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On to Ulan Bator and the Nadaam Festival

July 27, 2015 0 Comments

Stories of the road, Ulan Bator, and the Nadaam Festival from the 21st July to 27th July from the Taylors.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Happy birthday Brad!

Yes, started the day with a headache. Then went back to the same workshop to get a good car wash. We’d been through some very, very deep running water a day or two earlier, so our friendly mechanic also checked the grease in the tailshafts.

Amazing Mongolian Landscape

Glorious Scenery of Mongolia

All good, so we stocked up on food, water and beer from the shop and off we went. The cheap slab/box/carton was 24 x 500ml cans of a beer Lynn (and I agreed), thought we drank last night. Nope. It is some rocket fuel from Holland, eight percent! I got another inverter as well, this is more specialised than the replacement I bought in China, but is stronger – 600w. It also fits under the dash, in front of the gearstick. Much better, I’ll send the other one home… If I can afford postage.

We’re making our way to the capital, Ulan Bator. From last night’s town, Baruum Urt, the road is the best 100km of asphalt road I have ever driven on. Smooth as a baby’s bum. No more than a month old, and little traffic. Glorious scenery to boot. Open land, grassland, then desert saltbush and then our first look at savannah grass. We camped in. the hills, trying to get out of the wind.

Wednesday, July 22.

From our camp Lynn and I walked up a high hill, to see the most panoramic of views. No people, no cars, a few isolated gers and herds of cattle, goats or horses.

Today we decided to head south west first, overland for 24km, to see dinosaur relics and an ancient village. We popped the coordinates into the GPS, and headed overland to the spot. We got within 450 meters, but couldn’t see a dinosaur anywhere. We were stopped by a river, no way to cross. We backtracked, and 150km later we are camped alongside the same river!

Mongolia is having a crack at tourism, but self drivers will really struggle with the lack of signage. Gravel tracks go in every direction and a local person’s directions are a wave of the arm and a smile.

Mongolians are awesome people. Shy, reserved and non intrusive, compared to the Chinese.

Thursday, July 23

Decided to stay at the river, too good to move on.

Friday, July 24

On to the capital, Ulan Bator.

Late that arvo, Lynn and I decided to drive 275km to the south, to catch a Nadaam Festival, at Mandalgov. It’s the capital of the Gobi Desert Province, Dundgov, south of Ulan Bator. Lynn and I camped on route, Barry and Donna stayed in Ulan Bator.

Saturday, July 25

Thank goodness we persevered. Nadaam are festivals at this time of year through Inner Mongolia, China and Mongolia. It is similar to a rodeo or a series of rallies or circuit races in Australia. You as an individual, and a team, accumulate points as you do each event on the circuit. It’s broken into three (maybe more, but we’ll get back to that) events: Archery, wrestling and horse riding.


We watched male, senior and junior, and females compete. Juniors off shortest distance, then women, then men. Men shoot from about 120m to a target, (a pile of golden circle pineapple cans laid two high and about 3m wide, with red ones in the middle, as a bullseye).

There are people at the targets, let’s call ‘target beaters’, (think Scottish grouse beaters), to re-set the cans when hit and signal the scorer. Women from say 90m and kids from say 80m. Little kids. Really little kids.

The arrows have a neoprene tapered end, pointed to about 25mm, so it would put a 25mm hole in your body.

The target ‘beaters’ stand two or three metres either side of the bull and report the shot to the scorer. They run three parallel groups of four shooters at a time, like a lawn bowls or 10-pin bowls rink, but way more lethal. So the target beater on the left side of one target, is only 3m from the centre of the adjacent target, sort of arm in arm with the right sided target beater, if you know what I mean. But the shooting is controlled by the archers, no messages to the target beaters! So, the archer shoots when he’s ready. So the beater has to have a good lookout, always.

I’ve been to a game of ‘bare-foot-bowls’ in Australia and seen Lynn send a bowl down that went across three lanes, so heavens knows how long these archery ‘target beaters’ survive. They do set up the target after a successful shot. And successful shots there are many. These men, women and kid archers, are very, very good. The target beater only has to jig to the right or left, to avoid impalement, every third or so shot, but the adjacent ‘target beater’, for the other lane, ignores them!

Also, I saw one guy in the background, 5m behind the targets, back turned, on the phone! Not a care in the world. The archer has to strain very, very hard to get enough spring in the bow to get the arrow to the target, so the working conditions are difficult. Plus, they wear period costume, which is cumbersome. Very few, if any, aids. A great show of skill, without the hysterics of Darryl Eastlake.


This started off with a lot of pomp and ceremony, which we couldn’t understand. But it was related to earlier exploits of wrestlers, some present, and the Mongolian flag, so it was very enjoyable. Then the wrestling started. The wrestlers’ entry is awesome. They do a graceful dance to the rink judges, the national flag, then the crowd.

The wrestling tactic, I think, is a bit like weight-lifting. There are two teams. They start with easy bouts, say, one skinny guy gets quickly flicked by his opponent, tough guy.

But as the afternoon goes on, tactics come into play: The two teams come out, do their dance. But no one will challenge the big fat guy of one team. So, a skinny kid comes out, challenges the fat guy, gets flicked out of the way, then the other tougher wrestlers come out to try to wrap up the balance of the first team. Get it?

Sometimes, the teams’ two fat guys are left alone, last, they won’t challenge, and they just get a gong each and we go to the next round.

As the afternoon wears on, the bouts get tougher and more injuries occur. The field is a rock-strewn country footy field, so any impact with the ground is going to hurt. We saw one skinny guy get knocked stupid; then guys come over with smelling salts, get him up and walk him off. We noted the crowd didn’t clap the winner as much for this show of aggression. It’s hard work. These guys got a sweat up, just holding each other.

The next day I met one of the ‘skinny guy wrestlers’, at a rock formation (75km east). For a photo shot, mucking around, he picked me up like I was a bit of straw and held me while Lynn, laughing, took the photo. The strength, just from a laughing ‘skinny guy’!

Horse Racing:

This race took a while to set up, as they took the competitors 15km away, over dusty tracks and grass, to the startline. The jockeys were about 12 years old, weighing 30kg (photos coming). When they started the race, the crowd was still at the wrestling and archery. But Mongolian Darryl Eastlake on the radio got them against the fence. Anyway, we could just see the dust they were raising, then they came into view. I must say, this race was a lot tamer than the one we saw in the Tibetan Plateau, but still a horse or two, came home riderless.

That spelt the end of the day’s activities, so we worked our way through the sideshow alley and got to the car.

Let’s Go East

We had a plan, in case the Naadam here was a no-show, to go 75km east, as the crow flies, to rocky outcrops. They are granite tors, think Moonbi (near Tamworth), but scaled up 1000 times, over 1000 acres and you get the picture. So we drove out there, that afternoon – no roads, just a GPS and tracks.

At one stage we stopped on a hill; the going was rough and very slow. A nomad was herding goats on his motorbike, coming the other way and came over to us. With our fluent Mongol and his fluent English, and after looking at one of our maps, he confirmed we were going in the right direction, but with a wave of his arm, indicated we should go north a bit and pick up a better track. That deserved reward, so on our suggestion, and his agreement, (everyone here understands the word vodka), we got out Lynn’s brother (Jeff’s), home-made vodka and had a few shots. But, first a mouthful of milk, to soften the blow. Surreal, sitting on the dust in the Gobi Desert at 3pm drinking vodka with a bloke you’ve never met, but trust!

His advice was excellent. We got within 3kms of the rock formation and camped. An awesome spot, lovely sunset, very quiet, and no wind, with the granite outcrops in the background. We are now fully in the Gobi Desert.

Sunday, July 26.

Up and out at the outcrops. Well, not until we had a yarn to another Mongolian nomad and his son, who popped in for a yak. Then the rocks. They are unreal, like being on the moon, maybe, but crazy anyway. We caught up with some other locals, one who may have been a wrestler yesterday! They’re strong!

Then off we went. We headed NW, to get back to the north-bound highway to Ulan Bator. It’s an 80km track which took us 110km and four hours, but we got to the highway. Still quicker than backtracking.

Tonight we’re 40km from Ulan Bator, to meet Barry and Donna in the morning, to sort visas etc. A nomad, on horseback, just popped in for a yarn, and a beer. He spoke good English and we communicated very well.

Our campsite is quite high, so I’m sitting here, drafting this, drinking our eight percent beer in 500ml cans, trying to think, looking out over the most wonderful mountain and plains view you could imagine. No pollution, no people, no towns. Awesome.

Mongolia is one hell of a place. Just don’t get lost, it’s like an Australian desert. We’re camped on the top of a hill.

It turned out to be a wild night, with rain and gale-force winds of about 80km/h. We got up really early, six-ish, to get back down the hill and seek shelter of sorts, to pack the roof camper. Then into town to catch Barry and Donna.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Happy birthday Sis!

Despite what we had heard, getting the visa extensions for Mongolia went very smoothly. Our next chores are to get permits to go close to the borders and sort our Russian and Kazakhstan visas. Our plan is to get the border permits, then start the Russian visa application, (which we have been working on since April last year).

While the Russians have our passports we’ll travel around the south of Mongolia (Gobi Desert etc), then back to Ulan Bator to apply for Kazakhstan visas. While the Kazaks have our passports we’ll travel north and look at the Russian shared border area. Then back to UB. Then, off we go, to the west, to snoop some more and get to Russia.

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