It’s the biggest holiday of the year out here – Naadam – and one of the ways to celebrate is with the three manly games of Mongolia. These are horse riding, wrestling and archery. Luckily Ben and I had been signed up for the archery, and were up at the crack of dawn this morning to make our way out of Ulaanbaatar to the nearby town of Zuunmod.
We parked up at a crumbling old Communist stadium and made our way through to the other side where men in traditional dress were already firing arrows into the air to hit a stack of clay pots some distance away. Once we were introduced to a 17 year old champion she (yes, she. Women and girls can take part in the “manly” games too) began to show us how to fire a traditional bow, resting the tip of the arrow on your index finger and pulling it back with your thumb. In next to no time the tip of my thumb was red raw, but I bravely soldiered on like the manly man I am, determined to prove my manliness.
After a bit of looking around the tents and the opening ceremony, with children dancing around giant horse brands, Ben and I went head to head in an archery contest and severely tested the patience of those around us as we failed to hit the target. After what felt like at least an hour my arrow skidded along the ground and hit a pot and it was declared that this would have to do. Didn’t stop me celebrating wildly and dancing round Ben in a traditional AOTP victory dance though.
After taking part in a spot of Mongolian wrestling (holding the wrestlers’ hats while they body slammed each other into the rocky, dusty grass) we jumped into the 4x4s and went on a horse hunt, trying to track down the kids who were racing the horses about 15km away. There were cars and dust everywhere as spectators were already starting to make their way home, and it took us a while to find our elusive prey once we started careering round the empty valleys. Managed to find a gang of them in the end and did a quick piece to camera before the children went cantering off, more at one with their horses than most adult riders in the UK probably are. In the distance was the nearly completed, Japanese built airport that will be opening soon, to replace Ulaanbaatar’s current one. Things will look very different here in 5 or 10 years’ time I think.
Had just enough time back at our hotel to clean off all the dust before boarding our flights to South Korea, where we hit the jackpot of international travel – an unexpected upgrade to 1st class! Spent the 2 and a half hour plane journey eating with silver chopsticks and making my seat go up and down, wide awake and not wanting to waste a moment of it, so I was quite tired by the time I rolled into my hotel room in Seoul at 5am, with a whole new week of adventures ahead of me.