Ulaanbaatar Local Custom Tips by Willettsworld Top 5 Page for this destination
Ulaanbaatar Local Customs: 15 reviews and 36 photos
Naadam is a very popular event throughout the whole of Mongolia and so is watched by the entire nation on TV. In fact when I was there, virtually every Mongolian TV station was broadcasting either live or recorded feeds from the festival. One TV channel had their truck parked up by the gate that I used to enter into the stadium.
There are normally six categories of horse racing depending on the age of horses: for example, a two-year-old horse, called a shudlen, will race for 15km, while six and
seven-year-old azrag and ikh nas horses race for up to 30km. There are no tracks or courses; it is just open countryside. Jockeys - boys and girls aged between 5 and 13 years old - prepare for months for special races, particularly at Naadam. Horses are fed a special diet for weeks beforehand. The competition is not without its dangers: in 1999 a young rider was tragically killed during one of the horse races. Before a race, the audience, all decked out in traditional finery, often sings traditional songs. The young riders sing a traditional anthem called a gingo before the race, and scream 'goog' at the horses during the race. The winner is declared tumnii ekh, or 'leader of ten thousand' which the last horse is given the title 'Complete happiness'. The last two year old horse is given the title 'Rich stomach' and praised together with the winning horse.
These are some pictures of boys and girls taking part in archery. They stand much closer to the target than their adult counterparts but I don't know if they also compete in a similar way.
Archers use a bent composite bow made of layered horn, bark and wood. Usually, arrows are made from willows and the feathers are from vultures and other birds of prey. Traditionally dressed male archers stand 75m from the target, while women archers stand 60m from it. The target is a line of up to 360-round gray, red and/or yellow leather rings (known as sur) on the ground. Usually there are only about 20 or 30 rings. After each shot, special judges who stand near the target (but miraculously never get injured) emit a short cry called a uukhai and raise their hands in the air to indicate the quality of the shot. The winner who hits the targets the most times is declared the best archer or mergen.
Next round of wrestlers limbering up
I started watching the wrestling at the beginning of day 2 (July 12th). Mongolian wrestling is similar to wrestling found elsewhere, except there are no weight divisions, so the biggest wrestlers (and they are big!) are often the best. Mongolian wrestling also has no time limit- the bout will continue with short breaks. It will end only when the first wrestler falls, or when anything other than the soles of the feet or open palms touch the
Each year some 35,000 wrestlers take part in regional heats before 512 go through to the first round of nine at Naadam. Before each elimination bout, wrestlers limber up and honour the judges and their individual attendants (zasuul) with a short dance called a devekh, or 'eagle dance'. After the bout, the loser must perform the takhimaa ogokh, walking under the right arm of the winner, who then makes a lap of honour around the flag on a pedestal and does some more eagle dancing. The gesture signifies peace between the two wrestlers.
Wrestlers wear heavy boots called gutui - similar to the traditional boots worn by ordinary Mongolians. The tight, unflattering pants are called shuudag, and the small
vest across the shoulders is a zodog. The open-fronted vest was allegedly introduced after one Amazonian-sized female wrestler floored all the male wrestlers. When it was discovered she was a woman the vest was introduced to ensure that women would no longer take part in bouts (and thrash the men!).
Winners are bestowed glorious titles depending on how many rounds they win. These are nachin (falcon) - five rounds; zaan (elephant) - seven rounds; and arslan (lion) - given to the winner of the tournament. When an arslan, or lion, wins two years in a row he becomes an avarga, or titan. One renowned wrestler was given the most prestigious and lengthy title of the 'Eye-Pleasing Nationally Famous Mighty and Invincible Giant'!
Comencement of a round with a line of wrestlers
The biggest event of the Mongolian year for foreigners and locals alike is the Naadam Festival held in during three days in July. Part family reunion, part fair and part nomad Olympics, Naadam (meaning 'holiday' or 'festival') has its roots in the nomad assemblies and hunting extravaganzas of the Mongol armies. The communists renamed the festival People's Revolution Day and fixed it to July 11th to 13th, on the anniversary of the Mongolian Revolution of 1921 and this festival still takes place between these dates today.
Wrestling, archery and horse racing are held during the first and second days. Day one of the Naadam Festival (July 11th) starts at about 9am with a fantastic, colourful ceremony outside the State Parliament House at Sukhbaatar Square. Chinggis Khaan's nine yak tails, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are ceremonially transported from Sukhbaatar Square to Naadam Stadium to open the festivities. The opening ceremony, which starts at about 11am at the Naadam Stadium, includes an impressive march of monks and athletes, plenty of music and even parachute displays. The closing ceremony, with more marches and dancing, is held at about 7pm on the second day, but the exact time depends on when the wrestling finishes.
Naadam is properly known as Eriyn Gurvan Naadam, after the three 'manly' sports of wrestling, archery and horse racing (though women participate in the first two events). The first round of the wrestling, which starts at about noon on day one in the main stadium, is the more interesting and photogenic. Archery is held in an open stadium next to the main stadium. The judges, who raise their arms and utter a traditional cry to indicate the quality of the shot are often more entertaining than the archery itself. The horse racing is held at the village of Yarmag, about 10km along the main road to the airport - it is very easy to spot. You should be able to pick up tickets for each day fairly easily by going to a tour company - I went to mine called Black Ibex who got me 2 tickets (one for the morning and one for the afternoon on day 2) that cost a total of T7,000.
Day one of the Naadam Festival (July 11th) starts at about 9am with a fantastic, colourful ceremony outside the State Parliament House at Sukhbaatar Square. Chinggis Khaan's nine yak tails, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are ceremonially transported from Sukhbaatar Square to Naadam Stadium to open the festivities.
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