Green grass of steppes falls victim to Wests stampede for cashmere

Posted in August 2009

Fly over Mongolia in summer and the steppes look as green as they must have done when Genghis Khan and his armies galloped across the land — but the switch is startling as the flight crosses the border into Chinas Inner Mongolian region. The ground suddenly turns brown.

The danger facing Mongolia is that its steppes may be transformed into a desert similar to the one eating away at neighbouring China. The culprit is the humble goat and the fascination of fashionistas for cashmere.

On the Mongolian steppes, the emptiness and the silence inspire awe. From time to time a huge, tawny eagle drifts on the breeze, watching for small animals to snatch amid the grasses. The only movement on the ground comes from the flocks of sheep and goats, yaks and cattle that roam, heads down, as they munch their way across the grasslands.

Here and there white yurts, the portable dwellings used by the nomadic people, stand out on the endless sea of grass. At one cluster of four yurts, a mother gathers her teenage children, slings a metal bucket over each arm and sets out to milk the horses, a hundred of which graze with their foals near by. The fermented milk is turned into airag, the national drink.

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