In mid of July (11th to 13th), Mongolia celebrates the major event of the year: the Naadam festival, a mix of demonstration of traditional sports and activities: wrestling, horse racing, archery and knucklebones shooting! If almost every village in Mongolia has his own Naadam celebrations, the biggest are those in UB. So I get tickets for the stadium and stay a little longer in UB, at the end one whole week, more time than in every other city until now!
I spent much of my time with Hanna and Slobo from Gobi trip and Sarah. Sarah is a Mongolian “city-woman”: she used to live in London for 6 years but now since 5 months back in Mongolia. She first met Slobo before the Gobi trip and had vacation this week. I stayed the week in a cheap guest house ($5 a day), where I met plenty for backpackers, with a majority of French people. Many tourists are either only for vacations in Mongolia, or in a trip between China and Russia, using the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian lines, a trip from Moscow to Beijing. Many also extend their visa for a second month which is pretty necessary to enjoy the huge areas in Mongolia. I however did not take the time to speak longer enough with these tourists to organize a trip together, which could have been better for the organization of my last week in Mongolia.
After the beautiful Naadam opening ceremony, we took the bus (800T one way) to the horse racing 35km west of UB. We enjoyed the very nice ambiance there. Many horse races are scheduled within the 3 days of the Naadam, categorized by the age of the horses. We saw the arrival of the oldest one (over 5 years old), and their riders were hardly older: you see the kids riding the horses with minimal equipment, making them very light for the race. Impressive! Also impressive was the artistic horse riding we enjoyed before the arrival. Mongols horses are notably smaller (top of head under 1.8m) than those you find in Europe.
During the bus ride back to UB, I could see the crazy traffic: in a normal 2 lanes road, there were no more than 5 lanes in the width: 3 in the road (almost no place for the way out of UB), plus one track each side! But it still took 1 ½ hours to drive back.
Because of the 3 hours needed to go to the horse racing, we (only Slobo and I, the girls were with other friends) stayed the second day in or around the stadium. Tickets are only required for the central stadium: the entrance for the archery and knucklebone shooting tournament as well as for the horse racing are free, so that you can move around much easier! The archery consists of shooting some cans over a ca. 80m field, the red ones in the middle give more points. The anklebone shooting requires another impressive dexterity where one has to target the anklebone in a 5m distance. Back in the Stadium at 2pm (as our seat was protected from the rain), we could see more ambiance in the public for the 5th round (out of 9) of wrestling. But after one hour there, we get a little bored and tired and did not stay until the closing ceremony. Slobo went back home, I continued the sightseeing in UB.