Gobi, crossing the winter

The Gobi is a rain shadow desert – a dry area on the leeward side of a mountainous area – and it has never been empty. Beings roam a bit everywhere between sunlit dunes and sharp summits: women, men and camels, goats with sheep, running foxes, the mythic Przewalski horses, invisible snow leopards, black-tailed gazelle and the ghosts of the last Gobi bears. The Gobi acted as a refuge from repression for the monks between 1933 until 1937 and was a hiding for robbers for centuries. Fossils remind the importance of this vast place that was once a cradle of life such as for the dinosaurs and much later for the mammals. It was once the northern part of the Pangea, it’s where many lives began.

The Gobi people (about 70 000 inhabitants) created a unique way of life to go through the burning summers and the freezing winters. The camels play a central part in their lives as it carries their homes, their food, their incomes. Camels have been long used as the main vehicles on the Silk Road as described in Marco Polo’s adventures. Despite economic success for some herders, they all face the same accelerating rural exodus happening in Mongolia – and most of Central Asia. While the Gobi desert expands due to anthropogenic climate change at an alarming rate (3,600 km2 of grassland lost every year) with more dust storms every seasons, the young generations are torn between opportunities of new lives in the cities or the left possibilities for traditional herding in the countryside. The middle generation works hard to make ends meet, not knowing if their parents will stay, not knowing if their children gone for studies or work will ever come back. Their future is overshadowed by the excessiveness of globalisation.

Despite all these changes, the Gobi fascinates and keeps on whispering harsh poems about wilderness – and life before us.

Fixer: Yanji Dashtseren

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*with the support of Nikon Belgium