Asia Festivals & Events

Mongolia Ice Festival! 5 Reasons to go to Khovsgol?

Written by Town & Tourist

Mongolia Winter Festivals

Mongolia Ice Festival is a real winter wonderland, with a unique magical twist! Set on a Frozen Lake Khovsgol, a blue pearl of Mongolia and the largest fresh water lake in country!

This provides a spectacular backdrop at the southern rim of the Siberian forest and symbolises a deep rooted history, as a member of the exclusive club of “Ancient lakes”, which have been around for over 1 million years!

Mongolias Ice Festival at the Frozen Khuvsgul lake

Mongolias Ice Festival at the Frozen Khuvsgul lake. photo by the great responsibletravel.com. Khovsgol Ice festival. (Mongolia Ice festival)

During the winter season and all the way up until may, this entire lake freezes over, with Ice up to 6 feet deep, which provides the perfect winter playground for this unique Ice Festival. With Temperatures dropping down to -35’C it’s chilly but if you wrap up…it will be worth it!

Taking place annually on the first weekend of March, this Mongolian Ice festival surprisingly only dates back to 2002! However, the activities and events are deep rooted traditions of the Mongolian nomad tribes culture and this Ice festival acts as a great way to keep them alive.

Mongolia Ice Festival Khuvsgul

At the Mongolian Ice festival, Khuvsgul there are plenty of cultural activities to see from horse riding to tug o war! All on Ice. Khovsgol Ice festival. (Mongolia Ice festival)

Locals from the area of Khövsgöl, Russian people close to the border and a pilgrimage of inspired travellers make their way to this festival each year. The two day event is hosted by the Tsaatan tribe, the group of nomadic reindeer herders left in the entire world.

5 Reasons to Attend the Mongolian Ice Festival?

1.  Unique Activities at Mongolias Ice festival

During the Ice Festival expect to see an amazing array of unique activities from, horse sleigh races, Ice wrestling/sumo, dog sledding, archery, Tug o War (On Ice!) and even a bone throwing contest!

Mongolian Wrestling frozen lake Khuvsgul

Hatgal, Mongolia, 4th March 2018: mongolian men wrestling on a frozen lake Khuvsgul Photo by the great Kairi Aun Alarmy . Khovsgol Ice festival/(Mongolia Ice festival)

These various unique events will give you an entirely memorable and different experience like no other! After watching the Mongolian tribes go at it in the wonderful events, you can have a go a some more common activities such as Ice Skating and even the Mongolian version of Curling or as they call it (Shagain Naadam).

Mongolian Ice wrestling

Mongolian Ice wrestling is not easy! Photo by the wonderful Celine Jentzsch at CelineJentzsch.com. Khovsgol Ice festival. (Mongolia Ice festival)

2. Wonderful Ice Sculptures

If you want to feast your eyes upon a truly unique range of artistic ice sculptures, then this is the perfect place for you. Forget, an “Ice bar” in Amsterdam…this is probably one of the most authentic and “non plastic” experiences you can feast your eyes on!

The best part is, as summer approaches…the Ice sculptures melt, which encourages the locals to create new ones the following year.

Magnificent Mongolia Ice Sculptures. Photo by: Cameltrack.com. Khovsgol Ice festival. (Mongolia Ice festival)

So any pictures you snap can be truly memorable and unique. One of the funniest parts I enjoyed there was sliding down the Ice slides forward, backward…whatever! I think I enjoyed this more than the local Children!

MOngolia ice festival

Amazing Ice Sculptures at Mongolia ice festival. Photo by the great indy-guide.com. Khovsgol Ice festival. (Mongolia Ice festival)

If you fancy a drink after all that sliding, check out the Mongolian Ice bar! Take a seat on a Ice Sofa and try some of Mongolias famous “Airag” , a fermented horse milk beverage giving it up to 5% alcohol!

If you feel a little weird about trying horse milk here are some words from the Dalai Lama: “The only difference between cows milk and horse milk is one comes from a cow and the other from a horse”!

If that’s not enough the spiritual encouragement, mares milk also has a host of health benefits! You know what they say “when in Rome” or “When in Mongolia”!

Mongols Drinking Horse milk with Supreme court judge

American Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas drinks fermented horse milk with herders in a yurt during his visit to Mongolia in 1961.. Khovsgol Ice festival. (Mongolia Ice festival)

3. Traditional Mongolian Costumes & Ceremony

During the Ice Festival, expect to see the Nomdadic Tsaatan tribe and even the local Mongolias dressed in traditional and colorful outfits. If your into your fashion, this is sure a great way to get some inspiration. The costumes the Mongolians wear represent Mongolias 21 regions or aimags. This is great to see a diverse selection of cultures all in one place!

Mongolia Ice Festival Horses

Mongolian Culture has an array of practical yet stylish outfits especially for the Winter festivals. Khovsgol Ice festival. (Mongolia Ice festival)

The Mongolian Ice Festival is also a great opportunity for the locals to practice some of their traditional ceremonies such as this famous fire burning ceremony which is practiced as a way to honour the Shamanic beliefs of the region! This ceremony even involved a Bonfire on the Ice! Which sounds crazy but actually did not affect the deep foundations of the Ice lake.

 
Mongolian Ice festival traditional costumes

Mongolian Ice festival traditional costumes at Khovsgol Ice festival in Mongolia. (Mongolia Ice festival)

4. The Natural World at it’s best!

Mongolia is a real winter wonderland at this time of year and it’s the perfect chance to see the magnificence of nature intwined with the Ice and powdering of snowfall.

Mongolian Ice Festival

A Frozen Beauty at Mongolia Ice Festival

You can even drive across the Frozen Lake Khovsgol the deepest lake in the world to truly achieve a perspective for where you are.

Horse sledging at Mongolia Ice festival

5. Ride a Reindeer!

Move over Santa Claus! As the Khovsgol Ice festival is hosted by the Reindeer herding Nomdadic tribe, (Tsaatan tribe) you can expect to see this magnificent creatures being ridden out into the winter wilderness.

There is some quintessentially magical about seeing an ancient Nomad riding graciously on his Reindeer…it’s definitely not something you see every day!

Although, the Khovsgol Ice festival does not offer Reindeer rides as you would take a pony ride at the county fair. If you would really like to, then some nice members of the tribe which let you have a sit or even take a short walk on it. However, it’s best to learn a few basic Mongolian phrases to help out with this.

For more Info on Reindeer and Horse Riding in Mongolia, check out this fantastic article.

 
Reindeer Riding Mongolia

Reindeer Riding is a very unique feature to Mongolian Nomadic Tribes. Mongolia Ice festival

How to get to Lake Khovsgol Ice festival?

Lake Khovsgol is situated close to the northern border of Mongolia, about 200 km west of the southern end of Lake Baikal. Your best bet is to hop on a flight from Ulaanbaatar to Khovsgol’s provincial capital, Murun.

If you fancy something a little more adventurous catch a local 12 hour bus from Ulaanbaatar to Murun, this is a great opportunity to take in the stunning Mongolian countryside.

 Khovsgol Ice festival Mongolia

Transport is an important part of attending KhPhoto by http://eternal-landscapes.blogspot.com. Mongolia Ice festival

Once in Murun, you can take a local Van (Usually an old school Soviet UAZ) down the winding slopes and spend a night with the Nomadic Herder families. An alternative is to take a taxi to Hatgal a small town close to the banks of Lake Khovsgol…although most prefer the previous!

I would recommend hiring a guide while out there, there are some great agencies in Ulaanbaatar or drop us an Email Mail (at) townandtourist.com and we can hook you up with someone.

When attending the Mongolian Ice festival definitely choose an organized professional package tour which includes flight, an experienced driver and a good car!

As the Mongolian Ice festival has increased in popularity massively over the past few years, a lot of domestic flights and ger camps get full up pretty fast…so it’s best to book in advance.

Where to stay for the Mongolian Ice Festival?

This will all depend upon the level of service which you choose from your Mongolian tour company. Generally, Local and foreign travellers will be perfectly fine staying in the traditional Mongolian home, called a Yurt or Ger. 

As the temperature can drop down to -35’C on some cold winter nights, the Ger will provide you with the perfect shelter with the heat being generated from the wood and coal burning stove in the centre of the Ger.

Ger, Yurt Mongolia

Staying in a Ger or Yurt in Mongolia under the stars is a memorable experience. (Mongolias Ice festival)

This provides a cozy and warm environment which is perfect for the harsh conditions outside. It’s also a unique experience to stay in one and you feel like a Character out of the Game of Thrones Netflix series! 

There are various Ger Camps situated close to the shore of Lake Khovsgol which are “full board” including all your meals. You local tour company should book you a place before you arrive. 

Mongolian Yurt or Ger

Mongolian Yurt or Ger at Mongolias Ice festival. (Thousand Camel Festival)

Word of warning:

I would always recommended planning you trip to potentially head to both Mongolian Winter festivals as the khovsgol Ice festival is first usually followed by the wondrous thousand camel Festival in the Gobi Desert (detailed below).

The reason being is that due to severe weather conditions, its not unusual for one or both of the festivals to be cancelled. So if you plan on attending both and you lucky enough for it not to be cancelled it will be a unique experience like no other!

If you need any tips on booking flights, accommodation and transport drop us an email at: Mail (at) townandtourist.com and one of our Mongolian experts…maybe myself will get back to you!

Thousand Camel Festival – [Mongolian Winter Festivals]

If you fancy heading further south, to the Gobi Desert during the winter season be sure to check out the “Thousand camel festival”. This is a wondrous occasion, with a very personal touch.

Here you will get the opportunity to see the nomadic herders up close and personal, you will see their way of life and how they interact with camels.

Camel Polo at Thousand Camel festival Photo by: traveltonomads.com

Camel Polo at Thousand Camel festival Photo by: traveltonomads.com. (Mongolias Ice festival) (Thousand Camel Festival)

The Thousand Camel Festival begins with a colorful opening parade, where as a visitors you will be encouraging to hop on a Camel and take part! At -10’C be sure to wrap up however if you’ve just come from the Ice festival this will feel like summer!

 During the thousand camel festival expect to see a unique array of games from Camel races to Polo. The atmosphere is vibrant and exciting which many colorful flags, cheers from spectators as the events unfold!

Thousand Camel Festival Mongolia

Thousand Camel Festival Mongolia Photo www.zendmentravel.com. (Mongolias Ice festival) (Thousand Camel Festival)

The camels are generally used are the two humped (Bactrian camel), native to Central Asia.  These creatures look ever so majestic pounding there hoofs through the snow in the desert! One of the best parts is as the camel races unfold you can follow in your car or even drive to the finish line and wait there. 

Thousand camel festival Mongolia

Thousand camel festival Mongolia. (Mongolias Ice festival) (Thousand Camel Festival)

To give you an idea of the atmosphere here, there is a bookie taking bets wildly for each competition with cheers and chants get louder as the races start.

One such event which was quite entertaining was the “unload” competition where the competitors had to unpack and setup a Ger (Mongolian Tent/home) in the fastest time!

Thousand Camel Festival has The Bactrian camel is a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia. (Mongolias Ice festival) (Thousand Camel Festival)

Camel Beauty Pageant?

There was even a Camel Beauty pageant! Where the best looking male and female Camel were voted for! When I was there two white camels took the prize as they are quite rare and highly coveted by the Mongolians.

Thousand camel festival Mongolia

I don’t really Consider Camels the most beautiful creatures in the world but hey its the thousand camel festival! There has to be a “looker” somewhere in Mongolia. (Mongolia Winter Festivals) (Thousand Camel Festival)

Winter Packing for Mongolia:

The harsh weather conditions of Mongolia at this time of year mean you must be prepared. Pack plenty of warm layers of wool, cotton and even cashmere which is pretty easy to get while in the region.

Thermal socks both cotton and wool. Thermal underwear is also not a bad idea and of course a high quality Polar jacket!

Other extras include: a wooden hat with ear flaps, wind proof gear and even cashmere for under your gloves.

Camping/hiking gear for Mongolia:

Warm Sleeping bag (three/four season), Thermal Mountaineering blanket, waterproof sheet, first air kit and talcum powder is ant a bad thing to bring if hiking in the summer.

Useful Items to Bring to Mongolia: (All Seasons)

– Hidden Money belt (For passport, cash and other valuables)

– High UV protection sunglasses

– Extra pair of Prescription glasses if needed.

– Torch/ head lamp with extra batteries.

– Sturdy watch with alarm

– Ear plugs, eye mask for sleeping on transport.

– Lightweight binoculars

– Sealable plastic bags for wet clothes

– Snacks for travelling (Energy bars, vitamin supplies, instant meals (if needed))

– Maps, magnifying sheet and map kit with compass & whistle

– Matches & lighter with candles

– High Quality Water bottle

– Wash bag kit

– Useful items for wash bag: Shampoo, bio friendly soap , insect repellent, sun block, lip balm, eye-drops and a good moisturising lotion.

– Notebook with pencils, (Pens can be quite unreliable…especially in the cold!)

– Phrasebook. With useful phrases in.

– Swiss Army knife or similar

– For visas check out.

– A hiking backpack with waterproof cover.

– A good Camera to capture some spectacular shots!

– Daytime bag to carry water bottle, camera and equipment

For a great list of cultural Do’s and Don’ts while in Mongolia. 

Mongolian Food while Traveling?

If you book with a good tour company, the Ger camps which provide you meals as part of the booking (full board).

The types of food vary with some camps offering an international foods and others just local Mongolian Delicacies. Some great Mongolian foods to try are Buuz Dumplings, and Khorkhog.

Mongolian Food Buuz Dumplings

Tasty Mongolian Food Buuz Dumplings. (Mongolias Ice festival) Khovsgol Ice festival

Wash the Mongolian foods down with the classic Airag (Alcoholic horse milk) beverage or try tea or coffee if your feeling less adventurous. If you vegetarian or have allergies inform the tour operator in advance so they can make the necessary adjustments.

For more info on Mongolian Food check out this great article:  Epic Mongolian Foods  (Scroll down toward the bottom for info on foods)

5 Reasons to travel to Mongolias Ice Festival! Set on a Frozen Khovsgol Lake, wearing their traditional Dresses & costume they take part in this historic cultural & unique winter festival annually!  The Mongolian People Create Ice Sculptures across the Landscape from Horses to Reindeer.  

#Mongolia #IceFestival #Khovsgol #Culture #traditions #history #yurt #Reindeer #Ulaanbaatar #Traditions  #Nature  #Photography #fashion #GobiDesert #yurt #nomad #tribes

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