Last Saturday my Mongolian friends, Oko and Shine, took me to the largest horse race in Mongolia, and, according to the official Guinness Book of World Records’ observer, the biggest horse race ever recorded!
However, just to get this out of the way, no horse racing was actually witnessed. In fact, in true Mongolian style, we showed up about 30 minutes too late to see the famous Mongol horsemen (and horsewomen!) gallop through the massive finish-line gate. Although my hosts were prompt and timely, the information center they spoke with about the race told them that it would end at 3 pm! So, when we got there at around noon the 4,249 riders had just finished. Regardless, the festive atmosphere and massive scale of the event was a true spectacle.
The Way There…
Heck, the ride there was an adventure enough for me! The father in the family, Shine, had recently returned from Fiji where he took an English course for 4 months on the beach (sign me up to teach there next!). As a result he was a bit rusty driving. At least he had the courtesy to warn me beforehand! For those who haven’t been to Ulaanbaatar and witnessed the incredibly erratic, aggressive driving style and blatant disregard for traffic laws, this was rather worrisome. However, we managed to escape the city traffic unscathed.
It was only when we got 20 kilometers outside UB to where we faced our biggest challenge, the roundabout, rotary, or traffic circle (depending on where you come from). As the picture below shows quite well, traffic circles here move counter-clockwise which is NOT, evidently, the same direction they flow in Fiji.
Approaching the finish line, we saw riders headed in all directions on horseback.
While the race was over, the fun was certainly not! The finish line party was basically a Mongolian country fair or carnival, with all sorts of food vendors, side shows, and smaller events. Taking advantage of the entire valley, the attractions were very spread out. In fact, this may also be a Guinness World Record for the world’s most vacant parking lot:
A few of the sites…
Of all the attractions we passed, archery really caught my eye. One of the three manly sports, there were several make-shift shooting ranges set up where for 2000 tugrik, or about $1.30 you could shoot 4 arrows.
Could I resist? No, of course not.
And then, it happened…
And then there was good ‘ole fashioned street gambling, minus the street (of course) and plus one cobblestone plaza lined with gers.
After exploring the fair grounds for a bit we retreated across the plain for a picnic with a grand view of the spectacle.
Here is a sampling of the views from the hill…
Once the rains came in we made our way back to the city!
On the return trip we were stuck in traffic from the event for quite a while. Still, we managed to play a word game for about an hour where each player had to think of a different noun that starts with the last letter of the preceding one. I was very impressed with the vocabulary of my hosts, especially their son, and even got to practice teaching English a bit – something that will soon be a more or less full-time job!
Anyway, hope to post some more pictures soon of my daily life here in UB. Looking forward to your comments! (Also, by clicking on the pictures you can enlarge them!)