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My Trip Along the Most Mysterious River on Earth

1 6 0
25.09.2021

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 five thousand 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 two hundred tributaries, some of them immense, pour into its flood in spring. For over a thousand miles it forms the border between Russia and China: a fault-line shrouded in old mistrust.

The Amur is elusive. Even the name’s origin is obscure. To the West the river seems unreachably remote, and few people have even heard of it. There are wildly different estimates of its length, naming it the tenth or even eighth longest river in the world. Its Chinese shore is almost untravelled, while razor wire and watchtowers shadow its Russian bank from end to end in the most densely fortified frontier on earth.

A day goes by, and then a night, while we wait to cross into these proscribed mountains. The rangers in this country, named the Khenti Strictly Protected Area, are reluctant to release us, although I have permits secured by the trusted agent who found my guide and horsemen. I feel a first twinge of unease. Our three tents, pitched in the meadow grasses, are beginning to look forlorn, and the elation of starting out–the visceral excitement, the tingle of apprehension–is ebbing into the fear that we may never start at all. At night I am woken by our horses cropping the grass outside my tent. It is that hour when the mind darkens; and suddenly the notion of following a river of 2,826 miles (the favored estimate), as it flows through south-east Siberia then meets China, then breaks for the Pacific, seems little more than a........

© The Daily Beast


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