To everyone who travels in Mongolia in the early summer, it is obvious that the whole country is busy preparing for the Nadaam Festival.
The name “Naadam” literally means “Games,” and it is a traditional summer festival held every year in all of the provincial capitals of Mongolia, as well as in the national capital of Ulaanbaatar.
The games include the three “Manly Sports,” which are most cherished by Mongolians:
Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery.
The festival is also locally named “Eriin Gurvan Naadam” which means “The Three Games Of Men.”
Women have started participating in the archery competitions, and many young girls ride horses alongside the boys in the horse races, but Mongolian wrestling is still reserved for men only.
Tuya told us that the Mongolian traditional wresting outfit, which includes a pair of shorts that resemble a diaper and a shirt that covers the arms and leaves the chest bare, was designed many hundreds of years ago with deliberate intentions.
The story is told that once there was a man who was known throughout the country as a fearless, champion wrestler, who defeated every other wrestler in the country.
When he was invited to receive a Medal of Honor, it was discovered to everyone’s dismay, that he was not actually a He….. But a She!
The male ego shamed beyond repair, it was decided that every wrestler must show his bare chest in a newly designed wrestling shirt which covers only the back and the arms and leaves the front completely exposed.
Without a doubt, the biggest games take place in Ulaanbaatar.
We did not intend to see the games in Ulaanbaatar, because we do not like huge crowds and because we heard that it is not so enjoyable.
The traffic is horrendous, the crowds are so large that one can hardly see the competitors, and the whole proposition of lining up behind fences and trying to see behind people’s shoulders, was unappealing to us.
Instead, we asked Tuya and Nasaa to ask around and see if there was a smaller, provincial Nadaam Festival anywhere around, so that we could see the games they way they were intended to be celebrated and enjoyed, in the green countryside with the background of the mountains under the big blue sky.
Coming upon local information around Mongolia is not so easy, and we had no prior knowledge of any such upcoming games, until we drove down a country road and came upon a field full of horses and young riders.
We stopped to investigate and to our utmost delight, we found that we had come upon a small Nadaam Festival, close to the village of Bayangol.
The horse race that we were going to witness was about to begin; it was for horses about two years old.
We arrived at the starting line.
The young horses and their equally young riders were to ride over the mountain range for twelve kilometers to the finish line, which was located just outside the village of Bayangol.
We saw them get ready for the race.
One truck had microphones and speakers, asking anyone who had not yet registered, to come over and sign up for the race.
The young riders were sitting on their shiny young horses looking nervous.
Some were getting last minute tips and advice from their trainers or older brothers.
Older men who trained both the horses and the riders walked around, dressed in beautiful traditional Mongolian Dels, and I saw some exchange snuff bottles with one another, as they traditionally do in Mongolia upon meeting a dear friend.
For many nomads from the surrounding area, the Nadaam Games are a major opportunity to meet and greet one another, after a long winter often spend in isolation.
The young horses lined up at the starting point, and the race started, with great shouts of encouragement and a cloud of dust.
As if by cue, everyone got into their cars and drove off to the village, to wait for the riders at the finish line.
Only the organizers and a few of the trainers, older brothers and fathers, rode their own horses alongside the young riders, to see the whole race through the mountains.
We did the same, getting into our car and rushing to the village.
We could see the large field outside the village where the games took place.
Many vendors lined the greens, selling toys, fake tattoos, and offering balloon, ankle bone and card games.
Tents were set up to sell food and drinks, many selling the traditional Khushuur, a pan fried dumpling stuffed with meat.
The atmosphere was jubilant and upbeat.
We asked a few of the vendors and they told us that they were having an excellent event and that they did very well in the three days of the Nadaam.
A rush of excitement was our signal that the young horses were approaching the finish line.
We could see the car with the flag which led the riders coming through the mountains.
It was such a charming and heartwarming few moments, as the young riders urged their young horses to give it their best.
The cries of the young horses whinnying for their mothers, mixed with the tears and cries of the young riders and the cheering and whistling of the small crowd, made my heart soar with excitement.
Some youngsters crossed the line a long time after the winners, but they were greeted with the same cheers from the crowd as the winners were.
We were told that it is a tradition to give a medal to the very last to cross the finish line, as a way of saying: “This year you might be last, but next year, who knows, you might come first!”
After the race, the Nadaam festival came to an end.
The vendors started packing their cars and trucks, preparing to leave the field.
We noticed that our driver Nasaa, was looking nervously at his watch.
It was already late in the day, sunset was fast approaching and we still had a long way to drive to our next ger camp in Hustai National Park.
On the paved roads, Nasaa never drove above the speed limit, but that night, hungry and ready to call it a day and rest, driving in the vast countryside where there were no roads and no speed limits, he drove like a young horse rider, pushing his LandCruiser to its outmost limits.
Our ger camp in Hustai National Park was one of the places where we saw the most tourists since we started our journey around Mongolia.
It was a reminder that we were back in the “Tourists Radius Zone” of places you could visit within reasonable driving distance from Ulaanbaatar.
We noticed many German caravans parked on the outskirts of the park, and Russian vans with many tourists on board.
The ger assigned to us was large and beautiful.
The sheets were white, clean and crispy.
I could not help but smile when I overheard a British Tourist complain about the simplicity of the camp.
After weeks in rustic rural camps with bugs and creatures coming into our ger, with dubious sheets that may or may not have been changed after each visitor, and camp stoves that had holes and rarely held the heat, this ger camp was absolute luxury for us.
Perhaps if we came from the lap of luxury of our hotel in Ulaanbaatar straight to this ger camp, we also would have seen it as a little basic.
But at this stage of our journey, this ger camp, with its large dining room with tablecloths, clean plates and glasses, many good food choices, along with clean bed sheets, a roaring fire and functioning electrical power in every ger, all seemed too good to be true.
After our late dinner we hurried to take a shower.
They were shutting the hot water heaters so they could clean the bathrooms and showers, but they agreed to keep them on for a little while longer, to accommodate late arrivals like ourselves.
There were only three shower stalls in the ladies bathroom, and two of them were occupied by two Korean women.
My shower stall had almost no pressure and after a few moments, all the hot water ran out.
Luckily the shower attendant, who spoke not a word of English, was around.
I opened my shower curtain and called her to come and check on what had happened to the hot water.
She signaled to me to get out of the shower, and then she tried the shower knobs to see if I had turned them the wrong way.
At the same time, the two Korean women got out of their shower stalls, but instead of waiting for the hot water, they started to get dressed.
While the shower attendant went to check on the hot water heater, I stood there wet and shivering with only a small towel that was given to me when we checked in.
One of the Korean women, who also spoke no English, had pity on me and quickly wrapped me with her big towel.
It was such an instinctively kind gesture that I immediately felt better, and was very touched by her kindness.
A part of my mind was aware that it is very unhygienic to be drying up with a towel just used by another woman, but the better part of my mind knew that the kindness of the gesture would overrule any silly bacterial delusion the world might cherish about infectious diseases and how they are transmitted.
In other words, in a world that is ruled by fear, by a belief in isolated bodies divorced from one another and from the environment they live in, a world that believe in the reality of sickness and death, diseases are transmitted just by standing next to a person who has the flu if he is sneezing, or by direct contact with any sick person.
But in a world of love, UNITY, kindness and immortality, bacteria are only transmitted if the person forgets that we are not isolated bodies, but glowing, flowing energy fields of pulsating information, a world of Spiritual Beings who are immortal and incapable of dying….
I vowed never to forget who I am in Truth….
Perhaps it was my lofty thoughts, generated by my gratitude towards this Korean woman, but the attendant came over to let me know that the hot water had been restored.
I chose one of the empty shower stalls with lots of pressure and had a long and nice shower.
Back in our yurt, Jules shared that he had no such interesting ‘Freezing- leading to a kind gesture- followed by a spiritual realization shower experience.’
He had nice water pressure and plenty of hot water and was already toasty and reading a book in his clean bed.
This ger camp is a hub of activities with many tourists and employees walking around with walky-talkies.
Luckily it all quieted down by bedtime, and we slept like babes.