As my sturdy Mongol pony plodded sedately forward, I scanned the rolling grasslands. The sun was sinking; green was melting into all shades of gold and a brilliant-blue ceiling yawned overhead, reaching towards the horizon. I heard the thump of hoof-beats, carried on the breeze, and spotted a lone rider racing towards me. The stocky man with wide eyes and a wider smile leaped from his horse’s bare back and shook my hand vigorously.
He spoke no English but pointed to a white speck a couple of miles away and beckoned. We cantered to his circular tent where the family welcomed me. Mutton, singing, dancing and many vodka toasts ensued. This was the third such nights entertainment in three days. Mongolian hospitality is as generous as it is inescapable.
Larger than France, Germany and Spain combined – some 1,565,000 sq km – and with only 2.9 million people, Mongolia is ideal for a spot of adventure. It has Siberian lakes and forests in the north, glacial mountains in the west, undulating steppe grasslands in the centre and east, the indomitable Gobi spanning the south, and rushing rivers throughout. Mongolia’s scale means that – unless you’re planning on taking internal flights – you’re likely to be located in only one or two areas.
But the country you voted Top Emerging Destination is as diverse as it is vast, so there’s a good chance that wherever you explore, you’ll be able to partake in whatever gets your pulse racing, whether it’s hiking, riding, rafting, climbing, biking, off-roading, archery, birding, falconry or just being awed by the immensity of it all.