A tradition common throughout Mongolia is for families to take a quick trip to the countryside on New Years to catch the first glimpses of sunlight that edge into the steppe landscape. With the new light comes a fresh start. On January 1st, I caught a train several hours out of Ulaanbaatar with a couple friends, armed with coffee, whiskey, and champagne.
Our journey began at 5 a.m. when we packed into the railway cars. By half past 7, we were standing in the frigid Mongolian morningside, amongst fascinating scenes as local herders whipped around the blazing bonfires on horseback in their Deels (pronounced: De-hlth), and children no older than 3 or 4 took their first four-legged rides. They start them young here.
To the East, the hillside was speckled with cars.
When blue melted to orange and the sun cut through, everyone turned to face the warm rays. Offerings of milk and vodka were thrown to the air followed by cries of “Hoo-ray,” a phrase which I learned is of Mongolian origins. Back in the day, it was first heard in western spheres as the Mongolian armies announced their victory – and since, it has become common vernacular in sports and military arenas.
On the way back to the train, we also ran into several shamans, greeting the New Year in their full festive attire.