When we think of reindeer, most of us jump to the same imagery: the North Pole, snow and Christmastime.
Your mind might not immediately go to the Altai Mountains of Outer Mongolia in Central Asia. Here, a nomadic tribe lives among the reindeer.
The lives of the real-life reindeer riders have fascinated outsiders for generations.
The idyllic land was described in 518 B.C.E. by Greek poet Pindar as “Hyperborea” and the tribe as a healing race living peacefully with “neither disease not bitter old age is mixed… in their sacred blood; far from labor and battle… ”
The tribe’s contemporary name is the Mongolian Taïga Dukha, for the Taïga region mountain range in Khövsgöl, Mongolia.
It’s neighbored by the Russian border and the remote Darkhad valley.
Much of the area is under natural protection, although it’s noted for its inaccessibility and remoteness, even by local standards.
Although the Dukha call the area home, they are certainly not a dominating force: they readily share their space with an incredible array of their animal neighbors.
Wild horses, bears, eagles, and wolves are all common to Khövsgöl’s landscape.
The Dukha have for generations bred docile reindeer, although never for meat. Their unique form of reindeer husbandry is keenly conscious of the area’s conservation and bio-diversity.
The reindeer provide a great means of transportation along the rough terrain for migrating, hunting and occasionally taking trips into town. Nearby villages will often purchase and collect the antlers the reindeer naturally shed during wintertime.
Beyond the reindeer, Dukha have a tradition of eagle hunting.
The Dukha practice Tengrism, a shamanistic religion that emphasizes totemism, the spiritual connection and kinship with animals, plants and spirit beings.
There’s a seamless blend from totemism in religious practice and everyday life.
For example, one of the most honorable titles passed down by generations is the eagle hunter who tames and trains eagles to hunt small prey for food.
Photographer and Mongolia/Tibetan language scholar Hamid Sardar-Afkhami spent some time with this incredible Himalayan tribe to bring these incredible images.
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