One of the 'eternal' landscapes of Mongolia - gers in the central Khangai Mountains.
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Horse and sleigh on frozen Lake Khovsgol

Mongolia Horse Sleigh Expedition – Khovsgol

When you think of Mongolia one of the first images that come to mind might be that of the wide-open steppe during summer. But Mongolia’s deep winter wilderness is an opportunity missed by many and one of the most remarkable regions to experience Mongolia’s winter is Khovsgol Nuur National Park. And one of the most remarkable experiences is a Mongolia horse sleigh expedition at Khovsgol.

Why? Here’s one reason …

The backdrop to our Mongolia horse sleigh expedition - Khovsgol

Sunrise over frozen Khovsgol Nuur in northern Mongolia. Captured through the lens of our guest Kairi Aun.

Khovsgol Nuur National Park

Khovsgol Nuur (lake) is the area of water that dominates Khovsgol Nuur National Park in northern Mongolia. The lake is known as  Dalai Ej – Mother Sea  – to Mongolians. It is a spiritual place for Mongolians and its natural beauty makes it a stunning location to take a little time out.

Khovsgol is 136km 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. It is truly spectacular.

And in the winter it is frozen. Deeply frozen.

The Khoridol Saridag Mountains and western shoreline provide a backdrop to our Mongolia horse sleigh expeditions - Khovsgol

The Khoridol Saridag Mountains and western shoreline provide a backdrop to the frozen lake surfaces of Khovsgol Nuur. Notice the traditional and WARM (!) coats modeled by Turuu and Bataa. These are handmade for Eternal Landscapes.

Why A Mongolian Horse Sleigh Expedition?

Meet Baasanchuluu.

Baasanchuluu - head of his family and a member of the Darkhad ethnic group. Although young, his knowledge of the local area is as vast as the landscapes of his home. His pasture is located close to the community of Khatgal. Khovsgol Ice Festival, March 2018.

Baasanchuluu (Bambakh) is the head of his family and a member of the Darkhad ethnic group.The Darkhad ethnic group are predominantly 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.

Bambakh has lived in the Khovsgol region his whole life with his livestock pasture being located close to the community of Khatgal – which reveals the proximity with Siberian Russia through its log house architecture. We have worked closely with Baasanchuluu and his family for all our adventure inspired Khovsgol experiences since 2011.

Together with his brother Lokh and their childhood friend Zorgio, Bambakh & co have hand-built horse sleighs in the local tradition. These are the sleighs we use for our Mongolia horse sleigh expeditions on Khovsgol – with Bambakh, Lokh and Zorgio driving the sleighs. It is their local knowledge that guide and lead our trips.

Horse sleigh Khovsgol Lake Mongolia

We don’t ‘close’ for the winter months. In fact, we promote low season travel. Why? It’s a more sustainable approach and is a major part of our responsible tourism philosophy but this isn’t a case of lip service or ticking boxes. Low season in Mongolia is brutally long – from the end of October almost up until the beginning of May. As part of our long-term support, we look at ways in which we can continue to provide support to the families and communities we work with even during this low period and thus created our winter trips.We are also keen to make tourism less concentrated around peak season in Mongolia (summer) and to help the income of the people we work with  – both our immediate Mongolian team and the network of Mongolians we work in long-term local community partnership with – be more evenly distributed. For those travelling at this time of year, we reward you with a 15% discount.

We only offer winter experiences that provide what we consider a celebration of Mongolian culture and tradition. We look at what Mongolians do in the low season – either now or as part of their cultural history – or their traditions and festivals.  Fewer travellers allow you a more intimate experience and exclusive access into the lives and culture of these places. Low season in Mongolia offers what we consider more ‘real-life‘ experiences –  those unexpected moments when you know something special is happening.  

During a Mongolia horse sleigh expedition - Khovsgol

We insulate the horse sleigh with our hand made traditional goatskin blankets. We also provide you with your own hand made full-length goat skin del (traditional Mongolian coat) and a pair of Mongolian felt boots. Lunches are taken always with a small campfire. Having these picnic lunches allows us to explore the sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, forested coves and the small cliffs that can be found alongside the lake.

The horse sleighs used for the expedition are part of the Darkhad culture and not something arranged just for tourism. However, we still take the welfare of the horses used for the expedition seriously.

  • The horses are working horses and chosen specifically by the Darkhad guides – who are also the owners of the horses and the sleighs – and therefore understand the characteristics needed for the horse to pull the sleigh.
  • We work in long-term local community partnership with the herders and know that the animals are not overworked and in good condition. However, the animals are chosen based on factors such as terrain, altitude, temperature, hours of work, age and their condition.
  • During the expedition, we ensure (together with the Darkhad guides) that the horses receive adequate shelter, care, food and water. We match the weight of our guests to that of the animal and ensure that the weight is evenly balanced when riding. All tour equipment is carried in the EL support vehicle therefore lessening the load of each horse.
  • If a horse is injured or becomes ill, they are not be worked again until they are fit.

 

During a Mongolia horse sleigh expedition - Khovsgol

Mongolia Horse Sleigh Expedition – What To Expect

We leave the route entirely flexible and in the hands of your local guides as this leads to a more organic and Mongolian type of exploration. Yes, there will be challenges. The weather can be hard – bitter enough that your breath freezes in the air as you speak but this is all part of this remarkable experience. The wind can cause difficulties as it rushes through the 3 or 4 corridors that cross through the Khoridol Saridag limestone mountain range that dominates the western shoreline. Also, there might be compression crests. But these are all challenges that your local horse guides know to look out for and how to deal with.

Each evening you will be hosted by local families that make their winter home alongside the lakeshore – as you travel you’ll see traditional gers put up on the banks; smoke curling up through the groves of Siberian larch.

It is breathtakingly beautiful – the simple purity of the landscapes and the frozen lake. This style of experience provides a  rare tranquillity. The immensity of the lake and its landscapes are awe-inspiring. You’ll find complete freedom as you fly over the ice listening to your sleigh guide singing traditional songs about horses and love. The ice is pure and transparent – virtually untouched – and you can lose hours of your day looking at the trapped air bubbles and being mesmerised by the colours.

For more details on our Mongolia horse sleigh expedition at Khovsgol look at our Khovsgol Ice Festival experiences which includes a three-day horse sleigh expedition – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/khovsgol-ice-festival-mongolia-small-group-winter-trip/. We can also offer a tailor-made experience on dates to suit you although we suggest March as a good month due to the ice.

Why not join us?

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

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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