Naadam is what I like to call the Mongolian Olympics.
It’s a festival/competition of three events: horse racing, archery, and wrestling.
Naadam is quite interesting because there’s the main one in Ulaanbaatar, but also smaller countryside ones. The two types of Naadams, countryside and UB, are completely different from each other. UB’s is supposedly a big party/tourist attraction, whereas the countryside ones are more authentic.
We chose to go to a countryside Naadam in the Khovd (Hovd) province. Be mindful of dates when picking where to go, as they depend on the region, but are all generally around the 10th of July.
Naadam is a time to celebrate, laugh, rest, eat mutton pancakes, and watch the games!
Horse racing typically takes place in the morning, away from the other events. We took a car there (go to the side of the road and hail any passing car like a taxi- one will stop), and hitchhiked back by boys who I could only describe as The Frat Boys of Mongolia. However, they were total sweethearts!
What surprised me the most about the horse races were how young (and adorable!) the jockeys were.
Archery is the only competition where there’s an option for women to compete, so OF COURSE I wanted to watch these badass ladies! Unfortunately, archery wasn’t all that exciting to watch.
Wrestling is a really cool event to watch. It’s full of life, and a favourite amongst the Mongolians! Legend has it that their uniforms expose the chest because hundreds of years ago, a woman came in and whooped all the men’s butts! Now, with the uniform, it’s impossible to have that happen again.
Meat is the main type of food, whether in mutton pancakes or kebabs. We tried both, and weren’t disappointed! You can buy cups of Coca Cola from nearly all stalls for about $1.
Unfortunately, there was no airag at the Khovd Naadam, which was a massive surprise to our guesthouse owner in UB. Maybe we were just bad at finding it.
Airag is fermented mare’s milk (yep- alcoholic beverage!), and I was set on trying it, although pretty sure I’d find it tough to drink.
I was right.
Our guesthouse owner in UB, upon finding out I didn’t get to try it, had her mother fetch some and give it to us. It tastes very sour, and it has the bite that alcohol tends to have. It also had a very strange, milky, wine-y aftertaste.
Not sure I’d drink again, but definitely glad I tried it.
Thank you, Mongolia, for being such a breath of fresh air! Naadam was truly a lovely thing to experience!