An ancient land in change

Updated: 2013-01-21 08:51

By Cui Jia (China Daily)

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"They are actually half wild. God knows how much camel spit I've had on my face over the years," said Bariba, laughing. When camels feel threatened, they spit and it can get pretty smelly because camel spit consists of bile from its stomach mixed with saliva, he explained.

"Stop!" shouted Bariba suddenly, causing the driver to hit the brakes. "Let me make a phone call right here. It's the only spot in this area that can receive mobile phone signals," he said.

In Mazongshan, herdsmen from the same village may live four or five hours drive away from each other because it's so big, said Bariba. "Before we had mobile phones, it took me a whole week to travel around on horseback to inform all the villagers about a meeting."

An hour elapsed, but there was no sign of any camels. "It happens sometimes. They might have walked a long way to find fresh grass. I just hope they haven't been attacked by wolves," he said. "We've seen more wolves in recent years than ever before."

Bariba's next stop was the pen that holds his 400 mountain goats. The truck stopped at a brick shelter, which has replaced the old herdsman's traditional Mongolian yurt in the Gobi. Bariba has moved his old yurt into the town center and uses it as a restaurant where he serves traditional Mongolian cuisine to visitors.

"I used to stay here on my own, but I was never lonely because I had my radio to keep me company. It can receive more than 58 stations. So, although I am in the Gobi and a long way from Beijing, I still know about all the major policies," he said.

In 2011, he heard a Mongolian-language news report that the State Council would sponsor a subsidy-and-reward program to help herdsmen prevent and reverse the damage caused to China's grasslands by overgrazing. The next day, he rushed to the town government to collect his share, only to discover that the policy wouldn't be implemented until 2012. He told the government official that he would return to collect his cash when the policy came into force.

An ancient land in change 

Herdsmen are encouraged to raise fewer mountain goats to protect the Gobi grassland, because goats eat the roots of grass. The herdsmen have received a government subsidy. Photos by Zou Hong / China Daily