It is rather hard for me to describe Mongolia since it is probably the most unique country I’ve ever been to. The vast open landscapes and extremely hospitable nomads reminded me of Africa somewhat, but at the same time, its capital, UlaanBataar is a mix of the old Soviet Union and China. Mongolia is definitely the most open, unfenced place that I’ve ever seen in my life so far.
For three days a year, from July 11-13, the capital city of Ulaanbaatar focuses its attention on the Naadam Festival – a festival that I’ve always dreamt of witnessing with my own eyes. From the first day’s opening ceremonies, the festival provides a perfect mix of choreography, competition, and exhibition. The vibe at the Central Stadium is absolutely amazing – You have to be here to see it for yourself!
Before going on this trip to Mongolia, my friends and I did some research about the festival and we encountered an article warning visitors to watch the wresting event from a distance. Initially we didn’t get what could possibly be so horrifying about watching the match up close. However, on the day itself, we completely understood why there was a need for some distance - the competition pits wrestlers against each other and uses a single elimination format, which meant that everything was so intense to the point that you’d wish you were further away from the tension!
The first competition of the Naadam Festival is wrestling, which involves hundreds (close to a thousand) of competitors. To me, this was the most exciting spectacle and hence the highlight of the Naadam festival. As there was no weight class, there were instances when the relatively leaner and smaller men competed against the bigger and bulkier men. While some of the former won their respective rounds, majority were not so lucky. Before the wrestlers began competing during their rounds, they had to perform an incredibly interesting eagle dance – something that you don’t get to see every day. Mongolians are extremely proud of their wrestlers because of the intense training and skills required to master it. Therefore, the winner of the contest was proudly crowned the prestigious title of “Lion”.
While wrestling may be exclusively for the burly men, the next competition, which is archery, allows anyone to take part - as long as you’re skilful at using a bow. Before having any knowledge about this, I expected to see only big men competing; hence I was shocked to witness people of different genders and sizes competing. For this contest, targets were set up at a distance of 60m for women and 75m for men, and the team that shot the most targets was crowned the winner.
Along with wresting and archery, the next component of the Naadam festival would be the well-known horse race that involves racing horses for distances ranging from 15km to 35km, depending on the age class. For instance, the two-year-old horses race for ten miles and the seven-year-old horses race for seventeen miles. It was truly amazing to have been able to be in the midst of racers who displayed so much passion and drive to win the games.
Aside from all that action, the festival also showcased exhibitions about local history, culture and artwork, providing me an opportunity to understand Mongolia better. On top of the carefully handmade Mongolian crafts and souvenirs that I bought, I particularly loved the beautiful display of folk dances and unique performances at the venue.
As the Naadam festival is internationally known and occurs once annually, it is expected that this popular festival would result in an influx of visitors from every corner of the world into Mongolia. If you are interested in visiting Mongolia, contact the travel experts at Flight Centre Singapore (6692 9778) for advice on the best airfares and tour packages available before you plan your trip to Mongolia.