Friday, July 16, 2010

Naadam in the Capital City - Ulaanbaatar

July 12-13 NAADAM in Ulaanbaatar

Elder and Sister Eliason invited us to attend the second day of the Naadam Celebration with them. We didn't have a chance to attend Naadam's opening ceremonies because it was on Sunday, so in order to experience Naadam in Ulaaanbaatar, we decided to attend the second day of the Naadam Celebration.

As you would expect, everything was on a much larger scale than in Zuun Kharaa. Instead traveling a couple of minutes outside of town to view the horserace with the locals, we, along with about 75% of the population of Ulaanbaatar or about 65,000 people, drove about 32 kilometers outside of Ulaanbaatar to watch the horse races. It’s not like typical horse races in the states. Horse races are cross-country races. The ages of the horse determines the length of the race. The two-year-old horses we saw raced for ten miles. Children (age 5 to 13) are chosen to be the jockeys. These children ride their horses slowly out into the countryside to the start line and then race them back to the finish line.

Even though both directions of traffic were all headed out of town to see the horseraces, we just missed the first race because of the terrible traffic, so we had a long wait until the next race. During that time, we watched thousands of people eating hoshers in ger cities, playing pool on pool tables brought out to the countryside for the occasion, flying kites, riding their horses, etc.

Finally, we felt excited as we spotted the headlights of the lead car coming over the horizon.Then in a cloud of dust, the winner of the two-year-old-horse race appeared wildly waving his arms. The next riders, hoping to be one of the first five riders to cross the finish line, energetically whipped their horses to spur them on. Some of the riders were very small and most were riding bareback. It was hard to imagine they could even stay on their horses. Oh, one horse did cross the finish line rider-less.

After that, we headed back into the city to the Naadam stadium. Outside of the stadium, we watched a couple of archers. Even though we had tickets, getting into the stadium was a tight squeeze. We had to wait for other people to come out and then squeeze our way into empty spaces as they were vacated. Before too long, we were seated fairly comfortably and thankfully in the shade.

There we watched wrestling. The winners choose who they want to wrestle, so some matches looked like David was wrestling Goliath. As the competition progressed and the less capable wrestlers were weeded out and the matches got longer because the wrestlers were more evenly matched.

In between the wrestling rounds, the top five winners of each horse race were honored. The children rode their horses up to the reviewing stand, dismounted, climbed the stairs, and each received a kiss, a medal, and a gift from the President of Mongolia.

We enjoyed the day, being with the people, watching their interesting sports and visiting with Dr. and Sister Eliason.

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