The Mongolian Naadam Festival

As if travelling across Asia on an epic rail adventure wasn’t enough, now you can plan your Trans-Siberian trip to coincide with the incredible Naadam Festival in Mongolia.

Wrestlers at the Naadam Festival

Held over the Mongolian national holiday, the Naadam Festival is celebrated over three days in July. Roughly translated as ‘The Man Festival’ or the ‘Three Games of Men’, participants take part in archery, wrestling and horse-racing, three pastimes that are considered the most important to master as a Mongolian warrior. However, women are now allowed to participate in the archery and horse-racing events. Perhaps fittingly, wrestling remains a pursuit reserved for men only.

Naadam Festival is the most widely celebrated festival in Mongolia, with festivities spreading as far as China in the areas in which Mongolian communities still reside. The origins of the festival go back thousands of years, but in modern times it has come to commemorate independence from China and the international recognition which the nation of Mongolia now enjoys.

The horse-racing event is pretty different from your regular western horse race, with races taking place cross-country, and covering any distance between 15 and 30 kilometres depending on the age of the horses. The jockeys are children between the ages of 5 and 15, and training for the event begins many months in advance.

The archery events are held between groups of ten men and women, and each participant is supplied with four arrows. There are hundreds of targets, and each team must hit at least 33 of them. The winners are declared the National Marksmen or National Markswomen.

Typically it’s the wrestling that really draws in the crowds. There are no age or weight restrictions, but the objective is to pin one’s opponent to the ground with his elbow or knee. The winner is awarded the title of ‘Avarga’ or Titan.

The three-day festival runs from the 11th to the 13th of July this year. Take a look at details of how you can be a spectator at this unique festival with our Naadam Festival tour.

Photo credit: Mark Fisher

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