A Mongolian ger in northern Mongolia
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Khogno Khan Nature Reserve during our Modern Nomads Mongolia winter tour
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As the sun dips ever lower during the shorter days of winter, the landscapes of Mongolia seem to stretch further than ever. Such as the immensity of the Altai Nuruu Mountains seen here that stretch across western Mongolia

Mongolia’s Nine Nines of Winter

Mongolia has a very extreme continental climate which means that it lacks any moderating influence from the ocean. This makes it one of the coldest countries in the world – January frequently sees temperatures of -30C and it can easily dip below -40 (with some parts of Mongolia experiencing below -50C). Now that’s a little bit on the chilly side. Mongolia’s Nine Nines of winter is how Mongolians traditionally measure the progress (and coldness) of winter.

From the winter equinox onwards, Mongolians mark the progression of winter with the Nine Nines – the 81 days of winter.  Traditionally, rural Mongolian’s didn’t always have the luxury of knowing the date or time so a set of ‘standards’ were set that herders used to determine where they were in winter. Whereas we may say ‘it’s bloody freezing’, Mongolian’s would use the Nine Nines to describe a phase of winter and that measure the intensity of the cold during those phases.
The Orkhon Waterfall

From this – the Orkhon Waterfall in summer …

The Orkhon Waterfall taken during one of Mongolia's nine nines of winter

To this … the Orkhon Waterfall in winter

For those of you, due to visit Mongolia within the next few months, here’s your traditional Mongolian temperature chart. I’ve even included the dates so you’ll be able to know whether to expect your vodka to freeze or your rice not to freeze.

     

  • 1st Nine:  December 22nd to December 30th  – Vodka made from milk (traditional shimiin arkhi) freezes
  • 2nd Nine: December 31st to January 8th –  Normal vodka freezes/congeals
  • 3rd Nine:  January 9th to January 17th –   The tail (or horns, depending on what you read) of a 3-year-old ox freeze and fall off
  • 4th Nine: January 18th to January 26th – The horns of a 4-year-old ox freeze and fall off
  • 5th Nine:  January 27th – February 4th –  Boiled rice no longer congeals and freezes
  • 6th Nine:   February 5th – February 13th –  Roads blacken (start to become visible through the snow)
  • 7th Nine:  February 14th – February 22nd – Hill tops appear from beneath snow
  • 8th Nine:  February 23rd – March 2nd   – The ground gets damp (snow melting on grass)
  • 9th Nine:  March 3rd -March 12th  Warmer days have set in (Hurrah!

 

From this – the mighty Selenge River in summer …

The Selenge River taken during one of Mongolia's nine nines of winter

To this – the mighty Selenge River in winter …

The 81 days takes us through to March … just when the spring winds arrive … but that’s a whole different blog post.

 

Sand storms such as this one are a frequent occurrence in Mongolia during the spring season - not just in the Gobi Desert but countrywide.

 

If you’re interested in joining us to experience Mongolia’s nine nines of winter, why not consider one of our winter tours? For now, I’ll leave you with the words of travel writer and explorer Benedict Allen in his book on Mongolia – Edge of Blue Heaven: ‘On arrival and learning that the temperature was minus 18 degrees, I overheard a fellow traveller say ‘thank God. Looks like Mongolia’s enjoying a warm spell.’

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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