Khovd aimag is situated in the far West of Mongolia. On the West and South-West Khovd aimag borders with the Peoples Republic of China. The highest point of the territory is the Munkhkhairkhan peak. Its altitude is 13,793 feet (4204 m) above sea level, and the lowest point is Altain Bor tsonj, its altitude being 3694 feet (1,126 m) above sea level. 20 percent of the territory is semi-desert and steppe.
The aimag is rich in historical, cultural sites and beautiful places, such as Khartgai, Tsagaan burgas, Turgen, Khan Serkh waterfall, Endert, Baatar, Buuliastai, Uyench, Bodonch, Botgon steep canyon, Sacred tree, Ulaankhairkhan peak, Nuramt, Tsakhir, and Thengkheriin caves. There are natural resources of ferrous and nonferrous metals, construction materials and fuel, anthracite, iron ore, copper, lead, marble, granite, and ochre. The annual precipitation is 5 inches (122 mm) and 16 – 20 inches (400-500 mm) in the high Altai mountains. There are the Khovd, Bulgan, Buyant, Bodonch, Tsenkher rivers. Khar Us, Khar nuur, and Durgun are the biggest lakes. Soil in the main parts is black, the mountains have meadow soil. The area beyond Altai mountain has bright and saline soil. Poplar, birch, dab rush, tamarisk and populus diversifolia grow everywhere. Berries include currant, strawberry, ribes altissimum and hippobophae. They grow along the banks of Sutai, Baitag, Uliastai, Jargalant, Bulgan, Khovd, Buyant rivers. Wild sheep, ibex, and snow leopard can be encountered in the high mountains. Marmots live in the meadows, whereas bears, foxes, boars, ermines, lynxes, wild cats, and rabbits live in the forests. Of rare animals there are wild horses, wild camels, saiga mongolica and wild ass. Their habitat in the Gobi is the south of the Altai mountain range. Also there are varies species of birds in the province such as condors, eagles, bearded vultures, upband burrards, hawks, snowcocks and kites.
Khovd is one of Mongolia’s most heterogeneous aimags, with a Khaikh majority and minorities of Khoton, Kazakh, Uriankhai, Zakhchin, Myangad, Oold and Torguud peoples. It is the most visited aimag in western Mongolia and the most popular place for tourists west of Khovsgol Nuur, mainly because it’s a good place to start a tour of the west, and it’s cheaper than to fly to Bayan-Olgii.
Khovd aimag is almost cut in half by the mighty Mongol Altai Nuur range; away from the mountains the land is a barren semi-desert dotted with salt lakes and smaller mountains. The melting snow from the mountains recharges the water table every spring, providing Khovd with more than 200 fast-moving rivers (and dozens of lakes), none of which has an outlet to the sea. All the rivers simply disappear beneath the sands or run into large saltwater marshes, which serve as giant evaporating ponds.
The mix of desert rock, salt lake, snowy peaks and Kazakh culture makes Khovd one of the most beautiful and appealing aimags in Mongolia.
With a population of 89,900, Khovd province is home to a diverse range of ethnic groups, including Khalkh, Zakhchin, Torgoud, Kazakh, Ould, Mingad, Durvod and Uriankhay. There are many cultural differences between the different Mongolian ethnic groups in Khovd province, where numerous ethnographic studies have taken place.
There are several important protected areas in Khovd aimag:
- Bulgan Gol Natural Reserve (1840 hectares). On the south-western border with China, it was established to help preserve mink (beavers), sable and stone marten.
- Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area (also known as ‘Gobi B’). Created to protect khulan (wild ass), gazelles, jerboas and takhi (wild horses).
- Khar Us Nuur National Park (850,272 hectares). Protects the breeding grounds for antelopes and rare species of migratory pelicans, falcons and bustards.
- Khokh Serkh Strictly Protected Area (65,920 hectares). On the north-west border with Bayan Olgii. helps protect argali sheep, ibex and snow leopards.
- Mankhan Natural Reserve Directly. South-east of Khovd city, preserves an endangered species of antelope.
- Tsambagarav Uul National Park (110,960 hectares). Established in 2000, on the border w ith Bayan-Olgii. It protects the snow leopard habitat.
PLACES TO VISITED.
- Khovd. Population 35,000. Elevation 1406m. Once a small farming community, and later a center for trade with Russia, Khovd city is the major industrial center of western Mongolia. It was one of the last cities to be liberated from the Chinese, in 1912 (and again in 1921), by the forces of the Mongolian commanders Dambijantsan, Magsarjav and Damdinsiiren.
A pleasant and easygoing city built near the fast-flowing Buyant Gol, Khovd is a good place to start a trip around western Mongolia. The city is not prosperous but survives on an agricultural economy, food processing and some light manufacturing of building materials. It also boasts an agricultural institute and the main university in western Mongolia. About 300 Kazakhs live in the town and more live in the sum centre of Buyan, 25km North of Khovd.
A small statue in the central square honours Aldanjavyn Ayush (1859-1939), a local revolutionary hero who agitated against the Manchus to lower taxation and who was made head of Tsetseg sum after the 1921 revolution.The museum in Khovd city has the usual collection of stuffed wildlife, some excellent ethnic costumes, Buddhist and Kazakh art, and a snow leopard pelt tacked up on the wall. One of the more interesting exhibits is the recreation of cave paintings at Tsenkheriin Agui. There are also several examples of the deer stones scattered around the aimag.
Ard Ayush Square: Here you can see the general picturesque beauty of the town, and if you’re lucky you can see a fine show in the evening. There are several statues dedicated to Galdan Boshigt, Folk Ayush and “The Buyant River” song.
The movie theatre Khatanbaatar Magsarjav: This is one of the town’s most visited places as it screens local and foreign films, including some of the latest releases.
Sangiin Kherem (Manchu Ruins). At the northern end of the city are some rapidly disappearing walls built around 1762 by the Manchu (Qing dynasty) warlords who once conquered, and brutally governed, Mongolia. The 40,000 sq.m walled-compound once contained several temples, a Chinese graveyard and the homes of the Manchu rulers, though there’s little left to see. Three enormous gates provided access. At one time, there was a moat (2m deep and 3m wide) around the 4m-high walls, but this has been completely filled in. The 1500-man Chinese garrison was destroyed after a 10-day siege and two-day battle in August 1912. The one legacy of Manchurian rule which has remained are the magnificent 200-year-old trees which line the streets of Khovd city.
Tureemel Amarjuulagai Khiid. The original Shar Sum (Yellow Temple) was built outside of Khovd in the 1770s but was completely destroyed during 1937. The monastery was recently relocated into the centre of the city but it’s not all that active.
The Sports Palace: This is biggest sports complex in the five western provinces. Various sporting activities are held here and it is one of the most crowded places in Khovd town.
Khovd Theater: Here you can see folk-art performances, plays, concerts and other types of entertainment.
- Khar Us Nuur Natural Park. About 40km to the East of Khovd city is Khar Us Nuur (Black Water Lake), the second largest freshwater lake (15,800 sq km) in Mongolia – but with an average depth of only 4m. Khovd Gol flows into this lake, creating a giant marsh delta. Khar Us Nuur is the perfect habitat for wild ducks, geese, wood grouse, partridges and seagulls, including the rare relict gull and herring gull – and by late summer, a billion or two of everyone’s friend, the common mosquito. Be prepared for the blighters, otherwise your life will be a misery. The best time to see the birdlife is in May and late August.
As at Uvs Nuur, birdwatchers may be a little disappointed: the lake is huge, difficult to reach because of the marshes, and locals know very little, if anything, about the birdlife. The best idea would be to go with one of the national park workers and to head for the delta where the Khovd Gol enters the lake.
The easiest place to see the lake is from the main Khovd-Altai road at the southern tip of the lake, where reed islands also make for good birding. The park plans to encourage ecotourism by setting up observation huts and maybe even ger accommodation in this area. Check with the park office in Khovd.
The outflow from Khar Us Nuur goes into a short river called Chono Kharaikh, which flows into another freshwater lake, Khar Nuur (Black Lake), home to some migratory pelicans. There is a dispute about which lake is the deepest in Mongolia: it is either Khar Nuur or Khovsgol Nuur. The southern end of Khar Nuur flows into Dorgon Nuur, which is a large salty pond. The East side of Dorgon Nuur is an area of bonedry desert and extensive sand dunes.
Just to the South, and between, the Khar and Khar Us lakes, are the twin peaks of Jargalant Khairkhan Uul (3796m) and Yargaitin Ekh Uul (3464m). You can see the massif as you drive to Olgii from Altai in Gov-Altai aimag.
- Tsenkheriin Agui. The Tsenkheriin Agui (also known as Khoid Tsenkher) caves are reasonably attractive but the drawcard is the cave paintings inside, which are approximately 15,000 years old (some sources say 40,000). There is also about 15,000 years worth of bird dung in the caves, so watch where you step. There are numerous passages to explore, with the largest cavern being about 15m high, with the floor measuring around 12m by 18m. Unfortunately, some recent graffiti has marred the cave paintings. Controversy has erupted among experts about the interpretation of the paintings. It is interesting to note that both mammoths and ostriches are depicted on the walls, proving that both lived in Mongolia up to approximately 15,000 years ago.
- Monkh Khairkhan uul. At 4362m, Monkh Khairkhan Uul is the second highest mountain in Mongolia. You can walk up the peak if you approach from the North side. There is plenty of snow and ice on top, so you’d need crampons, an ice axe and rope but the climb is not technically difficult. A jeep trail runs to the base from Mankhan. The peak is known locally as Tavan Khumit.
- Tsambagaran uul National Park. Tsambagarav Uul, in the far north-west sum of Bayannuur, is one of the most glorious snowcapped peaks in Mongolia. De-spite its altitude of 4202m, the summit is relatively accessible and easy to climb compared with Tavanbogd but you’d need crampons and ropes.
One excellent possible jeep route in this region is to travel north-west from the main Khovd-Olgil road to the Namarjin Valley,where there are excellent views of Tsamba-garav. From here you can head West and then South to rejoin the main Khovd-Olgii road, via several Kazakh settlements and a beautiful turquoise lake. You’ll need to be completely self-sufficient for this trip.
The other main area to visit is the Bayangol Valley, to the East of Tsambagarav, 100km and three hours of difficult driving from Khovd. A jeep road leads from Erdeneburen sum centre up the mountainside, following dozens of rocky switchbacks. The valley itself is nothing special but there are fine views south-east to Khar Us Nuur and you might be able to rent a horse for the hour ride to the Kazakh-populated Marra Valley. With help you could do a fine three-or four-day horse trek circling Tsambagarav Uul, or to the Namarjin Valley.