Following the Trail of Genghis Khan in an Untamed Land
Ever since Genghis Khan encouraged his people to live by the sword, not the plow, Mongolians have been nomadic herders, holding to their horse-based culture and leaving vast tracks of ruggedly beautiful countryside virtually untouched over the centuries.
To experience the land and spirit of this fiercely independent but traditionally hospitable nation, which has been autonomous since the 1920s, get on a horse yourself and take a ride through a land that betrays virtually no sign of the modern world. Organized treks head for one of Mongolia’s best-kept secrets, Lake Hovsgal.
A hundred miles long and 12 miles wide, it is one of the deepest and sweetest freshwater lakes in the world. West of Hovsgal lies the Darhat Valley, a huge basin surrounded by rugged mountains on three sides, resembling Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And within miles of the Russian border, visit the summer camp of the Tsaatan, or Reindeer People, an ethnic minority that raises, milks, eats, and rides reindeer.
The horse’s role in Mongolian life is brought into colorful focus during the Naadam Festival, held each July. Herdsmen and women of all ages from all over Mongolia – many on horseback – come to the capital of Ulaanbaatar for two raucous days of socializing and unbridled competition in the age-old sporting events of horse racing, archery, and wrestling.
The equestrian events are the festival’s highlight, held on the rolling, grassy steppe outside the city. The sight and sound of 600 horses charging in a headlong gallop over a 10-mile course is a heart-stopping sensation, and only the celebration that follows – with its open-hearted Mongolian hospitality, drinking, and food – can match it.