Naadam – The Three Games of Men

As I have said before, this field trip in Bulgan proved to be a special experience. The organizers pampered our senses and our mind but one event overtopped everything else. Naadam, that is the three games of men, is one of the biggest celebrations of the year held from the 11th to 13th of July. I have written about this festival before, see my earlier post for a more detailed description of this tradition. This time, being August, our teachers organized a local naadam, only for us.

Our journey started with the bus stuck in the mud so we were moved on by a pickup truck. That was fun! Not for the bus driver though. He spent the day with a few other men trying to put the bus on road again. Thankfully, help came quickly and in abundance. First on horseback then shortly after by a truck and later on by a tractor. The flow of information on the steppe is constant and quick these days too as it had been centuries ago even without the presence of cell phones. Despite the many times huge distances between villages and individual families, even where there were no sign of people living near and far, when we needed help, someone suddenly appeared seemingly from nowhere and then others followed. This safety network of the steppe is incredible for the outsider.

On arrival, of course we were offered airag of which the province is famous for. Airag is fermented horse milk, you might have heard about it as kumis. In small quantities its alcohol content is nothing dangerous but I have seen a few people getting tipsy from it after enjoying Mongolian hospitality for a couple of hours. I am not fond of this delicacy I have to admit but it’s ok to taste when offered. Foreigners are sometimes worried and visibly scared when they are given a cup of it. They are scared to refuse but even more scared to taste it. No need to worry. You either say ‘no, thank you’ or simply just take the cup, lift it to your lips as if drinking then give it back to the person who offered it to you. You don’t need to suffer if you don’t like the nectar. I must note though that airag cured my sunstroke once so it has its benefits and there might be situations when no other liquid is accessible. I would advice that if you plan a visit to the countryside then get used to immersing yourself into its culture. To further increase your appetite you will see photos of our lunch too that was khorkhog. Khorkhog means pieces of meat cooked together with potatoes and carrots in a container that contains hot stones as well.

Wrestling and horse riding were the main events of the day, this time archery, the third game of men was missed. A few men in our group decided to compete in wrestling but needless to say they were defeated within approximately ten seconds after entering the ring. We could peep into a certain game too which I struggled to understand but it looked and sounded beautiful anyway. I say sounded because the participants, sitting on the ground in a straight line, were singing or rather chanting while they used hand gestures to outplay each other. As soon as I realize what this game is called and understand the rules I will explain it further. Until then, simply just enjoy the photos!

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