Gobi Desert Mongolian Nomad Herders and their Dirt Bikes

A nomadic campsite with dirt bikes, Mongolia.

Lessons about nomadic life in the Gobi Desert’s wilds and how using modern technology helps the nomads survive.

When I visited the nomads in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, I was expecting everything to be very primitive and very poor. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the new type of Mongolian nomadic herders were using a lot of modern technology.

The Mongolian nomadic family we stayed with had dirt bikes to round up their herds with; both the husband and wife were University graduates. They choose to live the life of a nomadic herder. They also believed in using as much modern technology as possible, as they had everything from cell phones to computers and television that got decent reception. To charge and use all these electrical appliances, they had solar panels around the yurt (ger) campsite.

This was truly a new kind of Mongolian nomadic herder that was educated and used dirt bikes and modern technology. It was not the kind of Mongolian nomadic herder I was expecting to see in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia.

Nomads getting ready to ride their dirt bikes.
The Mongolian nomads getting ready to ride their dirt bikes out in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

The face of the new Mongolian nomadic herders

When many of us think of the nomadic herders, we may think of people who are basically uneducated and have no choice in life but to be a nomadic herder. We may feel that they grew up as a nomadic herder, so they wanted to stay as a nomadic herder as that was the only life they had ever known.

After all, we would wonder why anyone would choose to live their life in a tent or live in a yurt that they would have to pack up and move about four times a year? And the toilet, well, that was a hole in the ground that did not even have a door on the toilet stall. If you needed to take a nighttime trip to the toilet, there were no lights to light your way.

Water was limited or nonexistent as there was no well and so any water you used you would have to bring in. You can forget about a proper bath or shower; there was just not enough water.

I soon discovered that these nomadic herders had a choice. I was surprised when I discovered that the Mongolian nomadic herders I stayed with both the husband and wife, had University degrees and had both worked and lived for a time in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. These Mongolian nomadic herders had an option in that they were both highly educated, but they choose to live life as a nomadic herder.

When did I ask them why they did not work in the city and in the professions they had been educated with? They told me that it was about the wide-open spaces, the freedom, and the way of the nomadic lifestyle for them. They choose to be nomadic herders.

There is a great community support system among the Mongolian nomadic herders. I am sure part of the draw for many of the herders may be the support they have in their community with other herders. Nomadic herders who are there helping their nomadic neighbors in their time of need. To find out more about this community support system, you can read our blog entitled Community Support Lessons from Nomadic Herders in Mongolia by clicking here.

I am sure that having an education has helped them be successful with their nomadic herding business. After all, being a nomadic herder is a business and needs to be run as a small business enterprise.

They have herds they must tend to and understand about their health and well being. They also have to know about wool or cashmere prices as they sell their cashmere and wool to the highest bidders. They also need to be able to handle the accounts of their business. This family also ran a horse riding and camel business. The wife of the nomadic herding family had an accounting degree and had worked as an accountant, which I am sure has come in handy as they have run their business.

Inside a Yurt (Ger) Gobi Desert Mongolia
Inside a Yurt (Ger) in the Gobi Desert Mongolia. This young man helped the nomadic herders.

The husband was an engineer, and I could see around the campsite where he had used his engineering degree to help improve their ger or yurt camp. As I looked around at their camp, I felt like this was the face of the new Mongolian herder – they are nomadic herders who are educated and have University degrees, but yet they are using their degrees to live the traditional nomadic lifestyle.

Sometimes looks can be a bit deceiving. When you look at the nomads, you see them in their nomadic clothes and their Russian leather boots, you may think they do not know or understand the world, but I discovered nothing could be further from the truth. These guys are tapped into a lot of what is happening around them and happening in the world. They may literally live out in the middle of nowhere, but that does not mean that they do not understand the world.

I did ask my nomadic herder friend where he got his outfit he was wearing, and he proudly told me that his wife had made it. In times past in America, I thought of how, on the farms and in our farming communities, we would have had similar stories. The sewing machine in the corner of their yurt (ger) and the rolls of fabric somewhere else, so that the wife could lovingly make her husband what he needed to go about and do his daily work with the herds.

Maybe their life as a nomadic herder is not so different from many places in America, Europe, and other parts of the world. We may have a lot more in common than what we think we have.

But being a nomadic herder was not without pain. The winters are cold and bitter in Mongolia, so this family lost 30 horses in one winter. That is a small fortune for any herder. To read more about this, you can read our blog entitled 5 Lessons in Grit and Perseverance from Nomadic Herders in Mongolia by clicking here.

Rounding up the herds with their dirt bikes

Before I came to Mongolia, I had visions in my heads of nomadic herders who were rounding up their herds by walking or riding another animal. But I quickly learned that these nomadic herders were using modern technology as much as they could to ensure their success. They knew exactly what worked and why it worked.

Rounding up the horses on the dirt bike, Gobi Desert, Mongolia.
The nomadic herder rounding up the horses on the dirt bike, Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

These nomadic herders used dirt bikes to be able to go about their daily work. They would go about their daily work going back and forth to their herds on their dirt bikes. But this area had no proven paths or trails. They were out there literally in the wilds of the desert on unproven paths. They did not just go out to ride on the dirt bikes on the weekend, but they were out there every single day.

This was like a daily motocross ride. Except they had no special helmets, fancy gear, no pads to protect them just in case they fell. For them, this daily riding was like the ultimately daily motocross race, except without any rules or regulations or special gear.

Their most important rule was not to get injured and then also to not get lost. If they got lost, there was no 911 or rescue party or search organization they could call. They would have to find their way back.

Getting injured or getting lost could easily happen out in the terrain and territory they were dirt bike riding as they rode through many large and small dunes and along with a host of other terrains in the vast Gobi desert. Even in the snow and bitter cold, they would still bring out these dirt bikes. To me, they were like the very ultimate adventure motocross dirt bike riders.

I thought of how amazing it was that they could use modern technology to their advantage and help them accomplish their daily work. The Mongolian nomadic herders had found that using dirt bikes as a way that would help them with their daily work.

Dirt Bike, Gobi Desert Mongolia
A dirt bike belonging to the nomadic herders in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

I discovered that my nomadic herders also have a dirt bike, but it seemed that most of the nomadic herders around the area were also dirt bike riders. Dirt biking out in the Gobi desert over the dunes just seemed like the ultimate adventure and adventurous lifestyle. Maybe this was part of why so many choose to be nomadic herders; each day would bring a new adventure.

East meets West through modern technology

Every nomadic herder I saw had a cell phone to text, receive messages, get phone calls, and assume if needed to receive some emails, read the news, and check up on other events. I thought of what a great equalizer technology is in that they could be out there in the middle of nowhere in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia; they were able to send and receive messages, make phone calls, and find out what was happening in Mongolia and worldwide.

Their yurt or ger also had a television. After they came in at night, after rounding up the herds, they sat down, ate their dinner, and started to watch the Mongolian evening news. I thought this was not too different from what many of us would do in the west. We would get our dinner and then watch the evening news. When the news was over, or they had watched enough news, they promptly switched the channel to a segment on horse racing.

As they call them in Mongolia, the yurts or the ger’s have no electricity or access to electricity. At the same time, the herders need to have some electricity for their lights and charge their cell phones, television sets, and other small electrical appliances.

Dirt bikes, solar panels and trucks, Gobi Desert Mongolia.
The dirt bikes, solar panels and trucks to move the yurts (gers) in the Gobi Desert Mongolia.

Their solution to this problem? The Mongolian nomadic herders have all gone to completely green power by using solar panels for electricity. Solar panels lined the ger camp since there were no other means of electricity available. To use their electrical devices, they had to find a way to bring the electricity into the camp in the most economical way, which ended up being solar power.

I found watching how the nomadic herders used all the modern conveniences to do their work fascinating. They were smart, knowledgeable, educated, and in touch with what was happening around them and in the world. They knew that to really be able to survive out there in the wilds of the Gobi desert; they had to use every single tool that was available to them. This included using dirt bikes to round up the herds and get around the area, plus other modern technology aspects, including solar panels to ensure they had enough electricity for their modern-day technical devices.

I could see why many of these nomadic herders choose to live this nomadic lifestyle. There was a real sense of adventure about going out there day after day and dirt bike around this very wild and untamed terrain.

Can I do a dirt bike tour through Mongolia?

Many tour companies offer dirt bike tours in Mongolia. These tours will usually have you stay out in the Yurt (Ger) with a Mongolian nomadic family. This way, you will be able to see the life of the nomads in Mongolia.

Many of these tours may also include other activities like camel riding, horseback riding, archery, and trekking. If you are near a lake, you may also be able to get in some fishing.

If you love the countryside and nature, Mongolia is definitely a must-see location for your international travels. We recommend a tour company called New Milestone Tours you can contact them and speak to Adiyabold by clicking here. You can tell Adiyabold that Anita sent you.

How many more animal livestock vs people are there in Mongolia?

Mongolia is said to have over 66 million livestock. There is a lot of sheep, goats, horses, yaks, and camels. The population of Mongolia is just over 3 million people. It is the most sparsely populated sovereign state in the world.

Once you get outside the capital city of Ulaanbaatar (Ulaanbaatar has about 1.5 million people or half the Mongolia population lives there), there are far more livestock and animals in the Mongolian countryside than there are people.

How many types of animals are in Mongolia?

If you are looking to see the widest variety of animals globally, Mongolia is definitely a place to go.

Mongolia has the following:

  • There are about 139 species of different kinds of mammals;
  • Mongolia is known to have at least 450 species of birds
  • About 331 of the bird species are migratory, and 119 birds live in Mongolia year-round.
  • Mongolia has at least 22 different species of reptiles;
  • And 6 species of different kinds of amphibians;
  • Along with over 75 different species of fish.

So if you love wide-open spaces, want a great adventure, and have a desire to see a great variety of wildlife – Mongolia is definitely the place to visit.

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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