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A glorious image of Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Province - it is quite remarkable - a crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by mountain steppe and sand dunes.

Khar Nuur Lake Mongolia

When we first started working in Mongolia back in 2006, Khar Nuur Lake in Zavkhan Province in Western Mongolia was little mentioned or visited. As tourism to Mongolia has increased, so has the volume of visitors to the region. It is also a very popular destination for domestic tourists as well – especially during the Naadam Festival when Mongolians get a five-day public holiday and often go on inter-generational road trips. But, although Khar Nuur in Zavkhan is no longer as off the beaten track as it was once, it doesn’t stop it from being a spectacular location to visit.

A glorious image of Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Province - it is quite remarkable - a crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by mountain steppe and sand dunes.

Khar Nuur Lake (Nuur translates into lake in Mongolian) is also known as Ulaagchinii Khar Nuur. It is a freshwater lake and is one of Mongolia’s 70 Important Bird Areas (designated by BirdLife International). Khar Nuur is surrounded by the Bor Khyarin sand dunes and forms part of the Great Lakes Depression. Khar Nuur Lake is part of a transitional zone between Mongolia’s central Khangai Mountains and the depression and is a combination of both these zones – an alpine lake surrounded by dunes, although this brief description does not do this remarkable region justice.

Mongolia’s Great Lakes Depression is also known as the Great Lakes Basin. This significant semi-arid depression forms part of the Central Asian Internal Drainage Basin and the Altai Sayan Ecoregion (one of the Global 200 eco regions highlighted by the World Wide Fund for Nature). In Mongolia, it covers parts of Zavkhan, Uvs, Bayan Ulgii, Khovd and the Gobi Altai aimags. What makes the region so unique is that it is rare to find such a variety of biological diversity (ecosystems include semi-desert, interconnected shallow lakes with wide reed belts, dunes, steppe, grasslands, forests, and mountains) in such proximity. 



Although we’re a small company (150-200 bookings per year) we receive returning guests. John Holman had travelled with us twice (‘I enjoyed the remoteness, the feeling of immense space, the secluded camping and the great balance between programmed experiences and the freedom to explore independently’), before deciding to return for a third visit including to experience Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Aimag (‘the prospect of the ‘unknown’ certainly excites me’). John wrote wonderful updates whilst on the road, and here we share some of his thoughts on his road journey to Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Aimag:

‘As we bounce our way down a particularly boulder-strewn gully we are suddenly confronted with a breathtaking vista. The bluest of blue lakes nestled snuggly amongst dark rocky crags and flanked by golden brown sand dunes. A herd of Bactrian camels stroll lazily across our path and a pair of brilliant white whooper swans cruise gracefully along the shoreline.

As we traverse the southern shoreline the colour of the lake changes constantly with the light – amethyst, jade, emerald, silver and turquoise, while from our campsite nestled between the lake and the dunes the soft  pastel pinks, blues and mauves of opal in the eastern sky at sunset are reflected in the mirror-like surface of the lake. The name of this gem is Khar, a very simple name for a simply beautiful place. We are lulled to sleep by the gentle lapping of small waves idling across the lake ahead of a gentle breeze.

Sunset at Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Province

A very relaxing day is spent exploring the dunes, the lake shore and the surrounding hills, attending to some domestic chores and keeping Turuu company while he changes a couple of universal joints on the Furgon. The ability to carry out major mechanical repairs in the middle of nowhere – this year universal joints, last year a differential bearing – is testimony to both the Furgon’s uncomplicated design and Turuu’s mechanical skills. The day provides not only many ‘wow’ moments but also complete tranquillity, for we see no one else apart from a local fisherman until late afternoon when one of Turuu’s local driver mates, Basra, joins us. We are to enjoy the benefits of Basra’s extensive local knowledge for the next couple of days.

We only recommend this route to those who enjoy an adventure and a road trip as to access this region with its vast and weathered landscapes requires travelling on some of Mongolia’s most challenging roads. Also, take into account that infrastructure – whether that be toilets or waste facilities – remains extremely limited. (So we ask that you follow the practices of leaving no trace when you visit. Yes, you may well see others being negligent but make sure to limit your impact on the area. We we can highly recommend combining a visit to Khar Nuur Lake with a visit to Mongolia’s sacred Otgon Tenger Mountain (also in Zavkhan Aimag) – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolias-otgon-tenger-mountain/. Our Wild Tracks series of road trips promote staying longer and exploring deeper, thereby making the most of your international flight – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolia-tours/mongolia-impact-tours/

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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