26 June 2017

Khovsgol Nuur National Park - Your Informal Guide

My informal guide to the glorious Khovsgol Nuur National Park in Mongolia 

When you think of Mongolia what do you think of? Nomads, horses, wrestlers, Chinggis Khan, gers, wide open steppe … and maybe mutton.

What about a navy? 

Yes, it may seem a little odd that Mongolia (the second largest landlocked nation after Kazakhstan and with the closest port (roughly) 1270km away) has a navy. But it does. Of a sort. Based at Khatgal - the small community in the south of Khovsgol Nuur.

But more on this in a bit. 

Khovsgol Nuur National Park

The national park was established in 1992. It covers 838,000 hectares – the entire watershed of Lake Khovsgol. In 1997, an additional 189,000 hectares of mountain wilderness were set aside as the Khoridol Saridag Strictly Protected Area. Located where the vast Siberian forest meets the central Asian steppe Khovsgol blends elements of both.  The mountainous landscapes adds to this. 

Khovsgol Nuur

Probably the most famous aspect of the national park is the lake itself. Tour companies called it the 'Blue Pearl' of Mongolia. Mongolians call it Dalai Ej - Mother Sea. A much more suitable name.

Khovsgol is 126km in length and  represents roughly 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water 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. 

The water is clean, clear  and truly bloody cold. Let's call it refreshing.

East Shore Versus West Shore

A majority of western companies now use more ‘exclusive’ luxury camps on the east shore. That means you're based away from mass tourism - which at Khovsgol frequently means holidaying Mongolians. However, Khovsgol Nuur is a spiritual place for Mongolians and that means they like to visit it. Wouldn't you if you're based in Ulaanbaatar or the  Gobi Desert for the rest of the year?

And you know what?  I like holidaying Mongolians. You get invited to join in with their family celebration. They spend time practising their English. They're interested in where you're from and what you do. And they give you a  different perspective - they make you remember that Mongolia is not just nomads, wrestlers and horses. 

Another reason I like the west shore is as with a bit of ‘puff’ you can explore the Khoridol Saridag Mountains including the 2300m Chichee Uul with its remarkable view 

Khoridol Saridag Mountain Range

The Khoridol Saridag Mountains are a strictly protected area and primarily uplifted dolomite and the very barren, arid upland areas contrast with great beauty against the lower rich alpine meadows. 

Yes. Most companies offer trips through Jigleg Davaa and up to Renchinlumbe - the edge of the Darkhad Depression (and a different blog post). However, there are numerous trekking routes within the Khoridol Saridag - quite a few following the migration routes of the local herders. These are the ones we prefer and we never see any other travellers - just passing local herders.


Yes, this small rural community looks like most of Mongolia's small rural communities - dusty around the edges and not that inspiring. But, dig a little deeper and you'll find a vibrant local community - especially during Naadam typically held around July 11th and 12th.

You'll also find the remains of the Mongolian Navy.

In the 1930s, the Mongolian Navy was reborn under the auspices of the Soviet Union. It received one boat, the Sukhbaatar, to patrol Lake Khovsgol.  The ship was named after Damdiny Sukhbaatar, the Mongolian revolutionary leader who brought independence from China in 1921. 

The Sukhbaatar eventually sank. As did Sukhbaatar II. The Sukhbaatar III is still surviving. But, the Mongolian government privatised its navy in 1997. So now the Sukhbaatar III supplements its income by hauling freight (mainly  visitors) across the lake. 

When the lake is not frozen … obviously.

Khovsgol In Winter

And don't think you can only visit Khovsgol in the summer. There's a hive of tourism activity around early March when the Ice Festival takes place.

However, we also offer an option for a winter homestay with Basaanchuluu and his family. They are a family of young traditional 'malchin' or herders who make their home in the mountain forest steppe roughly 8km from Khatgal.

What do I recommend? A winter horse trek - travelling to meet other families that make their winter home in the region.

Of course, however you choose to experience Khovsgol Nuur National Park, don't forget to visit Sukhbaatar III - the Mongolian Navy in all its glory.

If the idea of being amongst any of these landscapes appeals why not have a quick look at  the Eternal Landscapes website?! I look forward to hearing from you!

20 June 2017

The Weather In Mongolia - Embrace The Rain

Ulaanbaatar today has received approximately … well I don't know as I can't find any statistics. However, it has been raining almost continually for 24 hours now. It's nothing new though, Mongolia is used to high-intensity rainfall in the summer months.

True, not necessarily what you want to hear as a traveller who has just booked your international flight tickets to visit Mongolia this summer.

Anyway, it's the first major soaking of the year and much needed. Even if it has turned the roads of Ulaanbataar into a swimming pool.  This was on the FB site justMongolianthings … !

Insufficient drainage systems remain a major issue here in UB. Also, poor waste management causes congestion of existing drains.  Many sections of existing drainage structures have been demolished to make way for new construction. Anyway. You get the idea.

But. Mongolia does actually receive little rain compared to elsewhere in the world. Mongolia is called the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky because of … well, the blue sky. Roughly 250-260 days per year are without cloud. However, if you want to experience those blue sky days it's best to come in the … winter. Yep, then you only have to contend with the freezing temperatures instead!

Basically, the high central Asian mountain ranges of the Himalayas and the Altai protect Mongolia against the humid air masses. A big block of cold dry air (the Siberian Anticyclone) sits on top of the country and prevents the low-pressure rain filled air through - keeping things dry - especially in winter. 

However, rain does eventually get through. As today shows.

This is the main airport road. 

Image by gogoMongolia

And yes, as elsewhere in the world. The weather in Mongolia is changing. According to Oyun Sanjaasuren, former President of the United Nations Environment Assembly:

'Mongolia's average warming over the past couple of years is 2.2 degrees Celsius, which is considered the hottest in the country since the 1940s, and the global average is at 0.8 degrees Celsius.'

That means that rainfall becomes a more fragile commodity. And that's important in a country with roughly 61.5 million head of livestock and where 30-40% are still herders.

So. When you visit Mongolia this summer, don't get grumpy when it rains. Embrace it. 

It's not all grey depressing skies. The weather systems do (typically) move through quite quickly. When it does rain adjust your thinking and see it from the perspective of a Mongolian herder – rain is a blessing as it helps to rejuvenate the grasslands and bring fresh rich pasture. 

Bring the waterproofs as well as your sunglasses and accept that it might rain. Mongolia is glorious … whatever the weather. 

If  you would like a brief guide to when to travel to Mongolia, you can always look the Mongolian Tour Calendar page (being updated) on my Eternal Landscapes website. But a warning, I'm biased and recommend anytime of year. Each season has its own distinct highlights - everything from combing cashmere in the spring winds to hunting with eagles in western Mongolia in the winter

1 June 2017

International Children's Day, June 1st, Mongolia

If you were in UB today and wondered why there was a descent of children into the main city centre … welcome to the celebration of Mother and Children's Day - Mongolian style.

June 1st is also known as International Day For Child Protection. In Mongolia it is referred to as both Children's Day and Mother and Children's Day, although, in honesty, the celebrations focus much more on the children than any mums.

It is a public holiday and  is celebrated throughout the country. In fact, it is a date that has been celebrated in Mongolia for over 60 years.

Although the population of Mongolia is small (3 million), it is a young popultation. According to the 2010 Census, nearly 28% of the country are between 0-14 years of age. Also, of the almost 1.3 million people that live in Ulaanbaatar, over 30% are children.

The first-ever child organisation and movement in Mongolia was established on May 5, 1925, at the initiation of the Mongolian writer D.Natsagdorj and youth of that time. 

Mongolia joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 as the fifth member, and developed the Law on Protecting Children’s Rights according to the convention’s views. The law was ratified on May 8, 1996.

In 2014, the free Child Helpline 108 was initiated by Mongolia's National Authority for Children, World Vision Mongolia, and Mobicom Corporation  It's focus is help to reduce child abuse cases and strengthen the child protection system in Mongolia. It provides children with information, advice and assistance and children can Children can call 108 from anywhere, anytime, toll-free to seek advice, report abuse, domestic violence or peer pressure. 

And just last year, the Parliament of Mongolia passed Mongolia's first ever Law on Child Protection making a significant step towards fulfilling every child’s right to protection and with the overall aim to strengthen comprehensive child protection systems to respond to risks and vulnerabilities of children to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  

But today, June 1st, is more about the fun aspect of being a child.  

If you went to Sukhbaatar Square you would have experienced the Mongol Child event which included 15 different types of traditional Mongolian games and toys, including ankle bone games, riddles, puzzles, and board games. Why you ask? Well, although it might not sound like a party to us, Mongolian's are extremely talented at mind games. In December 2016. Mongolia took 1st-7th ranking in the junior category (12-17 years of age) at the World Memory Championships.

Whilst at Sukhbaatar Square you may have seen one of my trip assistants there. Oyuha is the founder of the Friends Help Friends organisation. Every June 1st they come to Sukhbaatar Square to educate children about the dropping of rubbish. This mainly student group, make bins out of boxes and encouraging children not to drop their litter. They're a motivated and dedicated bunch.

So that's what June 1st is all about here in Mongolia. If  you would like  to know about other public holidays and festivals happening in Mongolia , you can always look the Mongolian Festivals page on the Eternal Landscapes website.