"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mongolia, A Report from the Field: A Place of Our Own

The drive from Mörön to the village of Khatgal at the southern tip of Lake Khuvsgul seems shorter than its 110 km (68 miles), perhaps because there’s so much to see en route.  Nearing the town, Chimdee drives past a couple gas stations and the typical fenced wooden houses and gers.   This looks very much like a Russian town, and that is indeed how it was founded.   


Crow atop an ovoo pole.

We drive through most of the town, which certainly doesn’t take long because the population is less than 3000.  In fact, the town is so small that I wonder if it includes any nomadic families in the outlying areas.

One of few businesses not boarded up for winter.

I see up ahead what looks like the end of the road, a tall bluff on one side and the lake on the other.   At this point, the lake looks more like a river.

Suddenly Chimdee turns left off the pavement and into a field of frozen, rutted dirt.   We bounce through it and up a hill into the Siberian larch forest, where we lurch through the larch on a “road” of sorts.  Eventually (and it really wasn’t far), we catch our first glimpse of the lake below us.   

The road to our resort.

Descending the hill through a sun-lit larch forest.

The floor of the forest is covered with golden larch needles.

What we can see is immense, and we are seeing only a small part.   Chimdee drives past yak/cattle hybrids, summer cabins, and tourist camps, to a locked gate at the end of the road.   Soon a man exits a small cabin and unlocks the gate.

The lake with a hybrid yak/cow.

A yak/cattle hybrid.

Photos I take later were on the spit of gravel that sticks into the lake, to the left of the top of the power pole.  There is much, much more lake beyond what is shown in this photo.

The gate at Ashihai tourist camp.

We park at a beautiful log lodge with gers scattered around the site.   The wind off the lake is vicious and biting, and I am certainly not dressed for it.  However, in my small black duffel bag are the winter clothes I brought and can now wear.

Our gers, the closest to the lodge.

My ger.

Once I’m through getting settled in my lovely ger, I don half the clothes from the black duffel, grab my cameras, and head out into the cold before late afternoon twilight makes it too dark for photos.

A mound of dried dung that could heat a ger for a week.

Larch cone and yellow needles.

Larch needles on the forest floor.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the five of us are the only guests at this resort.  They have opened it just for us!

Dinner time arrives and I head for the lodge.   The inside is every bit as magnificent as the outside.

Stairs to the second floor dining room.

Part of the dining room.

Our table.

A huge serving of braised sheep backs with onions and walnuts, sliced potatoes, baby corn, and mushrooms is placed before me.  While there are far more bones than meat, it’s still much more than I can eat.   From the shape of the bones and the tenderness of the meat, I figure “sheep backs” is a cut of the backbone with the tenderloin.   It is delicious.


A delicious salad of Napa cabbage and sherry tomatoes with vinaigrette.

Braised sheep backs with walnuts and onion, baby corn, mushrooms, and potatoes.

Fruit cocktail for dessert.

Cap and Patti eat their own food in their ger, and then join us.

As the server removes my plate piled with bones and three of the large mushrooms, Cap says, “Patti, look at that!”   Cap hates wasting food and is appalled at what he takes to be a lot of waste.   There isn’t as much edible food as he thinks, but it doesn’t look like it.

I’m in a dilemma.   They opted out of the food on this trip and, as former restaurant worker/owner, I’m sensitive about giving Cap my leftovers.   Should one paying guest share a plate with a non-paying guest?   To me, it seems like cheating the restaurant.   It's one thing to share in a restaurant  where it really doesn't matter much unless it's a buffet, but quite another in a lodge where food is usually included on a package tour.  

So, the rest of my plate goes to the kitchen.

Handrail to the upstairs.

Glass doors to a downstairs room.

More handrail.

Decorative birch firewood.

Horse heead fiddle, the iconic musical instrument of Mongolia.

And then, it’s off to my ger for the most comfortable bed yet on this trip.

Going down the stairs inside the lodge.

The spelling of the lake is, variously, Khuvsgul, Khövsgöl, Hövsgöl, or Hovsgol.  The name comes from Tuvaan words that mean “blue water lake.”

Looking north towards Russia.

At 5397 feet above sea level, it is surrounded by mountain ranges, one of which has a peak of more than 11,300 ft.   It is the largest fresh water lake in Mongolia, second only to another lake that is salty.  

Lake Khuvsgul holds 4 per cent of the world’s fresh water.   It is 85 miles long and 860 feet deep, and is considered one of 17 ancient lakes in the world, more than 2 million years old.

Trucks and other vehicles used to use the frozen lake to haul supplies, but that has been forbidden for fear of contaminating the water.

Three separate and unique people live in the lake area, Darkhad, Buriat, and the famous Tsaatan (Dukah)—the last surviving nomadic reindeer people.   Shamanism is the religion of choice here.

Tourist cabins on the road in to Ashihai.

Photo of man fishing in the lake,

Layout of the Ashihai resort.   Thelodge is in the center.   The two fancy log buildings at left are top-tier rooms for the elite, such as Mongolia's rulers.

My bruise from falling while scrambling down a small embankment in my eagerness to reach the Mongol's horse.


  1. That is quite a resort. Your photos are proof. The lake photos are beautiful.

  2. Well catching up here is just pure fun and enjoyment. To again re-live this wonderful resort is just great. As usual great photos by you and SURE you made the right decision on the food you did not eat sending it back to the kitchen. It would not have been proper for me to eat any of it. All this food it why I plan to NEVER take anything approaching an ocean tour on a cruise ship. Too much the food the endless never ending 24-hours-a-day food. Up above in a comment to a post Riley comments on us being here in the winter. It was a win-win for you especially since we had the run-of-the-lodge with no other visitors. I would hope the tour company came-out OK on it with us the only visitors. Interesting the lodges for the ruling class in Mongolia. Cap and Patti catching up as best we can do.

  3. On March the 9th 2016 it is STILL fun and pure joy to re-live this post. With Joy .. Cap ..