Mongolia is the world's second largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan. When you think of Mongolia you might not automatically think of swimming. Well, I might be about to change that. Maybe …
Mongolia. A landlocked country where the number of swimming pools outside of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar can be counted on one hand (with a few fingers left over) and any fresh water lake is frozen hard for at least a third if not more of the year.
This is the surface of Khovsgol Nuur now … in February. Stunning. But perhaps a little hard to access.
Mongolia and wild swimming may seem a strange combination - not one you automatically think of - Mongolia being a land-locked country with more than 30% covered by the Gobi Desert - the world's 5th largest desert. But both are fundamental to who I am.
I swim for the feeling of freedom in the water and the absolute joy it can bring - whether that be the rhythm (and 'mindfulness') of lengths in a public swimming pool or something outdoors and 'wilder'. Swimming outdoors is about feeling alive - I swim for the feeling of adventure as well. It's exhilarating. It's refreshing. It's invigorating. And frequently cold. I don't always get in either… sometimes a slate grey sky can abruptly remove any motivation that you had.
I swim in Mongolia. At the municipal pool in Ulaanbaatar and then when I can when I'm out on a tour. Travelling is about new perspectives and wild swimming in Mongolia always provides a new perspective.
Turuu (my business partner) is from the Gobi. He sees water in a completely practical way - accessing the local well for drinking water for the family and the livestock. Yet, he understands this desire I have to swim - the first question always asked is 'Boss, you swim?', knowing that if I'm swimming then everything is OK with the world.
For those that understand the reason why we swim, this blog post is for you - my top five swim spots in Mongolia:
Khovsgol Nuur National Park has Khovsgol Nuur, a beautiful fresh water lake, at its core. Lake Khovsgol is a spiritual place for Mongolians where it is known as Dalai Ej - Mother Sea.
It is a large, deep and ancient lake that is part of the Baikal Rift System. Located in the northernmost extension of Mongolia it is part of a transition zone where the southern reach of the monumental boreal forest meets the central Asian steppe (with a backdrop of a mountainous landscape formed by the Khoridol Saridag Range - an imposing rampart (primarily dolomite) with many peaks topping 3,000 meters in elevation).
For those that like statistics, the lake is 136 km long, 20-40 km wide, 260 m deep, and accounts for nearly 70% of all freshwater in Mongolia. The lake's surface lies at 1645 m above mean sea level.
It will be cold, but also clean and pure.
Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
I know this image shows little of the lake, but it puts the wilderness of the area into perspective. Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur is a large freshwater lake in Arkhangai Aimag in central Mongolia. It has 10 tributary rivers and over 6000 hectares of wetlands of international importance. The numerous bays and peninsulas on the northern shore are home to Bar Headed Geese, Ruddy Shellducks and Northern Lapwings. It is one of 70 Important Bird Area’s (IBA) in Mongolia and part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway protecting migratory water birds.
This for me is one of Mongolia's wildest, moodiest and most rugged of lakes. I am rather in love with it.
Khar Nuur is in Zavkhan Aimag which connects the Gobi Desert in the south with the western Khangai Mountain Range and the great lakes depression of the north west. It is unexpectedly beautiful. And off the beaten track.
The area surrounding Ulaan Tsutgalan was created by a series of volcanic eruptions (there are often different types of igneous rock lying on the surface – such as basalt and pumice stone which solidified from molten Magma after reaching the surface).
The 20-meter high waterfall is formed by a series of small streams and rivers including the Ulaan Gol. The plunge pool formed by the waterfall is a delightful swimming spot. It's popular, but there is enough to go around..
Khoton / Khurgan Nuur
Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in far western Mongolia can be divided into 2 regions, the Tavan Bogd Mountains in the northwest and the lakes area to the southeast. The lakes are fed by glacial melt and annual snow fall that flows into the Tsagaan Us Goland form the head waters of the Khovd River. There are three lakes - Khoton Nuur, Khurgan Nuur and Dayan Nuur. The western shore of Khoton Nuur, with the Chinese border providing a stunning backdrop is a particular favourite.
And. If you're a swimmer or 'to go swimming' was on your 2017 resolutions list but doing regular lengths at the local pool is becoming a little dull, why not consider joining us on our Wild Swimming Mongolia experience this June.
Nine days (June 9th - 17th). An opportunity for you to come and experience a little of what Mongolia has to offer. And an opportunity to swim and train with the Mongolian Triathlon Federation and to (in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson):
'Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.'
Interested? Please just email for details (email@example.com)
If you're interested in Mongolia but without the wild swimming element then why not pop across to the Eternal Landscapes Mongolia website and see what we're offering for 2017.
And because it's always good to mention, for safety tips on swimming, look at the Outdoor Swimming Society website. As always, thanks for listening.