Mongolia!! The name of this landlocked Asian country has a magical ring to it. We could not think of Mongolia without our minds drifting on the image of the legendary Genghis Khan. Born in the 1160s, he spent his early life assembling a dedicated army of nomads from the immense grasslands of the Gobi, at 500,000 square miles, the fifth largest desert in the world. His fierce warriors were relentless. They could ride day and night, making a slice in their horses’ neck to drink the blood. By 1279 Mongols had gained full control of all of China, undeterred by the Great Wall. See how well walls work?
History is full of long and legendary highways but none – frankly – come close to the Silk Road. It’s not just the magnitude (at least 4,000 miles, in more than 40 countries) but the mythic potency of the project. The world was cleft into east and west in the Middle Ages.
But long before, the Silk Road – which has existed in one form or another since the fourth century BC – breached any such divide. While trade was its raison d’être – Chinese silk, of course, but also salt, sugar, spices, ivory, jade, fur and other luxury goods – the road forged deep social, cultural and religious links between disparate peoples.
The Silk Road was not a road, but a network. The central caravan tract followed the Great Wall, climbed the Pamir Mountains into Afghanistan, and crossed to the Levant. Along the way were spurs branching off to river ports, caravanserai, oases, markets and pilgrimage centres. Journeys demanded meticulous preparation: the Silk Road and its tributaries cut through some of the harshest, highest, wildest places on Earth.
Three friends set out for the far western corner of Mongolia to combine mountain biking and packrafting adventure. The goal was to traverse the Mongolian Altai over 12 days. The only inhabitants of the region are Kazakh nomads.