When I first read about the Naadam Festival in Mongolia a few years ago, I was fascinated by it, and added it to my bucket list. The annual sporting event takes place on July 11-13 and can be termed the ancient Olympics of Asia. The festival is registered with the Intangible Heritage Fund of UNESCO. It measures courage, strength, daring, horsemanship and marksmanship of the nomadic people and warriors.
Though the games take place over only three days, the entire country is on holiday for almost a week. Festivities start with a parade of uniformed guards, attended by the president and VIP’s at the Genghis Khan square. The same afternoon, there is a traditional costume parade and musical concert.
On day one, nine horse tails, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are transported from Sukhbaatar Square to the Stadium to open the Naadam festivities. At these opening and closing ceremonies, there are impressive parades of mounted cavalry, athletes and monks. Kids perform drills and thousands of people gather to watch.
Outside at the stadium it looks like a fair. There are shops selling trinkets and food stalls as far as you can see. Mares milk, horse meat, candy floss, meat kebabs…and most importantly, the traditional Naadam treat, Khuushuur, are enjoyed by fans.
Mongolia has three national sports that come from the warrior history of Mongolia, known as Danshig games. At the Naadam festival, you can also see men gathered in a tent playing ankle bone shooting. Crowds cheer on as players carefully strategize with their fingers and shoot shagai or sheep anklebones into a wooden cupboard that acts like a target.
The first noticeable thing about the wrestlers are their costumes – bright red and blue underwear and a top that looks like a reverse bra with sleeves. It is believed this is designed such that women cannot disguise themselves and participate (it actually happened once which led to the design of the current uniform).
When the wrestlers enter the field, they do an eagle dance, flapping their arms like an eagle, then they crouch down and slap their thighs on the front and back. It’s to show their strength and power. The goal of this sport is to get your opponent to touch the ground with any part of his body between the knees and the shoulders. There are no rules – you can even tug on his underwear! The winner of a match also does a victory eagle dance at the end of the match, which lasts 9-10 rounds.
Children in Mongolia start riding horses as young as 4 years old and the competitors in the Naadam horserace are only 6-12 years of age. They have to ride 10-30 kilometers (depending on the age of the horses) in the countryside. As many as 1000 horses compete in the competition all over the country. The kids ride solo, on dirt fields, at high speeds. It is a true test of skill and endurance starting at a young age!
There is also a fun matching competition, where identical horses and riders go in sync. The crowds decide the best in class by clapping and cheering. The winners receive a medal, money, and sometimes dinner (live goat).
Contestants use compound bows made with sinew, wood, horn and bamboo, and strung with bull tendon. Men shoot 40 arrows made from willow branches and griffin vulture feathers from a distance of 75 meters, and women deliver 20 arrows from 60 meters at a target.
In accordance with ancient custom, several men stand on either side of the target singing a folk song to cheer the contestants and then use hand signals to indicate the results.
WHERE TO WATCH
It is not easy to watch the entire festival as it is spread around different venues. Tickets to the main event at the stadium in Ulaanbaatar sell out months in advance. Here you can watch the opening and closing ceremonies, parades and wrestling. It can get hot and crowded while sitting out in the sun all day.
Archery competition takes place at a separate venue located near the stadium, but for horse racing you need to go to the countryside (1-2 hours drive). Families gather at the start and end points of the race, making a day long picnic out of it. Here they eat, drink, shop, play, fly kites, and watch the race on a big screen in the lawn.
Another option to watch all the events at the same venue is by going to one of the privately held Naadam festivities, such as the one at Mongol Nomadic Tourist Camp, or the Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert. Voyage Unique Mongolie tours organize transportation, lodging and visits to all of the Naadam activities, as well as sightseeing all over Mongolia.
What do you know about Turin, a charming city in northern Italy? I have traveled to Italy several times, but sadly never made it to Turin or Torino until now. Prior to my visit, I didn’t know much about it, except that the 2006 winter Olympics were held here. Here are some facts about Turin that I feel you should know too!
Though most people are familiar with Rome, Turin was Italy’s first capital city in 1861.
Turin was home to the House of Savoy, Italy’s royal family. There are many palaces, residences and castles in the city and in surrounding towns.
French influences can be seen in the city’s architecture and culture. Up until the unification of the Italian kingdom in 1861, Piedmont included areas that are currently in France which explains this. The atmosphere, culture and even the local dialect is very similar to French.
Turin is sometimes called the cradle of Italian liberty, for having been the birthplace and home of notable politicians and people who contributed to the Risorgimento, such as Cavour.
Some of Italy’s best universities and colleges are in Turin, such as the six-century-old University of Turin and the Turin Polytechnic.
Turin’s several monuments and sights make it one of the world’s top 250 tourist destinations, and the tenth most visited city in Italy. Even then, it doesn’t feel touristy at all here.
Turin is ranked third in Italy, after Milan and Rome, for economic strength.With a GDP of $58 billion, Turin is the world’s 78th richest city in terms of purchasing power. Food is actually quite cheap.
Turin is also home to the Italian automotive industry, having headquarters of FIAT, Lancia and Alfa Romeo.
The shroud of Jesus of Nazareth is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy. The Pope decided when it is allowed to be displayed to the public.
Turin is home of 2006 winter Olympic games. Events that made their Olympic debut in Turin included mass start biathlon, team sprint cross country skiing, snowboard cross and team pursuit speed skating.