A majority of the people living on the Gobi desert are Mongolian, but the population of Han Chinese in Inner Mongolia has been steadily increasing since the 1950s. With the harsh environment of the Gobi preventing most forms of livelihood, nomadic cattle herding is the major occupation of Gobi residents. Some Chinese residents manage to hack out a living as farmers in some of the slightly more hospitable areas of the desert. This influx of farmers is partially caused by the speedy desertification, which increases the Gobi size every year, expanding into existing Chinese farmland.
This area is also one of the few places on Earth that has been able to retain its culture and traditions from ancient history. The landlocked position, harsh environment, and rocky geography of the Gobi have prevented the culture from changing much over the years. Because the climate is so extreme, anyone living on the Gobi must remain close to animal herds.
The people of the Gobi must also remain nomadic, searching for more precious water when a previous location’s supply runs out. As a result, the form of shelter utilized in the desert is the felt-covered ger, or yurt. These circular dwellings are uniquely adapted to the conditions of the Gobi, providing respite from the sun during the day and a warm place to sleep at night when the temperature drops drastically. This shelter’s design has changed very little in its over 2000 years of use.
Though they are traditionally a nomadic people, Mongolian residents of the Gobi live for visitors. There’s even an old Mongolian proverb concerning hospitality: “Happy is the one who has guests, merry is the home boasting a tethering rail full of visitor’s horses.” The Gobi Desert may be an incredibly rough place to live, but the people of the area will still provide as much hospitality as they can.