The day was cloudy and cool, really rather nice. It could have been 90F in the shade. We left for the horse race site and spent two hours in traffic that was almost indescribable. A cross between Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, bumper cars without anyone actually making contact and a free-for-all race to get to the valley. Over here we would describe it as “a solid line of cars”, but the word “line” doesn’t remotely apply. The road had been blocked so that both lanes ran in one direction, but people were on the shoulder and off on parallel dirt tracks, all weaving in and out to gain advantage. It was kind of like….a wacked-out horse race.
Our guide, Osoo, estimated that around one third of the population (2.7 million) of the country was present at the race. There were literally thousands of cars on a two lane road all trying to get to the same place.
We arrived and some of us took up station on the top of the hill. Others braved the packed flat area adjacent to the track. With the long lens, I got some pretty good pictures. It was a festive day and the vibe was great. It was like a convival country fair with about 900,000 fairgoers spread out over a large valley.
This was the second to the last race. It was for five year stallions, 25 km. The jockeys ranged in age from 5-12. The horses had already trotted or cantered the 25km to the starting line before the race and then they galloped the whole 25km back to the finish line. There were a lot of support vehicles, including an ambulance. There were also vets ready if needed.
Without further ado:
We never found out who won, but it was an exciting finish and the crowd was roaring. The fastest horses finished in 30-40 minutes, the slowest took about an hour.
Time to go back. Traffic not quite as frantic, but still pretty wild. Lots of herders with their animals along side the road.
We had picnic lunch in the van and then went back to the stadium. Unfortunately, the archery and ankebone competitions were over. But a couple of the archers were still at the archery field, including the winner.
Another archer was giving a demonstration and, for 1000 tugrik, about 80 cents, you could shoot an arrow. Couldn’t resist the chance to try that, of course.
Then it was back to the wrestling in the national stadium. It was packed and then it started to rain. Hard. For over an hour. So there were rain delays and still eight wrestlers competing when we had to go.
On our way out, we passed someone who was allowing people to pose on his horse for pictures.
It was back to the hotel to rest for an hour or so, then dinner at …..BD’s Mongolian BBQ, which suited me just fine. Then off to the Naadam concert, performed by the Mongolian State Grand National Orchestra. And grand it was. They are definitely ready for their first world tour. There are 65 members, playing mostly Mongolian instruments like the morin khur, or horse-headed fiddle, but also some western instruments like trumpets. Almost all the music was by Mongolian composers, but they also did an enthusiastic version of “The Barber of Seville” and, for the encore…..”We Are The Champions” by Queen!
Off to Gun Galuut. Need to pack and get breakfast. Next post will be the 21st or 22nd. Bayartai!