Autumn is the season of transition from the comparatively hot and wet summer to the cold and dry winter. Autumn is an important season of Mongolia as it prepares for winter. Across the whole country, the harvest of crops, vegetables and fodder begins, while herders rebuild winter cattle barns and sheds and begin to store fuel.
Immediately after Naadam festival, herders start to cut their hay. This quality green hay helps animals to survive the cold winter and harsh spring. In a dry summer, herders must make the difficult decision to move to better grasslands. For example during the summer season in the often dry Gobi, herders must migrate to the neighboring province to pass the winter. Pastureland disputes can often break out between the migrating and local people, but the authorities of the relevant provinces always manage to settle the issue.
While men, old and young alike, are busy with cutting hay, wives and daughters have other things to do. They prepare various dairy products such as solid cream or aaruul, as well as eezgii, a dried curd that is saved for winter and spring consumption. These products are prepared during this time when there is an abundance of milk. Women and children also collect nutritious grass such as allium mongolicumand wild leek, and prepare fodder.
Nowadays, modern influences are making their way into Mongolian diets, as many people who used to live in the countryside have become urban residents. As such, fruits and vegetables can also be purchased for winter.
In autumn Mongolians enjoy going to “spas” in certain areas of sulfuric water. This is because these treatments are said to reinforce your immune system if taken by the end of the summer and the first month of autumn, according to traditional medicine. The well-known spas in Mongolia including Orgil, Janchivlan, Shargaljuut are busy during this time.
The Mongolians have many celebrations in autumn, as there are plenty of milk products, crops are being harvested, and animals are being fattened for slaughter. The celebration days are selected for the events a month or year ahead. The 17th of the middle month of autumn (according to the lunar calendar) is considered a good day for festivity. Furthermore, many people choose a particular day around this time for their children’s marriage, and for putting up a separate home for them. Lastly, the Wedding Palace gets busy around this time each year.
While herders move from summer to autumn pastures, sub-urban residents cover up their gers against the cold and store firewood and coal for winter. It is essential to be well-prepared for a long, cold winter anywhere in Mongolia, where snow may fall even in autumn.
The school year begins on the 1st of September each year. Children get busy with school after the summer break during which they usually stay with their families and help them. For children of herders, the 1st of September at age 7 is not only the start of a new school year, it is also the start of a new life in school. At this age they will stay in a dormitory away from their parents, usually returning only on the weekends. Some children get homesick, but eventually adjust. This is probably why many poets and writers have written numerous works about autumn, home, parents, and the griefs and joys of life, as many of them were born in rural herding families.
One of the highlights of the season are Whooper Swans. Thousands of swans and other migratory birds journey south together and stopover in Mongolia’s lakes. As a result, you can see birds that you never expected to see in a landlocked country. The diversity of bird species in Mongolia during this season coupled with the serene natural surroundings will make you wonder if you are dreaming.
During these months the Gobi Marathon takes place in southern Mongolia. Swans gather at the Ganga Lake for a long journey to warmer lands. The Golden Eagle festival is held in western Mongolia, while the “One Day in Mongolia” nomadic festival is held east of Ulaanbaatar. These are both realistic glimpses into the lives of nomadic people.
Camels are best fit for the cold climate. When winter approaches their humps are full and their soft wool coat shines in its best colors. Experiencing this as part of the Camel Festival is simply wonderful. The festival is organized annually and involves contests of camel polo, camel riding, camel training competitions, and more. The event also promotes and awards the finest local handcrafted camel riding equipment, tools, wool and dairy products, all of which are for sale.
“Winter in the Gobi brings snow to the desert and the camels all have their fluffy winter coats on. Everyone was on camels – everyone. . . . There was a bookie taking bets. . . . I just bet on the camel with the most medals! There was also a competition for the best-looking male and female camel. It was -10 degrees, but having just come from the Ice Festival, it felt positively balmy. I had my first gallop on a camel . . . what an amazing experience.”