Naadam Festival Opening Ceremonies
This is the day we have been waiting for-the opening ceremonies of the Mongolian National Festival: Naadam. We walk from our hotel to the main square at 8:30am for the ceremonial transfer of the Naadam standards from the Parliament building to the Stadium. The event is scheduled to begin at 9am, but we mill around the square people watching until about 9:30am when the horsemen who will carry the standards parade across the square. We see evidence of a military band, but must leave the square at 9:30 in order to get good seats at the stadium.
We are assigned to a section within the stadium, but there are no assigned seats in that section. Already the area is quite full when we arrive, and we have to fight our way to the top in order to get enough seats where we can all sit relatively close together. By the time the ceremony starts at 11am, even the aisles are filled with bodies. If anyone has to pee it is a problem as there is no easy way out without climbing all over everybody. We are planning to go to lunch at 1pm, so we should be able to make it.
The ceremony starts promptly with the entry of the Festival standards into the arena and their formal placement by the stage from which the President is to address the crowd. I cannot comment on the speech as it is all in Mongolian, but our guide tells us it is the customary greetings and welcome, punctuated by much applause from the crowd.
Next we see a parade of national artists representing music and theatre, and even Miss Mongolia. There is dancing and music by well-known local artists. One famous Mongolian rap artist arrives on a motorcycle with a large entourage, and they circle the stadium to loud applause. We can't help but notice the young wrestlers who are undressing and putting on their costumes across the field from us.
At noon the stands begin to clear out, so a couple of us clamber down to use the bathroom. That is an adventure best left to your imagination! When I return from my pilgrimage to the toilet, everyone decides to take a half hour to wander the stadium grounds and shop and watch the people.
Lunch is a plated affair at a hotel within walking distance from the stadium. After lunch half the guys decide to walk back to the hotel, and half of us return to the stadium grounds to shop and watch the wrestling competition. One other group member and I walk completely around the stadium and do some shopping before actually entering to watch the competition. We arrive during a lull, but are completely entertained by a young wrestler who has come into our section to sit with a relative and change his costume.
At 6pm this evening we enjoy a cultural program at the National Drama Theatre. It is an extravaganza of singing and dancing and musical performances with gorgeous costumes and makeup. No matter how grand, however, I think our favorite performance during the entire tour remains the one we were fortunate to see at our first ger camp in the Gobi Desert.
Dinner tonight is the Gala Naadam Festival Dinner at our hotel. The restaurant has been transformed from what we saw at breakfast this morning into a fine dining establishment with candles and skirted tables, and a stage. The dinner is quite extravagant, with beverages included plus two complete main courses-salmon and sirloin steak. We don't get a choice; we get both! The meal is topped off with apple tart and ice cream.
Throughout the dinner we are entertained by another excellent musical show, but this one is punctuated with a cashmere and wool clothing fashion show using real runway models, male and female, a show of Mongolian costumes of ethnic groups throughout the country, and a fashion show of ancient Mongol costumes in modern style. It is definitely a day to remember!