What Are The Nomadic Herders in Mongolia?

Nomad rounding horses

5 Lessons in Grit and Perseverance From Nomadic Herders in Mongolia

We can all learn to have some grit in our lives. Grit and perseverance are some of those qualities that help us to be able to see our way through the adamant things or times in our life and then find a way to work our way through these difficult times.

In Mongolia, the Nomadic herders spend their lives in very harsh conditions. They live in Gers (Yurts), and they travel several times a year with their herds. Life is harsh for the Mongolian nomadic herders; the weather is extreme, yet they continue to live.

The Mongolian nomadic herders can teach us some important lessons in life, such as that bad things can happen in our lives, but we can choose not to be bitter. We can also choose to be grateful for all our blessings, while at the same time we can get up and get to work.

Last May, I stayed in a Ger with a nomadic family in the Mongolian Gobi Desert.  While I was staying with them in their Ger, the family casually mentioned they had lost over 30 horses this past winter due to the harsh and extreme cold of the winter weather. Being a business person, I casually asked what the value of those horses was? The loss of their horses would have been over USD 12,000 – a small fortune for anyone to lose in one winter, but especially for a Mongolian nomadic herding family.  

As I listened to this story about the loss of their horses, I reflected on some valued lessons about grit and perseverance that we can all try to have in life, and we can learn from these Mongolian nomadic herders.

We all need to keep moving forward

One of the first lessons I learned from the nomadic herders is that when bad things happen in life, we all need to learn to get up the grit, fortify our perseverance, and keep moving forward. Some days it may be hard to keep one foot in front of the other, but the more we keep moving forward, the easier it will get.

When I realized that the nomadic herders I was staying with had lost over 12,000 USD just due to the harsh winter weather, I realized that I was seeing someone who had learned how to keep moving forward in life, no matter what hardships life tossed at them.

Herds grazing in Mongolia.
Some herds are grazing in the wide-open spaces in Mongolia.

Life on the Gobi Desert is harsh – the nomadic herders live in a Ger (or Yurt) without air con, proper heating, or electricity.  They pick up the Ger and completely packed and move the entire Ger, their herds, and their belongings at least 4 times a year; they have no running water, and their toilet is basically a pit in the ground.  As water is also in limited supply, I did not see anyone taking a nice long hot bath or waste any water for anything. It would be straightforward to allow discouragement to set me in those conditions, but instead, I saw these nomadic herders moving forward despite their hardships. 

Bad things can happen so learn how to handle them.

Bad things will happen in life. This is just a fact of life. Life will never be easy and smooth, so we need to be prepared to handle these hardships. Sometimes these bad things will happen despite all our best efforts to try to control them. 

In the case of these nomadic herders, it was a freezing winter, something they had absolutely no control over.  They tried all they could to save their horses, but the horses could still not withstand the extreme climate. But like us, the nomadic herders had a choice to decide if this hardship and loss would cause them to quit or if they would gather additional grit and perseverance.  They got up their grit and perseverance and kept on going in life.

We can all choose not to allow our hardships to make us bitter.

Bitterness is a choice.  We can choose not to be bitter when something bad happens that we have absolutely no control over.   We can also choose how we decide to react to the hardships we have in life.

What really amazed me was that when the nomadic herders spoke about their loss, I did not hear any bitterness in their voice when they spoke about losing all their horses. It was part of their way of life, and they knew the weather could not be controlled.

Podcast – Dusty Roads

Mongolian Nomads And Their Lost Horses – 5 lessons in Grit and Perseverance

As I spoke to the nomadic herders, I reflected on how bitterness is a disease that can kill our grit and ability to persevere.  Like the nomadic herders, we can choose not to be bitter about any of the hardships we may face in life.

We can all choose to be grateful for what we have in life.

When I spoke to the nomadic herders about their horses’ loss, I was surprised to hear them express gratitude for their blessings.  They told me how thankful they did not lose everything, as some neighbors lost their entire herds due to the harsh winter. 

For a nomadic herder to lose everything, they would usually pack up their Ger or Yurt and move everything they have left to the Ger District in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city, to find some work. The Ger district in Ulaanbaatar would have just a small land plot to live off instead of having wide open fields and land. For them, this is a loss of their freedom and loss of their way of life.

Despite their loss, my nomadic herder friends were grateful they did not lose the entire herd, including sheep, goats, and camels.  They were thankful that they were still able to be herders.

My nomadic herder friends taught me that we could all choose to be grateful for the blessings we have.   Despite our loss or hardship, there is always something we can be thankful for.   

Typical Ger In Mongolia
A typical ger in a Nomadic Ger Camp in Mongolia.

We can all learn to work, work, work.

When I was staying with the nomadic herders, I saw them working very hard. They woke up early in the morning and worked until late at night. Despite the setbacks these nomadic herders had, they went to work. 

Life of a nomadic herder does not afford you the luxury to sleep in, cry yourself to sleep, decide you are too upset to go outside.  Life for a nomadic herder means that you must get up and get out the door as your herds depend upon you every day.  

Even if we have a huge setback in life, I contemplated how we need to get dressed, go out the door, and keep on working as someone who also depends upon us.   And when we get out the door to get to work, it will help us not only take our minds off our problems, but through work, we can also do something, even something little, to solve our problems in life. We need to learn to take it day by day and solve each of our problems one by one.

Nomadic herder on his camel
Nomadic herder on his camel in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

There are many lessons about grit and perseverance that we can learn from the nomadic herders in Mongolia. We can learn that when bad things happen, we can keep on going and not allow those bad circumstances, whatever they may be, to dictate our lives. We can be grateful for all our blessings while at the same time getting up and out to work.

What percentage of the Mongolians population are nomadic herders?

Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country globally, with a huge landmass of 1,564,116 square kilometers or 603,909 square miles. Mongolia is the 18th largest country globally and the most sparsely populated sovereign state globally, with just over 3 million Mongolians living in Mongolia. This means that the nomadic herders have many lands to use to allow their herds to graze on the land.

About 33% of the population, or just over 1 million people, are still nomadic herders in Mongolia today. But due to the harsh winter weather, many Mongolian herders are forced to move to Ulaanbaatar to find work since when their herds die, they have lost their entire income.

Can Mongolians speak Chinese?

The country of Mongolia is not the same as China. Mongolia borders China, but the Mongolians are not Chinese, so they do not speak or understand Chinese. The Mongolians in Mongolia speak the language of Mongolian.

In China, there is a part of China that borders Mongolia that is called Inner Mongolia. This area is officially the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region or Nei Mongol Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. Mongols or Chinese Mongolians are considered Chinese Nationals, and so they should speak Mandarin Chinese. But the Chinese Mongolians should not be confused with Mongolians, as Mongolia is a completely different sovereign country.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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