Нийтлэгдсэн огноо: 2017-08-30 18:56:00
BEIJING: Armed with swords, the men on horseback came charging down the field, striking fear in the hearts of their opponents who quickly regrouped around the gers (portable, round tent) in a defensive position.
Elsewhere, wrestlers and other performers waited patiently to take their place during the opening ceremony for the annual Naadam games in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.
Naadam is a traditional festival that’s celebrated across Mongolia in the month of July. In fact, it is often thought of as the Olympics in the Mongolian sporting calendar, where it is commemorated in every town and village. Missing it is highly unthinkable.
The whole festival revolves around what the Mongolians call the three “manly sports” – horse racing, wrestling and archery. Back in the 13th century, warlord and national hero Genghis Khan as well as other warriors from around the country came together to compete against one another.
Out of the three sports, wrestling is the most popular. There is no weight class and the sport is won based solely on strategy, so it’s not uncommon to see a small-built fighter up against a brawny one.
Fun fact: The wrestlers wear a costume known as zodog where their chests are exposed. According to folklore, this design was introduced when a wrestler – after defeating all other combatants – ripped open her shirt to reveal her breasts, showing the world that she was, in fact, a woman capable of taking on men. Today, the zodog is worn to prove that the wrestlers are indeed real men.
WHERE OLD MEETS NEW
If you can’t schedule your trip around Naadam, there’s still plenty to see and do in Mongolia.
Take for example Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. Some people may suggest you head out to the gorgeous countryside instead of spending time here, but let me assure you that this city has much to offer. In fact, there are enough sights here to keep you busy for two to three days, even during winter when temperatures can plunge to below -20°C.
The Gandan Monastery, a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery on the western edge of town, is a good place to start. Built in 1840, it is the centre of Mongolian Buddhism.
During the repression of the 1930s, the monastery was severely damaged. It was closed in 1938 but reopened in 1944. Today, Gandan also houses the Mongolian Buddhist University.
From the Gandan Monastery, you can also get a good view of the city. When you look left as you head out of the monastery, you can see Mongolia’s modern skyline and the iconic Blue Sky Hotel that looks like a sail.
Keep walking towards the hotel and you’ll reach Ulaanbaatar’s city centre. Along the way, stop for a cup of coffee at one of the cafés – there are plenty to choose from.
But the main sight of the city is Chinggis Square, although everyone still calls it Sukhbaatar Square. Surrounded by government buildings such as the Parliament House and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this is where the locals gather in the evening.
In fact, this is one of my favourite spots in the city, where I spent hours watching the nomads in traditional clothes walk past trendy teenagers looking into their smartphones – truly a case of old meets new.
THE GREAT COUNTRYSIDE
Mongolia’s biggest draw, of course, is the countryside and the vast grasslands dotted with gers.
Make a stop at Hustain Nuruu National Park, home to Mongolia’s remaining species of wild horse, the takhi, commonly known as Przewalski's horse.
While getting a chance to see these critically endangered creatures in their home ground sounds exciting, it’s prudent that you manage your expectation.
On my first trip, I only saw the horses from afar. Alas, on my second trip, the horses were barely visible even though I had help from the binoculars. After all, this is not a zoo.
Alternatively, you can drop by Karakorum, a city founded by Genghis Khan in 1220. Today, the place is largely a backwater and there isn’t much to see except for a monastery and some ruins.
But to be on the same ground where Genghis Khan once stood makes visiting this place even more significant. After all, it was once the capital of the greatest empire the world has ever known.
And to make your Mongolian experience even more memorable, try horseback riding across the steppes, with the sun rays beating down on your back and the wind in your hair.
Mongolia is a beautiful country with gorgeous backdrops of rugged mountains, sparkling clear streams, cascading waterfalls as well as the emerald-green grassland and clear blue skies. There are lots of other places that deserve to be explored such as the Gobi Desert and the Terelj National Park, one of Mongolia's biggest protected areas with unique rock formations.
The nights in Mongolia are just stunning – watch the constellation of stars dazzle before your eyes across the sky. It’s no wonder that Lonely Planet listed it as one of the top 10 must-visit countries this year.
Source: Channel News Asia