Ulaan Baatar / Naadam Festival Preview

Trip Start Jun 30, 2007
Trip End Jul 16, 2007

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Ulaan Baatar / Naadam Festival Preview

Dear Readers:

We leave the peace of the countryside today and return to civilization, but before we do I take one more hike into the hills overlooking our ger camp, and we stop at a rock formation called "Turtle Rock" for a group photograph. The drive back to Ulaan Baatar is uneventful and relatively traffic free. We first visit a large monastery with a huge Buddha Statue and lots of prayer wheels to spin. After touring the monastery we head to a local bank to replenish the funds of those who brought traveler's checks. Travelers checks aren't very useful, in my opinion, as they are not readily accepted, always require a long and tedious bank transaction before they can be converted into the local currency, and do not receive a favorable exchange rate.

Hotel check-in is quick and easy. We are out the door again in about 20 minutes to watch archery practice and also the novel competition of flicking sheep anklebones approximately three meters at a target made of another sheep anklebone. This process is accompanied by a chant intended to help the shooter concentrate. You must see the video I have posted to get a vague idea of how it works.

Lunch is a huge Korean buffet. Not a big hit, but certainly efficient.

After lunch we head out into the countryside to watch a theatrical recreation of one of the victories of Ghengis Khan's cavalry. It is billed as a show of 1,000 horses, and it certainly plays as such with rank upon rank of costumed riders appearing over the far horizon. Many of us feel that we have been cast as extras in a Cecil B. DeMille movie! With the exception of one anachronistic shaman dance done to modern music with electric guitar, the production has an authentic and majestic feel.

During the battle sequence, bodies litter the field and horses are even trained to lay motionless as though dead. A particularly funny moment comes at the end of the battle when one rider who has spent the last ten minutes in a death slump over his saddle horn as his horse wanders aimlessly through the melee finally came to life with the other corpses to clear the field for the next act. The audience erupts in laughter and delighted applause that he had stayed so perfectly in his death pose for so long.

We return to the hotel after the show for a necessary shower after all the dust kicked up by the cavalry, then walk to a nearby Thai restaurant for dinner. After a nice post-dinner walk in search of the "reputed" gay bar near the main square, I return to the hotel to check emails for the first time in a week and see what is happening in the world.

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