National Geographic : 2012 Dec
• around his neck. A pair of faded blue corduroys peeked out from under his robe. On his feet were specially made reindeer-skin shaman boots. He's a Darhad, one of the ethnic groups in- digenous to northern Mongolia, next to the Russian border. Numbering some 20,000, the Darhad have largely preserved their traditional nomadic lifestyle: Nergui's day job, so to speak, is taking care of his cows, goats, sheep, and horses. e Darhad also practice shamanism in one of its purest forms, as an integral part of their lives. e region's remoteness helps ex- plain why little has changed. Getting here in- volved a jolty plane ride from the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, followed by a bone-shaking 13-hour trip in a rickety Soviet-era minibus over frozen rivers, icy mountain passes, and snow- packed tundra. Nergui's chanting picked up speed as his swaying became more like a dance. He made giddyap sounds and whipping motions with his strips of cloth, as if spurring on a horse. Juniper twigs burning in a cast-iron stove gave o a fragrant scent; the smoke is believed to attract spirits. Blankets draped on the walls to keep in the heat made the room seem even smaller, and in the corner opposite the door was a collection of amulets, gurines, colored scarves, bits of cloth, and other talismans---a shrine to Nergui's guardian spirits. Suddenly he collapsed. Two helpers caught him, and he gave a wol ike howl. en he cack- led like the villain in a horror movie. " e spirit has entered him," Zaya Oldov, my guide and translator, whispered. ey brought him to the back of the room, and he sat down, cross-legged, eyes still shut. One by one the members of our group approached him. The shaman---or the spirit speaking through him---described each person's past and doled out advice. en it was my turn; I kneeled next to him. "You were a very quiet person when you were young." Nergui's voice was deeper now, more 0mi 250 0km 250 NGM MAPS Ethnic groups TSAATAN DARHAD Lake Baikal Hovsgol Nuur Olkhon Island Mongolian Plateau AltayMountains GOBI SIBERIA Mother Tree Bukha-Noyon Rock Burkhan Rock Irkutsk Ulan-Ude Ulaanbaatar Urumqi Beijing BURYATIYA (BURIATIA) CHINA RUSSIA KAZ. MONGOLIA ASIA MONGOLIA KYRGYZSTAN INDIAN OCEAN EQUATOR Shamans are found around the globe, but the word "shaman"---meaning "one who knows"--- comes from the Evenki, an indigenous reindeer-herding people in northern Siberia.