Before They - Photography Project by Jimmy Nelson

V. Mongolia

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We went north by plane to the subarctic taiga to photograph the Tsaatan tribe. Then west to the remote mountainous region of Bayan Olgii for the Kazakh tribe. We were astonished by the vastness of Mongolia. For hours we flew over beautifully desolate snow-covered mountains without a single sign of civilization anywhere. Except for maybe the odd little plume of smoke from a campfire somewhere far down below. 
"The ice-cold wind made the going terribly tough"
Rarely in the project were there so many aspects that were balanced in harmony: the aesthetics, the landscape, culture, the surroundings and the soul of the people. Out of all the places we visited, this is where it all balanced. That said, the conditions were very difficult to work in. The ice-cold wind made the going terribly tough. But on the other hand the flow of the energy was very easy, because the people were giving us so much. 



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The Kazakhs are the descendants of Turkic, Mongolic and Indo-Iranian indigenous groups and Huns that populated the territory between Siberia and the Black Sea. They are a semi-nomadic people and have roamed the mountains and valleys of western Mongolia with their herds since the 19th century.
“Fine horses and fierce eagles are the wings of the Kazakh”
The ancient art of eagle hunting is one of many traditions and skills that the Kazakhs have been able to hold on to for the last decades. They rely on their clan and herds, believing in pre-Islamic cults of the sky, the ancestors, fire and the supernatural forces of good and evil spirits. 



View tribe ›
Tsaatan (reindeer people) are the last reindeer herders who survived for thousands of years inhabiting the remotest subarctic taiga, moving between 5 and 10 times a year. Presently, only 44 families remain, their existence threatened by the dwindling number of their domesticated reindeer.
“If there were no reindeer we would not exist”
The Tsaatan rely on the animal for most, if not all, of their basic needs: milk, which is also used to make cheese; antlers, which they use to make tools; and first and foremost, transport. They do not use the reindeer for meat. This makes the indigenous group  unique among reindeer-herding communities.