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Mongolia: Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur

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Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur | Mongolia | Asia

[Visited: September 2016]

We have been driving for hours, over mountain passes and through the attractive town of Jargalant, when we see the first signs of water glimmering in the distance. When we finally reach the shoreline and the lake stretches out before us, we are in awe again. Mountains with snow on the other side, and the gentle coastline jutting out into the lake on our, northern side of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, or Great White Lake. We drive towards the east, until we reach a narrow patch of road between two groups of rocks, where we pause. Before we know it, a couple of Mongolians on motorbikes also stop for a photoshoot, and we end up taking pictures of each other. A lot of laughter on the part of the Mongolians, who look splendid in their dels, traditional dresses. The two kids look especially cute. After we reach our camp, we walk the beach, where some yaks are coming for a drink, and continue to a rocky hill at the end. I cannot resist the temptation to climb it for some better views. Around the base of the rock formation, there are small ovoos, sacred piles of stones. The water looks so tempting I go for another skinny dip, and the sun is still strong enough to quickly dry me afterwards. We then walk a stretch of beach that points towards the east. Here again, the surface of the lake is perfectly still.

Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Gentle shoreline of the northern side of Great White Lake

After lying on the sand for a while, just enjoying the warmth of the sunlight, we continue to walk around the eastern part of the lake. The road crosses a small river, and we manage to jump to the other side on a couple of stones, and keep our feet dry. We then see a row of what looks like black rocks sticking up into the air, and we assume they are volcanic formations. After all, this is a volcanic lake, and an extinct volcano lies just around the corner. A closer look, through, reveals that they are actually all man-made piles of stones on a tiny islet. There must be a religious significance, and we wonder why they are made somewhere difficult to reach - or is that precisely the point? The piles turn into silhouettes when the sun sinks towards the horizon. Walking back along the shoreline of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur brings us back in time for dinner. We also meet a young Belgian couple who are celebrating their honeymoon in Mongolia - an intriguing choice, the more so because they share a ger with their driver and guide, and the beds in the gers are invariably a one-person affair.

Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Small crater with trees at the base of Khorgo volcano

The next morning is cold, and I directly walk up the hilltop behind our ger camp where I see the mirror-like lake and the surrounding mountains under a fine layer of fresh snow. We are now off to explore the real star of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur; our driver stops soon after we pass the row of man-made stones we have seen the previous day. Behind the trees, we see the unmistakeable shape of a volcano, with yellow-leafed trees on its black slopes. We make more stops, to see a depression and steam coming out of the ground - signs we are in a volcanic area. After our driver parks our Landcruiser, we are on our way up to the top of Khorgo Uul, and see a crater filled with trees at the foot of the volcano. The higher we get, the better the views: the tree-filled, black-soil plains below us, stretching all the way to the other side of the valley where snowy mountains define the horizon. The last bit of the climb even has stairs: the rim of the crater is easily reached. We are over 2,200 metres here, after a ten-minute climb, and the surrounding mountains are over 3,000 metres high, so this volcano does not stand out in the landscape for its size. I start walking around the rim on a well-defined trail, that goes up and down, with views both of the surrounding landscape and the steep, deep ice-filled crater in dark red and black colours always on my left hand side. The views from the east side of the crater rim are particularly good: it is a little higher up, and in the background, I can still see the blue waters of the Great White Lake. Apart from the trees, there are still some tiny flowers scattered on the partly snow-covered ground. When we finally descend again, clouds roll in: we were just in time for the best views of this spectacular scenery.

Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Row of towers made of stones at the east side of the Great White Lake
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Steep cliffs rising from the crater of Khorgo Volcano
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Trail leading over the rim of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): East side of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur with stretch of beach
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Reflection of clouds and landscape in the tranquil water of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Trees and Khorgo Uul in the background, seen from close to Yellow Dog's Hell, a cavern created by volcanic eruptions
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): The deep and steep slopes of the crater of Khorgo Uul
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Beach with remarkable rock formation at its end at the eastern side of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Volcanic plain with trees at the feet of Khorgo Uul
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Rim of Khorgo volcano
Picture of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur (Mongolia): Looking across the crater of Khorgo with the Great White Lake in the background

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