Before we arrived in Mongolia we didn’t even know what Naadam was. A lot of tourists come here especially for Naadam, but we were just lucky to arrive unwittingly for the big event.
From what we understand Naadam is Mongolia’s national holiday. All over the country tournaments in the three national sports take place – wrestling, horse riding and archery. The winners of the regional games then go to Ulaan Baator for the big finals. We managed to coincide our visit to the Naadam festivities in Sansar, Bulgan province (about 500km west of Ulaan Baator) with a trek that involved staying with nomadic families in their gers.
We stayed with Mr Bambatogtoh’s family for two nights and on the second day they took us to the Naadam festival in Sansar. Also staying with the Byambatogtoh family were Julie and Jerome from Switzerland so we went to the Sansar Nadaam with them, and ended up hanging out with the governor of the province no less!
On the third night we stayed with Otgon, his wife Delgersaihan and their children Udval and Renchinochir. They took us to an amazing sand dune on an ox-drawn cart.
For our final two nights we stayed with the Idertsogt family. Mr Idertsogt lives with his wife, children and his seventy-seven year old mother, who still works really hard from morning ’till night.
We had an amazing time and have gained a small amount of insight into how nomadic families live in Mongolia. The families that we stayed with weren’t even all that remote. We were surprised to see that they had mobile phones, solar panels and the odd satellite dish and we always knew that there was a road (of sorts) somewhere not too far away. Even with these modern additions to the ger, the families seemed pretty remote by our standards – but I think these families were pretty well “connected” compared to many others.
One difficult thing about the week was the food (the other was not washing as there’s no running water at the gers). We’re just not used to the food they eat. They have a drink which they love called airag – fermented horse milk. Luckily we just had to drink a little to be polite and it’s a drink for special occasions so we didn’t get loads of it. A staple drink is milk tea – salty, very milky tea.
For food we ate variations of mutton, potato, noodles and salt. I think one of the days we had some offal too but I try not to think about that. They seem to eat every bit of the animal. We had no fruit or other vegetables all week.
We’re back in Ulaan Baator now and have just been to a veggie restaurant to stock up on our vitamins. We’re doing fine but it might be a while though before I eat meat again.
I’m tired. I’ve just had a shower but I still feel a bit filthy. My body aches in ways that it’s never ached before. My stomach is voicing its complaints with sounds that are alarmingly similar to those made by the saggy humped grandma camel that Susan had to ride on the first day of our trek.
Was it worth it?
Yeah, I reckon it was.
Here’s my top 5 experiences from the last week…
1. Going to the Nadaam (games festival) in Sansar would probably have been enough but being invited to the Governor’s ger really was the icing on the cake. He offered us Eirag (fermented horse milk) and a piece of meat from the carcass in front of him then he took us out for lunch, invited us to his house (so that Susan could use his toilet), got his daughter to sing for us and then drove beside the horse race to give us a good view of it. A great way to get out of the rain.
2. Drawing pictures in a sand dune with Udval (the daughter of the second family we stayed with) and learning a few new words. Nar for sun, tsar for moon, ul for clouds and borog for rain.
3. Even though it caused me (and continues to cause me) a not insignificant amount of pain, riding by horse across a plain to an old Buddhist monastery at the base of some hills. The scenery throughout the whole week was beautiful but this really struck me as something special.
4. Meeting two young girls on the top of a rocky hill where Susan and I had gone to chill out for the afternoon. Both parties were frustrated at not being able to communicate with each other so we turned to exchanging songs and then dances. Who would have thought that learning the heel and toe polka in primary school would actually come in so handy.
5. Being tucked into bed in a ger by the two children of one of the families we were staying with. They seemed to be very concerned that I wouldn’t fit on the bed so they positioned me diagonally. I made them some paper cranes the next morning and they liked them a lot.
6. (Yeah well I shouldn’t have put an arbitrary limit on myself in the first place…) Seeing Susan be “tough as nails”. I worried about her from time to time but there really wasn’t any need to. What a star. She’s excellent.