NORTH MONGOLIA – A SLICE OF SIBERIA
Geographically more aligned with Siberia than Mongolia, the dense forests and immaculate lakes of the north constitute the country’s crown, and Khovsgol Nuur is the jewel at its centre. When the surface of this 262m-deep lake unfreezes in April, a handful of hardy fishermen set out in search of the large species within, including sturgeon, lenok and salmon.
Khovsgol is a supreme area for horse-trekking and hiking. Guides are easy to come by in Khatgal on the southern tip of the lake. You’ll likely encounter herds of yak and, when riding through the forest, keep your eyes peeled for bears, wolverines, ibex and sable. There are countless serene rivers to wild camp by but beware that nights are chilly, even in mid-summer, due to the area’s high altitude. The Tsaatan (reindeer people’) live in the hills around the northern shore of the lake. Fervent practitioners of shamanism and truly nomadic in lifestyle, this tiny group of herders uses its animals for food, milk, clothing, art and transport. They live in isolated tepees and move often so can be hard to find.
Take a good guide (from Khatgal) and allow ample time. If you’re incredibly lucky you may witness a shaman dance, during which the dancer is transported to the other world’. Beware of tourist-entrapping Tsaatan cultural villages’ set up along the western lakeside. Much closer to the capital is the Amarbayasgalant Khiid. This Buddhist monastery was built by a Manchu emperor in the 18th century and houses 37 temples, hundreds of impressive statues and intricate thangka (traditional Tibetan scroll paintings). Around 100km west of Ulan Bator is Khustain National Park where some of the few remaining Przewalksi’s horses (the only surviving wild relative of the domestic horse) have been successfully re-introduced.