Traditional Mongolian barbecue
Traditional Mongolian Barbecue
May 10, 2021
A lot of the traditions of Mongolia were made illegal during the Communist era. Even though since independence in the early 1990’s Mongolia has had to forge and reforge its identity, a lot of the banned older customs and social rules have returned and still remain an inherent part of 21st Century Mongolian life. However, some are so integrated into everyday life that it can be hard for visitors to tell that they exist. One tradition that most travellers come across and that remains at the core of rural life in Mongolia is ‘khoorog’ – the passing and receiving of the snuff bottle. Passing a snuff bottle is seen as a formal occasion. If given, always try to remember to accept it with your right hand and with an open palm. You may take a pinch of snuff or just sniff the bottle’s top. Before passing the bottle to another person, you should offer it back to its owner. Do not replace the cap firmly before passing the bottle back – simply leave it resting on top of the bottle, with the snuff blade inside. This great image was taken by our guest Egon Filter on our Untamed Mongolia – one of our Mongolian small group adventures.
Gift Ideas For When Travelling In Mongolia
May 28, 2021
Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Province, Mongolia

Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Aimag. And yes, it is as stunning as it looks - where an alpine lake meets sand dunes. Zavkhan Aimag occupies a transitional zone between the Khangai Mountains and the Great Lakes Depression.

Khar Nuur Zavkhan

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.

Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Province, Mongolia

Khar Nuur is a freshwater lake surrounded by the Bor Khyarin dunes. Zavkhan Aimag occupies a transitional zone between the Khangai Mountains and the Great Lakes Depression, and Khar Nuur is a combination of both these zones – an alpine lake surrounded by dunes, although this brief description does not do this remarkable region justice.

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.
Sunset at Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Province
It is with mixed feelings that we take our leave the next morning – anticipation of adventures to come tinged with regret at having to leave this glorious setting so soon. We collect Basra and his crew from the ger camp on the other side of the lake then set out into uncharted territory.
We pass through a valley where no families live for it is home to many wolves. They do not fear the wolves but rather respect them. They simply fear for their stock. The valley is bordered by dark craggy peaks wrapped in cloaks of sand and we cross several icy streams before climbing steeply to a broad grassy summit with many large outcrops of sedimentary rock sculpted into amazing shapes by wind, rain and ice. From a distance they resemble the ruins of ancient castles. The trail passes through a natural arch some seven to eight metres high in one such outcrop and before us we can see the way ahead – row upon row of sand dunes stretching away into the distance.

Senjit Davaa

Our descent follows the course of a small stream emanating from a spring a little way above the trail, the green grassy terraces of which are under a mantle of ice and the water gurgles gently below a beautiful latticework of glistening dagger-like crystals. We lunch where the steam meets the foot of the dunes and discover that, not more than one hundred metres further on, the water simply melts away into the sand.
After crossing the dunes we emerge onto a sparsely grassed plateau and stop on the brink of a steep descent into a sandy, rock-strewn valley. Here Basra announces, “We find river.” Here? Really? In this parched landscape?

After trudging along the valley floor for a couple of kilometres we crest a small rise and there before us, to our amazement, is a river bed some 20 – 30 metres in width. A thin veneer of water ripples over the deep ochre sandy bed with the occasional deeper channel and upstream is a herder watering his flock of goats and sheep. Further upstream is a massive, very steep sand dune probably 100 metres tall which Basra informs us is the site of the spring which gives rise to the river.

It is a further kilometre or so to the source where we find ourselves in a huge amphitheatre about 150 metres wide encircled by the imposing walls of the dune which are striated with yellow,  mauve, brown and greenish-grey and sculpted into weird shapes. The reason the river at this point is named Mukhartin, meaning cul-de-sac, becomes immediately obvious. There must be a high mineral content in the sand for the dune is much more colourful and much steeper than pure sand could form. There is no obvious spring with water just seeping gently to the surface around the entire base of the dune and quickly gathering into strongly flowing channels. We quickly realise that the sand by the base is like quicksand and to be avoided at all cost. So impressive is this spectacle that Ross names it the eighth wonder of the world, and I can’t help but agree for it is truly spectacular sight.

Reasons to visit Mongolia - the spectacular (and surprising) Mukhartiin Gol the

Unlike this morning’s stream the flow is sufficient to avoid being swallowed up by the sand and further downstream it is supplemented by other springs to form the Khangiy river which we will more or less follow into the Great Lake Depression tomorrow.’
For more on Mongolia, why not look at the series of virtual tours we put together? – Alternatively, consider discovering the real thing on one of our Mongolia experiences –
Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia.
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