Known as “The Dark Blue Pearl” Lake Khovsgol is the Mongolia’s largest and second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia and 1% of all the fresh water in the world. This lake is located about 900 km (560miles) northwest of Ulaanbaatar.
The lake is habitat for nine different types of fish, including the Siberian grayling, Arctic cisco, freshwater cod and Siberian catfish. As well as the area is home to argali sheep, ibex, bear, sable, moose and a few near-sighted wolverines. It also has more than 200 species of bird, including the Baikal teal, bar-headed goose, black stork and Altai snowcock
Khuvsgul lake is said to be linked to Baikal Lake by an umbilical cord. Another wonder of the Khuvsgul region are deer stones left behind by bronze-age men. The locals can say many legends about those steles of stags which stands in a place called Uushgiin uvur 20 km from the aimag centre Murun.
Khuvsgul is home to the southernmost indigenous reindeer herding people in the world, the Tsaatan who originated from Tuva in Siberia. The Tsaatan’s unique lifestyle, and the taiga environment in which they live, represent one of the most distinct cultural and ecological pockets of Mongolia. Residing in the rugged taiga ecosystem of Huvsgul Sayan Mountains, the Tsaatan are Mongolia’s smallest ethnic minority with less than 300 individuals living in the taiga ans only couple of hundred more living in towns and cities. They are highly nomadic, reindeer herding people who have moved throughout Mongolian-Siberian border region for millennia. Unlike their steppe dwelling counterparts, the Tsaatan live in a teepees, which are better suited for their forest environment, and which are more portable than Gers allowing the Tsaatan to move with their reindeer as often as 10 times per year.
Lake Khuvsgul is located in the northwest of Mongolia near the Russian border, at the foot of the eastern Sayan Mountains. It is 1,645 metres (5,397 feet) above sea level, 136 kilometres (85 miles) long and 262 metres (860 feet) deep. It is the second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia, and holds almost 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water and 0.4% of all the fresh water in the world. The town of Hatgal is at the southern end of the lake.
Lake Khuvsgul’s watershed is relatively small, and it only has small tributaries. It is drained at the south end by the Egiin Gol, which connects to the Selenge and ultimately into Lake Baikal. Between the two lakes, the water travels a distance of more than 1,000 km (621 mi), and falls 1,169 metres (3,835 feet), although the line-of-sight distance is only about 200 km (124 mi). Its location in northern Mongolia forms one part of the southern border of the great Siberian taiga forest, of which the dominant tree is the Siberian Larch (Larix sibirica),
The lake is surrounded by several mountain ranges. The highest mountain is the Bürenkhaan / Mönkh Saridag (3,492 metres (11,457 feet)), which has its peak north of the lake exactly on the Russian-Mongolian border. The surface of the lake freezes over completely in winter. The ice cover in winter is strong enough to carry heavy trucks; transport routes were installed on its surface as shortcuts to the normal roads. However, this practice is now forbidden to prevent pollution of the lake from both oil leaks and trucks breaking through the ice. It is estimated that 30-40 vehicles have sunk into the lake over the years.
There is a roughly elliptical shaped island in the middle of the lake, named Wooden Boy Island, measuring 3 km east-west and 2 km north-south. It is located about 11 km from the lake’s eastern shore, and 50 km north of the town of Hatgal.
Khuvsgul is one of seventeen ancient lakes in the world, being more than 2 million years old, and the most pristine (apart from Lake Vostok), as well as being the most significant drinking water reserve of Mongolia. Its water is potable without any treatment. Hovsgol is an ultra oligotrophic lake with low levels of nutrients, primary productivity and high water clarity (Secchi depths > 18 m are common). Hovsgol’s fish community is species-poor compared to that of Lake Baikal. Species of commercial and recreational interest include Eurasian perch (Perca fluviatilis), burbot (Lota lota), lenok (Brachymystax lenok), and the endangered endemic Hovsgol grayling (Thymallus nigrescens). Though endangered by poaching during its spawning runs, the Hovsgol grayling is still abundant throughout much of the lake.
The Lake area is a National Park bigger than Yellowstone and strictly protected as a transition zone between Central Asian Steppe and the Siberian Taiga. Despite Hovsgol’s protected status, illegal fishing is common and prohibitions against commercial fishing with gillnets are seldom enforced. The lake is traditionally considered sacred in a land suffering from arid conditions where most lakes are salty.
The Park is home to a variety of wildlife such as ibex, argali, elk, wolf, wolverine, musk deer, brown bear, Siberian moose, and sable.
The Hövsgöl (Khövsgöl) Long-term Ecological Research Site (LTERS) was established in 1997 and an extensive research program began soon thereafter. Now part of an international network of long-term study sites, the Hövsgöl LTERS provides a stage for nurturing Mongolia’s scientific and environmental infrastructures, studying climate change, and developing sustainable responses to some of environmental challenges facing the lake and its watershed.
Recent studies has identified high levels of plastic pollution (esp. microplastics) in the lake, showing that even small rural populations can cause high plastics pollution levels, as high as elsewhere around the world.
Etymology and transliterations
The name Khövsgöl is derived from Turkic words for “Khob Su Kol, means Lake with Great water” Nuur is the Mongolian word for “lake.” There are a number of different transcription variants, depending on whether the Cyrillic “х” is transliterated to “h” or “kh,” or whether the “ө” is transliterated to “ö,” “o,” or “u.” Transcriptions from the name in the classical Mongolian script, like Hubsugul, Khubsugul etc. may also be seen.