Trekking through the Altai Mountains on horseback is a unique experience, finds Ian D. Robinson.

So, how far is it back to the base camp from here?" I asked Nurjan, the attractive young Kazakh woman who was the translator for our horse trek through Mongolia's Altai Mountains.

We were standing in a clearing next to a wild river, having just spent the morning forcing our way through virgin pine forest on deer trails with horses and fully loaded pack horses. She replied with wonderful steppe logic. "Well, look at your watch now, then look at it again when we get there, then you'll know how far it is."

"Oh... right."

If Mongolia, previously called Outer Mongolia, is one of the world's backwaters then the Altai Mountains in the country's far west must be the backwater's backwater.