Inner Mongolia Naadam Festivals — Mongol Grassland Sports and Feasting
Naadam refers to entertainments or games in Mongolian. Naadam Festivals are the grandest grassland festival celebrated in Inner Mongolia, sharing the joy of local harvests and showcasing the skills and athletic prowess of the Mongols.
Scroll down to find the history and activities of Naadam Festivals and key travel info for attending the festivities.
Key Facts about Inner Mongolia’s Naadam Festivals
- Chinese: 那达慕 Nàdámù /naa-daa-moo/ ‘Naadam (Festival)’
- Celebrated: July or August and late December
- Duration: 1–5 days
- Location: grassland areas in Inner Mongolia
- Popular activities: watch the “Three Games of Men”, enjoy Mongolian folk songs and dances in traditional costumes, taste Mongolian food and liquors
- Suited to: anyone, especially culture and festival lovers and photographers
The History of Naadam Festivals
The Origin of Naadam Festivals
The predecessor of the Naadam Festival was the sacrificing at aobao (ceremonial heaps of stones) for worshipping and praying for safety and good harvests. During the sacrificing, hadas (ceremonial scarfs) and sacrifices were presented, then Shamanist wizards beat drums and chanted and local people worshipped on bended knees. This was followed by celebrations and sports like horse races, wrestling, and archery.
The Development of Naadam Festivals
In 1206, Genghis Khan was elected as the Mongolian Great Khan. He gathered the tribes for military review, worship, and competition. The competitions mainly comprised three sports: wrestling, archery, or horse racing.
In the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (1279–1644), the three sports were combined together into a fixed format and the Mongolians referred to these three sports as Naadam.
In the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912), Naadam became an officially organized activity. At that time, different administrative regions organized Naadam on their own on a regular basis.
Nowadays, there are different scales of Naadam Festival held in different regions of Inner Mongolia, and the three games of wrestling, archery and horse racing are always the main activities. In addition, various cultural customs and entertainments and competitions such as aobao sacrificing, track and field, tugs-of-war, Mongolian chess, folk music and dance, and bonfire parties are held according to the region.
To learn more about the history of the Naadam Festival, feel free to contact us for a tour of Inner Mongolia with an expert guide.
Featured Activities of Naadam Festivals — The Three Games of Men
The full name of Naadam is Eriin Gurvan Naadam, which translates as ‘three manly sports’, which are wrestling, archery, and horse racing. Nowadays in Inner Mongolia, the sports are not exclusive to men, but also women and children have competitions.
Wrestling is the most popular sport among Mongolian people. In ancient times, heroes were often selected in this way on the prairie, and Mongolian nobles often chose sons-in-law in this way. To them, wrestling was not only a show of strength, but also a contest of intelligence.
During the wrestling competition, wrestlers wear zodog (tight and collarless leather waistcoats), shuudag (small, tight-fitting briefs), and gutal (traditional Mongolian boots) and perform eagle dances when entering the competition arena. Some renowned wrestlers will also wear a jangga (a silk-ribbon necklace in three colors: red, yellow, and blue).
Those who touch the ground with any part of their body above the knee or the ankle will lose the game.
Bows and arrows were originally used as hunting tools by the Mongols and later were used in tribal wars. According to "The History of the Yuan Dynasty", the Mongolians relied on the horse and bow to gain the world.During competition, the riders gallop in from a distance, get out their bows, and shoot at the target with their arrows. The ranking is evaluated by the number of arrows hitting the target.
The Mongols grew in strength as a nation on horseback with a special affection for horses. Horse racing requires not only a well-trained horse but also a skillful and brave rider. Jockeys normally learn to ride a horse from 3–5 years old and start racing from 5 years old.
Dozens of horses stand on the starting line and jockeys sing the song "Gingo" to prepare their horses. When the gun sounds, the horses gallop off from the line like thunder. The first five horses reaching the finish line win the prizes.
When are the Naadam Festivals Held?
You may have heard about the Naadam Festival in summer, but in Hulunbuir and Hinggan League of northeast Inner Mongolia, the Winter Naadam Festival is also widely celebrated.
Naadam Festivals are celebrated in grassland areas of Inner Mongolia without a fixed date each year, but normally:
- The Summer Naadam Festival is celebrated annually on the fourth day of the sixth lunar month of the Mongolian (Tibetan) calendar, which is about 35 to 65 days behind the Gregorian date, so it’s in July or August. It lasts for around 5 days. It symbolically marks the end of the harvest season, and gives Mongols a chance to relax and have some fun.
- The Winter Nadaam Festival is celebrated around the end of December and lasts for around 1–3 days. By that time, the grasslands are covered by a white blanket of snow. The celebrations include ice and snow sculptures and camel racing which making it different to the summer Nadaam.
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Where are the Naadam Festivals Held?
Similar to their dates, Naadam festival venues in Inner Mongolia are not fixed. Different prefectures or leagues of Inner Mongolia organize the festival locally. But among them all, celebrations in the following grasslands are more outstanding:
- Xilingol Grassland at Xilinhot
- Gegentala Grassland at Ulanqab
- Chen Barag Banner of Hulunbuir
Before planning your Naadam Festival tour, please contact us in advance for updates on the dates and venues.
Things to Do at Naadam Festival
1) Colorful Celebrations to Catch your Eyes
The various celebrations start with an opening ceremony in the morning of the first day. The ceremony usually includes a ceremonial fire, horse riding parades, dancing and singing performances, etc.
Competitions start in the afternoon and last for around 3–5 days. You can enjoy competitions of horse racing, wrestling, archery, camel climbing, plow racing, Mongolian chess, and other special Mongolian games.
In addition to exciting games, it is a visual feast: Mongolians of all ages dress in brightly colored traditional clothing. During the Winter Naadam, large ice and snow sculptures are created as the background. It is a spectacular picture on the otherwise featureless and vast snowscape.
2) Diverse Grassland Activities to Free your Mind
A series of grassland activities are possible to enliven your Naadam Festival tour.
You can ride a horse to explore the vast grassland, build a Mongolian yurt, wear traditional Mongolian costumes, appreciate Mongolian folk songs and dancing, join in a bonfire party, etc.
During Winter Naadam, you can try the different snow sports, such as snowmobiling, dog sleds, snow football, etc.
3) Authentic Mongolian Cuisine to Satisfy your Taste Buds
The staple foods for ethnic Mongolians in the pastoral areas are beef, mutton, and dairy products. It is a good chance to taste a true bite of Inner Mongolia during the festival.
Some must-try dishes and drinks are hand-stripped mutton, instant-boiled mutton, a whole sheep banquet, milk tea, kumis (fermented equine milk), etc.
A Recommended Naadam Festival Itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Hailar, Hulunbuir
Arrive in Hailar and enjoy a private airport or train station transfer.
Day 2: Full-Day Naadam Festival Experience
Drive around an hour to Chen Barag Banner and enjoy the Naadam Festival with various celebrations and grassland activities. Continue to Erguna for an overnight stay.
Day 3: Wetlands of Hulunbuir Grassland Experience
In the morning, visit the “No. 1 Wetland in Asia”, Erguna Wetland. Then return to Hailar or continue to the virgin forest areas or Russian ethnic towns of Hulunbuir.
Day 4: Hailar Departure
Departure with ease with our private airport or train station transfer.
This sample Naddam Festival itinerary can be customized to meet your travel needs and preferred tour length.
Enjoy a Naadam Festival with China Highlights
Attending a Naadam Festival can bring you back to the glory age of Genghis Khan’s empire and give you an insight into Mongolian culture and life.
Tell us your travel needs and let us design a once-in-a-lifetime Naadam experience for you.
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