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Part 8 - East and West taiga

There are two main areas where the Tsaatan community lives and herds reindeer, called the East Taiga and West Taiga respectively. Tsagaan Nuur village, home to the TCVC, is conveniently located between these two areas, central to the entire Tsaatan community. Please note that the taiga areas are highly distinct ecological zones as compared to the steppe ecosystems found throughout Mongolia. When traveling from the TCVC to the Tsaatan’s herding camps you will pass from a steppe (grassland) ecosystem, into a taiga (boreal forest) ecosystem, delineated by a marked change in vegetation and topography.

From the TCVC, the East and West Taigas can be accessed by driving or riding by horse out of town towards the edge of the taiga, and then riding by horse to the actual Tsaatan camps. Reaching Tsaatan camps from the TCVC can take between 1-12 hours, depending on the location of their nomadic camps, trail conditions, and weather. Traveling into the taiga involves careful logistics coordination usually involving both vehicle(s) and horses, and sometimes travel on foot. Vehicles often drop visitors off at the edge of the taiga where TCVC guides and their horses will meet guests. Your TCVC guide will be a resident of the taiga you visit, and will be intimately familiar with the routes, history, and people of that region. Drivers and vehicles wait at the “drop-off point” for the duration of your trip up into the taiga. Accommodations and meals for drivers during this period can be arranged through the TCVC.

Due to the long distances involved in reaching the taiga, and the length of time needed for visiting the community, it is uncommon that travelers spend more than 48 hours in the taiga. Most visitors and community members find that 2-3 days spent in the taiga is the right amount of time. This will allow you enough time to meet families, explore the stunning taiga ecosystem, and learn about Tsaatan life and traditions, while not disrupting the community’s herding and movement patterns with prolonged stays.

Visitors to the community will likely only have the opportunity to visit one taiga region. Selection of the taiga to be visited depends on a variety of factors including trail conditions and weather, schedule and location of herders, social activities and other events happening in and around the taiga, and the number of visitors in either location. Sometimes visitors will be asked to select the specific taiga they wish to visit prior to arrival at the TCVC. Other times visitors may be required to remain flexible with regard to the taiga they visit, as conditions on the ground change from day-to-day. (Talk to your tour operator). Below is a description of the two areas, which visitors may wish to review prior to departure.

West Taiga

West (“Barone”) Taiga is situated to the west of Tsagaan Nuur village beyond a steppe valley called “Harmae.” The West Taiga can be reached by driving or riding approximately 20 km from the TCVC to the back of the Harmae valley, where the edge of the taiga begins. Portions of the West Taiga are in the administrative district of Ulaan Uul, Tsagaan Nuur’s neighboring village, or soum.

The West Taiga is notoriously rugged, with steep, wooded, mountainous terrain, rocky slopes, and rivers that can be impassible during portions of the year. With the exception of a few camp locations situated at the back of Harmae valley on the edge of the taiga, the West Taiga is only accessible by horseback, with average camp distances ranging from 10-40 km from the edge of the taiga.

The West Taiga is home to more than 20 Tsaatan households, who move in family groups composed of 1-10 households.

East Taiga

East (“Zuun”) Taiga is situated northeast of Tsagaan Nuur beyond a steppe valley called “Hogruk.” The East Taiga can be reached by driving or riding approximately 30 km from the TCVC towards Hogruk, crossing over the Shishged River. Alternatively, the East Taiga can be accessed from the village of Renchinlhumbe, Tsagaan Nuur’s neighboring administrative unit that includes portions of the East Taiga.

When accessing the East Taiga via Tsagaan Nuur, it is important to note that the Shishged River can only be crossed by ferry. The ferry is a simple log raft that can accommodate vehicles, horses, and pedestrians, and is operated on a fee-for-service basis by a private family in the area. In winter and early spring, the Shishged River and/or Tsagaan Nuur Lake are frozen, and it is possible to travel across the ice from Tsagaan Nuur to reach the Hogruk valley and the East Taiga. Ice conditions can be very dangerous, and all visitors to the area should consult with their TCVC guide prior to traversing the ice.

The East Taiga straddles the Mongolian-Russian border and contains diverse terrain and landscapes, from steppe-taiga valleys, to rugged peaks, to dense forest. Some East Taiga camps are accessible by vehicle during the cold months when mud conditions are mild or absent, though most camps, like the West Taiga, are accessible only by horse. Many routes into the East Taiga are muddy in the warmer months, which can affect accessibility and travel time significantly. Average camp distances from the edge of the taiga in Hogruk range from 6-40 km.

The East Taiga is home to more than 18 Tsaatan households, who typically move in two family groups.

East versus West Taiga

Residents of both taigas feel a sense of pride in their respective home region, which sometimes manifests in the form of friendly competition between the two groups. Though the regions are geographically distinct, the two groups share many kinship ties and are part of the same wider community. The landscape in both areas is stunning. Rumors about one taiga or the other being more “authentic” or “more beautiful” are not endorsed by the TCVC. East and West Taiga communities worked collaboratively to establish the TCVC, and share opportunities and benefits collectively.

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