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Naadam Competition in Mongolian Villages of the Gobi Desert

In keeping with the Ger to Ger itinerary we had been caught on this gray, bleak Gobi Desert village till 11AM so I made a decision to attempt to make the very best of it and discover some magnificence in it’s coldness by going for a stroll across the dusty empty streets with my digital camera.

I used to be stunned to search out that there have been extra individuals out buzzing across the gravel roads than I had anticipated. Up till now, the Gobi Desert villages had been fairly devoid of life. I perched myself in the course of the convergence of tire tracks which was presumably the ‘city heart’ and watched the village sputter to life.

I finished in on the retailer to get some bottled water for our day’s journey. Once I stepped exterior, our I noticed our driver and jeep rushing in direction of me with a path of mud following. My journey companions, Valerie and Natalie had been inside.

He opened the door and mentioned, “Sherry, Naadam!”

I smiled, and instantly hopped within the jeep. It was as if he had mentioned, “Sherry, Brad Pitt needs to see you.”

What’s the Naadam Competition

One phrase in Mongolian that I knew earlier than I arrived in Ulaanbaatar was Naadam; the annual Mongolian pageant celebrated in early July coinciding with the New 12 months. Naadam comes from the phrase Naadakh which suggests “to have enjoyable”.

The pageant is an expression of nomadic tradition, the celebration of nationwide independence, and sports activities. It contains competitors within the 3 manly sports activities – wrestling, horseracing, and archery. There’s additionally a number of pomp and circumstance included that will even provide you with a style of the tradition and humanities of Mongolia.

Mongolian musicians
Musicians play at Naadam

The large Naadam pageant is often originally of July in Ulaanbaatar with the very best of the very best from the nation competing at a giant area to giant crowds. It’s the mainly the Tremendous Bowl of Mongolia. It’s typically the focal a part of many vacationers’ journeys.

Nevertheless, I needed to make the regretful monetary determination to overlook Naadam in Ulaanbaatar to start with of July. The already costly airfare in July grew to become inconceivable to afford on my ESL educating wage if I had gone through the dates of the pageant. I questioned if it could be a transfer that I’d remorse as soon as I arrived in Mongolia in late July. I need to admit, after assembly vacationers who had been right here for the festivities, I felt pangs of remorse ensuing from my finances determination to skip Naadam pageant.

Given a Second Probability

Nevertheless, when Shat pulled up in a fury and mentioned the phrase “Naadam” in his heavy Mongolian accent, I knew I had been given a second likelihood by the journey Gods. Shat was my savior main me to it.

I knew that the official ceremony had already taken place in Ulanbatar on July eleventh with an enormous fanfare and throngs of vacationers. Every occasion was extremely orchestrated for the 1000’s of viewers within the capital metropolis.

Nevertheless, I additionally knew that communities round the remainder of Mongolia celebrated at completely different occasions across the eleventh of July. Right this moment was July thirty first; a lot later than I’d’ve anticipated any lingering celebrations, however I definitely wasn’t going to query it.

Typically it’s Essential to Throw Away Your Journey Plan and Be Spontaneous

Shat drove us out of the village and over a rocky hill the place we noticed a bunch of individuals gathering with horses. Young children had been sitting on prime of the small Mongolian horses – for as soon as, it regarded appropriate proportionally.

Mongolian driver
Our driver Shat

The individuals began dissipating, the occasion was completed. My happiness shortly modified to unhappiness, we had simply missed one of many horse races. Shat beckoned for us to get within the jeep in order that we may proceed on to our subsequent Ger on the tour itinerary, we had been already working late after this little diversion.

naadam horse races
The race had already completed and the winners had been determined.

I begrudgingly obtained again in and requested him if we may keep for extra Naadam occasions and he mentioned, “No, Ger to Ger.” I had been right here lengthy sufficient to grasp the cryptic English. This meant that he should preserve us on our deliberate itinerary.

We began to drive away feeling dejected; I used to be given a second likelihood to see a Naadam pageant and I used to be lacking out once more. I knew I didn’t need to remorse lacking this cultural alternative and determined to ask him to name the Ger to Ger workplace and clarify that we wished to remain for the Naadam Competition on this little village.

After a brief dialog with the Ger to Ger supervisor and clarification that we’d moderately watch Naadam than go horse driving once more, it was set! Shat was to care for us the remainder of the day at Naadam! I used to be so completely happy that they had been versatile with the itinerary!

Naadam within the Gobi Desert

Naadam is a pageant of ‘the three manly sports activities’; wrestling, horse racing, and archery. I made a decision to depart my feminist alter ego inside and benefit from the manly sports activities with out fear about why there weren’t any girls allowed to take part.

Nevertheless, I did discover out that younger women had been allowed to race the horses when you didn’t have a son in your loved ones!

A young girl Naadam jockey
A younger lady competes within the horse race


 It was difficult to determine the rituals of Naadam with no information or any close by English audio system. We had nobody to ask our many inquiries to. We sat on little benches the place the entire locals gathered to spectate. I seen lots of the younger women had been there of their greatest dressed outfits to look at the entire males compete.

The ambiance was completely happy and festive on this gray little village. They even had a couple of ‘carnival’ video games arrange; one by which you threw a ball at a pyramid of previous, empty paint cans. I cherished the simplicity of all of it; no neon lights, no funnel truffles, no rides.

After a gap ceremony of singing and varied speeches, the competitions had been prepared to start the wrestling portion of the pageant.

As we watched the entire males compete, the villagers gave the impression to be watching us – the unusual foreigners within the crowd. Individuals would come up and sit subsequent to us for some time simply to take a look at us; then they’d depart.

Naadam festival crowd
The gang watches us…

The locals all handed round a giant bowl of airag, fermented mare’s milk. Who knew that you would get drinkable milk from a horse? The bowl ultimately was handed to us by a pleasant native that wished us to be included within the festivities. I gave it a sniff, and determined, what the hell; I drank. It had a sourish style of hand-crafted booze, however it truthfully wasn’t too unhealthy. The truth is it was higher than a lot of the low-cost liquor I drank in faculty!

mongolian people

Mongolian Wrestling at Naadam

Throughout this tour within the Gobi Desert every time I met a Mongolian man it felt as if there was a cowboy aura about them. They had been tough, robust, silent, and laborious working. Plus, they wore these elaborate conventional robes with lovely colourful sashes and at all times a hat; typically a cowboy hat or baseball hat.

Wrestling Uniform

So when these manly males oozing testosterone out of the blue stripped all the way down to child blue and pink embroidered speedos and mini bolero jackets with pointed hats; I about fell over.

I do know why they name wrestling a manly sport; you needed to be in contact along with your manhood to put on that outfit!

Most of their our bodies had been shockingly match regardless of an absence of gyms, unhealthy smoking habits, and having a heavy dairy food plan of Mongolian meals. These had been our bodies you couldn’t kind in a health club; as a substitute they had been our bodies developed kind laborious, handbook work.

Mongolian Wrestling Guidelines

Genghis Khan thought of wrestling to be an vital method to preserve his military in good bodily form and fight prepared. I can think about his entire military out within the desert throwing one another round!

The principles of Mongolian wrestling are fairly easy. The article of a match is to get your opponent to the touch his again, knee or elbow to the bottom. There isn’t any ring, no weight courses, neither is there a time restrict. They will use their fingers and tripping and lifts are allowed.

Mongolian wrestlers
Younger Mongolian males wait their flip to wrestle

The ‘ring’ was simply the laborious, Gobi Desert floor, which suggests there have been some laborious landings that made me cringe. This was positively probably the most intense wrestling I’ve ever seen.

Rituals that Take Flight

Since we didn’t actually have a information, and we had been the one international spectators on the pageant, we had nobody to ask inquiries to. We watched the matches, attempting to make sense out of all of it and work out the foundations primarily based on wild guesses.

The wrestling itself had many unusual rituals. They might take off their hat and hand it to After they entered the ‘ring’ they squatted, slapped their thighs, then slapped their ass (sure…you learn that proper) and bumped into the ‘ring’.

At first and the top of the match, the wrestlers put their arms out within the air horizontally, and slowly flapped up and down in a fluid movement like a fowl. I discovered it to be an odd method to taunt the competitor. When one of many males pinned his opponent, he would stand up, get his hat from the officiator, after which proceed to do that fowl dance once more because the winner.

It form of jogged my memory of the taunting that American soccer gamers do after they make a landing.

mongolian wrestling victory dance
Victory dance

After a bit of time on Google, I discovered that it’s known as the “Eagle Dance”, primarily based on the flight of the legendary Garuda fowl, which symbolizes energy, bravery, grace and invincibility.

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of Defeat

  I cherished the wrestling matches. The wrestlers had been robust, actually robust. There was no properly padded flooring; solely the laborious, rocky desert floor to land on. They had been targeted as they started their match typically spending the primary couple of minutes merely staring their opponent down.

mongolian wrestling stare
Stare down

The following transfer was typically taking swipes on the different particular person, typically even latching on to their fairly child blue bolero jacket. You had been lulled into rest as you watched the grown males pawing at one another as in the event that they had been puppies taking part in – then impulsively – ATTACK!

Earlier than I knew it somebody was airborne and also you heard a thud. The mud cleared and a winner was declared. The loser brushed the pebbles and dirt out of their speedos and graciously watched the winner do their fowl dance and obtain his prize from the judges – laborious unleavened bread…all of that for bortzig.

mongolian wrestlers face off


Naadam Horse Races

After many random wrestling matches; some occurring on the similar time, the spectators out of the blue obtained up and began strolling or driving up over the hill within the distance. Shat gathered us up and took us there too.

naadam festival horse race gobi desert

Approach off within the distance you would see them; little puffs of mud. It took me some time to determine what I used to be or for, after which it dawned on me that this was the horse race.

I questioned the place on the earth the horses began at – clearly they’d been working for some time. The kid jockeys raced them bareback in to the end line the place their households cheered them on.

The younger boy who gained, had introduced the very best honor to his household. I didn’t want to talk the language to grasp that.

After the race the horses all got here to the primary floor the place the wrestling had been happening and varied types of milk had been poured on the successful horses as some kind of honor; milk is King in Mongolia!

Seeing the native Naadam pageant was my spotlight of my time in Mongolia. I cherished that we had been the one guests there and we had been welcomed into the pageant. I didn’t even care that we had no actual concept what was happening! Shat took care of us all day directing us the place to go and the place to take a seat.  He even took us to his pal’s residence to eat freshly made buuz by some native girls.

The pageant continued on the subsequent day with archery. though I badly wished to remain, it was time to get again on our itinerary schedule.

I got here throughout the Naadam Competition within the Gobi Desert accidentally, and I personally suppose it’s one of the simplest ways to expertise the Naadam. I used to be in a position to stand up near the locals and expertise it first hand. It was much less of a present and extra of a journey expertise.

The day was an awesome reminder that always the unplanned occasions are sometimes the very best a part of journey.

How You Can Expertise the Naadam Competition

Most tour corporations provide excursions to the Gobi and the Nationwide Naadam Competition in Ulaabaatar. I couldn’t discover any that simply provided small village excursions throughout Naadam sadly. I do suppose it’s price it to contact Ger to Ger who I traveled with and see if they may organize one for you. I do know they imagine very strongly within the native expertise so I’m certain they might do their greatest to make it occur – simply as they had been versatile with my itinerary!

Ger to Ger Naadam Excursions

Different Naadam Excursions

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