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Mongolia's Naadam Festival

A celebration of Horse Racing, Archery and Wrestling – see Mongolia at it’s most colourful and vibrant best during the Naadam festival held annually from the 11th to 13th July. Visit Mongolia’s Naadam Festival With the Trans-Siberian Travel Company.

What is the Naadam Festival?

The Naadam festival is the biggest in Mongolia running from July 11th to 13th each year with the main celebrations in and around Ulaanbaatar although smaller events occur right across Mongolia. Since 2010 Naadam has been recognised by UNESCO on their list of culturally significant events.

Although the festival has been going for many centuries it is now used to commemorate the 1921 revolution for Mongolian Independence.

The name literally means “games” and is locally known as “eriin gurvaan naadam” literally translated as “the 3 games of men”, or sometimes referred to as “the three manly sports” – the three being wrestling, horse racing and archery. It’s not just for the men these days though with women competing in the archery and girls in the horse racing.

Wrestling - the Manly Sport

The Wrestling consists of either 512 or 1024 wrestlers in a knock out tournament consisting of 9 or 10 rounds. Bouts aren’t timed and wrestlers only lose if they touch the floor with any part of their body except their hands or feet. Wrestlers get to choose their opponent with the most famous wrestlers getting first pick. Each wrestler has their own zasuul or “encourager” who must sing the praises of the winning wrestlers. Winners of the 7th or 8th stage ( depending on competition size) are deemed zaan meaning “elephant” and winners or the 9th or 10th stage are called arslan meaning “lion”. If they make it to arslan twice they become avraga meaning “titan/giant”.

Excitement of Horse Racing

The Horse Racing has up to 1000 horses taking part from all over Mongolia. Unlike in the West, the races are long distance ranging from 15 to 30 km long. The length of the race is dependent on the age of the horse with older horses competing over the longest distances.

The jockeys are children from as young as 5 years old up to 13 years old but the race is more of a test of the horse’s skill than that of the jockey. The top 5 horses in each class are deemed airgiyn tav and the top 3 gain gold, silver and bronze medals. The winning jockey becomes the tumny ekh meaning “leader of 10,000”. The horse that comes last in the two year old category is called bayan khodood meaning “full stomach” and a song is sung wishing him luck to be next years winner.

Mongolian Archery Competitions

The Archery also differs from the West by having multiple targets that are placed on the ground and shot at by teams of 10 men and women. Men fire from 75 meters and women 65 metres away. Winners receive the title of “national marksman or markswoman”.

Contact us about tours which fit the Naadam dates or we can tailor a tour specifically for you. Mongolia is never busier for tourism than during Naadam so make sure you book early to avoid disappointment as train tickets and accommodation are scarce at this time.

By Phil Stanley & Headseast

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