The drives certainly feel eternal, with up to six hours between destinations. Save for a handful of asphalt highways, the roads in rural Mongolia are unpaved; the locals call them “Nature Roads.” Our driver, Ganbat, does not speak a word of English. He is extremely focused: much of his time is spent scaling steep rock faces or rumbling over ravines. There are rarely signs, landmarks, or tire tracks to follow, and he uses no maps or GPS.
“Mongolia is open to anyone,” Aldar says, as if to explain the boundless terrain. “Even if you do own property here, you don’t put up fences. Anyone can pass through or set up camp for a while. It’s the nomadic way.”
I soon learn that the nomadic way runs deep in Mongolia, especially in the countryside. For centuries, nomads have lived in yurts, called gers in Mongolian, which still dot the landscape today. Nomads move several times a year and live only off of what they can bring with them….