Lake Khövsgöl, 9 October 2012

We left at 9 o’clock, with Purev driving us in a right-hand 4×4: standard fare in Mongolia, in this case imported second-hand from Japan. For two hours we drove northwards, towards Mongolia’s border with Russia. The road was tarred most of the way, although it was still being completed; there were sections where we had to career off the road and drive on the prairie alongside the road; Purev’s driving seemed more fluid and certain on these sections, he’s not in his element on tarred roads. Endless vistas of an empty land accompanied us along the way: this country, which six times bigger than the UK, is home to less than three million people, half of whom live in the capital alone.  Here and there, we would see the white ger, the traditional Mongolian tents, of herders dotting the landscape, with herds of yak or sheep browsing the dry grass.

As we drove, dark clouds started coming towards us.

“Snow”, said Purev, but it held off. Finally, we arrived at a village. Purev swerved off the road and raced up a muddy track which coasted a nearby ridge. Down the other side, the track deteriorated rapidly and we crawled along, bumping from one puddle to another, from one rock to another. But we made it in one piece to the ger camp which was our destination.

And there in front of us, lapping at the edges of the camp, was the southernmost tongue of Lake Khövsgöl, which is what had drawn us to this remote part of a remote country.

A few facts. The lake, 136 km long and 262 m deep, is the second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia, and holds 0.4% of all the fresh water in the world. It is one of seventeen lakes worldwide that are more than 2 million years old (nearby Lake Baikal is part of this select club, as are Lake Tahoe in the US, Lake Titicaca in Peru, and Lake Tanganyika in Africa, among others; but I digress). Lake Khövsgöl is one of the most pristine of these ancient lakes. It has very low levels of nutrients and primary productivity and so very high water clarity.

But forget the facts! Remember only that the Tuvans, a Turkic people who lived around the lake, gave it its name: Khövsgöl, “Blue Water Lake”. And startlingly blue it is indeed, the blue of the Mediterranean on a sunny day, probably because the water is so clear and the sky in Mongolia so blue.

But blue was not the only colour that greeted us. There was the smooth greyness of the pebbles on the beaches, which reminded us so much of the pebble beach of our village in Liguria, echoed in the weathered, grey tree trunks that littered the shore.

There was the white of the first snow of the year, which finally blew in with a vengeance and fell all night as we slept, huddled under the bedclothes in our ger. It greeted us under lowering clouds in the morning when we stuck our nose out.

But it was quickly melting away during the day when the clouds blew away and the sun shone in a blue, blue sky.

There was the glorious autumnal yellow, with rare light green tinges, of the Siberian larches which flowed down from the northern taiga and lapped up against the lake’s sides: golden yellow for those needles still clinging to the trees, straw yellow for those that now clothed the forest floor.

And finally, there was a droplet of violet offered by a small flower that contrary to all expectations bravely blossomed by the water’s edge.

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I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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