Book cover - On The Trail Of Genghis Khan
Mongolia Must-Reads: On The Trail of Genghis Khan by Tim Cope
September 20, 2021
Mongolia's Khoridol Saridag Mountains
Mongolia’s Khoridol Saridag Mountains
October 16, 2021
Mongolian taiga landscape

Mongolia’s Darkhad Depression

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).

Map Of Protected Areas Of Khovsgol Province highlighting the location of the East and West Taiga. Image: Changing Taiga


Tsaatan Reindeer Herder Darkhad Depression Mongolia

Image: EL guest Enya Dunn-Trethowan

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.

Tsaatan reindeer herder Mongolia's Darkhad Depression

Image: EL guest Kairi Aun

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. 

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. 


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.

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.
Sign up to our Newsletter

Written by Jess - the founder of Eternal Landscapes - there's no spam, no sharing your details and no random offers. It goes out once or twice a month. Hopefully enough to be of interest but not too much to annoy.

We respect your privacy.