in mongolia


More photos of Mongolia’s reindeer-herding minority ethnic group, the Tsaatan, by Joel Santos.

Children are responsible for training reindeer for riding, because the reindeer are not strong enough to carry an adult until they are fully grown, and it works best to introduce them to the idea early. A two year old reindeer, old enough for a child to ride, is called dongor; an adult reindeer is a hoodai.


The Tsaatan (or Dukkha) are an ethnic minority who fled to Mongolia from Russia during WWII. It’s a small group, less than 300 people according to the most recent census, mostly living near Tsaagan Nuur.

They herd reindeer for milk, which they make into yogurt and cheese. Over centuries, the reindeer have been bred to have spines strong enough for riding. They hunt for meat, killing a reindeer is rare. 

Photos by Joel Santos.

How I broke my 6th Graders Today

Student: “Miss, my little brother in your 4th grader class says you speak seven languages. Is that true?”

Me: “Yes.”

Student: "He says you speak Mongolian. Is that true?”

Me: “Yes.”

Student: “Can you say something”

Me: *explains, in Mongolian, that although I speak Mongolian, being that this is an English school, I am supposed to teach classes in English, so I have to speak English, sorry*

Collective Students: “Wow! Amazing!!!” *cheering*

One student slowly raises hand: “Miss, does that mean that you can…understand us when we speak Mongolian?”

Me: *Slowly leans over desk and puts on an evil grin. Single nod*

All students: *Terrified screaming*

Cabin on Lake Khovsgol in Northern Mongolia

Submitted by Jonathan Higgins

Lake Khovsgol is the second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia, and holds almost 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water. Located just south of Russia and is surrounded by many different mountain ranges.