I hadn’t come to Mongolia seeking an education in the politics of development, but the signs of rapid, double-edged growth were everywhere. In Bayan-Olgii, the westernmost city, a huge entourage of Western foreigners driving foreign vehicles tore into the yurt camp where I stayed one night. They shook the felt walls of the camp with their shouting and drinking and ramen noodle-making, and the next morning did burn outs in the gravel driveway and honked as they left, showering pebbles over the camp owners’ barelegged children.
Around the town of Bayan-Ollgi sat multitudes of great, hulking tourist vehicles, resting at roadsides like over-fed weight lifters. They were protected by new, fat tires, for the sand, and strapped to their roofs and sides were shiny water and petrol cans, spare tires, tool kits, maps and jacks – all the accouterments of a military reconnaissance mission. I had the strong impression of being in an invaded country, watching a civilian-clothed army loot stores for bread and toilet paper.