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Ulaanbaatar, the capital.
Ulaanbaatar, the capital.
The festival.
Horse racing.

Naadam Festival

Thursday, April 11, 2002
Mongolia is open for tourism and they are putting on a show - welcome to the wildest festival you'll ever see.

The landlocked nation of Mongolia was for many years a province of China, but in 1921, with Soviet backing, the country won its independence. Just 10 years ago it broke free of Russian rule.

Now a flourishing democracy, Mongolia is one of the last places on earth to open to tourism, and people are falling in love with this country of herders, where camels wander the Gobi Desert and eagles soar over the Altai Mountains. There's plenty to do in the country: you can trek, bike, fish, go on wildlife safaris and generally enjoy the fascinating local culture and history.

Karakorum Expeditions is a company owned by Graham Taylor. He completed a 2000km trek sponsored by the Australian Geographical Society, and the experienced adventurer and his staff know the country inside out.

If you fancy a Chinggis Khan-type Mongolian experience, you should go at Naadam time between July 11 and 13 each year. At this time, Mongolians celebrate their 1921 revolution and eventual independence with great fervour.

Mongolians are one of the world's last truly nomadic populations, and during Naadam, families arrive and set up camp at Tent City.

Naadam, a three-day festival, is the biggest even on the Mongolian calendar, and each year 750,000 people - representing around a third of the entire population - throng to the capital, Ulaanbaatar.

The festival started out as a way for warriors to keep fit between wars, and wrestling, archery and horse-riding are the disciplines fought out over the three days, with culture playing an important role as well.

After a spectacular opening parade and ceremony in front of Government House, everything begins in earnest. Wrestling and archery competitions are held in stadiums, and the horse races are run on the Jarmag steppe by the airport.

Mongolians take their wrestling very seriously and the country's best enjoy a god-like status. There are no time limits or weight divisions, and bouts can last a few minutes or several hours.

Good archers are also revered. They begin training at about eight years of age and continue to compete as long as they physically can. They use rubber-tipped arrows, which is just as well, as they are deadly accurate!

Horse races are more for the animals than the riders - if the jockey falls and a riderless horse crosses the line, it is the winner.

Horses must be of a certain age to compete, and their teeth are checked at the finish line. Jockeys are as young as four years old and up to 13. They wear shiny outfits and ride the 25km flat out. Many fall off. There are six races with 1000 horses in each, travelling on very rough cross-country tracks. First prize is $1200, a small fortune in Mongolia.

Spectators try to touch winning horses as they believe they can get good luck from their sweat. After the races, everyone parties until the wee hours of the morning.


Mongolia in northern Asia, between China and Russia.


Karakorum Expeditions run one week tours from $1200 per person, twin share, including entry to Naadam Festival, accommodation, guides, transport and meals.

More information

Karakorum Expeditions
Ph/Fax: 0011 976 1131 5655
Qantas: Ph: 13 13 13

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