This blog originally appeared on the BBC Human Planet Blog
On a grassy hillside overlooking the undulating hills of central Mongolia, I grasp a unique insight into someone else’s world. In the valley below is the melee of a hundred charging horses kicking backlit dust into the still air. From high above, the action is distant – played out by toy farm animals and miniature horse herders in colourful robes – but the horses’ thundering hooves and the herder’s pounding hearts are loud in my ears. I am recording sound for a “Human Planet” sequence in the Mongolian steppe and have put radio mics on two of the young riders in the summer horse round-up. In my left ear is Orlana, a 17 year old boy; full of bravado and a fierce rider; in my right, Tungaa, a timid 16 year old; keen to give it all she’s got. Orlana’s voice is clear, bold and commanding. Tungaa’s voice is soft and she sings as she rides – the traditional songs of Mongolian folklore and the occasional muddled verse of an American pop song form the repertoire of my private concert. I shut my eyes, listen and smile.
As I watch the riders charge around the horses like tunas attacking a bait ball, Orlana’s breathing quickens pace. ‘Chu! Chu!’ he shouts encouragingly. The horse tears forward through the herd. Orlana and Tungaa in many cultures would be considered to be just kids, but here in the grasslands of Mongolia, they are in control and are integral to keeping tradition alive.
In the global journey of the “Human Planet” series, the remarkable nature of the human condition will be revealed and as the teams come back from location I am continually fascinated by the amazingly diverse incarnations of the family unit around the world. It is often families that become the subject of our sequences and perhaps this is because, more broadly, it is the family unit that provides the framework for upholding tradition and passing knowledge from the elder to the youngster – the flow of knowledge that facilitates the successful relationship between man and nature in every environment.
Shure and her sisters
The youngest in our Mongolian family is Shure, who is just four years old. We are filming her as part of our spin-off sister series called “Little Human Planet” aimed at pre-school children. As we watch her go about her life, she watches her older siblings and mother intently. Within a few years she will have her own horse and will charge out across the plains with a commanding ‘chu, chu!’ and from her lips will come the recognisable Mongolian folk songs of the past and the muddled pop songs of the future.