Naadam festival
Naadam Festival


Naadam Festival is the main event of the year in Mongolia with the roots from the nomad assemblies and hunting extravaganza of the Mongol armies. Even today, nine yak tails of Chinggis Khaan, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are ceremonially transported from Sukhbaatar Square to Naadam Stadium to open the festivities. It's partially a family reunion, a fair and nomad Olympics, Naadam (meaning 'holiday' or 'festival'). 

The Festival is held all over the country, but the festivities in the countryside cannot be compared with the major celebration in Ulaanbaatar (every year between 11th - 13th of July). However, in country centers close to Ulaanbaatar, Naadam festivities may be held before or after the major festival in Ulaanbaatar. Some people like to attend both the local and national celebrations. The quality and number of sports and activities at Naadam festivals in the countryside will be lower than in Ulaanbaatar. 

People are competing in three "manly sports" - horse racing, archery and wrestling (though women are allowed to participate in the first two). The sport activities are accompanied by all other kinds of celebrations - singing, dancing and feasts. 

You may not bother seeing everything that Naadam offers. However you should try to make it to the following: the ceremony in the Sukhbaatar Square, from there go down to the stadium to see the opening ceremony. Wait for the first few rounds of the wrestling, then maybe wander off to see the archery and watch the Mongolians outside the stadium. Perhaps watch the horse racing on day two, and see the closing ceremony later that day.

On or about August 9, another tourist-oriented Naadam Festival called Baga Naadam (Small Naadam) is held. 

Naadam festivities are also held at different times in the Kazakh and Buryat regions (a large Buryat Naadam was held in Dashbalbar in Dornod in late July 2000).

Naadam Festival. Keep in mind that accommodation can be scarce during Naadam, and prices are often higher than usually. Book your hotel in advance or get there a few days early to tee up your room.

Pay attention, please, that just few restaurants and shops are open and virtually no-one works during these three days.

Wrestling, archery and horse racing are held during the first and second days. Very little happens on the third day. 

Day one starts at about 9 am with a fantastic, colorful ceremony outside the State Parliament House at Sukhabaatar Square (often missed by visitors). Hundreds of soldiers in bright uniforms play stirring warlike music on brass instruments. Mongolians - dressed in Chinggis-style warrior outfits - parade around the square, then circle Parliament House before marching to the Stadium.

The opening ceremony, which starts at about 11 am at the Naadam Stadium, includes an impressive march of monks and athletes, plenty of music and even parachute displays. The closing ceremony, with more marches and dancing, is held at about 7 pm on the second day, but the exact time depends on when the wrestling finishes.

A recent addition to the Naadam program is anklebone shooting. This entails using a hand-propelled mini crossbow to flick sheep ankle-bones, a row of which are set up as a target. The competition is held in a separate hall, normally near Naadam Stadium, but the location is never fixed so ask around.

A ticket to the Naadam does not usually give you a seat number, so get there in plenty of time for a good position, especially for the closing ceremony, when good seats may have been taken during the afternoon. To find out what is going on during the festival, look for the events program in the two English-language newspapers, which list the times and locations of the wrestling, archery and horse racing.

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