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1 Pano 12709
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3 Border ridge


Location: Tsaatan camp (2160 m)      by: Pedrotti Alberto
Area: Mongolia      Date: 07-08-2011
The Tsaatan are a population of a few hundreds people living in the taiga north of Tsagaan Nuur, very close to the border between the aimag of Hovsgol and the Tuva Republic.
Tsaa-tan literally means reindeer-men, because they make their whole living out of the reindeer.
During the summer they stay in a handful of little ails (=tent camps), two in the zum (east) taiga, and the other in the barum (west) taiga. The tent of the Tsaatan is called urtz; is is conical and is fairly smaller than the typical - cylindrical - Mongolian ger. Meanwhile, the reindeer graze in high pastures, where they find the only food they eat, namely, a lichen called cladonia rangiferina (rangifer tarandus is the scientific name of the reindeer). When the precious food is finished, the whole village has to move elsewhere, but without crossing the very close border with the Russian Federation - more specifically, with the Republic of Tuva. Actually, the fall of the former Soviet Union has been a problem for the Tsaatan also because Tuva does not allow the constant supply of reindeer which would be needed in this region, located at an extreme latitude for these animals.
Problems of this sort were at the root of the most difficult moment for the Tsaatan community: when, in 1996, the reindeer population reached a minimum of 420, with half of the animals affected by brucellosis. Through the milk, the illness contaminated also the 40% of the then 180 Tsaatan, while the others were severely weakened by poor nutrition and especially by the lack of vitamins. The illness was later defeated with the crucial help of humanitarian interventions coordinated by two Italians, David Bellatalla from La Spezia and Dino de Toffol from Belluno. This is also why a staple reading about the Tsaatan is the booklet "Uomini Renna" by Federico Pistone, a journalist who followed Bellatalla and De Toffol in one of their expeditions, staying several weeks with the Tsaatan.
The tent camp depicted here lies in the Eastern taiga, 5 km from the Russian border. It can be reached by a two-day horse ride from Tsagaan Nuur. Walking by foot is possible, but not recommended, due to the presence of deep mud both in the valleys and - interestingly enough - also on the flanks of the mountains, which is due to the seasonal melting of the permafrost.
In winter, when the temperature drops to minus 50/55 degrees, then Tsaatan leave the high valleys (situated at around 2000-2200 m) to hide in the midst of the forest, where they are protected at least from the fierce winds blowing from the Siberian plateaux. During the school year, children are hosted in a college in Tsagaan Nuur. In the second Tsaatan village that we visited we found a woman who showed a perfect American accent: she had been studying for four years in an university in Colorado before coming back. She gave us lots of information, including the fact that, during the night some thieves had reached the village coming from Russia and had stolen six horses.
In order to complete their incomes, the Tsaatan nowadays need a moderate touristic flow, which is ruled by an association based in Ulanbaatar and Tsagaan Nuur, see http://visittaiga.org
Very useful for Italian-speaking people is also the site http://www.mongolia.it kept by Federico Pistone.
And, to complete the language jam, I have chosen a German title, meaning "about stranger countries and people". Although showing mainly reindeer, this picture reminds me more than others that Schumann title...


Molto interessante.
2011/12/01 00:46 , Giuseppe Marzulli
Here in Canada, most children firmly believe that Christmas gifts are delivered by Santa Clause in a sled pulled by Reindeers!

From a creative point of view I find that the horizon narrowly cutting the mountain on the right side is a bit unfortunate. I would prefer to see either the whole mountain or cutting it 'shorter', but that's just my opinion.

This is a very interesting and likeable Panorama! Thank you! Augustin
2011/12/01 01:33 , Augustin Werner
Very interesting the fact that a comment comes from Canada!
Namely, one story that I omitted (I could not abuse of the patience of the reader, of course) has to do with that country. Due to their position so close to the delicate border, the Tsaatan are also a bit of a "political" problem between Mongolia and Tuva. And, to get rid of it, an incredible idea of the Mongolian government, some years ago, was the following: Take all of them and of their cattle, find for them a free region in Canada, and bring them there! Of course, they refused and the project was dropped.
As for the suffocating upper border of the picture, I was aware of the problem: since I was so close to the animals, I had to stick to horizontal pictures in order to have always the overlappings lie in "trusted" zones. As a consequence, higher than what you see I could not reach. Also, I could not afford an upper row since it rained, the lens hood of the 28-85 is rather short, and I was not interested in having the lens filled with drops. However, I have many other panos, also 360 deg ones, with a decent composition of the landscape, but at the cost of having the animals not so close. Maybe I will publish them during the "long winter", if this will ever come... As a first presentation of the topic, however, I preferred to sacrifice the mountains in favour of the name-giving reindeer.
2011/12/02 00:20 , Pedrotti Alberto
very impressive!
2013/10/15 12:58 , Matthias Stoffels
Thank you for drawing my attention, with your comment, to this old picture. Now, seeing it again at a remarkable distance in time, I realize how much Augustin was right when he noted that the mountains, being not inside as a whole, should have been kept outside with more decision.
In Italy we say "il tempo è galantuomo" - time is a gentleman!
2013/10/15 20:54 , Pedrotti Alberto
only Alberto comes up with views like this, cudos to you!!
2017/10/15 21:47 , Mentor Depret
If you like the topic, this is for you:
Also: Piers Vitebsky, Reindeer People - living with animals and spirits in Siberia, Harper Collins 2005
I have no information about the recent Oxford University expedition to the Tsaatan people.
They asked me the GPS track of my 2011 itinerary, but unfortunately that time I had forgotten the GPS in the refuge at the road's end!!
2017/10/16 00:40 , Pedrotti Alberto

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Pedrotti Alberto

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