Та бүхэн сайхан наадаарай. → Happy Naadam!

We celebrate Naadam this week, a traditional festival of Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and of course, the diaspora. I am saying ‘we’ because Mongolia had been part of my life since 2000 and it seems to be staying. I have attended celebrations in Mongolia, the UK and Hungary too.

Wherever you are based as a Mongolian, it’s party time. Archery, wrestling and horse riding are the main events, accompanied by family gatherings, food and music.

In the capital, the National Stadium hosts the wrestling and archery competitions, while horse riding is organized outside the city. As young as 5 year olds enter the race but I have seen 2 year olds too in the saddle. As a result, by the time they grow up, they become one with their horse. Of course it is a major generalization but it’s still rare even in the city that someone doesn’t know how to ride a horse.
It was certainly a unique experience when, being away in his birth town in the countryside, my university professor hopped into the saddle and helped herding the animals. Then his colleague couldn’t resist the call either and the herding turned into an incredible chase of each other.

Riders, wrestlers and archers are respected and properly celebrated during and after Naadam. I feel that wrestlers get the most attention and it’s very easy to notice them wherever you may bump into them. They are often the tallest and strongest in the crowd, paying attention to wearing traditional clothes on various occasions which is even more impressive because of their exceptional stature.

Food is delicious. There is a meat pastry, fried and filled with pork, lamb or camel meat (depending on where you live), a special version of which is called naadmin khuushuur (наадмын хуушуур), the khuusuur of Naadam. Khuushuur is made and eaten all the time but the one made during Naadam is much much bigger and somehow tastes so much better than any other day. It’s juicy and crispy, hot and messy to eat. And we love it.

During this week life is on standstill in Mongolia. When I first experienced this holiday in the country in 2003, it was difficult to find anything open in Ulaanbaatar, even bread was a challenge to come by. With the growing number of businesses and more focus on material things, it’s not a problem anymore but the country is still deeply immersed in the festivities and life is calmer and friendlier during these few days.

Although travel agencies love advertising this celebration as the best time to visit Mongolia, it can happen that you are offered an experience reserved solely for tourists. As everywhere in the world when you travel, if you have the means and courage, best to do it on your own, living the life of locals. Naturally, it is only partially possible given the limitations our foreignness inevitably carries with itself.

Сайхан баярлаарай! → Happy holiday!