The vast plains, steep mountains, and mythical desert of Mongolia are full of tales of the wild. This landlocked country where nomads still roam the never-ending plains has never lost its whimsical charm and the legendary tales of the great Genghis Khan still ring loud across the land.
Mongolians celebrate two big annual festivals/holidays. The first long holiday of the year is Tsagaan or the Mongol New Year. Tsagaan falls between end of January and early March and marks the first day of spring. Naadam Festival is another important national festival. The festival happens every second week of July and people from across the country gather to enjoy 3 national sports – wrestling, horse racing and archery.
Naadam Festival closely intertwines with the cultural root of Mongolians. The Mongolians have a rich history of military conquest, especially during the reign of the legendary Genghis Khan. The superiority of the Mongol Empire stretched beyond Asia into the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Interestingly, Genghis Khan’s army structure was quite sophisticated in the sense that his entire army was composed of small units of 10 soldiers where each unit was led by a selected man. The soldiers in the unit were handpicked by the unit leader for their distinctive attributes such as wrestling skills, spear-throw and archery skills, their patience and bravery exposed in their horse training and horse racing skills shown during public competitions. These public competitions later transformed into cultural event – the Naadam Festival.
Naadam festival became very limited under China occupation during the Qing Dynasty (late 17th century to early 20th century). This barrier was created to keep Mongolians ununified and reduce political resistance. However, Mongolians were able to preserve their tradition of Naadam by organizing mini events that include wrestling, archery and horseracing, on various occasions like worshipping sacred areas, weddings, and religious rituals.
The revival of Naadam Festival as a nationwide event began in the 1920s when the country declared independence from the Republic of China, and since then the image of Naadam has shifted from mass battle competition to national celebration event.
Naadam Festival today doesn’t just bring Mongolians together to celebrate their culture and tradition, but also attract visitors from around the world seeking to experience the warrior soul of the Mongols in the lively festive way. During the 3 days festival, the event enjoys the presence of the State heads, the President, Prime Minister and the Parliament speaker, leading artists and performers, as well as countless travelers and visitors. Almost everyone is dressed in amazingly colorful, and comprehensive traditional costumes called ‘dell’ during the festival, and they all come to enjoy Mongolian men face off in 3 major national sports, which are wrestling, horse racing, and archery, as well as some of the best festival treats like Khuushuur, fried Mongolian pancake with meat.
When to go
Naadam Festival isn’t strictly on the same date. The main festival in the capital happens in second week of July, around July 10th – 12th, and this goes for most parts of the country as well. However, don’t be disappointed if you miss the main festival. Some provinces celebrate Naadam Festival at different time, depending on the province’s important holidays or anniversary.
July falls into Mongolia’s high season so the weather during the Naadam Festival is generally warmer than the rest of the year. Expect clear sky and warm and mostly dry weather, with some rain or hailstorm. The warm and clear weather at this time is perfect for outdoor events such as Naadam Festival and hence the festival attracts thousands of tourists every year.
Getting to Mongolia
Adequate research and study on travel modes and requirements is necessary before you leave for Mongolia to avoid surprises. A planned travel itinerary will help you be a little more relaxed and savor the travel experience across this wide and adventurous country. Following are some of the things that have to be kept in mind for getting to Mongolia.
Getting to Mongolia by plane
Daily flights from Seoul and Beijing, and twice a week flights from Berlin, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Moscow fly into the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. These flights are operated by MIAT, which is a Mongolian airline. The frequency and destinations from where the flights operate increase during summers, which is the best time to travel to this temperate country. Air China and Hunnu Air are the other airlines servicing this sector.
Getting to Mongolia by train
Mongolia is served by the Trans-Mongolian Line that is a part of the famous Tran-Siberian Railway. It links Ulaanbaatar with Moscow and Vladivostok in Russia and Beijing in China. There are local trains that run daily for China to Mongolia. They are the best train travel option for people who do not get a ticket for the Trans-Mongolian Link.
Getting to Mongolia by bus
There are several buses that run between Beijing and Erlian, which is located in Inner Mongolia governed by China. Following are the list of bus stops form where these buses can be taken:
•Liuliqiao long-distance bus station
•Muxiyuan long-distance bus station
•Lizeqiao long-distance bus station
There are many jeeps and buses besides these buses. These jeeps and buses then take you from Erlian, which is the territory of China to Zamiin Uud, which is Mongolian, territory.
If you are planning a trip to Mongolia, the visa requirements will vary depending on which country you are from. Citizens of certain countries can enter Mongolia visa-free. These include citizens from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, United States, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Germany, Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Citizens of other countries require a visa. They need to get their visa approved by the Mongolian consulate before entering Mongolia. Citizens of other countries can easily get a thirty day tourist visa from the Mongolian consulate. Visas for longer durations require a letter of invitation from a Mongolian person or company. The Mongolian consulate is available in many countries. It remains open all year round and provides many services ranging from visa processing to help in immigration.
Mongolia requires that all tourists have a valid passport that has more than one year validity and at least four blank pages. Mongolia accepts passports of almost all countries. Tourists will need to get travel insurance before they come to Mongolia.
Mongolia does not require tourists to get vaccinated before their visit, but it is in their best interests to do so because there is a high chance of contacting a communicable disease in the country, especially in the festival season.