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Trekking in Khovsgol and the Darkhad Depression

Trekking Khovsgol & the Darkhad Depression

We were joined by Swiss guest Deborah Furrer on a three week trip to northerm Mongolia – trekking within Khovsgol and the Darkhad Depression.

Khovsgol Nuur National Park in northern Mongolia is justifiably considered a highlight of Mongolia. But, there is so much more to it than just the lake. Biologists use the word ecotone for places where different habitats meet – where a forest meets a meadow or a lake meets a shore. Khovsgol is an ecotone on a very large scale. The result is a wide range of habitats – wet meadows, shallow ponds, coniferous forest, steppe woodland, open steppe, alpine meadow, high mountains and the lake and lakeshore.

Khovsgol is one of three parallel rift valleys created by the Baikal Rift System and occupies the same geological structure as Lake Baikal in Siberia. The Darkhad Depression is the third parallel rift valley and home to Mongolia’s Tsaatan reindeer herders

That’s why we combined two trekking options on one trip – combining a five-day trek of Khovsgol and the Khoridol Saridag Mountains before a five-day trek into the Darkad Depression – as it allows our guests an extended time to experience one of Mongolia’s most sacred and unique landscapes and the way of life of the people that make their home within the region.

In the words of our guests that joined us trekking in Khovsgol and the Darkhad Depression:

‘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.’

Khovsgol Nuur & Khoridol Saridag
Trekking at Khovsgol & Darkad Depression

The Khoridol Saridag Strictly Protected area was established to protect the habitat of the Siberian Ibex, Argali sheep and Musk Deer. The mountains form part of Khovsgol Nuur National Park and are primarily uplifted dolomite – a kind of limestone – with many of its peaks topping 3000m.

Trekking at Khovsgol and the Darkhad Depression

Darkhad Depression

Tsaatan ort or tent used by Mongolia's reindeer herders during trekking to Khovsgol & Darkhad Depression

During the summer months, Mongolia’s Tsaatan families load their belongings, including the canvas used to construct their teepee dwelling, or ortz, on the backs of reindeer, and head for the next camp.


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 in Mongolia’s Darkhad Depression. 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.


A Tsaatan reindeer family when trekking in Khovsgol & Darkhad Depression

Ethnically, Mongolia’s reindeer herders identify as Dukha, but their lifestyle as reindeer herders earned them the Mongolian name Tsaatan, which means roughly “with reindeer.” For millennia, the Tsaatan have depended on domesticated reindeer for nearly all of their basic needs, such as milk for food, skins for clothing, and antlers for tools. For meat, the Tsaatan have depended on wild game, while nuts, berries, and flora of the taiga also supplement their traditional diet. Reindeer are also used as both riding and pack animals in the rugged taiga environment the Tsaatan call home. The Tsaatan move between five and ten times per year in accordance with factors such as forage needs of reindeer, weather, and social events such as the start of the school year.

Our treks are different in that we leave the route entirely flexible and in the hands of the herder guide/horse wrangler 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/horse wrangler riding 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 you just came across or even to spend half the day at the local kindergarten that you pass en-route. 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. Deborah took third place in the archery competition. Yep, that’s right. Third place.


If you’re interested in joining us on one of our trekking experiences, why not look through the Mongolia tours we offer. Alternatively, get in touch with Jess.

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.
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