These stunning photos show the harsh reality of life for Mongolian nomads who live on the country’s vast steppe.
Hundreds of nomads live in the 340,000 square miles of open grassland, where temperatures regularly drop to -40C (-40F), and subsist off their herds of animals, eating a diet of only milk and meat. Vegetables are often omitted from their diet because nomads do not have gardens, or vegetable patches, and shops are usually at least a day away. They have populated the steppe for millennia and are one of the world’s last remaining nomadic communities.
Italian photographer Michele Martinelli, aged 41, captured the images of this rare community during a 20-day trip to the Mongolian steppe in April 2017.
Nomadic life revolves around yurts, or gers, meaning home or household, which are compactible and easily transportable circular houses. Mongol nomads transport these houses across the steppe between two and four times every year when they migrate to find the best pasture for their animals.
Between February and April, nomads typically brave freezing temperatures of -to make a 100-mile trek across the Altai mountains in western Mongolia. Though many of the family’s wordly goods can now be moved by truck, the animals still need to cross the mountains on foot. Women are heavily involved with caring for their family’s animals and regularly milk the yaks and sheep early in the morning.
Nomads also make their own butter, yoghurt, cheese, milk tea, and milk sweets, as well as Kumis, fermented milk typically made with milk from a mare or donkey. The Mongolian Steppe sits between the forests of Siberia and the harsh terrain of the Gobi Desert. Nomads take advantage of the terrain and even train eagles to be used for hunting.
Each October nomadic communities take part in the Golden Eagle festival which involves pitting the birds against each other in competitions.