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The Stunning Adventures "Not all those who wander are lost." Tolkien

Naadam Festival, part 1

MONGOLIA | Wednesday, 11 July 2007 | Views [2657] | Comments [2]

Later in the evening...

Later in the evening...

After a relaxing day in Khatgal (the town by Khovsgol Nuur), we made our way to a little town called Moron, that's right, Moron!  We spent a rather sleepless night there (on account of some rather loquacious dogs)before heading to another lake an 8 hour drive away.  We spent two nights at Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur relaxing and taking in the breath-taking scenery.  The morning of the 11th was a morning we had been waiting for for quite some time.  The 11th and 12th of July mark the date of the Naadam festival.  "Naadam" in Mongolian means game.  So, as you might be able to gather, this is a huge, country-wide affair.  When we had originally planned on coming to Mongolia, the timing of the visit centered on this festival.  We originally planned on being in Ulaan Baatar for the festival, but reconsidered after having heard numerous accounts that the rural Naadam festivals were less touristy and all the more fun to experience.  So, needless to say, we were quite excited.  Our next destination was a town called Tsetserleg, where we were to watch the events; archery wrestling, and horse racing, and also happened to be the home of Gana's (our driver's) mother-in-law, where he and his family lived as well. 

As we piled into the van at 8:30, we had been originally told that the drive from the lake to Tsetserleg was only three hours, leaving us plenty of time to witness the end of one of the horse races.  As the day wore on and we made a quick visit to a volcano, noon came and went, we soon realized that we were not going to see the end of the horse race in Tsetserleg.  We still had a few hours to go and not much hope of seeing the race.  Just as we dejectedly settled into our seats, we came upon a large group of young riders on horses.  As we drew nearer, it was quite plain that we had happened upon the start of one of these races.  With races being 15-30 km long, no one ventures out to see the start of these races, so it was quite a unique experience.  We all jumped out of the van and ran over close to the group.  There were a few men who were officiating, but the majority were the young riders preparing for the race.  They all lined up and were walking together, but on the signal, they all turned around and started racing toward us.  The start was quite wild, with racers cutting others off and jockeying for position.  Amidst all the fury of the beginning, one boy fell off his horse.  He was quickly attended to and got back on his horse and took off.  Experiencing this just reinvigorated us for what lay in store for us. 

The drive continued and we even decided to skip a meal in order to get to Tsetserleg, much to Andreas' dismay.  It was about 4:30 when we finally got to town, and we were famished.  Much to EVERYONE'S dismay, it was apparently too late in the day to see any more events.  This was a little disappointing, but we still had all day on the 12th.  We all settled into our ger in Gana's backyard and had little idea of what to do.  Still quite hungry, the both of us went and checked on the food sitch.  While reading about Mongolia, we had read that it is polite to bring a bottle of vodka to a family, when staying in their ger.  While we did not bring a bottle for every family, we did bring a couple bottles for this exact reason.  We had already planned on giving one bottle to Gana, so we brought it with us when we went inside his home to see about dinner.  As I mentioned, this is quite customary so Gana was very thankful, but not altogether surprised.  As it happens, dinner was nearly ready, so we sat down to eat.  Gana opened the bottle and had his son (Munil) fetch some glasses. 

We had not planned on having a drink at 5:30 in the afternoon, but it would be quite rude to turn down his offer to share our gift.  He was actually quite happy that we would have a drink with him, so he called his mother-in-law in to have a drink with us.  His mother-in-law came over and politely had a sip of the vodka, but gestured that she does not like to drink, by pointing to her head and then rolling it slowly from side to side.  We got the point.  Gana's next victim was Akki, he yelled, "Akki!!! Akki!!!", and Akki came in after a few moments.  He too had only a little bit of vodka, before gesturing to Gana that he does not want to drink, but wants to fish (this becomes important later).  Akki leaves and we are soon joined by Camilla, Andreas, and Dave.  Meanwhile, we finish our meal, but have continually been poured vodka and have to drink some everytime Gana raises his glass (very often).

We move from Gana's kitchen to his living room area and Gana pours more shots.  At this point, we have gone to retrieve our second bottle as the first bottle had been emptied.  Before long, the Italians had added more to the pot, and there was way too much vodka on the table.  During this consumption of libations, Dave had expressed how his wrist was hurting due to the fact that he had slipped and fallen at a volcano we had seen earlier.  Gana quite understood that Dave was in pain because of how Dave was rubbing his wrist.  Gana then said "vodka!", and gestured to take Dave's wrist.  We were all quite curious how the vodka would help Dave, in addition to just throwing it down his gullet.  We were amused by watching Gana dip his fingers into an abondoned shot glass full of vodka, and proceed to massage Dave's wrist.  We all could see from Dave's expression, that this massage was not soothing his ailment.  Now anyone who is reading this is aware that Gana is our driver, and you also should know that he is the mechanic. Out on these rugged roads (or lack there of), it is quite common to break-down, or have a flat, and Gana is the one who always comes to the rescue.  You might imagine what his hands and underneath his fingernails might look like.  Now you can imagine what that shot of vodka might look like...it was a very cloudy/grey mixture by the end of Dave's massage.  We were soon joined by three Mongolians, one of whom was a good friend of Gana's, and also the one that was given the "dirty shot". We looked at eachother as we all toasted, the "dirty shot" was in the air, and the consumer none the wiser.  The two of us debated saying something, but because we didn't want to cause any embarassment, and, hey, the vodka should kill anything, we kept our mouths shut. As they had a few drinks to catch up, we got to know them a bit.  One of them spoke English very well, so this helped bridge the language gap that existed between us and our driver.  We learned much about him and his family. 

Mongolians have quite a tradition of singing and folk songs.  We had heard Gana sing under his breath in the van as one of his two tapes played over and over, so it was not a huge surprise when, while we sat drinking together, he burst into song.  The other three Mongolians immediately joined him, as we were treated to four traditional folk songs.  We listened attentively, wishing we had paid enough attention to the words to join them.  The songs are very beautiful and we all felt very lucky to have shared in the experience.  After we all had a bit too much to drink, someone finally said, "Where's Akki?"  We scoured Gana's property, but Akki was nowhere to be found.  At this point, it is very dark and way too late for him to be fishing still.

We had already lost Dave and Andreas to the sandman, but the rest of us again piled into the van to search for Akki by the river.  Munil (sober) drove us to the likely spots, but Akki was nowhere to be found.  Akki had already displayed his penchant for wandering, but he had always come back.  Mongolians are very friendly, but we had been told it is dangerous to be alone outside at night, so this was worrisome.  We searched for about an hour, before calling off the search party.  After returning, we found that he had not yet returned.  Where was Akki?  Had something fishy happened?  Had he had a yak-cident?  Tune in next time for the conclusion of "Naadam Festival". 

Just kidding, you don't have to wait.  As it turns out, Akki had gotten lost, but he did the logical thing and walked to town and checked into an inn.  We were quite worried about him, until he wandered back to Gana's the next morning; only to find himself in the doghouse.

Tags: Laughter




Elizabeth & Greg - It is so wonderful to read your messages. Sounds almost too good to be true the adventures you are experiencing. The memories you will have will be extraordinary. Love to read about your adventures. Sounds like you are meeting wonderful people as you travel about. Be careful and safe.



  Kathy Cunningham Aug 14, 2007 1:16 AM


Elizabeth and Greg - By the way - great picture. Looks like you were having a lot of fun.



  Kathy Cunningham Aug 14, 2007 1:17 AM

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