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Tent Khovsgol Trekking Experiences

Khovsgol Trekking Experiences

In the north of Khovsgol Province in northern Mongolia, you’ll find a vast area of interconnecting ecosystems and this wild expanse provides the background for our Khovsgol trekking experiences.

‘The tour gave me very deep and authentic insight to the country and I loved every part of it. A wonderful and incredible trip. I’ve had the most amazing time, and I want to thank you and the team at Eternal Landscapes … for making this trip a time of my life I’ll never forget.’

Mongolia is the size of western Europe with limited infrastructure. The easiest way to explore the country is by domestic flight. However, we do not arrange trips where our guests fly from A to B to C to tick off a list of ‘must-see’ sights. Instead, rather than tick-list or bucket list travel, we focus on slow travel – on making connections with people, places, and the Mongolian culture. As part of our slow travel philosophy, we encourage our guests to stay for longer (spending multiple nights in one location, thereby providing a more immersive experience). Our extended Khovsgol trekking experiences are a good example of this – connecting Khovsgol Nuur National Park, the Khoridol Saridag Mountains (a Strictly Protected Area) running parallel to the west of the lake and the Darkhad Depression. To the north and west of the Darhad Valley lies the taiga (boreal forest) which lies between the steppes and the tundra. The Mongolia taiga is home to the Dukha reindeer herders (known in Mongolian as the Tsaatan). 

Mongolia's Khoridol Saridag Mountains on one of our Khovsgol trekking experiences

Image: EL guest Deborah Furrer

This extended trekking route also allows our guests to experience the way of life of the Darkhad ethnic group – nomadic herders with a cultural identity and dialect distinct from the majority Khalkh Mongols. Their summer pastures are located in the grasslands of the Darkhad valley, while many migrate through the Khoridol Saridag mountains to their winter camps close to Khovsgol Nuur. In the winter months, the Darkhad use horse sleighs to travel over frozen Khovsgol Lake. (Why not consider joining us on our Khovsgol Horse Sleigh Expedition? Riding over the ice makes for a hauntingly beautiful adventure.)

Horse sleigh expedition Mongolia

Image: EL guest Kairi Aun

Frozen Khovsgol Nuur Mongolia

Image_ El guest Kairi Aun

Herding households throughout the region are vulnerable to the impact of climate change due to rising temperatures, a change in precipitation, and declining soil fertility. It is one reason we choose to continue to work in the region. Our long-term local community partnerships with herding families help to provide extended financial support and allow them to diversify their income.

Spending time with our horse wranglers during our treks – Basaanchuluu (Bambakh), his brother Lokh and their sister Gerelt at Khovsgol and Narankhuu in the Darkhad – is always a highlight of any of our Khovsgol trekking experiences. Mongolian herders are well-matched to the land they inhabit and have a deep connection with the immense open spaces, the sacred landscapes, nature, and the elements. To gain a true understanding of the life of a herder it is important to witness and experience their daily life and the landscapes that they are dependent on and spending time with the herders that lead our treks, allows our guests to gain a true insight into this unique way of life. Especially the evenings spent in their homes – drinking tea, eating khuushuur, eating tsuivan, drinking tea, eating bread and cream, drinking tea …

A Darkhad herder in Mongolia. Host on our Khovsgol trekking experiences

Baasanchuluu – head of his family and a member of the Darkhad ethnic group. His pasture is located close to the community of Khatgal.

We also leave the trekking route flexible and in the hands of the herder guide as this leads to a more organic and Mongolian type of exploration. Rather than a rigid structure, the focus becomes getting to meet and know the Mongolian herder guide riding or trekking alongside them in the areas where they consider home. By not pre-planning the route, it means there is the flexibility to explore the hidden valley the group just came across or even to spend half the day at the local kindergarten that the group passed en-route. In one instance, there was even time for participation at the local Renchinlumbe Naadam. Our guests stayed for the two-day celebration – staying overnight in the local community. One EL guest took third place in the archery competition. Yep, that’s right. Third place.

Archery competition Mongolia

Archery competition Mongolia

Archery competition Mongolia

If you are shorter on time, one trek can be to the eastern shore of Khovsgol such as the area around Alag Tsar and Chandman-Öndör with its mix of landscapes including Siberian larch forest, rolling hills, alpine wildflower meadows, and wide-open steppe with its clear streams.

Tent Khovsgol Trekking Experiences

The remoteness of the area visited during a trekking journey in Mongolia influences the accommodation choices and therefore the amenities available. There are no showers or access to western style toilets. But even a hot power shower can’t beat the feeling of freedom and the nightly camp fires under a blanket of stars.

But the western-forested shore of Lake Khovsgol opens up options for many adventures. Following the western-forested shore of Lake Khovsgol you can trek on foot or by horse passing lakeside lagoons – a major and unique feature of the ecology of the national park, which provide an important breeding and migration ground for many waterfowl as well as other wildlife such as the elk below.

Elk - Khovsgol Nuur National Park

Image: EL guest Lee Hayes

Khovsgol Nuur Mongolia

You can cross the Khoridol Saridag Mountains using Jigleg Davaa (pass) – one of the few routes into the interior mountains and the small town of Renchinlumbe located within the Darkhad Depression.

Mongolian sacred ovoo during Khovsgol trekking experiences

Mongolian sacred ovoo at the top of Jigleg Pass. Image: EL guest Lee Hayes

The  Darkhad Depression is a region of incredible natural diversity – an intricate system of wetlands, ponds, and lakes surrounded by a broad expanse of open steppe along with deep coniferous taiga forest. This area is considered a sacred landscape where every hill, river, tree and stone is the dwelling place of a natural spirit. The Mongols practised ancestral shamanism (the worshipping of the Eternal Blue Sky and the spiritual forces of nature) and shamanism remains a strong element in the culture of this area.

The taiga feeds on from the Darkhad Depression and is the home to Mongolia’s Tsaatan reindeer herders. We don’t arrange multiple group trips or departures to the Tsaatan as there are some tourism management issues and we don’t wish to add to the challenges created by tourism and experienced by the Tsaatan. This is one reason we limit the number of departures to the taiga to between zero to two per year. In addition, we make sure our visit to the Tsaatan community is of benefit to all including financially and culturally. 
Tsaatan ortz or tent used by Mongolia's reindeer herders during Khovsgol trekking experiences

The Tsaatan live in canvas tents known as ortz – a form of a teepee although some families stay in permanent wooden houses in their winter pasture area. Image:  El guest Deborah Furrer

 

Meat drying in ortz belonging to Mongolia's reindeer herders

Image: El guest Deborah Furrer

 

Kindergarten for the children of the Tsaatan reindeer herders at Mongolia's Darkhad Depression

An ortz becomes a kindergarten for the children of the Tsaatan reindeer herders. Today, the Tsaatan represent Mongolia’s smallest ethnic minority group. Education, health care, representation in government, and livelihood issues are top priorities for community members who are finding ways to integrate aspects of modern life with ancient culture. Image: El guest Deborah Furrer

From the Darkhad Depression you can trek back through the Khoridol Saridag Mountains with one route going over a 2800m mountain passe and along gravel river beds. The Khoridol Saridag Range is primarily uplifted dolomite and the very barren, arid upland areas contrast with great beauty against the lower rich alpine meadows. 

 

Horse trekking in the Khoridol Saridag Strictly Protected Area during Khovsgol trekking experiences

Image: EL guest Deborah Furrer

Our Khovsgol trekking experiences are not the kind of treks that have a definite goal in mind – such as climbing Malchin Peak – in Altai Tavan Bogd NP in Mongolia’s far west. They are the kind of experiences when you remove your watch and follow the pace of the pack-horses. In the words of one of our guest Zeynep Ozbek:

‘A trekking adventure in Mongolia is all about living the Mongolian nomadic way of life, sampling first hand a nomad’s way of life. Living like the locals brings you in touch with nature, experiencing the joys of watching huge herds of animals on the move, flora and fauna in abundance everywhere and pristine lakes and rivers. The vast landscapes make you feel free and help you to forget the hurly burly of modern life. It is like stepping into a different way of thinking and living.’

If you are interested in joining us on one of our extended Khovsgol trekking experiences – whether by foot or horse – do get in touch with Jess.

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. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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