Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Naadam in the West Taiga, Mongolia

Getting ready for the children's reindeer race.

"Naadam" or "eriin gurvan naadam" or "the three games of men" is a major national holiday held every July in Mongolia. The three games are archery, wrestling and horse racing. A huge event attracting tourists from around the world, it is held in the national Sports Stadium in Ulaanbaatar. The horse racing occurs a bit outside the city. If you cannot attend this three-day event in the capital, smaller Naadams are held during the summer in the countryside.

This past June we were visited the Dukha reindeer herders at their summer camp in the west taiga of northern Mongolia. Upon arrival at our camp we learned that a group of tourists from the USA were staying nearby on their annual visit and that the next day there would be a small Naadam for guests and hosts to enjoy. By the afternoon of the next day, reindeer herders and their families had arrived for the festival. In addition, foreign tourists from Europe staying with herders elsewhere in the west taiga arrived in different groups with their guides. Besides the locals, our Mongolian horse guide and the other USA tourists participated in the wrestling event. 

There was no archery competition and instead of horses there were reindeer races. The first race was for children. Boys and girls from the age of three (a little boy tied in to his reindeer saddle) to ages 11 or 12 participated. A small six year-old girl I knew from previous years was a fierce competitor. She did not win, but she finished ahead of our 11 year-old horse guide. Her mother rode in the adult race. For the spectators, some enterprising locals were selling khuushuur (a meat pastry) and small packaged snacks. For tourists, there were carved reindeer antler pieces and reindeer antler accessories.

Though small, the gathering was colorful and the children's race especially was very exciting and intense. It was a nice way for families to have an afternoon visiting friends and family before heading off again to their separate camps in the west taiga.

All wrestlers hand over their hat to the official hat holder.

The reindeer parking lot.

Our horse guide Zaya competed in the children's reindeer race.

Zaya's friend won the race.

The children saddled up. The little boy in the center is three years old! He didn't finish last.

Three generations of one family attend the Naadam.

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