Tjalling Halbertsma


Berichten uit Mongolië

Notes from Mongolia

Mongolia: a place you either love or detest. Anthropologist and cultural explorer Tjalling Halbertsma loves this ancient country with its eventful history and remarkable inhabitants, and has committed his fascination for it to paper in a heartfelt declaration of that love: Steppe Country.

Mongolia is three times the size of France, but has only 2.6 million inhabitants. Under the heirs of Genghis Khan, this vast expanse was the seat of the greatest empire the world has ever known. Mongolia is hard to get to, hard to travel through and, for spoiled Westerners, the winters with their Siberian temperatures are hard to live through. Yet it is also one of the most fascinating travel destinations imaginable.

During the past four years, Halbertsma served as personal adviser to the prime minister of Mongolia. That enabled him to visit the most remote corners of the country, and meet some very unique characters: the country’s supreme Buddhist cleric, a gold seeker, a Mafia-style smuggler, a marmot hunter, General Kosmos (Mongolia’s only astronaut), and the hardy nomads of the minuscule Reindeer People, the Dukha, whose existence depends entirely on the fate of that one particular species. Halbertsma also takes us out hunting with a falconer and his eagle, and spends a bizarre night with a cheerful and penniless former NASA scientist, whose preaching of God’s word has failed to take root in Mongolia’s stony soil.

On the immense steppes of the Gobi, Halbertsma becomes acquainted with the nomads’ hospitality, customs and hardships. Their ger (felt tents) are always open to those in need of food or a place to sleep. But as Mongolia becomes integrated into the global market, their traditional herding society seems doomed to extinction. Steppe Country is therefore also an homage to an ancient society that may soon disappear entirely.

Steppe Country is a carefully written and beautifully illustrated book, one which makes the reader pause to think about the advantages and disadvantages of modernisation and globalisation, about the human tendency to create new cares once primary needs such as shelter, warmth and food have been met, and, conversely, about the human ability to pursue cultural activities under even the most hostile conditions.


Steppe Country gives us a Mongolia that all those who would like to escape from mental compartmentalisation and rules, from predictability and routine, will feel like leaving for tomorrow.

NRC Handelsblad


Tjalling Halbertsma

Tjalling Halbertsma is a lawyer and anthropologist who divides his time between Mongolia and China. From 2000 to 2004 he was an adviser to the Mongolian premier and in 2005 he acted as consultant to the successful election campaign by the current President of Mongolia. His previous books include…

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Steppeland. Berichten uit Mongolië (2003). Non-fictie, 256 pagina's.

with illustrations and references



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