Some of you may be wondering what exactly does the Naadam festival celebrates and for what purpose? Here we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions. If you plan on visiting Mongolia, you DO NOT want to miss this once-a-year event.
Tour packages & how to get there on time
There are plenty of tours and fun things you can do. If you plan on attending the Naadam festival, it’s best to book your flight for early July, no later than the 9th or 10th.
Why do Mongolians celebrate Naadam?
Naadam is a celebration of Mongolia’s founding since 1206, but it is also attributed to the celebration of Mongolia’s independence and culture.
Mongolian winters are long and brutal, so it’s a great time of the year where people can lighten up and enjoy life after enduring the harsh cold winter as well. The Naadam festival is like Mongolia’s version of the Olympic games, but with our own celebration rituals and games.
When are the Naadam games held?
Usually, the national celebration is held in the capital Ulaanbaatar every year from July 11- July 13th. You will find thousands of people gathered at the central stadium to attend the Naadam games.
It’s better to buy tickets for Naadam in advance because they are cheaper and sometimes you may not even be able to find tickets at the door.
However, villages/soums have their own dates and time for local competitions. So if you actually happen to come across a soum during their local Naadam festival, you could compete in certain events.
The opening ceremony
The opening ceremony is full of colors and splendor. Mongolian banners are carried onto the center of the field by Government Palace Guards, and Mongolians wearing their traditional clothes walk along the track while cultural music plays in the background.
The Naadam festival games
Naadam Festival includes three sports games that each have a deep meaning to Mongolian culture: wrestling (bokh), horse racing, and archery. Each of the three games is deeply related to Mongolian military history.
Originally, only men were allowed to participate in sports games. Naadam Festival is also called Eriin Gurvan Naadam (the three games of men). But now women participate in archery and horse riding competitions.
Mongolian wrestling originally had a military purpose intended to provide mainly strength, stamina, and fighting skills to troops during the Mongolian empire. Today, it’s more of a tradition and competition.
The national championships start off with 512 wrestlers and it’s a process of elimination. There is no time limit, no weight divisions, and the rules are simple; the first person to fall on their knees, elbows or back loses. Some matches can last for many hours because Bokh is not only about strength but also patience, technique, and strategy.
Horse culture is connected not only to our daily life but also our history. Genghis Khan once even reputed “It is easy to conquer the world from the back of a horse.”
Many Mongolian nomads learn to ride horses from a young age and some are chosen to become jockeys. They get the honor of riding one of the best horses in all of Mongolia. Unlike European horses, Mongolian horses are rather small, but the event is not about sprinting short distances, but long distances.
Depending on the age of the horse, the distances are different, varying from 15km to 30km.
Archery is another long tradition of Mongolians. Boys were taught to hunt from a young age with bow and arrow, and it is one of the main factors why Mongolian armies were so effective. The combination of horses and the compound Mongolian bow proved to be quite deadly.
In the Naadam archery event, unlike Western-style with a bullseye target, Mongolian archery is actually about shooting at a stack of cylinder targets, and the more targets you knock off, the more points you get.
For the men, the distance is set at 75 meters and 65 meters for women. Whenever someone hits a target, the crowd cheers “Uukhai Uukhai”
Foods you must try
Mongolian foods are known for their fatty high-calorie foods, so in Naadam we mainly eat Khuushuur. It is a fried dough stuffed with juicy beef or mutton. You will see this iconic food everywhere on the day of the Naadam Festival. You can have potato salad as a side dish. For the beverage, Mongolians love their airag (kumis) to refresh themselves, but kids these days prefer soda and juices.