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Mongolia: Khövsgöl Nuur

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Khövsgöl Nuur | Mongolia | Asia

[Visited: September 2016]

The drive up from Mörön over the new road is fast, and when we arrive in Khatgal, the first thing we noticed is that it is considerably colder. In fact, we were walking around in T-shirts that morning, but as it turned out, we would never again do that during our stay in Mongolia. Moreover, clouds are coming in, and when we wake up the next day, rain is coming down, so we end up going out only when it seems to be getting dry in the afternoon for a walk to Khövsgöl Nuur, or Khövsgöl Lake, the second largest lake of Mongolia, and a sister lake of Baikal Lake to the north in Russia. Even the main street of Khatgal is very quiet: we are obviously here after the end of the season: most shops and restaurants are closed. We walk along the coastline of the small southern lake of Khövsgöl Nuur, see the small harbour and the docked boat that in summer provides transportation to the far north of the lake, and continue walking along the shore until we get into a forest where we see a small ovoo (offerings for spirits) with a small plastic horse on top, which seems a good sign to turn back. We meet up with fellow travellers who have found a cabin here, with whom we have a very nice personal chat. Night is falling when we walk back, and we are offered a lift by a local, who drives with her head glued to the steering wheel, and then asks us for money when we get off, whispering the word "taxi". Turns out the 10-minute ride is the equivalent of €0.10 - easily the cheapest taxi ride we ever had.

Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Snowy mountains towering over Khövsgöl Nuur

During the night in our ger, the rain falls incessantly, and the grass is soaked the next morning. After breakfast, the rain turns into snow, and after a while, the ground turns white. In consultation with the guesthouse owners, we decide to have a car drop us off towards the north, so we can hike back the next day. The ride to Toilogt takes us through fields full of snow, a couple of horses, and a mountain pass before we reach the shore of Khövsgöl Nuur again. Here, the lake is much wider than the southern sub-lake we have seen the previous day. An old lady accommodates us in one of her gers, but before anything else, we are invited into her own ger for a cup of milk tea. There is an altar with pictures of her husband who, we learn from our driver, has passed away. We are happy to be able to support this lady in what cannot be an easy life. Snow is still coming down when we walk to the lakeside, and help the old lady carry two buckets of water from the lake - that will be used to make our tea later on. We then go for a walk alongside the shoreline of Khövsgöl Nuur, through an always thicker layer of snow. We see birds, we see fog on the surface of the lake, we sometimes see the mountains on the eastern side of the lake, and we see a surprising number of ger camps. Then, we even see a tiny snowman, before we return. As has become kind of a tradition, I want to skinny dip into Khövsgöl Nuur, to find out that the lake remains quite shallow for quite a while with pointy stones, so I end up throwing water over my upper body before returning to shore, and straight on to the ger where the stove provides much needed heat. We watch the clouds move across the lake before it gets dark. We are in luck: the old lady is busy feeding her yaks, but another small group shows up with a Mongolian guide who then cooks a meal also for us.

Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Lone house and trees on the other side of the narrow southern part of Khövsgöl Nuur

The sky is still grey the next day, and at times, a light rain comes down when we walk into the forest of yellow leaves on our way back to Khatgal. The driver has told us to walk the beach, but soon enough, we find out that the trail also enters the forest. The soil is not too wet, and apart from a few stretches where we have to jump over small pools, the going is quite easy. The trail goes up and down, sometimes allowing us views over the lake. The views get always better: the sky seems to be clearing, and the rain disappears. At one point, our trail becomes narrow and steep at points, and we assume we are not on the main trail anymore. So I scramble up the steep hill, get back to the snow, and find the trail; we then all go up where it is much easier to walk. When we get closer to the entrance of the small lake in the southern part of Khövsgöl Nuur, we also come across the first ger camps. When we look back on a beach of stones, with a line of trees in yellow leaves, we even see sunshine on the snowy mountains that border the lake. We continue our hike, cross a field that appears to be closed off, cut through a forest, and then reach the small ovoo with the plastic horse we have seen before. We have a chat with our Swiss travel friends before walking back to the ger camp in full sunshine. The next morning, I get up early to watch sunrise from the top of a hill on the northern part of town, with a layer of fog on the surface of the lake. It is definitely below zero: all water in the streets is frozen, and the sky is clear. After a great sunrise, I hurry back to the ger camp, and we head out with the car that has come to pick us up from Ulaanbaatar for new adventures in Mongolia. We drive to the eastern shore of Khövsgöl Nuur, and when we get off at the shoreline, the scenery is superb. A line of yellow-leaved trees seems to float on the water, with a delicate layer of fog still hovering over the lake, and above and beyond that, the mountains with a thick layer of snow stand grand to complete the picture. We can now leave Khövsgöl Nuur behind us with peace of mind, and head south. But in the back of my mind, I already plant a seed to be back here for the winter festival one day.

Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Thin layer of snow on a stony beach at the shoreline of Khövsgöl Nuur
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Trees without leaves in Khövsgöl Nuur
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Shoreline of Khövsgöl Nuur with trees in autumn colours
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Fog over Khövsgöl Nuur just after sunrise
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Trees in autumn colours along the shoreline of Khövsgöl Nuur
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Trees in autumn colours on the crest of an islet in the southern part of Khövsgöl Nuur
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Looking south over Khövsgöl Nuur with autumn coloured trees along the shoreline
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Beach of Khövsgöl Nuur with autumn colour trees and snowy mountains in the background
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Snowy mountains in the background with buildings along the shoreline of Khövsgöl Nuur in the foreground
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): View of the southern part of Khövsgöl Nuur
Picture of Khövsgöl Nuur (Mongolia): Clouds floating in the sky over the southern part of Khövsgöl Nuur

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