When planning our trip, we discovered that we would be in Ulaanbaatar at the time of their "Naadam Festival" - in fact the Trans-Siberian train tickets for that week were sold out. We were delighted - this gave us an opportunity to experience the Naadam! Every year, around mid-July, all Mongolians let their hair down and immerse themselves in a celebration of their culture that has been going on since the time of Genghis Khan. It is both a sporting festival and a cultural festival. Every province holds a Naadam of its own, but the most important is held in Ulaanbaatar. The preliminary events stretch over two weeks, culminating with the spectacular Opening Ceremony (Olympic Games like, complete with Presidential address) and two days of grand finals and all sorts of cultural concerts.
Upon our arrive at our guesthouse, we asked them if they could get us tickets to the Opening Ceremony. Fortunately they were able organise this which we delighted about - and they advised that entry to all the other events was free!
The games involve the 'manly sports' of wrestling, archery, horse racing and 'knucklebones'...
We attended as many events that we could although the harsh steppe winds and brief rain showers cut short our visits.
the event was restricted to "hursure" - our best attempt at
pronunciation. This consisted of a fried tortilla stuffed with mincemeat
of various sorts. Drink? Why, fermented mares milk, of course! It tasted
a bit like unsweetened drinking yogurt with a large dash of vodka.
is an interesting country - a young and emerging country with a huge heritage.
The Mongolians are justly proud of this heritage - after all, they shaped
much of the world that we know today.
monuments relating to Genghis Khan are everywhere. Genghis and his heirs
ruled for 200 years (13th to 15th century) and had an empire that stretched
from China to the Mediterranean. It was our misconception that the Mongols
had a slash and burn mentality - how wrong we were. They were the inventors
of diplomacy, religious tolerance and knew the importance of trade - they
invented the concept of bank and promissory notes, they endorsed scientific
understanding, mathematics and art, and developed modern military science
are not great builders and there are no monuments or cities left behind
as a reminder, just their ideas and influence on world history.
Today's Mongolia is still emerging from the communist stranglehold after the Second World War. They changed to a democratic government in 1990 after a student uprising led by Zorig - the brave and courageous student leader renowned for his diplomacy. Unfortunately he was assassinated in 1994. Mongolia is blessed with mineral resources and oil and is using this to help them achieve a place in the world order again; unfortunately their technical skill level is poor - they still have a strong nomadic culture and rely on herding as their main industry.