Ovoos at Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake – Tariat, Mongolia - Atlas Obscura
Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Tariat, Mongolia

Ovoos at Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake

A jagged silhouette of shamanistic stone heaps rises from the shore of this dazzling mile-high lake. 

Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake is one of the most dazzling in Mongolia, sitting a mile and a quarter (2,060 m) above sea level. On the northeast shore you can see a dramatic and jagged silhouette against the azure sky, made by shamanistic heaps of stones called “ovoos.”

Ovoos are found on many high peaks throughout Mongolia, and according to tradition, when someone approaches he or she is to circle it three times (always clockwise), and then add a few rocks to the ever-reaching pile. Over time they grow, often to impressive heights, some as high as 10 feet (3 m).

Terkhiin Tsagaan is also known as White Lake, due to the thick layer of snow sitting on its frozen surface for the better part of the year. Local legend says that the lake was created by a giant tossing a rock that made an enormous hole on landing, but the more down-to-earth explanation goes back thousands of years, and an eruption of the nearby Khorgo Volcano.

This geological history is partly what makes the Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake ovoos stand out: They are made by using the black lava rocks that pepper the surrounding terrain. This, and the sheer number of them—in all, hundreds have been ritualistically created, making for a singular and eerie landscape.

Know Before You Go

Terkhiin-Tsagaan is in west-central Mongolia, and the easiest way of accessing the lake is by following a dirt road from Khorgo Volcano. This leads to the north-east shore of the lake, where the ovoos can be found.