We’ve hit Mongolia’s Metropolis, Ulaanbaatar. Or UB as it’s known by the lazy buggers who can’t be bothered to say the full name.
We have arrived at the start on the national holiday week and the time when the national games are held, known as “Naadam” which interprets as “fun” in English.
As with any country’s capital it has it’s rich bits and poor bits, we noticed housing estates going up, built in western styles and the nicer, richer areas as we drove towards the centre of the city with the back drop of the ger district sprawling across the hills on the other side of the city, which has it’s own set of social challenges from what we are told.
We are in a larger tour group of 11 for this part of our trip and we meet for dinner in a restaurant serving the traditional foods and serving the traditional salty milk tea, we’ll have a beer please. It actually tasted quite nice.
Luckily we had a great bunch of people and we all got on really well which was a bonus.
So Naadam is made up of 3 main sports: Horse Racing, Archery, and Wrestling. At the national event, there are several smaller regional Naadam events as well, they include Ankle Bone Flicking but more on that later.
The opening ceremony for the national games is on the 11th July but the horse racing starts a day earlier so we went West out of the city to see a race. The minimum age of a jockey for these races is 6, yes 6 years old, but can be as old as 12. The obvious reason for younger jockeys is to have the advantage of less weight.
There were differing reports on the length of the race but believe it to be around 22KM, it is test or endurance as well as strength.
It is an amazing spectacle to see the closing stages of the race as they are run on the dusty plains of the Steppe so as the racehorses approach they leave a cloud of dust in their wake which you see drawing closer. Our photos can’t do the race justice but here you go:
The next day is the opening ceremony for the National Naadam. Apparently we we were lucky as the format for the story of Mongolia that is acted out has been pretty much unchanged for several years but they upped their game this year. Several locals commented on this with some pride. There are fights with spirits and Romans, Chinggis Khan of course, and the battles fought to keep or regain their independence. When you talk to Mongolians there is such a sense of pride about ” my country, my Mongolia”.
Oh yes, and the knuckle bone flicking. Well it is just that except they’ve standardised the knuckle into a uniform rectangular block that is flicked off a wooden block and hits some targets to get a score. Take a look at this slo-mo video, it takes a while, sorry, but it gets there in the end: