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Naadam Festival in Mongolia | The Complete Guide to Attending Naadam
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naadam festival tour

Naadam Festival in Mongolia 2020 & 2021

Here we introduce everything you need to know about the Naadam festival in Mongolia.

naadam festival in mongolia

Mongolian wrestling at naadam festival

What is naadam festival in Mongolia ?

Naadam literally means games in Mongolian. Naadam festival is a traditional and national sport festival of horse race, wrestling and archery. The festival is considered the most important celebration among wrestlers, jockeys and archery sportsman. The national and regional festivals take place throughout the country from small town to the Ulaanbaatar city in July.

Naadam festival history

The Naadam festival is believed to be existed and have been celebrated for centuries in one fashion or another. People practiced the sports for battle preparation but it later became main competition of the festival. According to the Secret History of the Mongols; the most accurate source of history of Mongol Empire in 13th century it stated that the three games of wrestling, horse racing and wrestling has been recorded. Today the festival not only celebrated among sportsman and fans but also every Mongolian to commemorate the victory day of independence from China in 1921. It is also listed as a intangible cultural heritage of Humanity of UNESCO in 2010.

Mongolia Naadam festival sports

The three main sports are horse racing, wrestling and archery. The last but not least sport is knuckle bone shooting. These sports are open to anyone and no special requirement needed.

Naadam festival wrestling

mongolia wrestling at naadam festival

The most popular and widely practiced traditional sport is Mongolian wrestling. There are 512 or 1024 wrestlers match and compete through 9 or 10 rounds for national wrestling whereas 32 to 256 wrestlers compete at regional level festivals. The simple rule applies for this games which is touching ground with any part of their body other than their feet or hand means defeat. There is no weight, height or age limitation for opponents but higher the ranking wrestlers more opportunities to choose their his own opponent from higher round. Usually the opponents are assigned during the first and second round. The ranking is title given to the winners from 5th round to the champion with following names (names of mighty animals) ;

  • 5th round winner – nachin or falcon
  • 6th round winner – hartsaga or hawk
  • 7th round winner – zaan or elephant
  • 8th round winner – garid or Garuda
  • First time champion  – arslan or lion
  • Second time champion – avraga or giant

Wrestlers Performance

Wrestlers dress special costume consists of hat, tight shoulder vest, short and boots. The hat represents ancient Mongolian warriors who founded and practiced the game. The high boot help wrestlers to keep their foot firm and prevent from slipping. Each wrestler has his own coach called Zasuul accompanies him and held together ceremony before and after the match. Right before the opponents meet, each coach take off their wrestlers hat and announce their title in a loud voice. Meanwhile the wrestlers perform eagle dance flapping their hands in imitation of eagle flying and slapping their thighs. After each match winner flap their hands three times and loser shows respect for the winner loosing waist band of his jacket and bowing his head under the stretched arm of the winner. The coach “zasuul” is also responsible for singing song of praise for the winning wrestlers after rounds 3,5 and 7.

Naadam festival horse race, horses

horse racing in Naadam festivalMongolian horse race is unique in many ways unlike western or eastern race. This is generally long race with a range of 12-35kms on steppe among children jockeys. Depending on age of horse starting from two-years old till seven years old horses have different distance. There could be up to 1000 horses race together across the Mongolian steppe and the biggest race is national Naadam festival to be held near Ulaanbaatar city in July. Children from 5 to 13 years are trained as jockey as well as race horses fed on special diet and trained by a coach. The reason choosing kids as jockey are their lightweight and flexibility during long distance race. The competition tests stamina and skills of Mongolian horses known as one of the key factoring for Mongolians conquering half of the world on horse in 13th century.

In addition, the jockey is not only responsible for the leading his/her horse but also reinforcing the horse with traditional song called “Giingo”. The top five horses in their age class and jockeys are awarded with title and medals from gold to bronze. The only special awarded is called “bayan khodood” or full stomach given to the last horse and jockey for two years old horse race. This award wishes victory coming years for the last finisher. Who knows this could happen ?

Naadam Festival Archery

archery in naadamThe archery has been inseparably sport for Mongol warriors since early centuries. Once there was a Mongolian warrior who shoot the target from 500 meters which recorded in the history. Today archery is widely practiced by women and men all over Mongolia. There are handful traditional ways and bows to shoot but a few styles such as Buriat, Uriankhai and Khalkh are the main styles of Naadam festival.

The special attribute of this sport is shooting a wall of targets. Ten men and women team up and each has four arrows and the team has to hit 33 targets. Men shoot from 75 meters away while women shoot from 65 meters away. Archers wear traditional costume “deel” which free his/her cuff movement and leather braces up to the elbow on the arm.

Targets are row of small woven cylinder (rawhide 8 cm high and 8 cm in diameter) built as pyramid on the ground. Destroying the pyramid with ball out of tube brings key points. Archers and audiences cheer the participants saying “khurai, khurai, khurai”. Every time it is destroyed, a group of people from the team or opponents are there to bend and adjust it for the next shoot. The winners are awarded with the titles of “national marksman” and “national markswoman”.

Naadam Festival in Mongolia Reviews

Most of tourists enjoyed colorful and cultural events of Naadam festival opening ceremony in Ulaanbaatar although some of them preferred local Naadam festival for its opportunities of photographing and immersing into the authentic culture by small communities.

Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony

This is a special opening ceremony by the president of Mongolia followed by traditional performances showcasing historical milestone of Mongolia from the Huns- the first nomad empire to the Great Mongolia empire and independence of the country. A few hundreds of artists, kids and livestock parade and perform colorful and cultural event for couple of hours in stadium. Completing the event, wrestling takes place till the evening. However archery and ankle bone shootings are happening simultaneously outside the stadium so make sure you catch others sports and try festive street food in the area.

Mini Naadam Festival

The most famous yet fixed date festival is Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar. It is held from 11-13 July in the capital. Those who can’t attend the festival have options choosing between regional Naadam festival or Mini-naadam festival. The regional festivals are rather small and organized within the town. Therefore the official dates are confirmed at last minute which makes it difficult to plan ahead.

Acknowledging the challenge, there is mini-naadam festival organized for tourists on guaranteed dates during peak season from June to September. This festival showcases the smaller version of three manly sports including horse race, wrestling and archery. You have luxury to include the festival in your travel plan if dates match and attend it not far from the Ulaanbaatar city.

Danshig Naadam Festival

Danshig Naadam festival is a Buddhist festival including Naadam sports held in August.

Naadam Festival Facts

The festival is listed as Unesco heritage for its centuries old celebration and traditional sports in 2010. Three manly sports such as wrestling, horse race and archery had been recorded in the Secret history of the Mongols; 13th century book.

Naadam Festival Food

The main dish of Naadam festival is Huushuur. It is deep fried meat pie (mutton or beef). About beverage, Mongolian drink mare’s milk “airag” or “kumis” which is widely available in street food vendors or nomad families.

When Is the Naadam Festival in Mongolia ? Naadam Festival Events

10 July – Deeltei Mongol – Traditional costume show

11 July – Flag ceremony and Naadam opening ceremony from 9 a.m to 1 p.m.

11 July – Show concert in main square from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m

11-13 July – Wrestling, Archery and Horse Race throughout the day

Naadam festival dates for 2020 & 2021 & 2022

Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar is on 10 to 13 July 2020.

Date for Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar is 10 to 13 July 2021.

Mongolia Naadam festival will be held on 10 to 13 July 2022.

Gobi Naadam Festival

It is usually takes place in the first week of July. Make sure you confirm it with your travel adviser.

Naadam Festival tickets – How Can I Get a ticket ?

You can purchase tickets from travel agencies and guesthouses online. Also you can opt for Naadam festival tour package which allows you to catch all sports at once with local guide who can guide you through the crowd and show the best part of the games and celebrations.

Mongolia Naadam Festival Tours

  1. Naadam Festival Tour for 8 days – From 860 USD per person
  2. Gobi Desert & Mini Naadam Festival Tour for 9 days – From 1250 USD per person
  3. Best of Mongolia tour for 11 days – From 1430 USD per person
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