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Often referred to as "The Dark Blue Pearl", Lake Khovsgol is Mongolia's largest and deepest lake. Located in the northernmost province and surrounded by wooded mountains, Lake Khuvsgul is 84 miles long, 22 wide, 860 feet deep and sits at an altitude of 5,397 feet above sea level. It is frozen from January until April or May. Lake Khovsgol is the second largest fresh water lake in Central Asia and is inhabited by nine species of fish. It is also home to a number of hearty animals including sheep, ibex, bear, yak, reindeer and moose, as well as over 200 species of birds. Reindeer breeding and herding are a main tourist attraction along with hiking and fishing.
It is only in recent years that sport fishing has become popular at Lake Khovsgol. Fish in include Siberian grayling, Kosogol grayling, Asian trout, Arctic cisco, Siberian roach, pike, perch, salmon and sturgeon. Make sure you bring your own fishing gear as the area surrounding Lake Khovsgol is sparsely populated and there are few stores. Fishing usually takes place from shore or a bridge at the southern end near the town of Khatgal. Some small coves are accessible by kayak and offer excellent fishing. The fishing season is rather short with fishing prohibited before July 10. Ice fishing is nearly impossible as the lake is covered with four feet of ice for nearly have the year. The lake does not completely thaw until early June.
The water of Lake Khovsgol is about as pure as it gets and can be consumed right out of the lake. Although pollution is slowly on the rise, steps are being made to keep large trucks from driving across the ice. Around 40 trucks have fallen through the ice over the years.
The best time to visit Lake Khovsgol is in the summer although this can be a rainy season. The lake is surrounded by thick pine forests and lush meadows dotted with grazing yaks, horses and reindeer. Wildflowers and colorful birds are also in abundance. Autumn is another beautiful time to visit when the leaves are turning color and daytime temperatures are still pleasant. Winter is incredibly cold with an average temperature of -13 degrees. The lake freezes over and due to the clear water, you can look down through the four feet or more layers of ice and see the lake floor. Locals claim that the lake is most beautiful this time of year. The temperature rises a little in the spring, but it is still very cold and there is plenty of snow on the ground. Although a chilly region, there are an average of 250 sunny days a year in Mongolia often with clear blue, cloudless skies. Mongolia is known to the world as a country of "Blue Sky"
When not covered in ice, a ferryboat operates between Khatgal and Khankh, two towns on the southern and northern shores of Lake Khovsgol within the boundaries of the Khovsgol National Park. The park, established in 1992, covers over two million acres of which 620,232 are forest. Sections of the forest are strictly protected. Hiking and jeep trails wind their way through the trees and offer some spectacular views of the lake. There are several campsites in the park as well as a boat launch onto the lake. A visit to this park is a must if you plan on spending time in the area. The local wildlife, unique geological features and virtually untouched mountain ranges are unlike anything you'll find anywhere else.
Some of the main roads around Lake Khovsgol are not maintained and travel by jeep or horseback is the best way to explore the area. Horses can be rented from stables and private individuals in the area. A guide is recommended for any extended horse riding trips into the mountains. A complete circuit around the lake on horseback will take anywhere from ten days to two weeks.
Traveling by canoe or kayak is relaxing way to explore Lake Khovsgol. The lake is full of small coves perfect for camping and fishing. If you're feeling adventurous, the island of Modon Huys is located almost exactly in the middle of the lake. Several large boats remain moored at the Khatgal docks and occasionally take passengers up to Khankh. Tent camping is allowed, but there are no designated camping areas outside of Khovsgol National Park. As long as you are not on protected or posted land, you can pitch a tent. Many of the people of Mongolia are nomads and live in what are called ger camps. Gers are semi-permanent tents. Ger camps often have extra tents for rent if you'd like to see how these unique people live.
Khatgal is the largest town near Lake Khovsgol located at the southern end of the lake. Khatgal has some of the best budget accommodations in Mongolia and is a good launch pad for the lake. The town is actually on the river, the Egiin Gol, at the outlet of the lake. 96 rivers flow into Lake Khovsgol, while only one river flows out - the Egiin Gol,
East of Lake Khovsgol is Tsagaan Uur sum, well known for its historic cave. The cave is an ancient pilgrimage site where a deified shaman was venerated. The cave is nearly 100 feet long and one of the most impressive in Mongolia. There are numerous caves around the lake but finding them will require a guide.
The Tsaatan or Reindeer People are a small ethnic group whose lives revolve around the survival of their indigenous reindeer. They live in teepee like huts and follow their herds of reindeer to different grazing areas around Lake Khovsgol. Although a rather mysterious group of people, they are very friendly and welcome tourists.
Despite its long, cold winter, Lake Khovsgol is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can fish, boat or even swim in the crystal clear water. Hundreds of birds migrate through the area offering marvelous opportunities for bird watching. You can hike or horseback ride through some of the highest and most beautiful mountains in the region. Explore a cave, milk a reindeer, pet a yak, or spend a day with some of the most interesting people in the world. Whatever your interest, Lake Khovsgol is a vacation destination you will not soon forget.
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