Naadam Festival

The highlight of the Mongolian festival calendar, Naadam is a festival that dates back several centuries and takes place each year between July 11-13. In 2010, Naadam was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.

Originally a test of a nomad’s aptitude, those taking part in Naadam require strength, stamina, accurate marksmanship and skilful horsemanship. Naadam is also known as ‘the three games of men’ as the games incorporate Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. Recently, women have started participating in the archery and in the horse racing games.

Naadam begins with an introduction ceremony featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians. Genghis Khan's nine yak tails, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are still ceremonially transported from Sukhbaatar Square to the National Stadium in Ulan Bator to open the Naadam festivities. At these opening and closing ceremonies there are impressive parades of mounted cavalry, athletes and monks. After the ceremony, the competitions begin. This is an excellent time of year to be in Mongolia.

Mongolian wrestling – in this form of wrestling, competitors lose if they touch the ground with any part of their body other than their feet or hand. When picking pairs, the wrestler with the greatest fame has the privilege to choose his own opponent. Wrestlers wear two-piece costumes consisting of a tight shoulder vest (zodog) and shorts (shuudag). Only men are allowed to participate.

Mongolian horse racing is a cross-country event with races between 10 to 20 miles long. Drawing herdsman from hundreds of miles around, races are staged on the vast steppes. The length of each race is determined by the age class of the horse.

Archery is played by teams of ten. Each archer is given four arrows and the team must hit 33 "surs" - a small woven or wooden cylinder that have been placed on top of one another. Mongolian archery is unique for having not only one target, but dozens of surs. Men fire their arrows from 75 meters and women from 65 meters. Traditionally the archers wear their national clothing (deel) during the competition.