Morning Mountain Trek

All the men atop the hill.
All the men atop the hill.

The first morning of the lunar new year (Tsagaan Sar) is an important one for men. The tradition is that men will climb a mountain, if there is one nearby, before the sunrise to capture the energy from the sun. It’s supposed to bring them good things for the coming year, and for the superstitious, they’ll really need it. This year is the year of the horse, which, according to Mongolian views of this calendar, is “rather disturbing.” The only thing really disturbing I have observed thus far has been the unseasonably warm winter.

I was originally told we would be leaving around 5AM, which seemed odd to me, as the sun doesn’t rise until after 8AM this time of year. It was moved then to 7AM, and we ended up leaving around 8AM.

There were cars out as far as the eye could see: men in coats, boots, deels, various hats, and strong boots walking about, getting ready for the first day of the most important Mongolian holiday. There were several small mountains you could pick to climb: the largest, Bayan Ondor, or any of the smaller mountains that surrounded the city. We drove past the children’s park and saw many cars going up that way. We drove past that, however, and drove all the way through the sprawling ger districts surrounding the city to arrive at a small mountain on the far reaches of town.

There was a small parade of vehicles forming the makeshift parking lot at the base of the mountain. We found a spot and walked up the short hill to where the ovoo and large fire stood. In true Mongolian tradition, there were men throwing pieces of bread, aarul, and rocks, as well as sprinkling the air with airag and milk. They mainly threw their offerings onto the ovoo, but many threw the crumbs of the bread and dregs of the airag onto the mountain as well. Some threw them towards the rising sun, others on any place on the hill in general.

It was a rather overcast morning, making it difficult to see the sunrise. From our vantage point, looking East, you could see nothing but white and grays below the horizon, with small patches of pink and orange peeking through the dreary clouds. After my friends had made their offerings, we stood and watched the sky change colors, absorbing the power of the sun. Just when I thought me feet would go numb from the cold, they suggested we head back to town. I followed eagerly.

The traffic was even worse on the way back: Long line delays with traffic police doing their best to keep the flow. Everyone was awake and getting ready to start the first day of Tsagaan Sar with close family. I went back to my apartment, thanking my friend for driving me out there with his brothers, and warmed myself up by huddling next to my radiator.


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