Saturday, July 11, 2009

Naadam!



A
fter years of dreaming and months of planning, I finally get to see experience the Naadam Festival today!! Pinch me! So, so excited!!

We woke up to a cold and dreary day in Ulaan Baatar. Rain was threatening. After breakfast, I piled on a couple extra layers of clothing and put my umbrella in my backpack.

The gang and Adam met up with our local guide in the lobby. She seems nice but for the life of me, I can't remember her name!

The plan was to walk to the sports stadium where the games would be taking place. I had no idea how far we would be walking but I was dressed comfortably and prepared for rain so I was good to go!

We headed out of the hotel towards Chinggis Avenue which is one of the main streets that runs through the city. I had expected grand buildings on this avenue but they were nothing spectacular....more of the same drab Soviet style architecture.




















Along the way, we passed Suhbaatar Square which is where the Government House is located.



We also caught a band packing up and boarding onto a bus. I had to snap the photo because it was the first time I saw anyone dress in traditional Mongolian military garb. By the end of the weekend, I had seen LOTS of Mongolians dressed in their traditional costumes :-)





















We continued to walk down Chinngis Avenue, following a mass of people, headed for the Peace Bridge which actually spans a set of train tracks.




















As we crossed the bridge, we could see the image of Chinggis Khan created on the hillside.


























We continued to walk and then we veered off the sidewalk and headed along an unpaved dirt path.....a short cut to the stadium.

Throngs of people were all headed in the same direction and soon we found ourselves consumed by humanity....Mongolians and tourists. At that point, I had to pay careful attention to where our guide, who was holding up an umbrella to mark her position as she walked, was headed.






















 As with most stadiums, this is one is circular in design so we had to walk around to find the entrance to our section of seats.




















And as with most sports stadiums, food vendors line the walkways. The intoxicating smell of grilled meats wafted through the air. Lucky I was full from breakfast or I would have broken off from our pack and headed for one of the food tents! :-)




















The presence of horses reminded me I was NOT standing outside in Camden Yards. I was in Mongolia!

























And of course, you would never see this father and son outside any sports stadium in the US. How cute is this picture?



As soon as we entered the stadium, we had to find our seats. Our guide pointed us to Section 7. It was free seating so Violeta and I found spots in the front row. We arrived early enough to get good seats and from the photo below, it looks like the stadium is half empty. By the time the ceremonies began, we were crammed in like sardines, squashed in from all directions.....even had spectators sitting on my feet.



A marching band was rehearsing when we entered so we had a bit of entertainment to kick things off for us.



As we waited for the opening ceremony to begin, we occupied ourselves by *people watching*. It was so fascinating to see folks dressed in traditional Mongolian garb.



Performers in colorful costumes slowly made their way to the center field.



Mongolian men have a very unique, individual sense of hairstyle. I've never seen more funky, edgy styles in my entire life. US hair fashionistas could take a lesson or two from Mongolian guys!



In the stands, a couple of cutie patooties caught our eyes. They kept us entertained with their cute antics and giggling.




As the minutes passed, the crowds in the stands grew and it started to drizzle. Umbrellas were opened up and I was thankful I was seated in the front row. I'm way too short to see above an umbrella :-(



More performers. Our local guide told us these women were *top models* in Mongolia. The one with the high slit in her skirt definitely caught Adam's eye ;-)



As the seats in the stands started to fill up, people found spots on the aisle in front of us. These two gentlemen came prepared with their own stools.



As the rain fell, Violeta broke out her umbrella which she kindly shared with the woman seated next to her.



More performers in colorful costumes.



And more cute kids in the stands. This boy is declaring love for his country on his cheek!


Before we knew it the ceremonies began, in typical form, with the arrival of the Grand Marshal who was driven around the track in a convertible. We were seated quite a distance from where the activities took place on the field so it was a bit difficult to really see what was going on. The band did hit the field along with all the performers but it wasn't until the horsemen rode in that I truly got excited.

Let the Festival begin!!