Khurgan & Khoton Lakes
Located in Tavan Bogd national park Khurgan and Khoton lakes are found in the southern area of the park and are a must-see sight. Many visitors will stumble upon these after a journey of at least two days. As one approaches it will typically be from the east, these alpine lakes will come into view nestled against the Altai mountain range like a scene from a chocolate box. Once you arrive, you may wish you had more than one night as the local Kazakhs that make this remote are of the world their home are some of the friendliest people on could hope to meet. These amazing lakes sit in a natural depression formed as the mountains grew. The area has been subjected to gouging and sculpting by ancient glaciers forming these two jewels.
Khurgan Lake surrounded by glacial moraines which make for a very bumpy drive on approach and departure.
The lake is 23 km long, and 6 km wide with a total shoreline of 71 km. Unlike Khoton lake Khurgan has many small islands. These islands are formed from Moraines (land pushed up by ancient glaciers). Some of these islands are up to 30 metres high.
Slightly larger than its southern neighbour Khoton is fed by over ten rivers from glaciers and nearby lakes. In places, Khoton lake is up to 50 metres deep although the average is 29 Meters. Khoton lake has only one island although it does have a strangely inviting beach on its southern shore.
The lakes are only 3 KM apart with Khoton feeding into Khurgan via a fast-moving channel of water known as Sargaal channel. Upon arrival, you will need to show your permits and travel at the ranger/ military station.
If your thinking of taking a swim do take care as the average summer temperature is low, 8 – 10 C this is because the lakes are fed by snow and ice. During the winter months, the leas do freeze to a depth of around 1-2 M making driving a lot easier for locals as they must cross the surface.
When visiting the lake on the approach one will notice that there is little to no habitation, especially on the rugged moraines. Most locals live on the Western shores of the lakes predominantly on the area of land between the two giants.
To get there, aim for the channel between the lakes where there is an impressive bridge spanning the Sargaal channel. You will need to register your visit with the ranger/ military station. For this, you will need to show your visitors permit and passport once registration has been made you can then drive to the local areas further west. This area sits at the steps of the Altai mountain range and is picture-perfect alpine forests at the base of snow-capped mountains.
Most of the locals here are Kazakh with family links to the area running back hundreds of years in some cases. Many people here will be here temporarily during the summers months only with their herds of sheep and cattle.
It is possible to find some eagle hunters in this region; they are easy to spot as they will have large eagles tethered outside their Yurts.
As with most families in Mongolian, please do take care of the approach making sure that any dogs are on a leash. If visiting it is polite not just to offer cash but bring useful gifts, sacks of pasta, flour and rice will be well received.
The lakes are home to many species of rare birds, some of which are migratory passing through the region during the year.
The area to the west of the lakes at the mountain foothills is alpine forests here live not only the local Kazakhs but many species of mammals large and small.
Don’t be fooled when looking at a map; it is easy to think the drive will be a comfortable journey. It’s a tough slog as there are no paved roads between the regional capital Olgii city and the lakes. At a push, a local driver may make the journey in 10-15 hrs, but this would not be enjoyable.
The shortest comfortable drive would be for two days. Stock up before you travel take extra fuel, on the eastern shore before crossing there is a small shop and filling station although we have known it to run out of supplies.
No local busses are travelling in this direction, if your lucky you may be able to pick up a lift in Olgii although the return journey may be difficult.
Self-drive is also possible but do take care and make sure your well-stocked. We would, of course, recommend a tour company and make this section part of a more extensive tour to experience the region thoroughly.