The far north of the country, towards the Russian border, comprises a vast tract of wild mountains and taiga stretching to Lake Baikal in Siberia. Winter temperatures can be ferocious, -50°C or lower, but in summer, the grasslands and larch forests of the Sayan range attract a steady flow of visitors, who come to camp, fish for salmon and sturgeon, and ride horses around the shores of Khovsgol Nuur.
Over 85 miles (135km) long and 260 metres deep, this extraordinary lake is among the largest bodies of freshwater in the world and forms the focal point of a magnificent national park where ibex, elk, wolf, wolverine, bears and sable are all protected.
The region can be reached overland – an 18-hour slog over gravel and dirt tracks – or by plane via the town of Moron, a couple of hours from the lake. Either way, count on the adventure of a lifetime. When travelling overland, in order to break the long journey north into manageable stages we generally recommend a night at the ger camp located near Amarbayasgalant Khiid, one of the country’s three principal Buddhist centres.
The monastery was created in the mid-18th century at the spot in the Iven Valley where the famous Mongolian monk and artist, Zanabazar, passed away in 1723. It numbers among the few antique religious buildings to have escaped complete destruction during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s; more than twenty of the original shrines survive, and the main prayer hall has been extensively restored with the help of UNESCO.
Today, the red-walled complex forms an arresting spectacle amid the sea of undulating green grasslands and ridges surrounding it. For the best panoramas, hike to the hilltop immediately behind the monastery in the early morning, taking with you a blue scarf to add to the shrine of the Mountain God on the summit.