Nadaam is the national festival of Mongolia. Indeed, the Mongolian word for festival is Nadaam. Imagine, if you will, a very large State Fair with a Super Bowl type opening ceremony and an emphasis on sports and you will come close to what Nadaam is.
Nadaam is basically a big three day celebration of Mongolia’s favorite sports – Horse Racing, Archery and Wrestling. There’s also something called “Ankle Bone Shooting” in there but no one outside of Mongolia knows what it is so it’s often forgotten. Nadaam is celebrated all over the country in early July, but the biggest “festival” of them all is in UB. That’s where the tourists and the big opening ceremony is.
The opening ceremony is quite something to see, tickets are hard to come by and the National Stadium is packed to beyond capacity. As the opening ceremony ends the Wrestling begins.
Mongolian wrestling is somewhere between Sumo wrestling and a shoving match – the first guy to put a knee on the ground looses. There are no weight classes so of the 512 participants in the first round – you can usually put your money on the fattest two reaching the final.
Second to wrestling is Horse Racing. Never will you meet a people who love their horses more than Mongolians. And they don’t care for these little one mile tracks we have in the West. Mongolians races are over 18 miles in length. And the glory for the winner goes not to the jockey, but the horse, then the trainer, then the rider. The riders are all boys between maybe 6 to 12 years old. They sing to they’re horses before the race, and in some cases during. Some of them should concentrate on staying on the horse. It’s not uncommon for riders to fall off, and there’s no penalty for a horse finishing the race without his jockey.
Archery is the only sport at Nadaam that allows both men and women to participate. Archers can only use traditional Mongolian bows and their perform ace is based on accuracy. Well, what else would it be based on?
Ankle Bone Shooting is the strangest sport at Nadaam for foreigners to get their heads around. As the name may suggest you are playing with ankle bones and trying to flick them at a target some 10 or 12 feet away. You probably played something like this in middle school with a piece of paper folded into a square, that you would try to flick across a table. Well, here there are a lot more ankle bones than paper, and it’s played by grown men who sing and chant while they do it.
Nadaam in UB is interesting, were we to go back I’d like to check out the country version – sans opening ceremony and TV coverage.