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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Naadam Festival -- Mongolia

Last month we had the amazing good luck to be in UlaanBaatar for the Naadam Festival. Naadam's roots come from ancient Mongol tribal traditions, but today the Festival commemorates liberation from China in the 1920s and is an excuse for a nationwide good time. Traditional sports for the festival are horse racing, wrestling and archery.
Nine White Horse-Tail Flags
The official ceremonies open with the entry of nine white horse-tail flags: white for peace and nine representing Chinggis Khaan and his eight generals.  Black horse-tails are used for war and for the excellent Black Chinggis Vodka.

Many beautifully costumed festival participants steam into the country's main stadium in Ulaanbaatar.  We even saw the Mongolian Olympic team march in holding their flag.
Olympic Team
The sporting events are lots of fun and can be seen very close-up. I loved the archery competitions, but need to work on my form.
The other fun event was the Ankle Bone Shoot.  A team of men flick a piece of sheep ankle bone off of a wooden slide on their knee and try to hit a small target in front of them. The team members waiting for their turn sit on tiny wooden stools and cheer the "pitcher" on with low growly chants.
Wrestling is a taste I have not acquired, but it was fun to watch the winners of bouts do their triumphal Eagle Dances.
Wrestlers doing their Eagle Dance
I am not posting horse racing photos for two reasons. First, I am not a proficient enough photographer to capture the speed of a mass of horses running flat out in the countryside for almost a marathon while "manned" by boys less than 10 years of age. Second, given the utter intensity and length of the race, some of the horses hearts inevitably give out and they collapse and die.  One had to be put down near the end of the race we attended.

But, on the lighter side, Coca Cola is everywhere
 and all the children are cute.

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