Allow us to introduce Khovsgol Nuur National Park in northern Mongolia. But first, a question. When you think of Mongolia what do you think of? Nomads, horses, wrestlers, Chinggis Khan, gers, wide-open steppe … and maybe mutton?
What about a navy?
Yes, it may seem a little odd that Mongolia (the second-largest landlocked nation after Kazakhstan and with the closest port (roughly) 1270km away) has a navy. But it does. Of a sort. Based at Khatgal – the small community in the south of Khovsgol Nuur.
But more on this in a bit.
Khovsgol Nuur National Park was established in 1992. It covers 838,000 hectares – the entire watershed of Lake Khovsgol. In 1997, an additional 189,000 hectares of mountain wilderness was set aside as the Khoridol Saridag Strictly Protected Area. Located where the vast Siberian forest meets the central Asian steppe Khovsgol blends elements of both. The mountainous landscapes add to this.
Probably the most famous aspect of the national park is the lake itself. Tour companies called it the ‘Blue Pearl’ of Mongolia. Mongolians call it Dalai Ej – Mother Sea. A much more suitable name.
Khovsgol is 126km in length and represents roughly 70% of Mongolia’s freshwater and is the younger sister to Lake Baikal in Siberia and part of the same Rift System. If the sky is clear, you can stand on the shoreline and see the snowcapped Sayan Mountains – the border with Siberia.
The water is clean, clear … and truly bloody cold. Let’s call it refreshing.
A majority of western companies now use more ‘exclusive’ luxury camps on the east shore. That means you’re based away from tourism – which at Khovsgol frequently means holidaying Mongolians. However, Khovsgol Nuur is a spiritual place for Mongolians and that means they like to visit it. Wouldn’t you if you’re based in Ulaanbaatar or the Gobi Desert for the rest of the year?
And you know what? I like holidaying Mongolians. You get invited to join in with their family celebration. They spend time practising their English. They’re interested in where you’re from and what you do. And they give you a different perspective – they make you remember that Mongolia is not just nomads, wrestlers and horses.
Another reason I like the west shore is as with a bit of ‘puff’ you can explore the Khoridol Saridag Mountains including the 2300m Chuchee Uul with its remarkable view …
Having said that … one of our favourite camps is located on the east coast and run by a former national park ranger – a family of conservationists. Although without electricity its the little touches such as the sauna, fed by a wood fire that also heats the shower, which makes this so special.
The Khoridol Saridag Mountains are a strictly protected area and primarily uplifted dolomite and the very barren, arid upland areas contrast with great beauty against the lower rich alpine meadows.
Yes. Most companies offer trips through Jigleg Davaa and up to Renchinlumbe – the edge of the Darkhad Depression (and a different blog post). However, there are numerous trekking routes within the Khoridol Saridag – quite a few following the migration routes of the local herders. These are the ones we prefer and we never see any other travellers – just passing local herders.
This small rural community looks like most of Mongolia’s small rural communities – dusty around the edges and not that inspiring. But, dig a little deeper and you’ll find a vibrant local community – especially during Naadam typically held around July 11th and 12th.
You’ll also find the remains of the Mongolian Navy.
In the 1930s, the Mongolian Navy was reborn under the auspices of the Soviet Union. It received one boat, the Sukhbaatar, to patrol Lake Khovsgol. The ship was named after Damdiny Sukhbaatar, the Mongolian revolutionary leader who brought independence from China in 1921.
The Sukhbaatar eventually sank. As did Sukhbaatar II. The Sukhbaatar III is still surviving. But, the Mongolian government privatised its navy in 1997. So now the Sukhbaatar III supplements its income by hauling freight (mainly visitors) across the lake.
When the lake is not frozen … obviously.
And don’t think you can only visit Khovsgol in the summer. Consider the Ice Festival that takes place in early March. As well as winter ice games (horse-sledge races, ice-skating, ice ankle bones) there is also a cultural element with members of the Tsaatan (Mongolia’s ethnic reindeer herders) coming down from the taiga to join with the local residents. Throughout the event, it’s the ice that dominates – not just the artistic ice sculptures but the frozen lake itself with its deep cobalt cracks and ice waves caused by the ever-shifting wind patterns.
This event plays an important part in the winter calendar on the local people. Don’t get caught up in notions of authenticity – the festivals feature a lot of local involvement and always draw local Mongolian spectators as well as westerners and the locals are always more enthusiastic.
If the idea of being amongst any of these landscapes appeals why not have a quick look at our Mongolia small group tours page? We offer both summer and winter departures to Khovsgol Nuur National Park. We can also offer Mongolia tailor-made tours as well that include Khovsgol Nuur National Park. Get in touch for inspiration!
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes