Khuvsgul lake - Khovsgol Nuur: Mongolia

Khuvsgul lake - Khövsgöl nuur

Khuvgul Lake, freshest and deepest lake in Central Asia, is positioned in a North South direction with an oval shape. Its length is 133.4 km from north to south while widest is 39.5 km from west to east. This lake has a volume of 380 km3 and it is second in Asia and 14th largest in the world. Khuvsgul Lake contains 93.6 % of total surface fresh water of Mongolia and 1% of world fresh water. Khuvsgul Lake is surrounded by beautiful high mountains of the Khoridol Saridag and Bayan Mountain Ranges, along the west shore. Many mountain rivers flow into this lake including 17 rivers flowing during the whole year. Flat-topped mountains with sloping mountainsides, covered by forests, lie on the east shore of the lake and those mountains are sources of 29 rivers flowing into Khuvsgul Lake.

The Munkh Saridag Mountain Range, the highest mountains in Khuvsgul province, are along the north shore of this lake. South part of Khuvsgul Lake becomes narrow and the Eg River starts out here. Drainage basin of the lake is 5,300 sq km that holds 46 rivers and streams. 69% of South side of Khuvsgul lake is deeper than 100 m. The lake water is coldest in Mongolia, with +18 Celsius of water surface in summer, because of its deepness. It starts to freeze in September but completely covered by 1.0-1.5 m thick ice in November while it starts to melt in May but sometimes it keeps its ice until beginning of July. Water visibility is up to 22.9 m in the middle, but it is 14.3 m near the shore.

There are 4 islands namely Modon Khui, Khadan Khui, Dalain Khui and Baga Khui. The largest one of them is Dalain Khui Island with a 5.8 sq km area, 70 km from north shore. Nine species of fish inhabit Khuvsgul including omul, herring, lenok, grayling, perch and roach. This area has been protected since 1992 as a National Park. The lake is still being used for transportation. Russian merchants started using boats for transportation in 1913.

Ice festival on Khovsgol lake

Organized yearly on frozen Khuvsgul lake by national park rangers, local residents and businesses, the Ice Festival has been held five years running. A respite from the confinement of the winter months, the Ice Festival is a time to get outdoors and play games. The festival features a gathering of local residents and nomadic reindeer herders, and performances by shamans, musicians, and sportsmen. Competitions include ice sumo, a horse-drawn sleigh race, ice skating races, tug-of-war between local teams, and a Russian Jeep race on the ice. Many traditional games are played on the sidelines, and this is an ideal venue for visitors to join in the fun and games with local people. The festival is held at Khar-Us on Khovsgol Lake, a short drive north of Khatgal across the frozen lake ice.

Shamanism – religion from ancient roots

Shamanism is the oldest religion practice in Mongolia and centers on beliefs and rituals associated with shaman, a man or a woman regarded as having access to the “spirit world”. Shamanism is a faith without books. All teaching and instruction has been given orally, passed from shaman to shaman over the centuries, and its traditions learned by heart. Today northern Mongolian ethnic groups (Darkhad, Tsaatan, Hotgoid and others) and northeastern Mongols (Buryiat) as well as some of the Khalkh Mongol still maintain the ancient shamanic tradition. Mongolian shamans enter an ecstatic trance state in which the shaman is empowered to engage with the spirits I order to protect and heal members of the community, to guide souls and cure illnesses. Shamanism went underground during the former communist period, but has been revived recently.


The Shamans are very spiritually people. The shaman is chosen by their spirits at birth and an extra soul called an udha enters them. This soul helps them gather and the help with other spirits. Without this protection, rituals and other world journeys are dangerous. The shamans are also caretakers of traditional culture. The shaman might wear a headdress to resemble a bird, with the tail of pheasant and the body costume of a fish. Drums are used to help the shaman enter the trance-like state, as chanting begins and the shaman “transcends“into another world while the body dances, swirls or totters with jerky movements.
Becoming a shaman- is often just as much of a curse as it is blessing, shamans are chosen by the spirits at birth. There are two ways of being struck. The first is the shaman’s sickness and the second is lightning. To grow into a shaman, they must accept the calling and be recognized and trained by an elder shaman. The second way to be struck down is to be hit by lightning. Often there is impossible to become a shaman without having shaman’s ancestors in the family.