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When explorer and National Geographic grantee Chris Bashinelli went on expedition to live among Mongolian nomads for a month, he had aspirations of racing on horseback across the plains to fulfill his epic vision of nomadic life. Unbeknownst to him, Bashinelli would be spending a fair amount of time with another four-legged hoofed animal: cows.
The nomadic diet is heavily reliant on cow’s milk, so to truly immerse himself in the culture, Bashinelli had to get up close and personal with livestock. Brooklyn boy that he is, Bashinelli felt a little out of his element. “It doesn’t happen in the snap of a finger like when I go to 3rd Avenue and buy my milk from the supermarket,” he says. “When your face is a few inches from a cow’s teat and a few feet away from the cow’s kicking legs, it isn’t exactly the most comforting environment.”
Not only was Bashinelli trying to make himself comfortable, but he also wanted to make sure the cow was comfortable, too. “I had to become friends with the cow before she would let me milk her. One of the techniques that you can use to become friends with the cow is to gently massage the cow’s butt with your hand,” he says, laughing. “That’s what Nara taught me.”
Mongolian nomad Nara and his wife, Buja, hosted Bashinelli for a week, and the trio spent a great deal of time tending to livestock. Nomads collect milk from not only cows, but also yaks, sheep, goats, horses, and camels, and use milk to make everything from yogurt, to cheese curds, to tea, to vodka.
But despite his best efforts, Bashinelli is probably not cut out for nomadic life—due to circumstances beyond his control. “I am lactose intolerant to a large extent. Anytime I have cheese curd cookies or any type of dairy it’s not a pretty night.”
Learn more about Bashinelli in his National Geographic bio and find out how else this cross-cultural explorer is immersing himself in societies all around the globe by following his National Geographic Channel series, Bridge the Gap.
You can also listen to Bashinelli describe his experience participating in another traditional nomadic activity—Mongolian wrestling—in the National Geographic Radio podcast below.