Sandwiched between Siberia and China’s Xinjiang Province, the southwest of Mongolia, known as Bayan-Olgii, comprises a far-flung tract of mountains and empty grassland. This is about as wild and remote as Asia gets: the landscape is spectacularly rugged, the climate unforgiving and infrastructure virtually non-existent. Livestock outnumbers people by a factor of 150 and paved roads tend to peter out after a couple of miles.
Unlike the rest of the Mongolian population, most of the locals in Bayan-Olgii are Kazakh-speaking Muslims. One third live in a single town, Olgii, which is connected by regular flights to Ulaanbaatar. Aside from the chance to see Eagle Hunters in action, the main reason to venture out here is to experience the natural wonders of the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, which include Mongolia’s highest mountain (Khuiten Peak, 4,374m / 14,350ft), whose sides are sculpted by the awesome Potanin Glacier.
The park’s White River valley also boasts one of Asia’s most impressive collection of prehistoric petroglyphs, depicting hunting and warfare scenes from 11,000–6,000 BC. Camp in fabulously wild, snow-capped mountains with nomadic yurt dwellers. Climb some of the most remote peaks in the world, trekking for days without crossing a road.
The extreme remoteness of Mongolia’s southwest makes it a top destination for anyone wishing to experience true wilderness.