employing local horse guides with their horses, utilize the tee-pees as an accommodation to our all trips to increase their income.

Days 1-2 Ulaanbaatar city to Murun town.

After your arrival in Ulaanbaatar city, the capital, we will take a local flight to Murun town, the center of Khuvsgul province in the northern parts of Mongolia. There are various flight schedules set out for each month by the two local airlines, so it is best to stay in the capital for one night then take the flight north. This way you can also get to get rid of the time difference as well as your jetlag.

Days 3-4 Murun town to Ulaan Uul town to Tsagaan Nuur town

From there on we will go on a 4×4 Jeep drive towards and through the beautiful Darkhad depression via two big passes and two of the three “sum”s or smaller towns located there. Going forward we will go as close to the Taiga region with our cars to Khogorog river valley.

Days 5-7 Taiga / Reindeer Tribe camp

Each season tribes with their nomadic nature change their location for more pasture for their reindeers as well as for cover from wind and cold during the colder seasons.

Horse riding is essential to visit the Tsaachin, except winter time when it is possible to go by car. You should be prepared to riding horses for between 3-9 hours, depending on the location of the camps. 

You find spring camps are always the closest ones to ride a horse by 3-4 hours easy walking pace. Summer camps are always the longest one to reach, 7-9 hours away but none the less rewarding and mysterious.

Horse riding to the Reindeer Herders

Some people find it easy to ride Mongolian small horses which we will be riding. Saddles are always important and the local horse guides have either bigger style saddles with a rounder cushion or a Mongolian Wooden saddle which is not recommended for first-time riders.

Of course, there are breaks and lunches during our ride. The horses we will be riding are calm and experienced going to the Taiga. All Nomadic Trails team members are all experienced and trained in coordinating a horse riding trip.

There will be equipment packing horses to pack up your luggage for only 2 -3 days which you are requested to prepare before we depart to the Taiga, so make sure to bring a backpack/bag. These 3 days we need to pack food and supplies and bring back the garbage created so as to help the local horse guides and our team, wrap your garbage in the bags provided by us and pack it up so you can bring it back and leave the tribe clean.

Note:

If you are riding to East Taiga, you will need to pass a high pass with the other side steep so to visit the East Taiga you need to have a basic riding lesson at least.

Some people who have never ridden before took this trip and ended up happy and content with their riding experiences. It is all about using your born instincts and follows the detailed instructions of your tour leader.

Day 7-9 Khogorog river valley to Khuvsgul Lake

As Khuvsgul Lake crowned the Blue Pearl of Mongolia is in the area, it is a loss not to visit. On our 13-14 hour drive back which will be divided several times, we will head slightly north and relax at the lakeshore,

Day 9-13 Khuvsgul Lake to Murun town to Ulaanbaatar to Departure

After relaxing two days at Khuvsgul Lake we will return to Murun town. We take a local flight back to the capital.

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