Mongolia was never particularly high on my list of places to visit. However when I started looking into the Trans-Mongolian rail trip from Russia to China, Mongolia seemed like a fun ‘bonus’ side trip. It was so much more than that! Wedged between two giants, Russia and China, Mongolia is quietly being awesome. Seriously. Having been to around 70 countries worldwide, Mongolia remains my surprising favourite.
Nadaam – The Mongolian Nomad Olympics
Originally only planning to spend a week or so, I quickly fell in love with the place and the people. It’s like stepping back in time – 50% of the population is still nomadic, living off the land and migrating around the countryside. I met some fellow travelers in Ulan Bator and we planned out a month long adventure to the West of Mongolia along the Kazak border. It was the experience of a life time, driving where there are no roads, no fences, and no real plans. We stayed with local families in their Gers (also called Yurts).
Experiencing the Nomad’s Olympics
Upon our return to Ulan Bator (or UB as the local expats call it) we were just in time for the highlight of the Mongolian year – Nadaam, commonly referred to as the Nomad’s Olympics. Events include archery, Mongolian wrestling, and the main event – the horse race.
With Ghengis Khan’s face carved into a mountainside looking down on the events, the Mongolians begin to party and participate in the events. Even the kids get into it, dressing up like their favourite Mongolian wrestlers and imitating archers on the street.
Watching the horse race was probably one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen traveling.. While you couldn’t get too close, the spectacle of the whole event was a site in and of itself. The huge trails of dust being kicked up by the horses, the people driving in their cars trying to find the best vantage point as the horses came screaming through fields just outside the capital – it was impossible not to get caught up in the energy.
The take-home experience for me was the overwhelming feeling of getting back to basics. A whole society still living (with a few exceptions of course) the way they did thousands of years ago. I suddenly didn’t feel as though I was traveling in a ‘third world’ country – but rather the ‘real’ world.
A guest post by Matt Reider.