Friday, August 1, 2008

Ulaanbaatar and Surroundings

So we've finally uploaded some photos and I'm getting around to writing about our trip. On our way over to Mongolia, we didn't have the most direct of routes, so after over 36 hrs of travel, we made it to our hotel in Ulaanbaatar (referred to as the UB by most Mongolians), one day after the rest of my family. And first thing in the morning, we got started on our trip in earnest, with our city guide picking us up to take us to Terelj National Park, about 1.5 hrs outside of the city, for some beautiful scenery.

It started pouring after we finished hiking down from the rock that looks like a turtle (above), so we headed to lunch and then back to UB and swung by an overlook of the city before hitting the Mongolian history museum.

The next day was the start of the action. The archery competetion was starting for Naadam, the Mongolian Independence Day that features lots of traditional Mongolian athletic competitions. The four sports are archery, wrestling, horse racing and anklebone shooting. And they are all very unique in Mongolia. The archery is shot using a different kind of bow than is used in western competition, and you aim for a target that is a couple of rows of rubber blocks on the ground, so is much harder to overshoot. The distance from the target from which one fires is dependant on age, if in the kids competition (some are very young!), or sex for the mens and womens competition.

Wrestling is kind of like sumo wrestling in that you just have to get the opponent on the floor and there is a lot of customs associated with it, in this case the eagle dance that one performs when they win. But unlike sumo, there's no ring, and it all looks very informal watching it. More on the horse racing and anklebone shooting below.

After the archery, we headed out to Chinngis Kahn's Cavalry show, which featured a reenactment of traditional horse battles on a huge scale, along with some wrestling and traditional music show. The horse fighting was really impressive, especially given the broad expanse of nothingness around the site.

The next day was the Naadam opening ceremonies, featuring a very packed house at the national stadium (though the fact that this was the biggest stadium tells you something about the infrastructure in the city). There were a bunch of contortionists, a fashion show of traditional clothing, a horse parade and the start of the wrestling competition.

The anklebone shooting was going on next door, so we checked that out as well. Anklebone shooting involves flicking an anklebone (a tile carved from a goat or sheep's ankle bone), at two targets (also anklebones I think).

Then, it was off to the races. The horses in Mongolia are much smaller than the ones we see regularly in the states, so rather than having adults ride the horses, they have kids. Very small children, usually between six and ten. And the horses race a really long distance - we watched the five or six year old horses race, so they raced 30 km. We had a good spot at the finish and below is a photo of the winning horse, which as you might notice, doesn't have a rider on it. A lot of the children fall off during the race.

There are more pictures of mine and Sam's over on Flickr. Sam has all his photos up so you'll get a sneak preview of the rest of the trip. And I'm going to try and keep posts a bit shorter in the future!

No comments: