There is a wide range of festivals taking place throughout the year in Mongolia. Here’s my brief guide. If there’s a festival you’re interested in, use the trip finder to find a suitable departure. All images have been taken by either EL guests or members of the EL team.

Tsagaan Sar – Mongolian Lunar New Year – Jan/Feb

Tsagaan Sar (White Month) is Mongolia’s Lunar New Year. It falls on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice.

Mongolians believe that the colour white symbolises happiness, purity and an abundance of milk products (Tsagaan Sar symbolises wealth and prosperity in the family).

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The festival is held to promote tourism to the region outside of the main tourist season and it focuses on the region's special features.  Don’t get caught up in notions of authenticity - the Ice Festival features a lot of local involvement. The festival draws local Mongolian spectators as well as westerners and the locals are always more enthusiastic. It is a celebration of local community, networking and collaboration to ensure a better future for the region and its herding community.

Khovsgol Ice Festival – Khovsgol Nuur – Early March

The Ice Festival is held over 2 days at Lake Khovsgol. In winter the lake freezes over and forms the venue outside the small community of Khatgal. Held to promote tourism outside of the main tourist season events include ice sculpting, ice sumo, ice ankle bone shooting and horse sled races.

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Thousand Camel Festival  – Southern Gobi – Early March 

The camel festival is an annual celebration held in the southern Gobi organised by a local NGO to help protect the Bactrian camel and the essential role it plays in the lives of the nomadic herders in the region.

Highlights include camel races, camel polo competitions and traditional performances of Mongolian music and dance.

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Nauryz – Bayan Ulgii 

Nauryz means ‘new day’ and is the spring festival that is celebrated through Central Asia and falls on the spring equinox. It is essentially a celebration of the coming of spring. In Ulgii in Western Mongolia, there is a two-day celebration with a colourful parade on the first day and horse racing and games on the second including bushkashi (also known as kolpar) where horse-mounted players attempt a tug-of-war to drag a goat carcass toward a goal. Competition is typically fierce! There is also a mini eagle festival.

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Saikhan Yak Festival – Southern Gobi

Based in Yolyn Am in Gobi Gurvan SaikhanNational Park in the southern Gobi. Yak herders are in the minority in the Gobi but due to the altitude and terrain of the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan there is a community of yak herders. The Saikhan Yak Festival is a yearly event organised by the Governing Administration of Omnogobi Aimag and held in the magnificent mountain landscapes of Yolyn Am – Vulture’s Gorge or Mouth. It is held to promote the breeding of yaks and the traditional Gobi way of life.

National Naadam Ulaanbaatar

This national event is held in Ulaanbaatar on July 11th and 12th (with horse racing taking place in the week leading up to the event). The dates are the anniversary of the 1921 Revolution led by the Mongolian revolutionary Sukhbaatar that brought independence from the Manchurians (Qing Dynasty).  This is where some of Mongolia’s top athletes take part and is Mongolia’s top sporting event. The 2014 winner of the wrestling tournament was awarded a Toyota Land Cruiser 200, a four-room apartment in Ulaanbaatar and 15 million MNT.

Local Naadam – Countrywide

These take place throughout the summer throughout all aimags (provinces). Each aimag decides on their own festival dates and the smaller the event, the more likely the date will not be set by the local community until a month before. Remember, these local events are aimed for the local communities and not for tourists – some have very few facilities and often there is a lot of waiting around!

Felting and Yak Festival – Orkhon Valley – Late July

Held at Ulaan Tsutgalan in the central heartland it is a celebration of local community, networking and collaboration to ensure a better future for the region and its herding community.

They’ll be yak racing and yak polo and even a yak beauty pageant (although the criteria for the winning yak is never clearly announced or explained). As with most Mongolian festivals it includes a concert of traditional music and dance.

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Eagle Festival – Altai – September and October

The festival helps to promote Kazakh culture in western Mongolia, to promote the sport of hunting with eagles and is said to be the start of the eagle hunting season. Run by the Mongolian Eagle Hunter’s Association, competition is typically fierce.

Sagsai Eagle Festival is held the third weekend of September in Sagsai – a district of Bayan Olgii. Bayan Olgii Festival is the larger event and held the first weekend of October.

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