Mark JohnstonNAADAM FESTIVAL IN ULAN BATOR Britnee Johnston July 24 Mongolia, Travel Naadam Festival is a countrywide celebration in Mongolia that takes place in several cities and most smaller communities in July each year, with Ulan Bator hosting the biggest gathering of all. When we booked our Trans-Mongolian train tickets we didn’t realize until after the fact that we had booked our stop in Ulan Bator during the Naadam Festival. Since our short stay was during Naadam, we experienced so much more of the Mongolian culture including dancing, athletic sport and great food. If you have the chance to go, here is what you would see: Opening Ceremony The opening ceremony is held in the national stadium and features hundreds of athletes, soldiers, dancers and political leaders wearing elaborate colorful costumes and robes. So many of the women looked like princesses while most men looked like warriors. Even spectators in the stands were dressed up for the occasion. The President of Mongolia was in attendance to help kick off the festival featuring several athletic competitions including archery, wrestling, horse racing and ankle bone shooting. Archery Archers are put to the test with a variety of targets such as a hanging ball, a stretched out animal skin, and a row of stacked tubes. There were people standing close to the furthest targets and were singing as the archers tried to hit the stacked wooden bars in between them. It seemed dangerous, but the singers never flinched when arrows would zip by them. Both adults and children competed in archery. Wrestling Wrestling had the best outfits out of everyone. The wrestlers wore tall, decorated boots upturned at the toe, and donned Speedo-like briefs and vests tied together across their bare chests. Wrestlers were eliminated once their opponent made them touch the ground with any body part except for hands and feet. Sometimes the competition would only last a few seconds while others went for 10-20 minutes. The winner received a victory cap and then would dance around the festival banners with their arms spread out resembling a flying phoenix. This sport doesn’t have any weight classes, all competitors fight with each other so sometimes you’d see a big guy put against a smaller guy. There were even some kid wrestlers on the field ready to compete. Ankle Bone Shooting When I heard of this competition I was expecting to see gun shooting. As it turned out, competitors flicked an ankle bone to hit a stack of other ankle bones several feet away. The ankle bones came from goats and sheep. To help with their shooting, they would warm up their fingers by blowing on them in between rounds. Meanwhile, spectators and other competitors hummed and murmured in unison giving an added level of anxiety to the competition. Horse Racing What’s surprising about the horse racing is that all the jockeys are young children, not adults. The races are 15-30 km long with cars following them with cameras to capture the race live for viewers at home. Since the race is so long, the only time we saw any action was when they crossed the finish line. It was a long wait, but once they arrived we found one of the winning horses and touched its sweat. The locals said it would give us good luck for the year. We were part of a one-day tour of Naadam Festival through Idre’s Guest House and Tours, which cost $120 per person. It was much pricier than we expected. However, the package included tickets for both days, opening and closing ceremony, breakfast, lunch, and a bus ride to the horse racing that was almost two hours outside of the city. We also met others who only purchased the stadium tickets and the bus ride to the stadium through Idre’s instead of doing the full tour. This is an option for cutting costs that we probably would’ve chosen if we had heard about it sooner. Someone we knew went to the stadium a day beforehand to try and buy tickets themselves, but found no ticket office. So we’d recommend purchasing tickets through a tour guide whether you choose the tour option or not. We, along with others, had no problems booking our tour and tickets just the day before the festival started. The stadium looked packed though, so I would recommend booking tickets as soon as you can to avoid disappointment.