The biggest event of the year in Mongolia for foreigners a locals alike is the great Naadam Festival, held annually in July, is a thrilling three-day sporting event that has been happening for centuries. In Genghis Khan’s time, it happened at different times of the year, particularly in summer.

Mongolian Naadam Festival

Since 1922, when Sukhbaatar ordered a Naadam to mark the first anniversary of the revolution on July 11 it has been held annually – from July 11 to 13. The festival highlights Mongolia’s three manly sports’- horse racing, wrestling, and archery. 

However, in country centers close to Ulaanbaatar, Naadam festivities may be held before or after the major festival in Ulaanbaatar. Some people like to attend both the local and national celebrations. The quality and number of sports and activities at Naadam festival in the countryside will be lower than in Ulaanbaatar, but you can get much closer to the activities.

History of Naadam Festival 

The history of the games began centuries ago at the time of the Hunnu or Hun empire (3rd century BC) when hunting and other events were wilder and more primitive. Later, during the Mongol empire (13th – 15th centuries) the games lost some of their original glamour and impetus when the court of Kublai Khan moved to Peking and when the Mongol Empire disintegrated.

However, in the 17th century, the tribes regrouped at Shireet Tsagaan Lake to celebrate the Danshig Naadam – a Naadam of seven banners – accompanied by Buddhist religious ceremonies. The latter was stopped in 1921, making it a ‘games only’ festival.  In the 21st century, there is a renewed interest in traditional folk activities.

The State Naadam Festival Is Held In Ulaanbaatar City

Wrestling, archery, and horse racing are held during the first and second days. During the three days, few restaurants and shops open, and virtually no one works.  Day one starts at about 9 am with a fantastic, colorful ceremony outside the State Parliament House, and Chinggis Khaan’s nine yak tails, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are ceremonially transported from State Parliament House to Naadam Stadium to open the festivities.

The opening ceremony, which starts at about 11 am at the Naadam Stadium, includes an impressive musical performance that especially shows Mongolian history and culture and the president declares the games open.

Mongolian Wrestling 

The first round of the wrestling, which starts at about noon on day one in the main stadium, is the most interesting and photogenic. Mongolian wrestling is similar to wrestling found elsewhere, except there are no weight divisions and also has no time limit. It will end only when the first wrestler falls, or when anything other than the soles of the feet or open palms touch the ground.

Mongolian Naadam Festival

Every wrestler has their individual attendants (zasuul) who call their glorious winning titles (tsol duudah). The loser must perform the “takhimaa ogoh”, walking under the right arm of the winner, who then makes a lap of honor around the flag on a pedestal and does some more eagle dancing (devekh).    

Mongolian Archery 

Archery is held in an open stadium next to the main stadium. Archers use a bent composite bow made of layered horn, bark, and wood. Usually, arrows are made from willows and the feathers are from vultures and other birds of prey. Traditionally dressed male archers stand 75m from the target, while women archers stand 60m from it.

Mongolian Naadam Festival

The target is a line of up to 360 round, gray, red, and yellow leather rings (known as sur) on the ground. Usually, there are only about 20 or 30 rings. After each shot, special judges stand near the target and raise their hands in the air to indicate the quality of the shot. The winner who hits the targets the most times is declared the best archer or ‘mergen’ means a good shooter. 

Mongolian Horse Racing

Horse racing – is held at the place called “Hui Doloon Hudag”, about 30km along the main road to the West of Ulaanbaatar. The race is in different categories over distances between 15km and 30km. children aged 9 to 12 take part as jockeys. The winning horse is garlanded with blue ribbons and sprinkled with airag (fermented mare’s milk).     

Mongolian Naadam Festival

A recent addition to the Naadam program is anklebone shooting. This entails using a hand-propelled mini crossbow to flick sheep ankle-bones, a row of which is set up as a target. The competition is held in a separate hall, normally near the stadium. 

July is the peak season for tourists. While it is the peak, the price of accommodation is doubled (desk rate price), and must book it at least 6 months before. Centrally located accommodations even guesthouses are fully booked at this time. Tour operators and local agents will be your reliable partners in the field.

Embark on our Naadam Festival Short-term Tour and immerse yourself in the vibrant festivities of Mongolia’s cultural celebration. For an extended adventure, explore the Naadam Festival with a captivating journey through the Gobi Desert. Join us in these unforgettable experiences!

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