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Conde Nast Traveler
Boojum / KLM
PO Box 902
Central Post Office
Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia
Mongolia... an Uncommon Adventure
The last great nomadic culture... rolling grassy steppes... Buddhist temples and shamans... the Naadam Festival....
From the Gobi desert to the snowy peaks of the Altai mountains and the crystal waters of Lake Khovsgol, Mongolia is truly an uncommon adventure that will challenge and fascinate the most experienced traveler.
In 1994 Boojum Expeditions became the first US outfitter to offer tourism in Mongolia. In 1998 Boojum/Khovsgol Lodge became the first Mongolian-American joint venture tourism company. From your first inquiry to our Bozeman office to your last day in Mongolia, you are in the hands of an integrated group of travel experts with over 35 years experience.
For families, small groups and those with special interests, we excel at designing personalized departures and custom itineraries.
Wrestling, Horse racing and Archery epitomize the culture and context of Mongolia. They are simple sports; no complicated scoring or special facilities or technology needed. The strongest, fastest man, the strongest, fastest horse and the strongest, steadiest archer win the medals.
The National Naadam, like the Fourth of July or Bastille Day is held every year on the same days throughout the country, July 10-12. During the year, other Naadams are held (the word means simply "festival") in conjunction with anniversaries or significant dates of nearly any kind. In 2006 there will be Naadams galore, as Mongolians celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Mongolian Empire.
In addition to the three traditional sports, one may also find "knucklebone shooting", a game which combines aerial shuffleboard with a puppet show stage. As a spectator sport, it is more exciting than paint drying.
When and Where to Attend
Naadam in Ulaan Baatar has its advantages and disadvantages. The good news is that it's certainly the biggest and most colorful Naadam. There are opening and closing ceremonies and all the best wrestlers and archers in the country will be in Ulaan Baator. For the knucklebone shooting enthusiasts there's an entire tent full of that sport. The horse races are the largest in the country with some of the best horses. The archery, wrestling and knucklebone shooting venues are all nearby each other.
The bad news is that Ulaan Baatar's Naadam is the biggest and most organized. You'll find yourself in the company of MANY other tourists, just like you. The crowds, dust and heat can be considerable. Getting into the opening and closing ceremonies in the main stadium, even if you have a ticket, can be a physical struggle. Watching the wrestling in the stadium is only for the most hard core wrestling fans. Even locals bring small televisions so they can actually see the action up close. The archery is much more accessible but you'll be hard pressed to find a place to sit in the limited space of the bleachers. The horse racing is a good 45 minute drive away, on the other side of the mountains. When you arrive, you'll still be back 100 meters from the action, so bring binoculars. Adding to these negatives is the fact that ALL the hotels, cabs, restaurants raise their prices for the Naadam period. And then there's the traffic in the city which is often made worse (if that is possible) during Naadam by the motorcades of important officials which shut down the main roads of the capital on a regular basis.
Yes, you do detect a certain bias against seeing Naadam in Ulaan Baator.
On the other hand... Naadam in smaller venues (every aimag and soum capital has one on the July dates) retains the country fair atmosphere that is so appealing and so authentic. In places like Kharhorin, Tsetserleg, Dalanzadgad, Khatgal, Hovd you'll be free to wander among the tents of the horse racing families, watch how the trainers prep the horses and the young jockeys, even be invited in for fermented mare's milk. You can sit cross legged with locals who, with their bodies, delineate the boundaries of the wrestling area. Be prepared to get out of the way quickly when the wrestlers head your way. There will be great wrestling action, thrilling horse races and you'll probably be able to try your hand at archery. In Ulaan Baatar, the populace is bored with tourists, but in the smaller Naadams, local people are still very warm in their welcome to tourists.
If you wanted to show a foreigner your true culture, the community and traditions which define you, would you take them to the Super Bowl or World Cup or would you take them to your local high school's championship game?