Flying over the vast, rolling steppes for three and a half hours without seeing anything so much as a village, let alone a city, is a powerful reminder that Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country on the planet.

Touching down in the predominantly Kazakh city of Bayan Olgii, in Mongolia’s westernmost Altai region, I was relieved to still have internet access on my phone and, as the small, unremarkable town of Bayan Olgii faded in the rearview of our 4×4, so too did my phone connection.

As we set up camp on the edge of the steppes outside the city, I found myself staring at the lights of Bayan Olgii in the distance and wondering why we didn’t simply spend our first night in the comfort of civilization with warm showers, electricity, and—most importantly—an internet connection. The strange truth is that I had crossed an invisible line, temporarily exchanging one form of civilization for another. The Altai demands that you cut the cord.

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