Has anyone tried scuba diving in Khövsgöl, a clear water lake in the north of Mongolia, situation at an elevation of 1,900 meters above sea-level? Is this possible now?
“Yes. It’s a challenge and great fun” said Andrea Casadi, an Italian diving instructor who spent a couple of months at the Great Sea Resort at Lake Khövsgöl past summer.
He shared his impression about diving in Khövsgöl, how he trained novices and his “wow” regarding the unbelievably beautiful nature of Mongolia with The Mongolian Observer.
The opening of the first in Mongolia diving resort was a major event in the promotion of tourism in the country.
First tell me about yourself, where do you come from? How come you are in Mongolia teaching diving?
I am Italian, from the north of Italy. I am working in the tourism industry. In the last 6 years I was a resident in Africa, working in the tourist, hotel and diving business. I almost got in touch with Ze’ev, the founder of the Great Sea Resort in Khövsgöl by chance, who was looking for someone who could teach at the first in Mongolia diving club. We got a nice chat about his project, because I really like challenge and this was a nice challenge and I jumped at the opportunity without asking any question, mainly to have the opportunity to open an operation which was non-existent, the first operation of its kind in a place where nobody ever thought about promoting diving.
We succeeded. This summer we opened the first diving operation in Mongolia at the Great Sea Resort. Diving Mongolians – they are not used to this activity. They are not really comfortable in the water and water activity is not in their DNA.
We made more than 50 introduction dives, short lessons about the fundamentals of diving, and then taking hand-by-hand the new divers, first in shallow water to adapt – to adapt to the equipment, to the situation and water, and for a real dive 5-6 meter deep, hand held by the instructor. And the Mongolians did.
Mongolian people are not really skilled in water. There were people who were in the water for the first time at a depth of even 50 cm (laughs), that was a challenge, that was fun, but the best part was to see the new divers coming out with big eyes.
How was deep diving in Khövsgöl? What did you find different from what you are used to?
Khövsgöl is a lake and it is quite different from an ocean. Me and my colleague – Magdalena, we were quite used to diving in lakes. I come from Italy and she is from Poland. We are both used to dark lakes, not clear water lake. 10 meters in lakes in Italy is dark when you dive. In Khövsgöl it is clear, we were very lucky because Khövsgöl lake is fantastic. It is clear in the sense of visibility and the quality of the water. You can also drink water from Khövsgöl. The main challenge is cold. But you have to have the right equipment and gears. There is the dry suit, which can keep a diver warm, and that probably is the main challenge. Then there is the water, which is the same in the ocean, lake or river.
The main challenge is the temperature. You have to protect yourself. But Lake Khövsgöl is an amazing place.
Lake Khövsgöl is a place to dive because an old boat called Sükhbaatar is sunk at a depth of 10 meters, which for divers is not deep, but for the beginners – surely it’s terrifying. There are other spots around the Great Sea Resort which is ideal for diving. We found different fish. It is really interesting, also the fact that Lake Khövsgöl is a lake in the mountains. It is about 1900 meters above sea level. So, I think it is nice line on the curriculum also for experienced divers. It is a new.
What you are saying is that Lake Khövsgöl is a new challenge also for other experienced international divers to come to Mongolia and dive at such a high altitude?
Yes. We received 12 internationally certified divers who came to dive at Khövsgöl. For them they wanted to see how it was like diving in a lake at this altitude and diving in Mongolia which is a country where tourists mainly come to learn about its history, see its people and culture, its traditions, the nomadic lifestyle.
You still have an amazing nature in this country, for sure not many tourists come to Mongolia expecting to dive and that too in Lake Khövsgöl.
When foreign tourists came and saw our operation they said, “This is adventurous and let’s try.” They were very surprised because of the clear water of the lake. In the ocean, it is not easy to find this kind of visibility under water.
Lake Khövsgöl’s normal visibility is about 20 meters, and the divers mainly have a log book, when you make the record of your dive, many divers especially experienced divers they collect experience in strange place, not common place, and that for sure Mongolia can be on one of the list.
In Mongolia, the weather is unpredictable, summer is very short, and promoting diving in this country, how much of a sense this makes. You also said that Lake Khövsgöl is very cold.
First of all, Lake Khövsgöl is very cold. We have equipment for cold water at the Great Sea Resort, and you can make a normal dive without freezing. Summer is short, but during the three months of summer diving in Lake Khövsgöl is possible. During this time, we could have foreign tourists and divers, who are looking for a new challenge. In winter it becomes icy, but remember, it is possible to dive under ice, but you need special training, and the Great Sea Resort is also planning ice diving and other winter events. But this is for only skilled divers.
For Mongolians, developing diving can be a nice opportunity for winter. We can organize activity in the pool in Ulaanbaatar, which has many swimming pools. We are in contact with different schools to promote and develop diving hobby during fixed schedules and programs, and to give the possibility to develop activity of diving and also to give Mongolians another hobby in winter, one more hobby because the winter here is challenging, and outdoor activity is not everyone’s cup of tea, but organizing activity in a pool with warm water can be nice. It could be a nice activity instead of staying in the house, watching TV, or working behind a computer.
I think developing diving business can be really successful.
This means you might be coming back to Mongolia again?
I have already prepared a full project program for the operation. But I have already left behind a nice amount of my knowledge to the people here to run the operation in the right way. What I would like is to find some Mongolians who like water activity, bring them to dive master, which is the first professional level, and leave the Mongolian running the operation. That is the point. I will be really happy to find someone to give them all the knowledge and skill, to reach a point when the Great Sea Resort will be completely run by Mongolians themselves.
That’s one of my goals.
So Khövsgöl is a totally different experience?
It is quite a different experience. If you compare Khövsgöl with Thailand, which is an exotic country and a cheap destination, say for Mongolian people, in Thailand you just run from the beach and dive, which is a very easy operation. Thailand is cheap because of the low price of logistics there. But here it is much different, managing the operation here is more challenging. I would like to train and grow up 3-4 Mongolians until the time they will be able to run the operation on their own, and this would be the most interesting challenge for me.
Final question, apart from diving in Khövsgöl, what did you find interesting in Mongolia, this being your first visit to this country?
This is my first time in Mongolia and I spent 3 months mainly in Khövsgöl area. I travelled a lot in my life and I have visited many countries. You are super, because from the nature point of view Mongolia is amazing. You have different conditions, starting with desert, steppe, mountains – everything is here in their natural beauty. Industrial development is limited. The countryside is really amazing. I think you can develop more tourism based on that but in the right way, without building monstrous buildings in the beautiful natural settings. Ger camp is a very good solution, because it is something tradition, but it can give to foreigners the feeling of Mongolian soul and the possibility to stay in different areas. Historically Chinggis Khan story and his kingdom, which is very interesting.
But I think the main point to drive the tourist business in Mongolia will be about nature, because it is unbelievable, and trust me, I have worked and travelled in many countries, but from the tourist business point of view, Mongolia’s natural beauty is incomparable.
Every day I spent in Mongolia was a “Wow”. You are very lucky for this.
(See TMO No. 6 for 30 June 2017 for a related story on Great Sea Resort)