The Tsaatans are a small Tuvan reindeer herders community living in northern corner of Mongolia. The name Tsaatan means “people who have reindeer” in the Mongolian language. They speak the Dukhan language which is endangered only spoken among the reindeer herders.
Tsaatan’s lifestyle differs from other people around the world. Their daily chores are tied with taking care of the reindeer. The Tsaatan people and reindeer lives are dependent on each other. They domesticate the reindeer and in many ways, reindeer are treated as a family member. They raise reindeer primarily for milk, and variety of milk products are made out of reindeer milk. Only a few are slaughtered for meat during the year.
Reindeer or Rangifer tarandus Linnaeus is considered as an endangered species in Mongolia. In 1994, it counted as around only 400, but during the years its number has reached to 2159. Its body length ranges from 180-220 centimeters, height reaches 140 centimeters and weight is between 100-300 kilograms. In the summer reindeer eat greens and mushroom. During the winter reindeer graze through birch and cedar forests.
Tsaatan People live in urts. Urts is a nomadic dwelling that looks similar to a Native American tepees. Some urts can be 10 meters (30 feet) in diameter. Traditional urts is made out of wooden poles organized in a circle, and it is wrapped around a sewn together reindeer hide. In the middle of the urts, there is a fireplace used for heating and cooking. The smoke escapes through the hole on top of the urts.
Being one of the minor ethnic groups in Mongolia, Tsaatan people are known for their religious practice, Shamanism. Some say, the best shaman can be found among Tsaatan. Today, over 200 Tsaatan nomads live in the taiga. However, 400 people were registered as Tsaatan, most of them gave up their though lifestyle, and became resident in the nearest village.
The difficulty in reaching the region ensures the unique Tsaatan can continue their traditional lifestyle. If you are intent on visiting Tsaatan people, bear in mind that it might come to riding a horse through the pristine forest and mountains to get the Tsaatan’s encampment. Depending on the season trekking distance is determined. During the winter, Reindeer herder’s camps are reachable by 4×4 vehicle as they come down from the mountains.
Tsaatan People are truly welcoming and proud to show their unique traditions and lifestyle. Witnessing their culture can be once in a lifetime experience that not everyone can have. We advise you to travel responsibly and treat this unique society respectfully.