Monday, August 18, 2008

Mongolia: Lake Khovsgol

Lake Khovsgol was probably my favorite places I visited. It's nice to see some actual water in Mongolia, as most places are pretty devoid of the stuff. When we first arrived in Khatgal, we were dismayed by the lack of scenery. After spending an extra day there, and on the verge of heading to the next town, we finally ventured away and discovered that Khatgal is the very southern tip of the lake. Heading north is where you want to go.

There is one nice attraction in Khatgal though, and that is the boat tour. The boat is docked just north of town. "Departure" times are listed as 1200 and 1800. Which is actually the beginning of boarding time. You will pay 1000T to board the boat, whence you get to spend an hour looking around. At some point, you get off the boat and back on, paying once again. Supposedly the tourist rate is 10,000T per person, but we were only charged the Mongolian rate of 5,000T. The boat will head out and cruise around the lake for about an hour. Beer is sold on board, and the Mongolians play disco music and dance.

Heading north past the boats, there is a trail along the lake. Ger camps stretch out for a few kilometers and then the trail takes a precocious path along the edge of the mountains. One misstep and you'll inevitably slide down the hill and plunge into the water below. Fortunately, the water is so clear your friends will be able to see your body from up high. There is another trail around the hills which is safer, but you don't have the lovely view of the lake. After some time you will again start seeing ger camps. They will then stretch up the lake for another 15 to 20 kms. At the northern end of the lineup of ger camp there is the famous reindeer family. Actually, I don't think we found the real reindeer family, as the family we found only had about 10 reindeer sitting around. I believe there's an actual herd of reindeer out there somewhere. But we saw some reindeer and decided to head back to camp.

The ger camps along the lake vary in quality and price. There are small, family owned camps with only one or two gers. They usually cost about 5,000T per person in a shared ger. We ended up in a pretty nice camp with about 30 gers that cost 25,000T per ger. Or, for 30,000T per person, we could have had the ger plus three meals plus a hot shower. But that's not a very good deal. For breakfast, they wanted 5,000T. We negotiated a "light" breakfast for 1,500T. That included a fried egg, a loaf of bread, and butter and jam. Meals at the camp restaurant ran in the 3,500-4,500T range. So stick with the ala carte menu, if you can.

As I've said before, and I'll say again, the main attraction in Mongolia is the outdoors. And around Lake Khovsgol there is some wonderful landscape. Just pure, clean, virtually untouched surroundings. Lake Khovsgol has some of the clearest water you'll ever see. You could look out 20 feet and still see the bottom. Some parts along the shore had rock beaches with some of the nicest skipping stones I've ever seen. You'll also see a lot more trees than in other parts of Mongolia. The only thing I wish they had was some canoes. Several ger camps advertised canoes, but I never saw any. It would definitely be a nice place to spend some time canoeing around.

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