Saturday, July 12, 2008

Naadam Festival

One of the most compelling reasons to visit Mongolia in July is their Naadam Festival. The festival runs for 3 days and is usually held from Jul 11-13. This traditional festival is the country's biggest and most well-known festival and the highlights of the celebrations would be the "three manly games". Three sporting events would be held all over the country - horseracing, archery and wrestling.

The biggest games would be held in Ulan Bator, where the stadiums would be filled with spectators watching mainly the wrestling and archery events. As the festival fall somewhere in the middle of our south Gobi circuit, our guide told us that we would watch the festival in some of the smaller towns, which could probably be more authentic and less crowded.
Sadly, luck was not with us. Firstly, the location that we supposed to see the festival only had horseracing. So we did not get to see any of the archery or wrestling events. Secondly, as the roads are bad, and vehicle breakdowns are common, that left us very little time to watch the full horseracing. So we had to make do with what little time we had.

Horseracing in Naadam is interesting. It's all about the horses. So the various races are categorised according to the age of the horses, and not its riders/jockeys. So you could actually see a 5-year old girl racing with a 12-year old boy, but on horses of the same age category!! The races are all held in open grasslands, with no markers etc. So it all seems pretty chaotic! All I could see is a rider holding a flag of some kind....

It was an extreme pity that we could not see the full Nadaam. Nevertheless, I enjoyed what I could. It was still an eye-opener, and certainly given the chance, I would want to experience it again - in its full!

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