Thursday, July 11, 2013

On the first day of Naadam

Last year we were teaching English over Naadam, so I kind of feel like this is our first real Naadam. Seumas is choosing to spend the holiday period working on his thesis, and I have masters work of my own to do, but today I got to go to the opening ceremony for the Ulaanbaatar Naadam.

Getting tickets for this event is an event in itself. Friends of mine lined up from before 5am to 1pm in a huge shoving crowd, only to be told by the time the time they got to the ticket window that the ticket quota had been reached and that they should come back the next morning. I'm told that this is what buying food used to be like back in the day. Anyway, a friend of a friend managed to get hold of tickets the next day, through means that have not yet been revealed, so we were going after all!

It took about an hour to walk to the stadium this morning. I bumped into a parade on the way, so I trailed behind them, figuring they knew the way! Once inside the stadium, I got a bit lost looking for a toilet and ended up in the shiny VIP building. There were lots of guys in military uniforms covered in medals, TV crews, and women in beautiful clothes running around, and everyone else had special ID passes hanging around their necks. No-one tried to get rid of me though. Later the president of Mongolia entered from that building and sat in a special pavilion on top. Yeah, it's kind of embarassing what having white skin will get you sometimes...

Anyway, our seats were track-level, on the very front row, which we were excited about until it turns out that during the entire performance there is an army of people wearing deels entirely encircling the field, so we pretty much just watched their backs the whole time. Oh well! We got to see the costumes as people walked in, and I get the vibe that there was lots of dancing in unison. We did see a guy doing a handstand while riding a horse!

Once the opening ceremony was complete they began the wrestling, but it was in the middle of the field, and the field is huge, so it was a bit far away to enjoy. I stayed long enough to see one huge guy take out a skinny guy, and then went looking for khuurshuur, which is pretty much compulsory to eat during Naadam. And it was much better than normal khuurshuur, I think because they cook it to order rather than having it sit around lukewarm for hours. I even managed to find vegan khuurshuur. Best khuurshuur I've ever eaten! (I actually generally avoid khuurshuur, but come on, tradition...)

And then I decided I'd had enough of the crowds, and I didn't know where the archery field was, so I walked home. Now I'm looking forward to the deel festival on Saturday! Сайхаи наадаарай!

The finished parade. You may notice that discipline is a bit lax amongst the blue-jacketed group...
Some child dancers waiting for their turn.
These two girls were much more interested in playing a clapping game then watching the field!
These special banners made using yak or horse hair usually live in the government palace, but for the next two days they will stay under constant guard in the centre of the field.
There were several horse riders, but only one with a giant Mongolian flag!
Children wearing very cute camel costumes. Note the dreaded 'fence' of people in orange deels...


  1. Yeah, I realised after I hit publish that I hadn't actually explained what Naadam is. Basically it's a festival centred around archery, wrestling, and horse racing tournaments.