We’re smack dab in the middle of winter, and for those of us living closer to the North and South Poles, it’s cold. Really, really cold. Of course, many of us have the privilege of sweaters, indoor heating, and Asian blankets, so we can’t truly complain about how cold it is (like that’s going to stop us).
But not all methods of battling the bitter cold are equal, and many societies adapted to harsh climates in their own unique way. Never has this been more true than in Mongolia, with its traditionally nomadic people dotting its vast, expansive landscapes for centuries.
Here, the winters can, quite literally, chill the unprepared to the bone. With temperatures well below freezing — -4 degrees Fahrenheit to -49 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius to -45 degrees Celsius) — Mongolians are veterans at surviving the bleak and bitter cold.
But how do they do it? They’re exposed to such severe conditions without the same creature comforts that many of us in Western communities enjoy. Is there a secret we don’t know?
Quora user Anand Nyamdavaa weighs in on his experiences in the Mongolian countryside:
“Couple of years back, I had to work in countryside for two weeks. The weather at that time was around -10 Celsius day time and -20 Celsius at night. By Mongolian standards it’s nice and breezy.
“Because we had to visit many small villages, we had to constantly drive. Usually every small village has one guest room adjacent to government building. All the houses in the villages are heated by stove manually, so I had to sleep in a sleeping bag. Most of the time you keep outdoors, talk to people, meet herders. I never felt cold.
“Finally, we flew back to Ulaanbaatar (capital). It was nice to be back and relax. But I felt as if I am staying in the oven. I felt my cheeks and ears red and hot, somewhat similar to feeling embarrassed. Had to open the windows to let cold air in. My apartment, as all the apartments in UB, have central heating and the temperature is a nice 22 Celsius. It took 2–3 days for body to adjust to the constant heat.
“This is common complaint of our relatives from countryside: ‘How can you stay in such heat. I cannot breathe.’
“So to answer your question, body has a wonderful mechanism of coping with cold. It kicks in as soon as you stay in a cold place for while. Once you get back to a warmer place the body turns down the internal heater.”
Another Quora user, Corvi Zeman, offered their thoughts on the matter:
“The дээл, which is a long belted robe traditionally worn by both male and female Mongolians, comes in winter and summer versions. The summer version is a light cotton, but the winter version is very heavy and wonderfully warm. The inside is lined with sheepskin, so there is a heavy layer of leather and fur inside the cotton, and the sleeves are very long and loose so that most of the time your hands are covered by your sleeves to keep warm. Even today, a lot of Mongolians wear дээл in winter, western-style parka coats aren’t as warm. Fur hats and scarves are popular, too.
“Fashion-conscious Mongolians like cashmere clothing instead, which is made from the special extra-warm wool Mongolian goats grow in winter to keep from freezing to death. It is collected from the goats in spring and made into sweaters, hats, and gloves.
“Like Tibetans, who also live in a place with insanely cold winters, Mongolians put butter in their tea (сүүтэй цай) for extra calories. Mongolian herders need up to 5,000 calories a day to stay warm in winter, adding butter to your tea (and always having tea or soup cooking) helps a lot. Flour, rice, or dumplings can also be added to butter tea. (Dumplings are especially delicious.) If you run across a stranger in the countryside, they will always invite you to visit for a couple of tea or soup, which seems like it probably developed as a survival mechanism.
“The гэр (felt tent) a Mongolian family lives in is heated by a stove that can burn wood, coal, or dried animal dung depending on what is available in the area. гэрs aren’t as warm as stick-built houses, but they are a lot warmer than you’d expect for a tent, with thick layers of felt for the walls, lots of heavy wool blankets, and a toasty warm stove. As long as you keep feeding the fire, anyway.”
Does this sound like it’d keep you warm in the winter? What are some ways you stave off the cold? Let us know in the comments!