The Five Saints: Riding Mongolia’s High Altai

The afternoon sun warms a half-dozen yaks and horses as they peacefully gaze in green pastures that stretch to the horizon. It’s nearing dark, which is a precise measurement in Mongolian Altai time. The people here don’t use clocks, but rather live by the cycles of the sun.

We sit on the gravel roadside next to a couple Russian Furgon vans—boxy, off-road machines that resemble jacked-up loaves of bread. The flat tire didn’t come as a surprise given the sorry state of the roads. The transmission failure wasn’t wholly unexpected either. It’s common for vehicles to run into trouble this far from civilization.

A few men on horseback approach to check on their herd. They stop at our little convoy. Curious bright eyes peek out from under their leather hats. Once again, we are thankful we didn’t start this adventure in complete solitude. “Sain uu!” says Woogie, while taking off his brand-new polarized sunglasses. Under his traditional deel—a Mongolian robe similar to a European tunic—he shifts from city to country. I almost forget that Woogie, born as Battulga Gantulga, is the founder of the Mongolian Professional Snowboard Federation. He’s the reason we are en route to the highest mountain district of Mongolia, the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park…

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