DAY 1 ULAANBAATAR CITY / JULY 10 /
Arrive in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. You’ll be greeted at the airport and escorted to 3* hotel. City tour: National History Museum, Gandan Monastery, National Mongolian traditional show concert.
DAY 2 NAADAM FESTIVAL / JULY 11 /
The Naadam Festival is the biggest and most joyful celebration for Mongolians. It takes place each year on the 11-12th of July. The festival originated from the era of Khunnu Empire and was originally organised as a competition to test the skills of Mongolian Warriors between tribes. The festival comprises the “Three Manly Sports”: wrestling, horse racing and archery. During this first day, we will enjoy from the stands of the stadium the colorful show given for the game’s opening ceremony. It will then be time to see the beginning of the Mongolian wrestling competition. In the aisles of the stadium, we also witness the archery and ankle bone shooting competitions.
Naadam, ”game” in Mongolian, is the most important traditional event of Mongolia. The games are organized from the 11th to the 13th of July to celebrate the anniversary of the Mongolian revolution of 1921. Naadam is also called sometimes ”Eriin Gurvan Naadam”, ”the three virile sports”, in reference to the three major contests that are held on that occasion : Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. From now on, women are allowed to take part in archery, and girls in horse races. Wrestle remains reserved for men. Another popular activity is the knucklebones, played with sheep’s tarsus bones, the shagai. Knucklebones serve for game as well as for divination.
In 2010, Naadam was inscribed on the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity List.
512 to 1024 wrestlers confront each other in a tournament with direct elimination that has nine or ten rounds. There is no weight class, which makes the first rounds funny for non-informed spectators. Globally, we can say that the more the wrestlers are big and tall, the more chances to win they have. A wrestler wins when his adversary touches the floor with any other part of his body than feet or hands. There is no time limit and some fights may last many hours (which is much less funny). The wrestlers who already have the biggest number of titles have the privilege of choosing their adversary.
The wrestlers wear an open jacket fitting tightly, the ”zodog”, and mini shorts, ”shuudag”. The ensemble is generally blue our red, but can also be pink or green, and the two elements can be mismatched. Only men are allowed to compete. Besides, the open jacket has been imposed because a woman had pretended to be a man and had taken part in the trials (and she had brought down all her adversaries !). With this open jacket, women can’t hide anymore and can’t take part in the trials anymore.
Each wrestler comes with a personal supporter called zasuul. The zasuul sings the winner’s praises after the 3rd, the 5th and the 7th rounds.
Occidental horse races are pure sprints on small distances. In Mongolia, horse races rather look like stamina cross-country trials on distances from 10 to 26 kilometres (6,2 – 16 miles) according to how old the horses are and to the season (in spring, the races are shorter than in summer).
On the occasion of the great races of Naadam, in Ulan Bator, we can count until 1000 horses that come from all Mongolian provinces. Racehorses follow a special diet. Jockeys are children (boys or girls) from 5 to 13 years old who had been training for months. Even if the jockey plays an important part, the main goal of the race is to test the ability and stamina of the horse. Besides, some horses sometimes pass the finishing line without their jockey, and they are not disqualified for all that.
The races go off in the middle of the steppe, so there is no track. This sometimes gives rise to cheating ; some “spectators” sometimes try to slow down the rival horses. Sometimes, horses exhausted by the race die on the racecourse.
Before the races begin, the public sings traditional songs and the jockeys sing in praise of Giingo, the God of the racehorses, for their horse to be braver. The prizes are awarded to horses and jockeys.
At the end of each race, the spectators rush towards the five winning horses in order to collect the horses’ sweat and spread it over their forehead, because it’s supposed to bring luck. The crowd admires the winning horses and talk about them with a great respect. The winning breeder is delighted because his fortune is guaranteed : the price of his horses shoots up. Some traditional poems that praise the qualities of horsemen and breeders are read. The five winning jockeys must drink a glass of airag, and then the drink is poured onto the jockeys’ heads and the horses’ croup.
The archery contest is open to men and women. To take part in the contest, you need a team composed of ten archers. Each archer has four arrows and each team must reach at least 33 times the target, ”sur”. Men shoot the arrow from 75 metres (246 feet), while women shoot from 65 metres (213 feet). The archers wear the national cloth, deel, during the contest. They all wear a leather armband that covers their arm until the elbow, so that the sleeve of the deel does not bother them when they’re aiming. The bows are made of several alternated rows of animal horn, bark and wood. Arrows are generally made of willow tree wood, with vulture’s (or other bird of prey) feather.
The Mongolian archery is unique in the world because there is not only one target, but several. Small weaved or wooden cylinders serve as targets. They’re placed one on the other to form a 20-centimetres (7,87 inches) high and 1,5-metre (5 feet) wide wall. Reaching a target brings one point, but reaching a target that is placed in the centre brings more. When the archer reaches the target, the judge says ”uukhai”, which means “hurrah”, and puts his hands up to show the quality of the shoot. After each shoot, the targets must be replaced in order to prepare the wall for the next try. The winners of the contest receive the honorary basis of Mergen, “archer of the nation”.
DAY 3 TERELJ NATIONAL PARK / JULY 12 /
Early in the morning we will drive to the Khui -Doloon Khudag race field to enjoy the horses’ races. The best horses from across the country meet in Ulaanbaatar for these races crucially important. Mongolian people train horses in their very nature, and win the race in Ulaanbaatar bring them immense glory. We are witnessing the first race.
Journey to Gorkhi – Terelj National Park, meaning “stream – rhododendron”, is located 55 kilometres (34,18 miles) East Ulaanbaatar, 1600 metres (0,99 mile) above the sea level, in the strictly protected area of Khentii.
it’s a mountainous area composed of wooded steppes. We find many species of birds (250), elks and bears. Many rocky formations sculpted by erosion will delight rock-climbing fans. In plains, we can see wild flowers and edelweiss’s. Many rivers flow through the park, notably the Tuul, the Terelj and the Baruunbayan Rivers.
While the first 20 kilometres (12,43 miles) of the park have been developed for tourism (we find there many yurts camps, and some of them have very high quality equipment), the rest of the park offers a very wild land on 2864 square kilometres (1105,80 square miles), and most of the park is not accessible to vehicles.
Near the entrance of the park, we can see many rocky formations, notably the turtle rock, “melkhi khad”, a surprising 24 metres (78,74 feet) high rocky formation reminding a turtle, or the rock of the old man reading.
DAY 4 BACK TO THE ULAANBAATAR CITY / JULY 13 /
Drive to Ulaanbaatar. Rest of the day free. With our guide, you can go shopping in the center of the city.
DAY 5 HAVE A GOOD JOURNEY AND SEE YOU SOON / JULY 14 /
Breakfast at the hotel. We go with you to the international airport of Ulaanbaatar. The transfer can be organized at the time you want, according to the schedule of your flight.
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Mongolia Horse Trails Travel