Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur and Khorgo Volcano, Mongolia
Great White Lake
Chunks of volcanic rock on the foreshore of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur pay homage to the nearby now-extinct Khorgo Volcano.
Once upon a time, a giant took a large rock and threw it away. The rock made a great hole where it landed. When the giant looked around, he saw a white surface, and he exclaimed: “Look, a white lake!” This exclamation is quite literally the meaning of the Mongolian name for Great White Lake: Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur.
The real story behind the formation of this beautiful fresh-water lake in the Khangai Mountains in central Mongolia is not so very different from the legend: the spewing of lava from the nearby Khorgo Volcano dammed up an old river. The lake remains frozen much of the year – hence the ‘white’ part of its name.
The water was not frozen when I was there last September with a group of photographic enthusiasts organised by Within the Frame and local guides G and Segi. We were staying in the ger camp at the edge of the lake, and although the freeze had not set in, it was truly cold in the gers unless the wood was well lit; I was extremely glad of the hot water bottles photographer Jeffrey Chapman had given us!
After the long hours in the vehicle from Kharkhorin (see: From Kharkhorin to Tariat), I was happy to explore the soggy lake foreshore upon our arrival late in the afternoon, and again the next morning before breakfast – and even gladder when we got to hike up the side of the volcano!
Both are considered important scenic attractions in the Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park, which in turn is the ‘highlight’ of Arkhangai Province, just west of Mongolia’s centre on the northern slopes of the Khangai Mountains.
View from the UAZ
I’m not sure that you’d call it a ‘road’: it was a very rough track our Russian UAZ (Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod) four-wheel drive vehicles navigated to find Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur. (iPhone6)
View from the Truck 0ver Great White Lake
Somehow, the drivers found the path through, and the lake and the ger camp came into sight.
Great White Lake – Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
The lake is 20 km long, with a sweeping foreshore.
Waters and Weed of Great White Lake
Nestled in the Khangai Mountains, the lake sits at 2060 metres above sea level. The waters are said to be exceptionally pure, and it is a popular camping and fishing spot.
Cairns on Great White Lake
A spit jutting into Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur is dotted with cairns of black volcanic rock; the foreshore was too soggy for me to get a closer look.
Mushrooms in the Cow Pats
Mushrooms and other fungus revel in the lake’s boggy ground.
Terkhiin Tsagaan – Цагааннуур Camp
This is a busy complex in summer; but of course, when I visited – so close to winter – there were very few tourists.
Restaurant and Mini-Market
A simple wooden building houses a shop and a restaurant. (iPhone6)
We have brought our own cook with us, so even though the season is over, we can enjoy dinner as the sun goes down over the lake. (iPhone6)
Foreshore – Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
The next morning, I picked my way carefully across the driest bits of land I could find.
The cairns of rough lava-rock have an offering and a prayer inside.
UAZ and Guide on the Mountainside
After breakfast, we set off for the volcano. Our guide G, wearing his traditional Mongol deel, races back to meet our UAZ. The ‘road’ is more like a series of wandering tracks that meander across the hillside and head nowhere in particular. (iPhone6)
Ovoo or Obo
An ovoo or “magnificent bundle” is a sacred pile of rocks or wood. Intrinsic to Mongolian folk religion or shamanism (also called Tengerism), the piles are homes for the local master spirits. Before continuing up the hill, we conformed to local custom and circled the ovoo three times in a clockwise direction.
Walkers on Khorgo Volcano
The walk up to the crater’s edge is short, and most of the path is quite gentle.
View over the Taryatu-Chulutu Volcanic Field
It’s a rugged landscape, with its volcanic rock, very little soil, and the needles of the scattering of larch trees turned yellow by the crisp autumn weather
Red Bush on Khorgo
Khorgo Crater reaches only 2240 metres above sea level at its highest point, but the extremes of temperature have led to some hardy shrubs.
Basalt Rocks on Khorgo Volcano
Inside the Khorgo Cone
The Khorgo crater is quite small. The last active volcano in Mongolia, Khorgo’s final eruption was some 8000 years ago.
Walking down the Khorgo Volcano
Signpost on Khorgo Volcano
The artist’s impression of the scene in front of us gives some indication of the colours the volcano might wear in summer.
It was a great way to get the circulation moving a little before we returned to our UAZs and continued the long, bumpy drive west.
Until next time,