The Governor of Zuun Kharaa, Governor Tseepildorj planned a day of ceremonies for the day before Zuun Kharaa’s Naadam Celebration. Zuun Kharaa had many things to celebrate. Governor Tseepildorj planned to have a ceremony for a new road to Zuun Kharaa donated by Boroo Gold which cuts almost an hour off of the trip to Zuun Kharaa from Ulaanbaatar, and ceremonies for a new sports center, an addition on the hospital, a monument in the city square, and for the four clean-water wells that Deseret International Charities donated. It was a jam-packed day, and as usually happens, everything took longer than anticipated.
By the time the well ceremonies started, everything was running late. Governor Tseepildorj sent his deputy governor in his place to the first ceremony, but Governor Bayarsaikhan and Governor Narandavaa attended all of the ceremonies. The deputy governor thanked Deseret for the contribution and said how much Zuun Kharaa appreciated the donation of these wells to provide clean water for about 30% of Zuun Kharaa’s population (about 7,000 people).
After Deseret International Charities held three of the four well-donation ceremonies, Governor Bayarsaikhan said that the fourth well ceremony would need to be rescheduled because Governor Teespildorj wanted DIC represented at an awards ceremony. We hurried over to the Drama theatre and were seated just in time for the ceremony to begin. During the ceremony, Governor Tseepildorj recognized local leaders, other NGOs and Deseret International Charities. He presented a plaque of appreciation to Deseret for its cooperation and for donating the new wells donated to Zuun Kharaa.
Following the awards presentation, Zuun Kharaa citizens held a concert which displayed their many talents, including: throat singing Khöömii (Mongolian: xөөмий), playing of the morin khuur (Mongolian: морин хуур) and other Mongolian instruments, and a variety of wonderful Mongolian dancing. Even though we were disappointed to not be able to hold all of Deseret’s well ceremonies that day, we were pleased with the recognition given to DIC and delighted by the evening’s entertainment.
Governor Tseepildorj invited us to stay over and attend the Naadam festivities the next day. We, along with Azzaya, decided to stay in a ger camp close to the Naadam stadium that night. The next day we enjoyed the opening ceremonies, a little wrestling, archery and long-distance horse racing. It was a little like attending a small town rodeo back home.
Naadam is a traditional festival in Mongolia. It is a little like a rodeo, but it features “The Three Manly Sports” (эрийн гурван наадам): wrestling, archery, and horse racing. Before we left for Mongolia, our young grandson Austin invited us to a family home evening about Mongolia. He wrote a report about Mongolia and taught us all about it. That was our first exposure to the Naadam or the three main sports of Mongolia. Of course, after he taught us about them, we then had to try them out. We all tried our hand at archery and horse-stick riding, but only the men wrestled. We haven’t seen any women wrestling here in Mongolia, but we have seen them do archery and they may ride horses in the horse races, but we couldn’t tell if any of the riders we saw were girls or not.
The Naadam ceremonies in Zuun Kharaa were held in a small stadium decorated with colorful flags. During the opening ceremonies, about two or three times as many people paraded into and around the stadium as were seated in the audience. An enthusiastic, deep-voiced announcer opened the ceremonies. Elaborately costumed dancers, singers, and musicians skillfully presented traditional Mongolian entertainment. Then came the wrestlers in their colorful shoulder vests, tight briefs, and traditional hats.
We watched a little of the archery competition. In the competition, the archers were trying to dislodge balls about the size of baseballs that were placed in a row on the ground. We were surprised that the judges stood close by the row of balls—sometimes even behind the balls. It looked rather dangerous to us, but while we were watching, no one was hit by an arrow. We thought we might not have been that trusting.
When time came for the cross-country horse race to end, we followed Governor Tseepildorj’s car off the pavement and up a dirt road, where we saw a hillside full of SUVs, trucks, and riders on horses all waiting to see the end of the horserace. We joined a long line of people crowded along the path going up the hill toward the finish line. Not long after we arrived, we spotted the lead vehicle speeding toward the finish line and saw a cloud of dust behind it. From the cloud of dust emerged a young boy who was wildly riding a horse bareback with his arms waving in the air and his horse’s reins flying loose. His enthusiastic whoops indicated his elation at being first to cross the finish line. We were shocked to see all of the riders that followed him were young boys. As most of them passed the crowd, they rode their horses hard like they were beginning the race, however several horses were slow paced and enervated and their riders looked like floppy rag dolls.