Mongolian winter and events
While most people travel to Mongolia during summer time, winter is exceptionally beautiful time to visit. This is the time when the steppe and Siberian borderlands are blanketed in picturesque frost and snow. Mongolians traditionally break winter season in to nine days-commonly known “nine-nines” beginning in winter solstice until the beginning of March. According to the lunisolar calendar, utilized by Mongolia’s nomadic herders for hundreds of years, the winter solstice which has the shortest daytime and longest night time of the year falls on December 22. The first three “nines” are the coldest period of the lunar year. The three nines continue until January 18. The fourth nine days begin on January 19, with nighttime temperature dropping to -38 Celsius (31 Fahrenheit) in Ulaanbaatar, the coldest capital city in the world. As the saying goes:
“On the first nine days (Dec 22-30), distilled vodka freezes
The second nine days (Dec 31-Jan 8), triple distilled vodka freezes
The third nine days (Jan 9-17), horns of three years old cow freezes and fall off
The fourth nine days (Jan 18-26) horns of four years old cow freezes
The fifth nine days (Jan 27- Feb 4), rice does not freeze
The sixth nine days (Feb 5-13), roads start show
The seventh nine days (Feb 14-22), snow on hill tops starts to melt
The eight nine days (Feb 23-Mar2), splash and splash everywhere
The nine nine days (Mar 3-12), warmth comes.
Although Mongolian winter lasts from mid-November to early March, it is typically the sunniest time of the year. Additionally, the weather conditions and temperatures vary throughout the winter and depend on where you will be visiting. If you have right clothing and prepared for a real adventure, you can still enjoy a wonderful winter break. Of course, you need the right tour operator company and the right guide. Ulaanbaatar is surrounded by four mountain ranges, all covered with trees, including the Siberian larch, pine, wild aspen and birch. There are several great trails that maybe hiked in the winter. The city itself is decorated with colorful lights, and has many cozy places to try traditional Mongolian food drinks or just have a cup of coffee. There also excellent museum and art galleries including National History Museum, The Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum, Winter palace of Bogd Khaan Museum, Choijin Lama Museum, Union of Mongolian artists, 976 art gallery, UB art gallery. During September-May, you can attend one of the outstanding performances at the Mongolian State of Opera and Ballet. You can also visit the Narantuul black market where you will find reasonable traditional felt boots, garments called DEEL, hats and gloves. You will be expected to practice your bargaining skills at the market; however, rest assured that the beginning prices are always reasonable. In addition, Mongolia is famous for its cashmere products, so you can stock up on warm clothing at the luxurious cashmere shops you will find throughout the city. In addition, there are variety of unique activities and places for people to visit outside of UB. The following is just a short list of suggestions.
The Statue of Chinggis Khaan, Meditiation Temple of Aryapala, and the Turtle rock are all within 80 km from UB. The Terelj Hills Lodge is a good choice to cozy up along the way. Also, in Terelj National Park, a guided dog sledding trip is fun way of get around to see the landscape and wildlife, and visit some of the nomadic locals. Also, ice climbing is a popular activity both in Terelj NP and the Orkhon frozen waterfall. There is also opportunity to cross frozen rivers, lakes and see Mongolia from unique perspective. For the adventurous, trekking, mountaineering, mountain biking and horse riding, jeep tours are available except January. It is possible to schedule a mountaineering trip led by Gangaamaa Badamgaraw, the first Mongolian woman to summit Mt. Everest. Winter also affords you the opportunity to see takhi horses (Equus Ferus Prezewalski) the only true wild horse in the world, in Khustai NP. After going extinct in the wild in 1960s they were successfully reintroduced in Khustai NP and other parts of Mongolia from the zoos in Europe. Located about 100 km west of UB in winter time is ideal for seeing takhi, red deer, wolves, red foxes and vultures in the park. However, while not common, it may also possible to see lynx, argali sheep, wild boar and roe deer. It is also good time to visit nomadic families to see and experience nomadic life as it has been for hundreds of years. Depending on your interests, you may help with household chores and home-made cooking. There are some special events that held in winter. At this time also free from tourist crowds, while accommodation and tour prices are at their lowest.
The lunar new year of Mongolia, Tsagaan sar- the White moon is on January or February, depending on the lunar calendar. Mongolians have been celebrating Tsagaan sar since the spring on 13 th century. The celebration involves welcoming new spring/warm season with family members. In the beginning of November, in the eastern part of Mongolia, the Khentii and Sukhbaatar provinces which are famous for the best breed and best-looking horses, organize horse festivals. It includes lassoing horse, grabbing a lasso pole form ground while riding horse and horse bucking. In the beginning of March, the Khuwsgul province which is in the north close to Siberia holds an ice festival. Also, around the same time on the outskirt of UB, there is a Golden Eagle Festival for people who cannot attend the fall Golden Eagle Festival in the western province of Bayan-Ugli. It is an ancient hunting tradition and unique cultural heritage of Kazakh minority of Mongolia. The festival begins with an opening parade of Kazakh eagle hunters with the very stylish traditional clothes. Events include specially trained eagles called eagle hunters to their arm or to skins of foxes or hares, and traditional coin grabbing and archery shooting from horseback. In early March, there is a One thousand camel festival held in the Gobi Desert. The highlight of the event is a camel race. It is unique opportunity to witness the speed and agility of tow humped Bactrian camel. At the same time, you can enjoy herders dressed on their best clothes along with camel parades, polo and Mongolian music and dance.
Written by: Tsegi Tur