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How to Be a True Nomad: Milking Camels in Mongolia


This summer, I fulfilled a lifelong dream: visiting Mongolia. I’d read about Genghis Khan and his conquests for years and had always wanted to visit—a bucket list dream come true, if you will. I decided to do a road trip, as, 800 years after the Great Khan died, over one-third of the population still leads a nomadic lifestyle, living in gers (yurts), with their cattle (camels, cows, goats, and yaks) roaming the fields outside. Not much has changed over the years except for the method of transportation. In the older days, the ger would be wrapped up and put on a camel’s back for the move to fertile fields, while today, it is loaded up on a truck.

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And, as there are few hotels outside of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, one must rely on the Nomad Code to survive. Which basically means rolling up on an unsuspecting family and asking to spend the night.

My guide, Timor from Intrepid Travel, explained.

“If someone comes to your door, you must give them food and shelter,” Timor said. “Or they might not survive. And the next time you are traveling, they will give you shelter—or you might not survive.”

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Welcome. Yurts, or gers, like this are seen throughout the country.

The first ger we rolled up to was outside of the singing sand dunes. It had been a long day and I had climbed a 50-meter-high sand dune. I was hungry, dirty, and tired. Thankfully, Ankhaa, the owner of the yurt, was hospitable.

Ankhaa in his ger, looking very Jean Paul Gaultier.

We were immediately given tea, bread, and camel milk curd—a substance that has the consistency of maple sugar candy but, unfortunately, doesn’t taste as nice. More like a musty sour cream in a brick.

Hello, lil guy. It was a prosperous family with many camels and over 10 baby camels.

After we’d eaten, Ankhaa’s neighbor and her family started rounding up the goats and camels.

“It’s milking time,” Timor said.

While we’d decided not to spend the night, Ankhaa and his neighbors had been so hospitable, I made a half-hearted offer to help. I just didn’t expect to be taken up on it.

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The moment I found out I was next up in the milking line.

For the uninitiated, milking camels is not like milking a cow.

How to milk a camel:

1. Get a bucket, preferably one that is not too rusty.

2. Pick a camel that seems even-tempered.

3. Lean on said camel in a “crow” pose (one leg bent, with foot resting on inner knee).

4. Place the bucket on your knee.

5. Proceed to try and milk camel with both hands, while not losing balance or spilling any milk.

Nota bene: Watch out for the camel getting annoyed and tripping you—They can move their legs in a full sideways swipe and take you out by the ankles. Also watch out for biting, kicking, farting, spitting, and general malfeasance.

To my credit, I got the job done. Not very well, but I did, in fact, milk a camel. Next time, I think I will just watch.

Thanks to Intrepid Travel for setting me up on the trip!

Check out Paula’s experience:

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