One of the main reasons for this trip was the Naadam Festival. It is the Mongolian Olympics for lack of a better description.
It consists of real wrestling, archery, and an activity that is hard to describe. There are two teams of eight or so members. At one end of a ten or twelve foot long alley are camel ankle bones up on a box like stage, a couple of feet wide. At the other end the men flick camel ankle bones at those targets. The ankle bones are about one inch square. The object is to knock those on the stage off and on to the floor.
Large crowds stand around watching this. I was seated in the stands, yes stands, for this activity next to an older fellow who offered me some snuff from his snuff box. Snuff is big here in Mongolia. I passed politely, but my wife took a hit and said that it was quite interesting. The feeling was a rush to the back of her head.
We had no language in common, but the traveler is always able to connect with the local somehow if he or she just tries.
The archery was interesting as the competitors were dressed in their finest costumes. They were calm and sure sighted as they let their arrows fly. The whole atmosphere was like that of a fair, with food and other goodies for sale all over the grounds.
Once inside the ancient stadium we sat in cramped seats designed for people of a bygone age who were obviously smaller than modern man. There was no room between our knees and the seat in front of us. This stadium was filled to capacity, There was a re-enactment of a famous battle with many horses and soldiers on the field. The president of the country was there and spoke to us. My Mongolian is very limited, needless to say. But I think it was a fine speech. It was short.
There was a giant balloon made to look like a Russian rocket that was filled with helium. It was released and went only heaven knows where. Then the men came out to wrestle. They are not limited by size and a small man may wrestle a larger man and the smaller man might even win. It is the skill set, not the size. The field was covered in pairs of wrestlers dressed in their fantastic outfits. The men do their eagle dance before each match. It is a sign of respect. That dance caused the Mongolian wrestlers to loose a medal in the last Olympics. The Olympic judges and officials didn’t understand that the dance is part of their culture.
I might ad that on a tour of the city of Ulaanbaatar, we saw the Mongolian Olympic team meeting their state officials and walking in front of hundreds of their fellow Mongolians in a large square.