Uvs province lies in the Great Lakes Depression in the northwestern region of Mongolia, adjoining the Russian border to the north, Zavkhan province to the east, Khovd province to the south and Bayan-Ulgii province to the west. Sixty percent of its area is “khangai” (hilly with a pleasant climate, fertile soil, forests, rivers and lakes); the other 40 percent encompasses the Gobi region.
One of the least visited of Mongolia’s aimags, Uvs is a province of high mountains of Khankhukhii, Togtokh shil that are the extension of the Khangai mountain range. The Buurug sand, located in the territory of the province is the biggest sand dune of Mongolia. It occupies 4,000 sq. km. of the aimag’s territory. Of berries there are wild cherry, cliff talus, black current, cowberry, strawberry, northern biiiberry, nitraria. Nitraria grow along the beaches of the Khyargas lake, species of strawberry are found on the banks of Tes river, and cynomorium, agriophylliurn grow in Zuungovi, Zavkhan somons. Wildlife is represented by antelope, black tailed antelope encountered in the meadows of Khyargas, Kharkhiraa, Uvs lakes; deer, boars, wild sheep, ibexes, snow leopards, martens, wolborines in the Khankhukhii, Kharkhiraa, Turgen mountains. Marmots, badgers, foxes, wolves are found mainly in mountains and valleys.
Uvs aimag was originally named Dorvod after the main ethnic group that inhabited the area. The Dorvod people, who still represent just under half of the population of Uvs, speak their own dialect. Other minority ethnic groups include the Bavad, Khoton and Khalkh.
Uvs is a good place to organize and start a trip around western Mongolia.
Uvs is a province of high mountains of Khankhukhii, Togtokh shil that are the extension of the Khangai mountain range, and maintains of Kharkhiraa, Turgen, Tsagaan Shuvuut, Yol yamaat, Zest of the Altai mountain range. The highest point in the territory is Kharkhiraa peak, its altitude being 13,123 feet (4,000 m.) above sea level. Aimag’s natural resources include ferrometal ore, copper ore, limestone, asbestos, coal, ochre, rocksalt, marble, precious and colored stones such as pomegranate, rockcrystal, mass agate. This is the territory of extreme hot or cold temperatures. The annual precipitation is around 12 – 16 inches (300 – 400 mm.). There are many big and small lakes in the province, such as Khyargas, Khar Us, Achit, Uureg and Uvs, the latter is the largest lake in Mongolia, it’s size being 1,293 square miles (3,350 sq. km). Tes, Khovd, Zavkhan,, Bukhmurun are the biggest rivers. Brown, and mountain soil is predominant in the most part of the territory, saline soil around the lakes. The Buurug sand, located in the territory of the province is the biggest sand dune of Mongolia. It occupies 1,544 square miles (4,000 sq. km.) of the aimag’s territory. Of berries there are wild cherry, cliff talus, black current, cowberry, strawberry, northern billberry, nitraria. Nitraria grow along the beaches of the Khyras lake, species of strawberry are found on the banks of Tes river, and cynomorium, agriophyllium grow in Zuungovi, Zavkhan somons. Wildlife is represented by antelope, black tailed antelope encountered in the meadows of Khyrgas, Kharkhiraa, Uvs lakes; deer, boars, wild sheep, ibexes, snow leopards, martens, wolborines in the Khankhukhii, Kharkhiraa, Turgen mountains. Marmots, badgers, foxes, wolves are found mainly in mountains and valleys. The aimag is famous of historical and cultural sights, such as stone figures, various types of rock drawings, including drawings of ancient sea-fauna and flora on the rocks of the Yamaat peak, at 9843 feet (3,000 m.) above sea level.
Uvs province is the home to a range of ethnic groups, including Durvud, Bayad, Khalkh, Khoton, Torgoud, Zakhchin, Uriankhay and Myanmar. As of 2005, the population of the province was 80,600. Some notable people have been born in Uvs, including well-known politicians Tsedenbal Yumjaa and Batmunkh Jamba.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Uvs province is home to hundreds of species of plants, including larch, birch, cedar, pine, aspen and willow. There are also herbs such as yellow lily, sweetbrier, nettle and plantains, and fruits and berries such as buckthorn, blackcurrants, blueberries, strawberries and barberries.
Uvs province has rich salt and coal deposits. There is a 60-tonne salt deposit on Shuden Mountain, 18km from the center of Davst soum, that could satisfy the salt needs of all of Asia for years to come.
Uvs province imports food and other goods (such as candy, flour products, clothes and shoes) from China and Russia and exports beef, horse meat, Mongolian gers (tents), fish and animal raw materials. It has great numbers of sheep and goats and there are vegetable plantations in the eastern part of the province. There are also farms producing pigs, chickens, ducks and bees.
Uvs has a long history of vegetable-growing, dating back to King Galdan Boshigt. Pastures account for the majority of the land. Vegetables are grown in an area of 153.8 hectares, potatoes on 220.5 hectares, feed plants on 684.6 hectares and fruit on 52.7 hectares.
The Great Lakes depression is a globally important area of wetland for migratory birds and is a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve. Several other parks have been established in the aimag, which together with parks in Russia, Tuva, China and Kazakstan, form a Central Asian arc of protected areas including:
- Uvs Nuur Strictly Protected Area (712,545 hectares) Established in 1994, it consists of four separate areas – Uvs Nuur, Tiirgen Uul, Tsagaan Shuvuut and Altan Els. Between them, the protected area contains everything from desert sand dunes to snowfields, and marsh to mountain forest. Snow leopards, foxes, wolves, deer and ibex are among the animals protected. The area has been nominated as a World Heritage Site.
- Khan Khokhii National Park (220,550 hectares) Established in 2000, it is an important ecological indicator and is home to snow leopard, wolf and musk deer.
- Khyargas Nuur National Park (332,800 hectares) Established in 2000.
WHAT TO SEE IN UVS PROVINCE:
The aimag is famous of historical and cultural sights, such as stone figures, various types of rock drawings, including drawings of ancient sea-fauna and flora on the rocks of the Yamaat peak, at 9843 feet (3,000 m.) above sea level. Other geographical features of Uvs aimag, which are definitely worth exploring, are the Boorog Deliin Els sand dunes, east of Uvs Nuur; a duster of other lakes (which are nicer than Uvs Nuur), comprising Achit. The village of Chandiman-Ondor, a day’s drive east of Khatgal, is in a beautiful area, which would make a good exploratory trip for hardy travellers. Surrounding sites include the Bulnai hot springs, about 50 km north-west of town, which offers simple cabins around a former Soviet resort. Further east, 30 km south-east of Tsagaan-Nuur, is the Dayan Derkhiin Agui cave, considered holy by local Buddhists and shamanists, and a nearby ruined monastery.
- Ulaangom. Population 29,600. Elevation 939m. Ulaangom, which means ‘red sand’, is a pleasant, tree-lined town. It is a good place to hang around while you explore the countryside, or to plan a trip around western Mongolia: there are good shops, reasonable hotels and a fantastic market.
Like the other western aimag capitals, Ulaangom suffers from power shortages due to unpaid (and unpayable) debts to the nearest power station – across the border in Russia. The situation should improve with the building of the hydroelectric station in Bayan-Olgii.
The bronze statue in front of the city hall is of Yumjaagiyn Tsedenal, who ruled Mongolia for about 40 years until 1983, and was born in Ulaangom. Opposite the town square, another statue honours Givaan, a local hero who was killed in 1948 during clashes with Chinese troops.
Museum. This newly renovated museum has good displays on local wildlife and traditional life, with all the standard musical instruments, national costumes and Buddhist art, as well as an excellent shaman headdress, cloak and drum.
Dechinravjaalin Khiid. The original monastery was founded in 1757 by Lamaav, whose name means ‘monk father’. At the height of its glory, the monastery contained seven small temples, and 2000 monks were in residence but it was pulverised in 1937. The current monastery is little more than a wall with two gers inside.
- Kharhiraa. First off, there are several Kharkhiraas. For information on Kharkhiraa Uul and Kharkhiraa Gol see the section below. A more accessible valley, also known as Kharkhiraa, lies further north-east, about 30km east of Ulaangom. Bear in mind that Kharkhiraa is also the name of a sum center, 23km south of Ulaangom.
Though smaller than the Kharkhiraa Gol, this valley is surrounded by dense pine forests, has a crystal-clear river (from which it’s safe to drink) and is often carpeted with flowers. It is a fine place for some day hikes.
- Kharkhiraa uul and Turgen uul. The twin peaks of Kharkhiraa Uul (4037m) and Tiirgen Uul (3965m), which dominate the western part of the aimag, are curiously almost equidistant between Achit, Uiireg and Uvs lakes. As vital sources of the Uvs Nuur, the mountains are part of the Uvs Nuur Strictly Protected Area.
The river valley between the two mountains is the Kharkhiraa Gol, which flows into Uvs Nuur. This valley is the start of some excellent trekking routes, which lead up to both mountains, and you could also do some fine day hikes around here with your own jeep and camping equipment. The area is mostly populated by Khoton people, famous throughout Mongolia as shamans.
There are remains of some Uighur statues in the region, but you’ll need a guide to find them.
- Uvs Nuur. Uvs Lake, covering 3423 square kilometers, lies in the northern part of the Great Lakes basin in the northeastern region of Uvs province. At 84 km in length and 79km in width, this Lake is the biggest in Mongolia. Uvs Lake is uninterrupted, it has no streams flowing outwards and has a salt content five times higher than that of the sea. There are 38 rivers that join Uvs Lake, including Tes, Nariin, Kharkhiraa, Turgen, Sagil. Borshoo, Khundlon and Torkhilog. Adjoining the lake are salt marshes and all manner of plant life such as reeds, feather grass, various bushes and shrubs, sedge, willows and aspens. There are 362 types of aquatic birds, including swans, snow herons, spoonbills, steppe-hazel grouse, ducks and yellow-hazel geese, and 72 kinds of mammals.Uvs Nuur is five times saltier than the ocean, and devoid of edible fish, but this doesn’t mean the lake is dead. The lake’s surface is at an altitude of 759m, making it the lowest point in western Mongolia. It has no outlet, so a lot of the shoreline is swampy, making it difficult to reach.
Except for Mongolia’s highest peaks, this is the coldest part of the country: in 1974 a temperature of -57°C was recorded. Summer temperatures typically climb to over 40°C, and these extremes are one reason why the lake was chosen as one of ten locations globally to be studied for climate change by the international Geo-Biosphere Program. The lake is part of the Uvs Nuur Strictly Protected Area.
Despite the superlatives, compared with other lakes in western Mongolia, Uvs Nuur is disappointing: it is extremely large, difficult to reach and contains high levels of salt water. It is also not great for swimming or camping, though there is a small beach and camping area on the south-western shore, near to Ulaangom. Camping can be hell thanks to the mosquitoes. If you have a jeep, lots of time and a good guide, you will enjoy the scenery and birdlife, otherwise it is best to head for the prettier, smaller and more accessible Ulireg and Achit freshwater lakes.
Ornithologists have documented over 200 species of birds around Uvs Nuur, including cranes, spoonbills, geese and eagles, as well as gulls that fly thousands of kilometers from the southern coast of China to spend a brief summer in Mongolia.
- Altan Els. The road between Ulaangom and Moron passes the Boorog Deliin Els sand dunes, which apparently form the northern most desert on earth. The sand dunes lead to Altan Els (Golden Sands), part of the Uvs Nuur Strictly Protected Area. Altan Els is another wonderful area for wildlife, if you can find any. The Altan Els are on the border of Uvs and Zavkhan aimags, and are an easy detour from the Ulaangom-Moron road.
- Khyargas Nuur Natural Park. Khyargas Nuur receives a lot less attention than Uvs Nuur, being ‘only’ half the size and ‘only’ twice as salty as the ocean. The lake does provide an attractive summer home for birds, but it is not as scenic or as accessible as other lakes in the region. It is still worth a stopover if you are travelling between Uvs Nuur and Khar Us Nuur in Khovd aimag, or driving or hitching towards Tosontsengel in Zavkhan through the mid-eastern part of Uvs aimag.
On the north-western side of Khyargas Nuur, there are some fantastic hot springs. Head for the abandoned village where the road leaves the lake, or ask directions at Naranbulag. A national park fee applies around the lake, though you’d be lucky (or unlucky) to find a ranger to pay it to.
South of Khyargas Nuur, but still in the national park is the freshwater lake Airag Nuur, at the end of the mighty Zavkhan Gol. Despite the name, the lake is not full of fermented mare’s milk, but it does have about 20 breeding pairs of migratory Dalmation pelicans. There were about 400 pelicans in the 1960s, but the numbers are tragically de-creasing because poachers kill them for their beaks, which are used to make a traditional implement for cleaning horses, called a khusuur, or currycomb, which you may see in use at the Naadam Festival.
- Olgii Nuur. To confuse things a little, another freshwater lake in the region is called Khar Us Nuur, but it is sometimes referred to as Olgii Nuur. The 20km- long lake is accessible, but is not quite as scenic as Ulireg and Achit lakes. You can swim and fish in Olgii Nuur, but the camping is not as good – the winds can be horrendous, so pitch your tent securely.
- Uureg Nuur. Large and beautiful Uiireg Nuur (1425m above sea level) is surrounded by stunning 3000m- plus peaks, including Tsagaan Shuvuut Uul (3496m), part of the Uvs Nuur Strictly Protected Area. The freshwater lake has some unidentified minerals and is designated as ‘saltwater’ on some maps, so it’s best to boil or purify all water from the lake.
The lake is great for swimming (albeit a little chilh) and locals say there are plenty of fish. The surrounding mountains are just begging to be explored.
- Achit Nuur. The largest freshwater lake in Uvs, Achit Nuur is on the border of Uvs and Bayan-Olgii aimags, and is an easy detour be-tween Ulaangom and Olgii. It offers stunning sunsets and sunrises and good fishing.
The lake is home to flocks of geese, eagles and other birdlife. One definite draw-back is the absolute plethora of mosquitoes during the summer.