lake khovsgol

Cabin on Lake Khovsgol in Northern Mongolia

Submitted by Jonathan Higgins

Lake Khovsgol is the second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia, and holds almost 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water. Located just south of Russia and is surrounded by many different mountain ranges.


Mongolian scientist Tumursukh Lkhagvasumberel was found dead near Lake Khovsgol in November. His colleagues said he climbed like an ibex, and his ability to find, photograph, and put radio collars on snow leopards made him the primary source of information on Mongolia’s snow leopard population. He understood the mountains and the leopards like nobody else. 

He was looking forward to working with veterinarians at a zoo in the UK this summer to learn care and medicine for big cats.

Environmental activism made him a lot of enemies, and there are rumors his death was not natural, but I have been unable to find any information from the police investigation. He was 27.

The Mongolian Adventure Part 2: North to Lake Khovsgol

I  met a guy at the hostel who wanted to go to the same part of Mongolia as I - so we decided to make the journey up to Lake Khovsgol together.  We took a bus for 24 hours that had 16 people crammed into 10 seats and met a man who spoke a few words of English.  This man told me he had a pot (neither Francis nor I had a camp stove) and horses. Francis and I decided to take a risk - man oh man did it ever pay off!

So after the bus journey from hell arrived in Moron, we hitched a ride with this man called Shaw-wa, his cousin and 10 other people.  2.5 hours later we arrived at Shaw-wa’s home where his mother and father welcome us in immediately with Yak Milk tea.  We pitched our tents outside, looked at a map for 10 minutes with the family over some Mongolian soup and agreed to leave the next day for a 10 day horse trek. 

The next morning we were woken at 5am to the sound of farm life around us - goats, sheeps, yaks and the family herding them into the fields.  You could see for miles from this little valley their Ger farm calls home and man oh man, is the view unbelievable. 

Shaw-wa arrived with the horses, we approved the pot (this amazing Mongolian work of art that has possibly been in the family for generations) and settled on a price.  For 30,000 Tegreg a day (approximately $25) we had 2 horses, a guide & his horse + a luggage horse. About half of what a guest house would charge. Francis fell in love with his white horse soon to be named the oh so creative “Whitey” and I was introduced to a wild, wild looking horse with a mohawk that I lovingly called “Mr. T.”  

We rode into town on our horses with Shaw-wa and his brothers, getting used to yelling “Chooo” to keep the horses going.  We managed to find almost everything on our shopping list, bought a few kilos of yak meat and loaded all the food and supplies we needed for the next 10 days into two rice bags.  

For the next 10 days we lived in the wild, traveling by horse through lush valleys and rocky dried rivers.  On day 2 it was torrential downpours, Francis and I had to huddle around a pot of instant noodles to warm our hands and stop the shivering.  I thought it might break us.  Shaw-wa broke into a winter cabin that night for us to warm up, to which it turned out to be the park ranger’s home who promptly showed up.  We ended up in major trouble, having to move camp 7K away to his summer home at 8pm - which meant we arrived in the dark to our “house arrest.” Surprisingly, the ranger and his family were absolutely lovely. 

We went 7 days without seeing anyone but the three of us and as each day passed, I found myself looking at these two men as family.  I have also never in my life been so present and empty of thought than I was riding a horse through human-less valleys.  On the 7th day, we finally emerged back to civilization and saw our first glimpses of the brilliant blue of Lake Khovsgol. It’s like Tahoe, without the people, noise and pollution.

Francis and I loved our 10 day journey so much that we booked another 4 days to journey to the east of side of the lake.  Needing to trade horses since Mr. T and Whitey were so tired from the first journey, I ended up with a massive horse I appropriately named “Bruiser.”  He threw me within the first 10 minutes of riding, then threw me again later on day 1.  On day 3, we took an epic fall where Bruiser went down on both  knees and I ended up underneath him - somehow scrambling away quick enough to avoid a hoof in my face or ribs!  

By the time we returned to our Mongolian family the third time, it was really beginning to feel like home.  They invited us to stay with them through Naddam, the annual Mongolian festival - an invitation we could not refuse.  And so, we spent one more week living on the farm milking yaks and goats, herding the animals, making yogurt, chopping wood and enjoying the simplest, most lovely life I could ever imagine.

Photos of the adventure are here: