Tourists spur saddle-making on Mongolian prairie
Sanding pieces of wood, cutting leather, and carving delicate patterns, Qinggltu, 39, makes saddles in his workshop in Hohhot, capital of north China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
Qinggltu has been making saddles for 10 years. Growing up on the prairie in Hure Banner, riding a horse is second nature to him. Watching his father repair a saddle is one of his earliest childhood memories.
"I started to ride when I was little," he said. "I learned how to repair saddles from my family."
After graduation from a local vocational school, Qinggltu came to Hohhot and opened a workshop selling Mongolian handicrafts.
He came to fame after he repaired a saddle for a friend who said skilled saddle-repairers were hard to find in the city.
"Saddles are of great importance for local herders, but there are fewer people who know how to repair saddles in Hohhot, not to mention making them," Qinggltu said.
In 2008, he decided to focus full time on making saddles, but things did not go smoothly at the beginning. He could only repair and sell less than 100 saddles in a year for lack of tools and skills.
"I did not have enough money to buy the tools I needed and I found I knew few of the complicated skills of the saddle-maker," he said.
According to Qinggltu, saddles have been commonplace in Inner Mongolia for more than 1,000 years, and there are more than 20 indigenous styles.
"There are huge differences in size and style. I spent years acquiring the skills," he said.
"Qinggltu is now a great saddler. He knows how to make both traditional and modern saddles," said Esirog, a frequent customer.
A saddle of good quality may be used by the same herder for a whole lifetime, Qinggltu said. "We have a strong attachment to our saddles. It's deep in our culture."
In 2008, Mongolian saddlery was added to China's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The region also issued five standards to protect the the craft.
Inner Mongolia has begun to see a lot of visitors to its vast, diverse landscape in recent years. Attractions include horse riding for visitors, which spurs the demand for saddles.
"I make a few improvements to traditional saddle designs as many visitors can not ride a horse," Qinggltu said. "A hand-made saddle is more comfortable for visiting riders."
"My business is getting better. I hope my son will pick up the skill," Qinggltu said.