Mongolia’s Darkhad Depression is one of three parallel rift valleys created by the Baikal Rift System. (The other two rift valleys are Lake Baikal in Siberia and Khovsgol Nuur in northern Mongolia.) Mongolia’s Darkhad Depression was once the site of a large glacial fed lake and as well as a broad expanse of open steppe and low forested hills (the forests consist of predominantly Siberian larch) it remains a wetland area with over 300 wetlands consisting of ponds, bogs, and rivers. Rivers including the Tengis and Shishged, flow into the depression, feeding the wetlands and creating this dynamic wetland system.
The Darkhad Depression is part of Khovsgol province in north-central Mongolia. Most of the Darkhad Depression is under the protection of the Ulaan Taiga Protected Areas Administration, which oversees the Ulaan Taiga Strictly Protected Area (Ulaan Taiga is situated on the southewest side of the Darkhad Depression. The protected area was enlarged to encompass 1,074,661 acres and converted into a Strictly Protected Area in 2011), the Khoridol Saridag Strictly Protected Area, and the Tengis-Shishged National Park (established in 2011, Tengis-Shishged National park is named for the two rivers that flow from its mountains and encompasses 2,149,817 acres).
Mongolia’s Darkhad Depression is essentially a several thousand square kilometre ecosystem classified as taiga (also known as the boreal forest) in the Tsagaannuur region that forms the northernmost tip of Mongolia. This region provides a home range for the world’s southern-most indigenous reindeer population and the herders who look after them (the Tsaatan) as well as to members of the Darkhad ethnic group who are predominantly nomadic herders with livestock consisting of sheep, yaks and horses.
Mongolia’s Tsaatan consider their home landscape spiritual and sacred with most if not all the hills, rivers, stones, and trees of the Darkhad Depression home of a spirit. The Tsaatan follow a unique shamanistic tradition combined with tengerism and animism. The earth, sky and the spirits of the reindeer, the landscape and their own human ancestors are honoured and respected. As a result, some areas are off-limits to visitors such as areas considered to be inhabited by dangerous spirits. Other areas may have certain rules associated with them, such as prohibited activities.
If you would like to experience the landscapes of Mongolia’s immense Darkhad Depression and the way of life of the people who live their lives within it with us, Eternal Landscapes, then get in touch with Jess.