Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Mongolia... here we come...


In just a few weeks, 7 of us will be travelling across Mongolia, eventually ending up at the Naadam Festival.

The biggest festival of the Mongolian year is the Naadam Festival celebrated in Mongolia nationwide on July 11-13. Naadam is properly know as “Eryn gurvan naadam”, after the three manly games of wrestling, horse racing, and archery making up the core activities of the National Festival.

Mongolians love to dress in their best traditional costumes and riding on their most beautiful horses during Naadam.

Wrestling

Mongolian wrestling has no weight divisions, so mostly the biggest wrestlers are often the best. The wrestlers are divided into 2 sides and it begins with zasuul honoring the glorious titled wrestlers to each other by their unique sounded speech and while wrestlers do short eagle dance by putting hand at the shoulder of the zasuul.  Wrestler wears gutul heavy big boots, shuudag tight unflattering pants and zodog open-fronted and long sleeved small vest across the shoulders. Winners are bestowed glorious titles depending on how many rounds they win. There are nachin (falcon) – 5 rounds; khartsaga (hawk) – 6 rounds; zaan (elephant) – 7 rounds; garid (the Garuda) – 8 rounds and arslan (lion) – given to the winner of the tournament. When an arslan wins 2 years in a row he becomes an avarga, or titan. One renowned wrestler was given the most prestigious and lengthy title of the ‘Eye-Pleasing Nationally Famous Mighty and Invincible Giant’. All titles signify strength and are given during the national festival Naadam. There is a variety of wrestling methods and some elders say there are hundreds of them. Mongolians are really excellent at wrestling, riding and archery.

Horse racing

Mongolians loved horse racing for over 21 centuries. In modern times, horse racing is mainly held during Naadam Festival and Lunar New Year. Riders are kids from age five to 12. There are six categories of horse racing, depending on the age of the horses; shudlen a two-year-old horse will race for 15km while six-year-old azarga and ikh nas horses race for up to 30km. There is no special track but just open countryside. Before a race, the riders sing an ancient song –Gyngoo for the horses wishing for strength and speed and audience all decked out in traditional finery. Some riders prefer saddle and some not. The winner is declared tumnii ekh, or ‘leader of 10 thousand’ and the five winning horses are admired and the riders drink some special airag and sprinkles on the horse’s back. After the races, praise-singer extols the best riders and their horses and 5 winning horses and theirs owners would be talked about in reverence by the crowd.

Archery

Five lines engraved on an ancient Mongolian target immortalizing the phenomenal record of Yesuhei- baatar, saying that his arrow hit the target at a distance of 536 meters. The bow is an ancient invention dating back to the Mesolithic Period. Ancient Mongolians contributed to design of the bow as a combat weapon. Today, Mongolians use less complicated form of archery than in the ancient times; targeting at cork cylinders braided together with leather straps. It is four meters in line and 50cm high. The target is placed on the ground at a distance of 75 meters for men and 60 meters for women. In the past, Mongolians used three types of bows; “big hand” (165-170cm),”average hand” (160cm), “small hand' (150cm). Today Mongolians mostly use the average hand bow, which requires a force of 22 to 38kg to draw.

Arrows are made of pine wood and feather fins allowing it to reach distance of 900 meters. Naadam archery also attracts individual archers as well as team of 8-12 persons. Male archer shoots forty arrows at each target. Traditionally dressed judges stand by the targets raising their hands in the air to indicate the quality of the shot with uukhai sound but surprisingly never get injured. They praise the best shot in a traditional drawing recitative voice.

Then, in October of 2014, Jim Zuckerman and I are headed to partake in the Golden Eagle Festival.


In western Mongolia, deep within the Altai mountain range, an ancient tradition of hunting with Golden Eagles is still alive. The Kazakhs of Mongolia train their eagles to hunt for rabbits and foxes. Once a year, hunters from all over Bayan-Olgii province gather to celebrate this traditional skill and compete against each other challenges that show off the abilities of both birds and their trainers. Prizes are awarded for the fastest eagle, the best traditional Kazakh dress, and more. Various folklore performances are given during the festival. We take you to participate in this regional festival and also to visit with Kazakh families, join the hunters on hunting trips, and see different sights in Bayan Olgii province, home of the Kazakh minority in Mongolia .