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Sukhbaatar Naadam Festival

Gus Ribeiro August 2, 2018

The Mongolian Naadam is a major traditional event that is celebrated annually every summer. The Naadam games include horse racing, archery and wrestling. Every five years Sukhbaatar aimag, a local province in Mongolia, celebrates their Naadam, at Dariganga. This year is the 105th year of that celebration. 

My MERIT assignment coincided with the special Naadam celebration in Dariganga which is held later than the traditional period. Since it fitted my assignment schedule I was invited to participate.

Getting There
I flew from Ulaanbaatar to Choibalsan (Dornod aimag) where I met up with Selenge from the MERIT project office and we drove to Baruun_Urt, the aimag centre for Sukhbaatar, to store my gear and lunch then on to Dariganga sum, which is close to the Chinese border at the south end of the province.

Dariganga Sum
Altan Ovoo

Once you leave the towns you travel on dirt roads which get pretty rough in places. The time it takes to drive from Choibalsan to Dariganga is about nine hours including Altan Ovoo with the stupa.

When you reach Dariganga you see the Altan Ovoo which is a religious shrine. The Altan Ovoo is an extinct volcano topped by a stupa, which only men are allowed to visit. The stupa was built in 1990 on top of the ruins of the original Bat Tsagaan stupa, which was built in 1820 and destroyed in 1937. It’s a short but steep climb to the top.

Altan Ovoo with the stupa
The men-only rule is enforced here. At the base of the flat-topped hill there are a couple of stupas that women are allowed to visit, and they do so with gusto, making copious offerings.

Dariganga is a small sum but during the special Nadam it teems with visitors many of them on horseback. Many of the visitors just camp out in tents. The MERIT team was lucky to get a ger at a temporary camp south west of the town. The main Naadam site is located a couple of kilometres east.

Local transport in Dariganda during Nadam.
My bed in our ger
Our ger at the camp site

I was told that the gers at our camp would be donated to needy families after Naadam. I estimated that our site had about 50 gers for the guests. Soon after our arrival we went to the main event stage to watch the prize giving to the winners of the first days horse racing. Khayanaa our driver from the Dornod office wanted to pay respect to the stupa on top of Altan Ovoo after dinner so I joined him. We started out at late dusk and by the time we were ready to return it was dark except for the light from the base. It was a precarious descent for me. Devotees perform a circumambulation or pradakhshina at the stupas.

Naadam Events

Winners of the first horse race at the main event facility
Top row Baigalma, Project Officer for Sukhbaatar, Selenge and Khayanaa and myself in front of them

Early the next morning we went to watch the main horse racing event. It was quite exciting with the Sukhbaatar horse leading, closely followed by the one from Dornod. The Dornod horse managed to edge out Sukhbaatar at the finish line. Based on the cheering there were many here from Dornod.Good spirit to touch a horse that has completed its race.

You can see the spectators stroking the horse, behind Selenge, to benefit from its good spiritual aura from completing the race.

Well we can see how Mongolians become great riders. They start young!
Baigalmaa, Selenge and I were invited to the main reception where we met Sukhbaatar’s governor. The Mongolian Prime Minister was the honoured guest for the event.

There are a number of local sum government gers set up near the main grandstand. Visitors are welcome to meet with the local officials during the event. We visited with a local Councillor at the Dariganga sum ger.

We were happy to learn that Khayanaa’s daughter, whose Mongolian name translates to Rainbow, won the women’s archery contest. She is very good and she also competed at their national competition.

After Nadam we returned to Baruun_Urt to complete my drone training workshop assignment. This was a fantastic experience and I thank everyone who made this possible for me. 1-800-268-9052
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