Hövsgöl nuur

The greatest tourist magnet in Hövsgöl is certainly Hövsgöl nuur, the lake that gave the area its name. With a volume of 380 km³, it is the second largest freshwater lake in Asia, after the much larger lake Baikal. Hövsgöl nuur is 130 kilometers long, up to 35 kilometers wide and more than 265 meters deep. The lake's surface is at 1645 meters over sea level. The mountains on the western shore reach elevations of up to 2961 meters, those on the northern shore even up to 3491 meters.

For its clear waters, the scenic mountains, and also due to the geographic proximity, Hövsgöl nuur is sometimes called Lake Baikal's little brother. The locals, however, like to refer to the lake as Dalai Eej, "sea mother".

Due to low water temperatures, the lake is not really a good location for swimming. But the mountains on the western shore offer very beautiful outlooks and have lots of easy-to-follow hiking trails, thanks to Soviet mining exploration works in the 1980s (see below). Another very scenic trail has been marked by marathon enthusiasts.

Many tourists also use Hövsgöl nuur as a starting point for longer hikes or rides to Darhadyn Hotgor.

Tho only permanent settlements on the lake are Hatgal at the southern tip and Hanh at the northeastern shore. As a tourist, you are much more likely to pass through Hatgal. Hatgal has a few hostels and shops, a postoffice, a small tourist information, and a bank. The settlement also has a small airport, which is served by EzNis during the summer months.

On the southwestern shore of the lake, there are now a number of tourist camps and a few small food shops. This part of the lake's shore is relatively easy to reach by car, and offers a great scenery. If you like it quieter and less touristy, you might want to pitch your tent further north or on the lake's eastern shore.

In the 1980s, Soviet geologists did exploration work for large-scale open-pit phosphorite mining in the mountains west of the lake. The road tracks in the mountains, the old tourist camp in Janhai (now almost in ruins) and quite a few rusting machinery parts in the mountains hail from this time. The plans for phosphorite mining were called off due to the political changes at the beginning of the 1990s.

Darhadyn Hotgor

Darhadyn Hotgor is a wide high valley west of Hövsgöl nuur. The valley is about 150 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide, the valley's altitude is about 1600 meters, and the surrounding peaks are up to 3100 meters high. Darhadyn Hotgor is named after the Darhad Mongols, who make up most of the valley's population. Up in the north there are also Tsaatan, a small reindeer-breeding people of Tuvan stock.

The valley is one of Mongolia's most water-rich areas, with a multitude of rivers and lakes. For drivers this means that orientation is sometimes difficult. Darhadyn Hotgor is one of the sources of the Yenisei river: the river that the Mongolians call Shishged gol is known as Kaa-Hem behind the Tuvan border, and eventually becomes the small Yenisei.

Both Darhad and Tsaatan are famous - some would say infamous - for their shamans. Together with the remoteness of the valley this means that even for Mongols, Darhadyn Hotgor is quite mysterious.

Darhadyn Hotgor has three soum centers: Ulaan-Uul, Renchinlhümbe and Tsagaannuur. Both Ulaan-Uul and Renchinlhümbe have a post office and a few shops. As treks from Hövsgöl nuur to Darhadyn Hotgor have become somewhat popular among tourists, Renchinlhümbe even has a small hostel.

The countryside

That we have only described two places in detail does not mean the rest of Hövsgöl is uninteresting. On the contrary: Hövsgöl offers discoveries everywhere. As in the rest of Mongolia, there are no great architectural wonders, but instead there are mountains, wide steppes, friendly people and lots of adventures.

Some sights that are worth at least a detour are:

Dayan Deerhiin agui: A cave famous for its mysterious shamanic powers. It is situated 35 kilometers east of the Tsagaan-Üür soum center, near the border to Russia. The cave is difficult to reach by car, for the last few kilometers a horse might be the better mode of transportation.

Deer stones: Deer stones are bronze-age stelae decorated with stylized deers. In Hövsgöl they can be found, among other places, 20 kilometers east of Mörön.

Sangiin Dalai nuur: A salt lake 70 kilometers southwest of Mörön, 32 kilometers long and 12 kilometers wide, at an altitude of 1988 meters. The current shape of the lake is the result of a strong earthquake, fault lines of which are still visible fest of the lake.

Olon golyn belchir: Confluence of Delgermörön, Bügsiin gol und Ideriin gol. The resulting river is the Selenge, Mongolia's greatest river and, further downstream, the biggest inflow of lake Baikal.