Naadam in Darkhan

Today is the first day of Comic Con (stop by booth 1729 and give the GR crew big hugs for me!!) and it was also the first day of Naadam in Mongolia. Naadam dates back to 3000 BC. It’s a celebration of the “three manly sports” – wrestling, archery and horse racing. The horse racing and archery now include women, but wrestling is still all boys.

Naadam is celebrated all over Mongolia – in small villages and in one GIANT celebration in Ulaanbaatar. The festival lasts three days, and as a national holiday, well… hello 5 day weekend! We went to our local Naadam in Darkhan, after watching the opening ceremonies of the Ulaanbaatar festival on TV. Drove past friends and family on the two lane dirt road leading to the stadium who were leaving for the day, but there was still plenty to do and see. First stop, fresh cotton candy spun onto a chopstick. Second stop, shish kabobs with sheep meat served on a piece of toast. Third stop, huushur.

Eating as much huushur as possible is Naadam’s unofficial fourth wo/manly sport. There were about 100 gers set up  around the wrestling and archery stadium, almost all selling the same thing – huushur. Huushur is a Mongolian empanada, filled with goat meat and not much else. They’re greasy, crunchy (deep fried) and meat-juice and oil come pouring out of them with your first bite. People usually order them by the half-dozen and share them with family and friends. For some people, huushur is the highlight of Naadam, not the games, not the tradition, just the food.

Darkhan’s Naadam definitely has a county fair vibe. Admission is free – carnival games, food and souvenirs cost. Getting your photo taken sitting on a camel is about $3. Riding horses kids brought in from the neighboring countryside costs about the same. You can see it all in a day, but the main events – the races, the wrestling and the archery – take all three days, running tournament style so you can keep coming back for more huushur.

We caught the vetting for one of the last races of the day. Four year old horses were racing 15 km with their grade school aged jockeys riding in all arrangements of barefoot, bicycle helmeted and bareback.

We’ll be heading back tomorrow to cheer on a cousin’s horses in the races in the morning, and to pick up some delicious looking watermelon, more cotton candy, and sheep shish kabobs. Not the same as eating vegan banh mi and Thai food take-out at the GR Comic Con booth, but the wrestler’s uniforms do remind me of all-too-revealing cosplay.

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