Asia | Mongolia | Ulaan Baatar – Festival!
11 July 2001
My gamble yesterday paid off!!
I had gone to buy tickets for the Nadaam Festival, with instructions from Hector not to spend more than $10. The travel agents were charging $30 for two days, so I was sure I could find something cheaper. Inside the stadium, tickets for foreigners were selling at $10 ten times the locals price. I was ready to pay, but an American Nadaam veteran warned me not to get ripped off and directed me to the touts outside. Their tickets were just $1, though there was some confusion over whether these tickets could be used by foreigners. For a dollar a throw, I gambled and we were let in to the opening ceremony without question. Id love to tell all the rich American tourists how much over the odds they were paying!
The opening ceremony was a colourful affair, showcasing local dancers, gymnasts and military displays, as well as plenty of music and Mongolians in traditional costume. The highlight was twenty or so men parachuting into the stadium from a helicopter to lands amongst the dancing troupes and soldiers. Of course, the best of the best were those that missed their target and ended up knocking a few dignitaries off their feet!
While the ceremony was enjoyable, it was far from spectacular and Hector likened it to an Olympics from the 60s! Still, well worth a dollar of anyones money Id say. The stadium emptied out as soon as the ceremony ended and the wrestling began. It was soon easy to see why. Over 200 wrestlers had congregated in their fetching outfits of tight pants (underpants), a hat and a pair of hefty boots and the whole affair seemed very random. Half a dozen fights were happening at once and with such a high number of competitors, its pretty difficult to pick a winner!
After watching a few of the successful fighters doing their comical victory dance (a slow motion leaping and waving of arms meant to represent an eagle) we followed the lead of the locals and left the stadium in search of food. Old habits die hard!
Once wed gorged ourselves on khuurshuur, delicious deep fried pancakes filled with spicy mince, we settled ourselves at the archery arena. (Arena in the loosest sense a cordoned off field in reality!!) More than anything else, I think the festival is photogenic, if not particularly exciting. If youre after some superb pictures of Mongolia, then its for you! I even took a picture of the crowds surrounding what I can only describe as Mongolian tiddly winks! Even worse, some people were filming it I wouldnt like to sit through their holiday vid!
Five hours at the stadium was plenty and we walked with the masses back to the city for a few cold beers. Just what the doctor ordered in the intense heat. (It never rained again after the camping trip. Typical.) Ulaan Bataar was is party mood, so we donned our only going out clothes and hung around the square soaking up the atmosphere to round off the day.