One Hump or Two?
Genghis Khan had it all wrong. Thundering across the steppes of Mongolia on horseback makes for an impressive Hollywood spectacle, but camel riding is traveling in style. With their loping gait and comfortable, furry humps, camels are to horses what a new Lexus is to a hand-cranked Model T. And camel trekking is the best way to see the farthest, most isolated reaches of Mongolia, a mysterious kingdom that was closed to Westerners from the 1920s until the fall of the Soviet Union.
Adventures to this landlocked nation begin and end in Ulaanbaatar, the capital and largest city. From there, you’ll be in the capable hands of your tour guide, who will introduce you to the nuances of world-famous Mongolian hospitality: No stranger, according to tradition, can ever be turned away, and charging for a meal or a visit is unthinkable. Most camel treks use a combination of trucks and camels to get visitors around this dry, rugged land, twice the size of Texas with a tiny fraction of its population.
You’ll be traveling in the footsteps of famed American archaeologist Roy Chapman Andrews, allegedly the inspiration for Indiana Jones, who uncovered a treasure trove of prehistoric dinosaur fossils in the arid sands around the Flaming Cliffs, one of Mongolia’s most renowned attractions. It’s not unusual for even casual hikers to find fossilized remains of dinosaur eggs and bones scattered on the ground. For a thrill from more recent times, check out the Bronze-age cave paintings at Mount Ikh Bayan. In the heart of the Gobi Desert lies Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park and the famous Three Beauties, towering peaks that mark the eastern edge of the Altai Mountains.
Throughout your trip, you can expect to stay in gers, round tentlike structures that are similar to the yurts of Siberia. You may fall asleep to the ethereal sounds of throat singing, the Mongolian warbling that has captured the imagination of music lovers worldwide. And throughout it all you’ll be surrounded by the serene beauty of the Gobi Desert and the incomparable hospitality of the Mongolian people.
Tours: Black Ibex Expeditions ( 976/11-318-848; www.discovermongolia.mn). Muir’s Tours ( 44/0118-950-2281; www.nkf-mt.org.uk). Nomadic Expeditions ( 800/998-6634 or 609/860-9008; www.nomadicexpeditions.com).
When to Go: June or Sept.
$$ Ulaanbaatar Hotel, 14, Sukhbaatar Square, Ulaanbaatar ( 976/70-116-688; www.ubhotel.mn). $$ Narantuul Hotel, 2 khoroo, Baruun Durvun zam, Ulaanbaatar ( 976/11-330-565; www.narantuulhotel.com).