travel diary: hovsgol

Lake Hovsgol is Mongolia’s largest freshwater lake, and one that some Mongolians sometimes refer to as Mongolia’s ocean (there is also a larger, saltwater lake in the west as well).  It is probably the biggest tourist destination spot for both Mongolians and foreigners, though the vast majority of that travel happens within an 8 week span in the summer.

The weather is amazingly versatile, warm sunny days can give way quickly to rainy, overcast nights, requiring stove fires to be built to ward off the morning chill.  In the middle of July.  Just over the mountains, in the Darkhad Depression, it snowed in June, and is probably snowing now.


But the lake is immensely beautiful, and, with the jarring exception of coniferous forests, could be mistaken for a sunny tropical paradise while the sun reflects off the water.

We spent 4 days in Hovsgol enjoying the weather and relaxing in our ger camp.  Our arrival was unfortunately in the rain, and our initial ger leaked profusely.  After a somewhat cold and humid night (though the stove was lit which helped somewhat), we upgraded to a tourist ger camp, where we actually had a sit down toilet and a shower.  This ger came with an attendant, who showed me the proper way to make a ger stove fire (I am quite the expert now, with the ability to blow on hot coals and bring fire into being), and came to make the fire every morning at 5 am.

The toilets were also compost (of a sort), in which the waste was removed every day and transported to a compost facility outside of Hovsgol National Park. It is a great ecotourism model, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to catch on.  Even more unfortunate, a few of the upscale ger camps are built far too close to the lake, though they do have flush toilets and tanks.

Our second day at Hovsgol, we tagged onto a boat ride with some Mongolian travelers, with 30 of us piling onto an old Russian research vessel and riding out to “Coral Island”, which had no coral but an astonishingly gross number of seagulls (except for the babies. They were cute).  Some of our fellow travelers were ecotourism consultants with JIKA, so we had some interesting conversations about the move towards sustainable, customer-oriented travel in Mongolia.

The water in Hovsgol is extremely cold even in summer, but still warm enough for some wildlife, particularly fish, which our hosts illegally caught with netting.  But they were tasty and having fresh fish in Mongolia was probably the most luxurious thing I’ve done (even more than 3 Camel Lodge).   Mongolia gets a bad rep for unpalatable food, but there are definitely some regional dishes that are fabulous – fresh fish being one of them.

My dad unfortunately, after practically 2 weeks of driving, threw out his back, making him unable to fully enjoy our time in Hovsgol.  So our second day, my mom and I went horseback riding, while my dad was on bedrest.  Given that my mom is not comfortable around animals, we basically only rode for about an hour, but it was still a pleasant ride in the sun.   That afternoon, the weather turned dark and stormy again, bringing in some cold wind and sending us indoors to relax in the lounge cabin.

After 3 nights, it was time to return to UB, so we drove back down to Moron, the capital of Hovsgol aimag, and then caught the flight back to UB, which was surprisingly in a MIAT 737 (more luxury in Mongolia!).

More pictures can be seen here (mixed in with the rest of the 16 day trip with my parents).

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