Following is an interview with Sambuu YALALT, Tourism Manager of the Great Sea Resort at Lake Khövsgöl, who will tell us how his company is offering Mongolia’s first scuba diving experience in this freshwater lake, and what tourists can expect from their resort.
Can you please tell us about the first in Mongolia scuba diving center? Where is it located?
Our diving center, the first ever in Mongolia, has just opened Lake Khövsgöl in close cooperation with and support from Professional Association of Diving Instructors – PADI. The main office of our center – the Great Sea Resort, is located in Ulaanbaatar. In Khövsgöl we have the Great Sea Resort tourist camp, which will be open throughout the summer from the middle of June to the end of September. In winter we plan to be active in several swimming pools in Ulaanbaatar, but we will try also to promote Ice diving in Khövsgöl during winter, an extreme but a very interesting adventure kind of diving very popular among the techno-diver community.
Scuba diving is very new to Mongolia and there won’t be many amateur scuba divers, leave alone professional teachers or instructors. Is your center going to have instructors, if so from where, and how long will it be before long a learner can feel safe to take a dive deep into the water?
Safety is priority number one in scuba diving. Safety is one of the toughest requirements for all scuba diving organizations who are members of PADI, as PADI courses are certified as compliant with ISO standards for Recreational Diving Services by an independent auditor, the European Underwater Federation and the Austrian Standards Institute. As a member of PADI, it is our highest responsibility to ensure safety according to the ISO standards.
In Mongolia today there are several, I’d rather say just a handful of certified scuba divers and even fewer certified junior scuba divers, that is, children under the age of 15. I know that there are many people in the country and of varying age groups who are very interested in scuba diving, and their number is going to increase now that we have our own scuba diving center and people will not have to travel overseas for scuba diving. However, there is not a single Mongolian diving instructor leave alone dive master or instructor assistant and one of our goals this year is to start preparing several Mongolian young people, including boys, girls as the country’s first Dive Masters and our next step would be to train OWSIs or Open Water Scuba Instructor. This year we have invited from UK one of the world’s famous Diver Master Instructor in whose count are more than 19000 dives, with a personal depth record of 345m, who will provide teaching on diving courses. We are confident that we will be successful in training our first future Mongolia scuba diving instructors already by next year or even before the next winter season to teach the ABCs of diving in an enclosed swimming pool environment.
What is the advantages of being a PADI member and how can Mongolian scuba divers benefit?
Today in the diving world, there are many organizations that united under different interest or stream in scuba diving – techno diver, wreck diver, deep diver, rebreather and many more. Also, some countries have established their own scuba schools. PADI, as a universal diving school with a very high standard I would say, is probably more conservative and mostly oriented towards recreation diving with focus on maximum safety. The very fact that PADI has been in existence for more than 50 years proves the solid experience that it has accumulated.
PADI has are more than 25,000,000 certified members and every year it has 300,000 to 400,000 new members at 3600 diving resorts and centers all over the world and now Mongolia is one of them.
PADI provides training and safety procedures to help people dive and enjoy. PADI is also running several social programs for restoration of coral and marine life, to preserve the cleanliness of water and many other socially responsible activities. We hope, as part of the big PADI family, that we will also be able to run some projects in Mongolia to maintain the water clean and preserve fresh water including fauna and flora.
The warm season in Mongolia is very short and I guess the water in Lake Khövsgöl, even now when we are in the middle of summer, is very cold that could pose a risk of say muscle cramp. So how would you ensure financial sustainability of your business in scuba diving?
Yes, you right, like all other businesses in Mongolia, issues related to weather and population are not easy and having said that, this does not mean that you should deprive your country of offering its opportunity to people who want to experience the pleasure of scuba diving, especially when our country is home to such a beautiful lake Khövsgöl, where divers from all over the world dream of coming and diving in a lake situated at an altitude of 1800m above sea level and which is one of world’s few fresh water lakes. Just imagine diving to a depth of almost 300m in fresh water, wouldn’t that be a life-time experience?
Investment in this project has been heavy, starting with the wet suites, as in Mongolia, what I believe it’s not the same as it is Thailand, Philippines or Bali or even China, where you can dive in just shorts or strange looking wet suite. Here in Mongolia we have to use expensive dry suites, because the water temperature at a depth of 15 meters and more hovers around 3 to 5 degrees Celsius. Also, all breathing equipment have to be adapted to cold water, which also increases investment. The infrastructure in and around Lake Khövsgöl does not make life easy either. Nevertheless, we are optimistic about the future of our project as we expect high-power transmission line running to the area, bringing electricity to this remote but extremely beautiful part of Mongolia. Things are moving slowly but surely and we believe in promoting Lake Khövsgöl as the next hot destination for scuba divers, both from within the country and beyond, when we will have our own community of Mongolian scuba divers.
As far as services at out camp is concerned, no less than the best is guaranteed, and I would like to invite international scuba divers and say “Welcome to Khövsgöl.”
How to travel to your diving center in Khövsgöl and how long is the program for learning to diving? It must be costly?
It’s very easy to find us: we are on the main road along the banks of the lake. There flights from UB to Khövsgöl and regular car and bus services, or just call us and we’ll arrange for pick up in Khövsgöl.
This year we are planning to manage several kinds of activities and the easiest one its snorkeling or what we call surface diving with full face modern mask including full body wet suite hood and fins. Snorkeling is something everyone can from as early as age 8 and onwards. We have life jackets for those who don’t know how to swim and after several minutes of induction by our professional trainer, one can enjoy the underwater view, and the price is suitable for all.
The next level is scuba diving – and the simplest program called Discover Scuba takes several hours of shore induction about scuba and equipment, means of underwater communication and a dip into the water 2 to 3 meters with the instructor, one will be able to adapt under water and learn how to breath. If a diver feels confidence, under the watchful eye of our instruction, the diver can swim up to 15 meters deep and so on and so forth.
The second stage is a PADI Open Water plus PADI course Dry suite and the training can take as much as 3 to 4 days. We can provide more details about instructions and training as we move along and rest assured, the best of training will be provided to go to the next level.
What facilities, amenities and boats are you offering to your customers at your camp in Khövsgöl?
Our camp has gers with rest room and shower (hot and cold water), and the idea is based on Active Recreation Resort. We can provide transparent bottom kayaks for small and large groups, and we too have guided bicycle hiking and the French ball game pétanque. At present, we have 3 diving boats for 6 divers, and another boat equipped with clear view Sonar and GPS plotter, which makes it possible to see what’s going on under water at a depth of 300m. Our company has also bought a new shuttle motor boat for 58 passengers that will daily ferry along the Junkha-Khankh-Junkha line and the boat ride will take around 3 hours in each direction, with coffee, tea and welcome sandwich on board. We also have marine style Life jacket stored for each passenger.
One of the biggest problems in the safety of environment. With more tourists traveling to Khövsgöl, the lake could face potential danger of pollution, which would be a disaster as it is one of the few freshwater lakes in the world?
Indeed, this is one of the most important concerns. We do not want to pollute the fresh water of Lake Khövsgöl. Our boat engine is ecologically clean with 4 strokes and no pollution of petrol into water as most of the 2 stroke boat engines pose risk of polluting water.
We have a dream and a mission. At the bottom of the Lake, there are 60 petrol trucks, each filled with 20 tons of petrol, that had accidently fallen into the lake over many past years. If the trucks start leaking can you imagine the environment disaster 20 tons of 60 trucks will have on Lake Khövsgöl? Our mission is to pull out all these trucks from the bottom of the Lake and we would be extremely happy if other Mongolian companies will join hands in this important mission. I am also quite sure that divers from around the world would be more than willing to assist in this mission. The biggest cost will be for technical equipment to pull out these 6o trucks but I am hopeful we will be able to raise funds for this noble mission.
This is my dream. As the saying going, “If it’s not us then who?”