Tsagaan Sar or White Moon Festival
(8 days)

Horses in Winter
Reindeer Mongolia
nomad landscape

Detailed description

Winter in Mongolia is a remarkable experience for those who are willing to take themselves out of their comfort zone. Pack your thermals and come to Mongolia in winter and do something out of the ordinary. Enjoy being a part of the few people who come and experience Mongolia during this special local festival time.

Tsagaan Sar is one of the most important holidays celebrated within immediate and extended family members. Tsagaan Sar is marking the first day of spring according to the Lunar Calendar, celebrating the end of hard winter. The dates are different every year somewhere from late January to beginning March. The celebration continues for several days as Mongolian families tend to be large, allowing them to visit each other’s home in turn. 

However, the most important days are Bituun-Black Moon (the day before Tsagaan sar) and the first day of Tsagaan Sar. On the Bituun day people thoroughly clean their home, herders tend to livestock, clean barns and shades to meet Tsagaan Sar clean and fresh. The Bituun ceremony also includes lightning candles to symbolize enlightenment of the samsara and putting three pieces of ice at the doorway so that the horse of the Paldan Lama would drink as the deity is believed to visit every household this day after dark. In the evening usually immediate families gather together to eat buuz, khuushuur, other traditional meals, dairy products and play traditional games and tell stories. On this day people settle all issues, repay all debts from last year.

On the day of Tsagaan Sar the ceremony starts by greeting the eldest. It is called Zolgoh, a greeting in which one grasps them by their elbows to show support and respect for them. Younger people greet elders holding long blue silk cloth called Khadag. After the greeting ceremony, families share meals, steamed rice with raisins, dairy products, buuz, salad etc. It is also time to drink Airag-fermented mare milk kept aside from last summer and exchange gifts.

People are dressed in their full Mongolian dress “Deel”, traditionally embroidered and decorated boots, belt, head.  It is spectacular, colorful and beautiful to see from eldest to babies dressed traditionally.

Preparing Tsagaan Sar meals and eating is an inseparable part of the festival. An impressive pyramid of traditional cookies with layers erected on a large dish together with other dairy products, candies, nuts is the central part of the feast table. On another large dish grilled or boiled middle and rear sheep part attached with tail.  People like to eat it with pickled cucumber and different types of cold salads such as potato, cabbage, carrot salad. Traditional Tsagaan Sar food includes many different dairy products, rice with curds, steamed sweetened rice with raisins. Buuz is a steamed dumpling filled with minced beef, mutton, and sometimes horse meat in hand-pinched flour dough.

Tsagaan Sar is a lavish big feast requiring days of preparation in advance. Families gather together men, women, children all and make large quantities, a few thousands of buuz along with Ul Boov, a pastry for both to eat and present on the festival table. Key drinks are Suutei zai” – milk tea, Airag – fermented mare milk, distilled vodka from cow milk and other strong alcohols are served as well.

People love preparing Tsagaan Sar feast. It is a perfect occasion to see one’s family over long hours of making buuz, exchange family news and gossip. Tsagaan Sar brings a comforting holiday spirit, feels like a burst of warmth across a frozen and glittering country.

Travelers on this tour will be given the opportunity to purchase traditional clothes and boots. The temperature in February can be below freezing and travelers will need to bring heavy winter jackets, gloves and hats to keep warm, dressing in layers is highly recommended.

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Our crew will greet you upon your arrival at the airport. We will transport you to a convenient, centrally located hotel. A city tour can be arranged depending on your arrival time. Ulaanbaatar is a fast-growing modern city with more than 1.3 million habitants. City sightseeing includes Bogd Khan’s Winter & Summer Palace, a series of beautiful traditional buildings in which the eighth Living Buddha and the last king lived. It is now a museum displaying fascinating artefacts and costumes associated with the last king as well as his collection of stuffed animals.

We will stop at the Gandantegchinlen Monastery. It is the largest and most important monastery of Mongolia. We will scroll through the different monasteries and see the magnificent statue of Migjid Janraisig, an 82-foot high statue gilded in gold and covered with silk cloth.

We will finish the city tour with Zaisan hill to have a view of the whole Ulaanbaatar. The city sightseeing tour takes about 4 – 5 hours.

(Hotel D)

Ulaanbaatar City Tour
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Today we will be driving to Karakorum (also called Kharkhorin). Karakorum was the capital of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian Empire in the thirteenth century. In 1220, Genghis Khan ordered the building of Karakorum on the ruins of Turug and Uigur cities in the Orkhon valley at the eastern end of the Khangai Mountains. During the reign of Ugedei Khan, it was completed 15 years later. The town was very multicultural and culturally accepting.

The silver tree, which was once part of Möngke Khan’s palace, has become Karakorum’s emblem. From 1220 to 1260, it was at its most prosperous. Karakorum existed as the great capital of the Euro-Asian Empire, with Mongolia at its heart, and as the epicenter of politics, trade, culture, faith, intellect, and diplomacy, as well as the most visible link in international relations.

Between 1260 and 1380, Karakorum lost its status as the capital of the Great Mongolian Empire and became Mongolia’s capital. When Kublai Khan and his younger brother, Ariq Boke, assumed the throne of the Mongol Empire in 1260, they moved their capital to what is now Beijing. Karakorum was reduced to the administrative center of a Yuan Dynasty provincial backwater.

110 years after Kublai Khan transferred the Empire capital to China in 1260, the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty fell in 1368, and the center of Mongolian government was shifted to its homeland. It allowed Karakorum to regain its former glory.

The town was captured and destroyed by Ming troops under General Xu Da in 1388. Nothing remains of this legendary city today.

When Abtai Sain Khan and his brother, Lord Tumenkhen, went to the 3rd Dalai Lama in 1580 to express their desire to create a temple in Mongolia, he advised them to restore an old temple in Karakorum. The Main Zuu temple of Erdene Zuu monastery is a temple in Takhai ruins that was restored in 1588 at the Dalai Lama’s suggestion.

Erdene Zuu Monastery is now all that is left of what was once a massive monastery with 100 temples and over 1.000 lamas. You’ll walk around the grounds of Erdene Zuu Monastery, which is encircled by huge 400 m X 400 m walls. You will be guided around the 3 remaining temples: the Dalai Lama, Zuu of Buddha and Lavrin Temple.

The Karakorum Archaeological Museum will be another stop on your itinerary. It’s a tiny museum, but it’s housed in a new, well-run structure with good lighting and simple English labels on display cases. The displays contain hundreds of artefacts from the 13th and 14th centuries that were discovered in the immediate region, as well as those from other provinces’ archaeological sites, including prehistoric stone tools. Pottery, bronzes, coins, religious sculptures, and stone inscriptions are among the objects on display. A half-excavated kiln is also sunk into the museum floor. The scale model of ancient Karakorum, which attempts to reflect the city as it would have existed in the 1250s and is based on descriptions written by the French missionary William of Rubruck, is perhaps the most intriguing. A Turkic noble tomb with wall paintings and artefacts, including gold objects and jewels, is on display in another chamber. A short video of the actual burial site is available.

You can also visit the Turtle Rock and the Phallic Rock, as well as a small market that showcases local artists’ work.

(Hotel B, L, D)

Karakorum Wall
Mongolia Monastery Library
Erdene Zuu Temple
Monks Chanting
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Tovkhon monastery and Orkhon valley

Today we will be driving westwards into the Orkhon Valley, where the Orkhon River flows. Our first stop will be Tovkhon Monastery, established during the 1650’s by Zanabazar, one of Mongolia’s most respected religious leaders. The monastery’s wooden buildings are integrated with a natural system of caves perched near a hilltop, from which you have beautiful views of the Orkhon Valley and the surrounding pine forests. On the top of the cliff, a pile of stones to worship a god of this mountain forms a hill. It is called Ovoo.

UNESCO has designated the valley as a world cultural heritage site because of ancient artifacts dating back to the early 6th century and even earlier. Moreover, the great Mongol empire expanded its capital Karakorum here from the 12th to 13th centuries. Furthermore, the pasture nomadic lifestyle has persisted, preserving both the historic and nomadic perspectives on life.

During the Quaternary period, a volcano erupted near the mouth of the Tsagaan Azarga, also known as the White Stallion River, and the lava flowed down the Orkhon valley, creating a 10-meter-thick layer of basaltic rocks. The Orkhon River cut through the basaltic layer twice, resulting in the formation of the canyon. In the evening we will arrive at our host family.

(Family stay B, L, D)

Tovkhon Monastery Winter
Winter Landscape
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Today we will spend a day with our host family. Perfect time to observe, learn and experience the lifestyle of nomad families and assist them in their daily life and get properly prepared for festivals.

In the evening play with family members Mongolian traditional games (knuckle bone snacking, flicking) over lavish dinner. Bituun means both “full” and “dark” in Mongolian. It is considered the darkest night of the year as well as time to get full. Becoming extra full on Bituun means that your life will be full of good things in the coming year. Bon Appétit. 

(Family stay B, L, D)

Winter Mongolia
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Tsagaan Sar 

Wake up before dawn and join family in one of important customs –greeting. To watch the first sunrise of the new year from the nearest hilltop. Start your first spring day walking in the right direction. When you tell which year you are born, the family will consult the lunar calendar and tell you in which direction your first steps will be made. It is believed that if you take your first step into the right direction, your life will be full of good things in the coming year as well.

At sunrise the Zolgoh-the greeting ceremony will start. Greeting ceremony starts with the eldest in the family. Respect and acknowledgement from juniors to seniors and generosity and blessing from seniors to juniors.  More eating is necessary today.

There is no better way to experience this most traditional and most important Mongolian festival.

It is lovely to see families and communities come together in their pride for their culture and holiday. 

(Family stay B, L, D)

Winter Tour Package
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Elsen Tasarkhai – Khogno Khaan mountains – Khustai National Park

After breakfast we will say goodbye to our lovely host family and head into another adventure. We will be going to Khogno Khan National Park today. We will trek in the Khogno Khan Mountains at the end of the day, walking up the mountain and taking in the incredible views of the hills, sand dunes, and grasslands. We’ll also pay a visit to the charming Ovgon Monastery. 

The Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dune, also known as Little Gobi, is a 100-kilometer-long sand dune. There is an optional camel ride trek along a sand dune. In the evening we will reach Khustai National park.

(Ger camp B, L, D)

Winter Sunset in Mongolian village
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Khustain Nuruu – Ulaanbaatar 

After breakfast we will visit Khustai Nuruu national park and be introduced to the project. The Przewalski’s Horse is a rare and endangered subspecies of wild horse found in Central Asia’s steppes, also known as the Takhi horse. It has been reintroduced to its natural habitat in Mongolia, where it was once extinct in the wild. In 1993, Khustain Nuruu National Park was designated as a reserve, but in 1998, it was upgraded to a national park. In the park today, there are approximately 350 Takhi horses. There are 459 vascular plant species and 217 bird species in the park.

We will meet the park staff and be introduced to the project after arriving at the Khustain Nuruu National Park camp. In the afternoon, we’ll discover the park’s natural wonders by jeep, foot, or horseback.

(Hotel B, L, D)

Horses in Winter
Winter Mongolia
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The time has come to leave and drive back to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. You can use your free afternoon to see as you fit.


Winter Lake


January 2024