For most people Mongolia is synonymous with the vast steppe, galloping horses and nomadic felt tents. Reality is less idyllic. In the least populated country of the world, about half of the 2.6 million inhabitants live on the countryside. It's a hard life, where cattle-breeding is the most important, and often the only, source of income.
More and more shepherds give up their nomadic way of life as their stock were thinned out for various reason. In search for another job, they head to the city, where they often lead a marginal existence in poverty. The clusters of tents that grow on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar have nothing to do with shepherd romanticism, but simply remind of slums. In a short period of time, the population of the capital doubled to more than one million people. Alcoholism, prostitution and street children are relatively new phenomenon that emerged after the fall of communism.
Belgian freelance photojournalist Nick Hannes travelled over land from Brussels to Vladivostok and back from October 2006 to October 2007, filing stories and photos of his discoveries on his news blog. During his 12-month journey Hannes covered 50,000 kilometers crossing the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Mongolia, China and Russia, meeting earthquake refugees, imams, nomadic shepherds and many more. EurasiaNet is presenting a four-part series of audio-enhanced slideshows, highlighting key stops on his trip. More photos and notes from his trip can be seen at www.nickhannes.be.