LAKE KHÖVSGÖL, Mongolia — In Mongolia’s northernmost province, where the brutal winter sees temperatures dipping below 10 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, Mongolians arrive on Lake Khövsgöl decked out in their best clothing for the Ice Festival.
Held annually for the last 17 years, the two-day festival takes place atop the clear-as-sky freshwater lake dubbed the Blue Pearl of Mongolia, which gets frozen up to six feet deep during the winter. Horse and dog sledding, ice sumo wrestling, and an “ice shooting” game — imagine bowling, except with a stone and ice blocks — are crowd favorites, but the main draw is the ice sculptures created by award-winning Mongolian ice artists.
Along the event’s edge, vendors hawk knives made out of reindeer’s antlers, yak horn cups, fur hats and animal pelts. Gers — also known as a yurt — are set up on Lake Khövsgöl’s shore as restaurants that double up as a spot to get warm between events.
Despite the biting cold, the attendants certainly had no problem looking stylish, opting to wear bright colorful deels — traditional ankle-length robes — lined with sheepskin, while the outer layer ranges from silk to brocade. In fact, for many, looking photogenic against the wintry white backdrop was their main concern.
“We decided that orange would be really colorful, so that’s why we picked this one to make our outfits, and couples always wear the same colors together,” said Uurtsaih Altantsetseg, who was sporting a silk deel he made for himself and his wife. The couple lives six hours away, but is already planning a return trip next year.
“It’s our first time so everything is new and we are enjoying it a lot, especially those beautiful sculptures,” Altantsetseg said. “We will definitely come back; we will bring new outfits.”