Monday, July 5, 2010

Mongolian Permaculture: Day 6 - Nadaam in Tosontsengel


Today I travelled in time.

Standing there in the Soum’s Nadaam wrestling arena as stark eagle shadows circled the grass, big burly Mongolian wrestlers in their traditional garb circled each other while the entire village watched, as they have done for a thousands of years.

I am developing my own genuine Mongolian squint in the bright glare of the Mongol sun.

This is a fierce people, hardened by the harsh conditions of their land, a deeply proud and noble people with warm hearts and sunny smiles.

This is a people who walk with a confidence in their step born of a connection to their past, which lives and breathes in them with every step on the steppe.

This is a people who know that at one time they ruled over most of the known world. You feel it when they look into your eyes.

They have lived so close to the land for so long, walking a fine line between death and survival through -40?C nights in the long winter, living like marmots for half the year and then emerging into the flowering plains, blinking in the stark sunlight.

I sit in the crowd and watch the wrestling, men built like yaks who move like apes, lumbering about in their big boots, flying like eagles to pay respects to their tradition, exploding in a flurry to bring their quarry down.

Rick has designated me his champion should he be challenged to a bout, so should we be challenged my strategy is to find the biggest, baddest dude and lose to him without hurting or humiliating myself [ie last for more than 10 seconds]…

Meanwhile, Rick has entered the local chess tournament and is getting himself whooped and having a great old time. Kat has made friends with some locals and has been having a conversation for the last hour or so about what she has no idea, though the crowd that has gathered around her drawing things in the sand are all quite pleased about the way the conversation has been going.

Bek has left us to catch up with some work and sleep back at the compound, so Ingktor patiently waits and watches us and the wrestling.

Suddenly, the stadium starts emptying and Ingktor piles us into our 4WD. Clouds of dust trails rise into the sky from the mountain behind us, and everyone jumps on the nearest horse, motorcycle, car, or person and charges up the hill. The horse races have been spotted in the distance since we saw them start and disappear hours ago – we’ve guessed that their course was one lap around the basin, probably about 50km or so – and we pile back out of the 4WD with the rest of the soum to watch the end of the race.

Four riders gallop to the finish line, at first just another dust trail rising form the horizon, then a speck, then four specks, then we can see its an all-out battle for the finish… the third rider pulls to the front as they thunder down the home straight, and I rub my eyes to make sure I am really seeing what is unfolding. The riders are about 6 or 7 years old, charging along at full bore, whipping their glistening mounts while the crowd whoops with delight.

The rest of the field is not far behind, and everyone is home safely within five minutes of the leaders, at which point the entire crowd turns around and races back down the mountain towards the stadium to show of the winning horses.

Nadaam. Wrestling. Horses. Mongolia.

Oh yeah, and there was archery.


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