Lake Khövsgöl: The True Gem of Mongolia

Mongolia is a huge country and the main problem any traveler faces here is its distances in combination with the lack of public transportation. This is why we were extremely lucky to get to the lake Khövsgöl – one of the most beautiful places in Mongolia, quite far away from the capital.
Lake Khövsgöl

We aimed to get to Khövsgöl from Moron and made a deal with the lady at the reception of the hotel in which we were staying. Needless to say that our driver did not show up the next morning. In addition, that morning was very rainy, which is why all we could do was to go to Moron Museum.
Moron Museum exhibits the objects related to Mongolian everyday life, armor, Buddhist essentials, and apparel of shamans. It tells a lot about Mongolian tribes: around Khövsgöl alone they are six.
Moron Museum

When we came to the museum, there was a Czech group listening to the guided tour led in Russian there. We joined them, started talking, and learned that they were also on their way to Khövsgöl. We complained about our unfortunate trip and dared to ask whether they would give us a lift to the lake, as they had a big car. And they agreed!

Before leaving Moron we stopped by a restaurant to eat; a local Mongol Misha who was guiding the Czechs around Mongolia showed it to us. Interestingly, restaurants in Mongolia are often cheaper than simple cafes would be: do not try to understand why. During the lunch we got to know each other better and learned that the Czechs were scientists and participants of the international project ‘Mongolian Forest’. In Mongolia, they had a base where they were planting trees and studying the local flora. Also, they worked on the outreach with the local population with regards to environmental issues. They worked on a rotating basis which is why they could dedicate their short breaks to a trip around Mongolia.
After the lunch, we started off to Hatgal, a settlement at the Khövsgöl shore. On the way, we were talking about life, work, politics, hobbies. It was so interesting that the road flew by quickly: thanks to their work, our new friends had lots of stories from different countries to tell. Finally, we reached the place of Misha’s brother, whose wife treated us to coffee and tea. The rain had just ended, and we went for a walk to the lake, seeing Khövsgöl for the first time.
Khövsgöl shore

Khövsgöl lake

Khövsgöl shore

Misha’s brother organized houses for rent from his neighbors for 20,000 tugriks per person (the usual price would be 40,000 tugricks). Our new friends kindly offered to join them in these small houses, we did not want to disturb them, but setting a tent after the rain was not fun, so we gladly agreed.
After settling in, we went back to Misha brother’s place for supper. We listened to funny stories, learned a lot about the Mongolian culture, and watched videos from the Mongolian wedding. As we were told, the wedding lasts for three days. It is also interesting that Mongols always transfer things to another person with their right hand, while holding it with their left hand: we saw such a tradition in the Pamirs too.
According to other interesting Mongolian traditions, one should not do not sweep the dust off the table with a hand or cut something with a knife set towards the door: health and money will flow away. While talking we got to try Mongolian vodka from a copper bowl, which had been presented to the Czechs during their visit to some Mongolian factory. There is a tradition to give cups to guests with vodka in it: a guest should drink it to the bottom and then put the empty bowl onto his or her head.
Mongolian traditions

Mongolian traditions

The next morning, we had breakfast and drove to the brother’s bakery to buy bread.
bakery

bakery

It was time to say goodbye to new friends: they drove on, and we stayed on Khövsgöl with a tent for two more days. They dropped us at the pier, where tourists also tend to arrive.
friends

Khövsgöl infrastructure

According to Lonely Planet 2015, there was no civilization at all on Khövsgöl. But most recently the Mongols discovered Khövsgöl, and since then there is no problem with infrastructure: there are hotels, restaurants, and even banks with ATMs.
Khövsgöl infrastructure

The symbolic center of civilization on Khövsgöl is the port from which rare, mainly cargo ferries depart.
Khövsgöl ships

Khövsgöl port

For tourists, the port is of interest primarily because there are a bunch of shops and a bazaar around it.
Market

Meals can be bought in stores around, or you can eat in restaurants. In general, food for almost every taste is available.
Khövsgöl shops

The restaurants serve mainly khushury, traditional fried or boiled Mongolian dumplings. We had lunch in the same place every day, which is why they allowed us to leave our stuff in their restaurant if we went to the forest on hiking trails and did not want to leave things in our wild campsite.
khushury

Mongolian dumplings

Accommodation

Along the shore of the lake, on both sides of the port, there are many houses and yurts that can be rented. But, first, the prices for the amenities provided are not completely sane (for example, you will have to pay from $ 20 for a place in a 10-person yurt), and secondly, accommodation in such holiday homes is fraught with noise. In a small area, many families gather together with small children. Finally, the Mongols are notorious for their inability to drink, and they drink a lot during vacation.
Accommodation

As we wanted to get away from the noise, we found a secluded place on the shore where there were no buildings, and set up a tent there for three days. The place was about 2 kilometers away from the port along the coast: and it was already there that we could have a paradise quiet corner.
Khövsgöl camping

An assistant came to help us to set up the tent.
Khövsgöl with tent

Entertainment

As we have already written, the center of the Khövsgöl universe is the pier. From the pier, boats and motorboats depart to cater the needs of the tourists to look around.
cater

Here you will find the possibility of horseback riding: an hour would cost 20,000 tugriks, a day would be 40,000 tugriks.
horseback riding

There are several hiking routes around, mostly unmarked, but available on various offline navigation apps, such as Osmand and Maps.me. However, we found a marked trail too, about 9 km long in one direction.
Khövsgö hiking

The trail includes a couple of steep climbs.
Khövsgö hiking

It passes through the hills which offer a great view of the lake.
Khövsgö hiking

Also, there are obos on the hills – these piles of branches are traditional Mongolian places for prayers, and the blue ribbons are tied here to make a wish.
obo

On the way, we saw a lot of animals, domestic and wild.
Khövsgöl wild nature

Khövsgöl wild nature

Khövsgöl

As an entertainment, the Mongols also sit on the beach all day long: no one goes swimming even on the warmest days, since the water is too cold.
Khövsgöl lake

For us, the atmosphere of Khövsgöl itself was the most beautiful: a tent, a bonfire, a lake, and beautiful sunsets. If it were not for motorboats driving around endlessly and a nightly Mongolian disco somewhere nearby, it would be great in general.
Khövsgöl lake

Khövsgöl lake

Khövsgöl lake

However, no matter how good it was at Khövsgöl, we had to get back, and there were no good Czech friends with us anymore. We agreed with the local woman about transportation back to Moron, but again no one came to pick us up. So, we just walked along the road hitchhiking. After about 15 minutes, we were picked up by a minibus heading to Moron.
transport to Khövsgöl lake

On the way, we stopped several times to buy kumis, a fermented dairy product traditionally made from mare’s milk.
kumis

In Moron, at the bus station, we were immediately able to get into the car heading to Erdenet, where we went on another aim: to get to the mining quarry. And we succeeded, but this is a completely different story …
Erdenet quarry