When I first arrived in Ulan Batar, no wonder I was nervous at the idea of the rough Mongolian winter with its -40C. An idea reinforced when you are told that the place you are about to spend a part of your life in, is the coldest capital in the world…there is a real need to reconsider my choices in terms of expatriation.
Thus, your first instinct of survival once the temperatures are dropping will be to rush in any kind of shops to get yourself ready for the upcoming cold days. At this time of the year you will find good deals either for cashmere clothing or even for boots, which is indirectly making you more anxious. Then, to reassure yourself, you might investigate and look for real answers to “Will I get through ?” Well, you may collect 2 kinds of answers : one (coming mostly from Mongolians), which will kindly confirm the upcoming harsh winter ; and the others, from expats cheering you up and telling you that is nothing to be worried about as long as you get a warm coat and good shoes. Well, in short, keep warm !
And that is when you are finally in the core of the winter, thinking having been through the toughest part that Mongolians will come to you and with a cheeky smile, warn you : « Wait December 22, the 9 nine will start». What are you talking about sister? (yes, be aware that everyone is your sister or brother in Mongolia)
The 9 nine is a measure for winter, which was at first used by herders for centuries to know where they were in winter. Therefore, the solstice of winter would be the shortest of the year (that is to say December 22) and is measured in 9 sets of 9 days, for a total duration of 81 days.
So, a set of standards was determined accordingly to the period of time :
1st 9s: Vodka made from milk freezes.
2nd 9s: Normal vodka freezes.
3rd 9s: The tail of a 3 year old ox freezes and falls off.
4th 9s: The horns of a 4 year old ox freezes and falls off.
5th 9s: Boiled rice no longer freezes.
6th 9s: Roads start to become visible.
7th 9s: Hill tops appear from beneath snow.
8th 9s: The ground gets damp.
9th 9s: Warmer days have set in.
The 3rd and 4th 9s are considered as the coldest of all. And I agree with it. As I did, you’ll have to double even triple your layers. However, don’t follow to close this myth, since it is still cold until April. Yet, don’t freak out, this is bearable and days are nevertheless very sunny.
Personally, although winter is still on, the cold that all Mongolians dread is the one found in the countryside, where life is tougher, and temperatures lower than downtown. If you get the chance to discover the country at this time of the year, get good clothing. And let’s hope there is no dzud (literally means cold winter in mongolian), and consists of heavy snow falls.
Finally, it is said it gets less cold following Tsagaan Tsar (White moon), which is the Mongolian new year. This year it is celebrated on February 8, which is synonym of the end of winter, and beginning of spring.
Anyway, I invite you to come and get your own vision of Mongolian winter among us. I have tested for you, and honestly… great !