Sunday, 11 July 2010

war games in Ulaanbaatar

Today in Ulaanbaatar, the annual festival of Naadam began. It is based on Mongolia's love of war games with competitors boasting their skills at wrestling, archery, horse-riding and ... anklebone shooting (?). War is a big theme, Ulaanbaatar means Red Warrior.

The opening ceremony was a loud colourful affair with enormous credit paid to the country's father and hero, Chinggis Khaan (known as Genghis in the West). A packed stadium, presided over by the president, cheered and whistled as contestants walked the arena accompanied by a bevvy of supporters and pretty girls. Traditionally dressed warriors fired arrows at full speed while others chopped off would-be heads with their swords. It was exhausting to watch with so much happening at once, all set to traditional throat-singing Mongolian music. A wonderful entree into cultural life here.

Following the ceremony, the games began. The wrestling competition was a pyramid with winners progressing to the next level. Many fought at the same time. The winner was the person who threw the other to the floor first. There were lots of wee guys up against giants, but size didn't always win. After winning the fighters do a half embrace and slap each other's bottoms before the winner is given a hat to wear and runs off towards the presidential area to perform an eagle dance. With so many fights taking place simultaneously it was almost impossible to pick and follow a favourite.

The stadium next door housed archery. Archers shot some 100m towards a series of coiled ropes, each 15cm in diameter, that were set out on the ground. The centre coil was coloured red. A group of men stood (dangerously) around the coils and their response to each shot signified success or otherwise. Again we saw the eagle dance. Next to the archery several groups of men sat at what could have been makeshift craps tables. At one end three small bones were piled like cricket bales. Three or so metres away sat the competitors each with a flat piece of wood and a squared chunk of anklebone. The challenge was to flick the anklebone at the targets. This seemed to be the most male oriented of the sports with a good deal of masculine noise being made. A unique experience that promises to be even more so tomorrow...

Mongolian of the day:- war :: dain