Podcasts About Mongolia
July 20, 2016
The beautiful smile of a local Mongolian boy from a herding family
Mother and Children’s Day Mongolia
June 1, 2017
The western shore of Khovsgol Nuur National Park in northern Mongolia

(Wild) Swimming In Mongolia

Why a blog post about (wild) swimming in Mongolia? After all, Mongolia is the world’s second largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan – it is the size of western Europe with more than 30% covered by the Gobi Desert – the world’s 5th largest desert.  It is also a country where the number of swimming pools outside of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar can be counted on one hand (with a few fingers left over) and any fresh water lake or river is frozen hard for at least a third if not more of the year.

This is the surface of Khovsgol Nuur … in February.  Stunning. But perhaps a little hard to access.

This is the winter surface of Khovsgol Nuur in northern Mongolia. Khovsgol is Mongolia's largest fresh water lake and although it is over 130km in length and up to 264m in depth in places, it freezes in winter - freezes enough for vehicles to drive on it

I swim in Mongolia. At the municipal pool in Ulaanbaatar and then when I can when I’m out on a tour – usually a quick (‘refreshing’) dip. And when I’m in the UK I swim all year round in the sea and rivers.

I swim for the feeling of freedom in the water and the absolute joy it can bring – whether that be the rhythm (and ‘mindfulness’) of lengths in a public swimming pool or something outdoors and ‘wilder.’ Swimming outdoors is about feeling alive. It’s exhilarating. It’s refreshing. It’s invigorating. And frequently cold. I don’t always get in either… sometimes a slate grey sky can abruptly remove any motivation that you had.

Turuu (my business partner) is from the Gobi. He sees water in a completely practical way – accessing the local well for drinking water for the family and the livestock or how to cross a fast flowing river in his Furgon 4×4 after a torrential downpour when there’s no other route available. Yet, he understands this desire I have to swim  – one of the first questions he always asks is ‘Boss, you swim?’, knowing that if I’m swimming then everything is OK with the world.

For those that understand the reason why we swim, there are my top five swim spots in Mongolia:

Khovsgol Nuur 

Khovsgol Lake - a great location for (wild) swimming in landlocked Mongolia

The western shore of Khovsgol Nuur National Park captured by our guest Egon Filter. The lagoons on the western side are a unique feature. Formed by the process of longshore drift, the lake waves pound the shoreline but maintain a series of gravel bars that serve as a protective barrier for the lagoons where many water birds find shelter during the breeding season and migration.

Khovsgol Nuur National Park has Khovsgol Nuur, a beautiful fresh water lake, at its core. Lake Khovsgol is a spiritual place for Mongolians  where it is known as Dalai Ej – Mother Sea.

Khovsgol is 126km in length and represents roughly 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water. It is a large, deep (260m) and ancient lake that is part of the Baikal Rift System. Located in the northernmost extension of Mongolia (the lake’s surface lies at 1,645 m above mean sea level) it is part of a transition zone where the southern reach of the monumental boreal forest meets the central Asian steppe (with a backdrop of a mountainous landscape formed by the Khoridol Saridag Range – an imposing rampart (primarily dolomite) with many peaks topping 3,000 meters in elevation).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.

Your swim will be cold but the water is clean and pure.

Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur 

Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park is a great location for wild swimming in Mongolia

A panoramic view of from our campsite at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park as captured by our guest Mick Egan. The wooden structure is a winter shelter used by herders to provide protection to their sheep and goats during the winter months.

I know this image shows little of the lake, but it puts the wilderness of the area into perspective. Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur is a large freshwater lake in Arkhangai Aimag in central Mongolia. It forms part of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park (White Lake National Park ) which encompasses an area of wild nature – volcanic craters, rugged mountains, river valleys and rolling steppe. The lake has 10 tributary rivers and over 6000 hectares of wetlands of international importance. The numerous bays and peninsulas on the northern shore are home to Bar Headed Geese, Ruddy Shellducks and Northern Lapwings. It is one of 70 Important Bird Area’s (Bird Life International) in Mongolia and part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway protecting migratory water birds.

Although it is shallow, White Lake is a great swimming location –  one of Mongolia’s wildest, moodiest and most rugged of lakes. I am rather in love with it.

Khar Nuur

Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Province

Khar Nuur in Zavkhan Province captured by our guest John Holman – it is quite remarkable – a crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by mountain steppe and sand dunes.

Khar Nuur is a freshwater lake surrounded by the Bor Khyarin sands dunes located in Zavkhan Aimag. Zavkhan Aimag occupies a transitional zone between the Khangai Mountains and the Great Lakes Depression, and Khar Nuur is a combination of both these zones – an alpine lake surrounded by dunes, although this brief description does not do this remarkable region justice. A swim at Khar Nuur can be combined with the extraordinary views of Senjit Tsohio (rock formations at the top of a pass) and the Mukhartiin Gol (a river that flows out of the surrounding dunes).

Reasons to visit Mongolia - the spectacular (and surprising) Mukhartiin Gol the

Mukhartiin Gol captured by our guest John Holman

Ulaan Tsutgalan

Orkhon Waterfall Mongolia

Mongolia’s Orkhon Waterfall in full flow – captured by our guest Nick Rains.

Ulaan Tsutgalan (also known as the Orkhon Waterfall) is part of the Orkhon River Valley – one of Mongolia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The valley is listed as a cultural site and represents the evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions in Mongolia and provides a rare slice of tangible Mongolian history. This area is rich in history relating to the Hunnu, the Turks and the Mongol Empire as well as the founding of founding of Buddhism in Mongolia, leading to the region being called the cradle of Mongolian civilisation. The valley and the waterfall are both part of the Khangai Nuruu National Park which preserves the best representative area of the Khangai mountain range and its biodiversity with a variety of habitat types, ranging from steppe through to alpine meadows with forest of mostly larch and pine.

The area surrounding Ulaan Tsutgalan was created by a series of volcanic eruptions (there are often different types of igneous rock lying on the surface – such as basalt and pumice stone). The  20-meter high waterfall is formed by a series of small streams and rivers including the Ulaan Gol. The plunge pool formed by the waterfall is a delightful swimming spot. It’s popular, but there is enough to go around.

Khoton & Khurgan Nuur

Khoton and Khurgan Lakes in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Just one of the views of the ‘eternal’ landscapes of Khoton and Khurgan Nuur in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. The gers you can see are Kazakh rather than Mongolian.

Western Mongolia is dominated by Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, home to Mongolia’s highest mountains where summits reach 4000m plus and are covered with permanent snow, ice and glaciers. The national park is divided into two regions, the Tavan Bogd Mountains in the northwest and the lakes in the southeast.

The freshwater lakes – Khoton and Khurgan Nuur as well as Dayan Nuur – are connected by the 3 km-long Sargaal Channel. All are fed by glacial melt and annual snow fall that flows into the Tsagaan Us Gol and form the head waters of the Khovd River. The lakes are surrounded by the Mongol Altai mountain range, with extensive forests, snow fields and glaciers but the western shore of Khoton Nuur, with the Chinese border providing a stunning backdrop, is a particular favourite for swimming in Mongolia.

For more on Mongolia – see our virtual tour of the country. Alternatively, look at the range of Mongolia experiences we offer. We work country wide rather than just focusing on the ‘highlights’ and, unlike most companies, we only offer a selected number of departures throughout the year as this keeps our experiences fresh and original. It also means that we don’t create a ‘tourist circuit’, spoiling an untouched region.
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