Experience Winter In Mongolia
When you start to read this you may think why would I want to experience winter in Mongolia? Isn’t it really cold? Yes. But think about it. The local people still live in Mongolia all year round and daily life is taking place even when it is bitterly cold. Winter provides an amazing opportunity to experience the strength and resilience of the local people
Another bonus is actually the weather. That might sound strange when you already know it will be brutally cold. However, Mongolia experiences (on average) 260 days of blue sky per year - that’s why it’s called the ‘land of the eternal blue sky’ - and most of these blue sky days fall during the winter months. The landscapes of Mongolia are vast at anytime of year but in the winter light - often dusted by snow or ice - they take on a beauty not seen at other times of year.
And, there are many options and ideas available for experiencing winter in Mongolia. More than you probably think.
Mongolia Winter Festivals
Local festivals take place throughout the winter months in Mongolia. Some are traditional ones that have been part of the Mongolian calendar for many years. Others are newer events created by local tourism companies or the local governments as a way of supporting the local communities. Here’s a brief list:
Tsagaan Sar - this is White Month - Mongolian Lunar New Year. It is held by all Mongolians country wide but is not the same as Chinese New Year though. It typically falls in January/February on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice. It is a traditional holiday bringing together family members and lasts a minimum of three days.
Ulaanbaatar Eagle Festival - takes place at the Chinggis Khuree tourist ger camp just outside of Ulaanbaatar. Typically takes place on March 4 and 5 although these dates can vary and around 20 eagle hunters travel from western Mongolia to take part.
Khovsgol Ice Festival - this two-day festivals takes place in early March (usually two days between March 2nd to 4th). The location is the small community Khatgal on the southern shore of Khovsgol Nuur. The frozen surface of the lake becomes the stage for this vibrant community winter festival that includes horse sleigh races, ice sculptures and ice sumo.
Thousand Camel Festival - To experience this festival you have to head to Bulgan in Omnogobi Aimag - the southern Gobi. Usually held on March 6 & 7 it is organised to help protect the Bactrian camel and the role it plays in the lives of the nomadic herders in the region.
Nauryz - Nauryz is celebrated throughout Central Asia including by the Kazakhs of Mongolia. It falls on March 21 & 22 and celebrated the coming of spring. In 2018 Indy Guide sponsored a two-day Nauryz eagle festival held at the community of Deluun close to the Khokhserkhiin Nuruu mountains.
A lot of winter travellers stop off just for a few days from the Trans-Mongolian train route. Even if you only have two or three days you can still experience winter in Mongolia. Yes, in the summer months Gorkhi Terelj National Park (Turtle Rock, Chinggis Khan Statue and Araybal Temple) and Khustain Nuruu National Park (the wild Takhi horses) can be really busy. But, visit either in the depths of winter and you’ll have them to yourself apart from the locals and the wildlife. Also, at Gorkhi Terelj National Park there are now companies offering one or two day dog sledding experiences.
And as well as hunting with eagles alongside Kazakh eagle hunters, more recently companies and guides have started to offer the opportunity to join Kazakh herding families as they complete their winter migration from the high pastures of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in far western Mongolia.
Don’t underestimate the temperatures or weather - come prepared for the cold with good clothing. Layers are key. Don’t bring cotton … think (merino) wool, silk, polypropylene or other various synthetic fibres such as fleece are best.
And be prepared to be patient and flexible. Patient because bad weather can cause delays with the domestic flights or cause vehicles to get stuck. Flexible because not all routes / roads may be open all the time due to weather conditions so you may be forced to change your plan at the last minute.
But. If you are tired of standard tourism and seek an adventure then Mongolia during the winter months provides the perfect answer.