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Forbidden territory: on horseback to the source of one of Earth’s most formidable rivers


In this extract from his new book, Colin Thubron is in Genghis Khan country, tracking the source of the mighty Amur in Mongolia


Across the heart of Asia, at the ancient convergence of steppe and forest, the grasslands of Mongolia move towards Siberia in a grey-green sea. The land’s silence is almost unbroken. It is barely inhabited. At its farthest reach, near the Russian frontier, almost 5,000 square miles are forbidden to travelers. These mountains, once the homeland of Genghis Khan, are today a near-sacred wilderness. The solitary track that reaches them ends at a barrier and a rangers’ lodge. And here we wait – a guide, two horsemen and I – to enter a region that none of us truly knows.

Somewhere deep in this hinterland rises one of the most formidable rivers on Earth. It drains a basin twice the size of Pakistan, and more than 200 tributaries, some of them immense, pour into its flood in spring. For over 1,000 miles it forms the border between Russia and China: a faultline shrouded in old mistrust.

The Amur is elusive. Even the name’s origin is obscure. To the west, the river seems unreachable remote, and few people have even heard of it. There are wildly different estimates of its leng