Should we talk about the rare places we’ve loved, at the risk of seing them invaded by a horde of tourists? This is to be case with some places that I had the privilege to cross: from the Band-e Amir lakes in Afghanistan to Easter Island, by way of the Bhutan’s valleys, Laos forests and some others.
This is also true of the Orkhon Valley. Imagine a country, Mongolia, wedged between Russia, of which it was a satellite, and China, wich became its main client and supplier. A large territory, three times the size of France. Huge natural resources: gold, oil, coal, in quantities probably phenomenal.
Only two million inhabitants, nearly half still nomads, living in yurts with several thousand years old architecture, and taking care of 30 million quadrupeds, among which are 7 million horses.
In this improbable country, mostly occupied by deserts, a very long valley of breathtaking beauty, classified as a World Heritage of Humanity Site, following both banks of the Orkhon River, connects the Gobi Desert to Karakorum, seat of the nomadic government of Gengis Khan, in the 13th century, before becoming, with his son, the sedentary capital of the greatest empire composed of contiguous land in history, from Budapest to the Pacific, exerting considerable influence on the civilizations of China, India and the Turkish speaking countries, and remaining today a strategic place on the planet.
And in this valley, smells of lavender, squirrels, eagles, marmots; and hundreds of thousands of nomads, living here in the summer from raising goats, cows, horses and camels, before going back to winter a little further when the temperature falls.
In this place, so essential to the history of humanity, where were born the Turkish, Mongolian and Uygur civilizations, and where so many trade routes crossed, there are at the same time the Tuvkhun hermitage monastery, cradle of a Mongolian form of Buddhism, that of Erdene Zuu, on the site of ancient Karakorum, Khar Balgas, the capital of the Uighur Empire and the Turkish memorial of Tsaidam.
And there, above all, live people from another time, having managed to cross all regimes, to protect themselves from all invaders, while preserving their way of life, eternal nomads, and whose values can inspire us: remain oneself, respect nature, live with the seasons, in extreme softness and natural sharing with neighbors, though not denying today’s technology (they use, in a yurt, the mobile phone, solar energy, the television and even the motorcycle and truck, to move their camp over long distances) and they send their children to school.
No fascination for the city, even in younger generations. No obsession with brands, or for power, even if the nomads vote, very scrupulously, in every election.
Of course, this nomadic lifestyle is threatened. By changes in climate, which ruined many breeders. By growth, which will pick among them labor needed by the mines, factories, stores among the rare cities. By us, the new nomads, who, while coming to exchange with them, undoubtedly instill other dreams in them.
For my part, I’ll bet however on their victory: watching history in the long term, these nomads have survived many empires, even prouder than ours.