Friday, October 9, 2015

5 Days of July: Day 4 - Nostalgia

[All photos courtesy of Kenny L. and Reade L. - thank you again!]

The morning of our fourth day began rather abruptly.  If you will recall the post on Day 3 of 5 Days in July, you will remember that the night before we camped just over the hill from Kharkhorin soum center, hoping to get away from the boisterous danshig crowds at Erdene Zuu monastery.  Alas, we were not the only ones with this bright idea, meaning that throughout the night headlights would blaze through our tents, vehicles would rumble by, and small parties of celebrating Mongolians would set up their tents a bit too close to us for comfort.

Everything's peaceful by this point but check out all those tents in the background.  For rural Mongolia, this is unprecedented!

I was awakened that morning by shouting: our driver, Nandia, and the voices of several Mongolian men.  Bleary and startled at the same time, I couldn't decide whether to leap out of my tent to assess the situation or to feign ignorance/sleep (I decided on the latter for about 10 minutes).  I soon realized that, as annoying as all the early-morning shouting was, a group of Mongolians had gotten one of their vehicles stuck in the mud and were attempting to persuade Nandia to tow them out with his furgong.  Given the struggles his furgong had already gone through, Nandia was reluctant, and demonstrated that his furgong wasn't up to the job by ostentatiously taking out all of his tools and meticulously tuning up the vehicle.

Nandia opened up the engine bloc of his furgong to make some repairs and to let our visitors know that he has more important things to do that pull them out of the mud

But our human alarm clocks were a friendly bunch, chatting with me and Kenny about our group, one short and stout man asking for a photo of himself with the tall and slender Ty, and sharing their boodog from last night as I made American gambir, which we shared with them.  They miraculously pushed their vehicle out of the mud and took their leave, undoubtedly heading for the danshig Naadam grounds outside of Kharkhorin for the day's festivities.

Our visitors eventually managed to free their massive truck and trundle off over the hill.
After a leisurely breakfast surrounded by other campers, we headed off to the Naadam part of the danshig naadam about 10km east of Kharkhorin.

As we drove to the site, I was struck by powerful deja vu: I'd been here before.  The vehicles and crowds converging on the rolling steppe not more than 30 minutes from Kharkhorin was exactly like my first Naadam experience in Mongolia ten years ago this July.  On a day off from excavation at the Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu cemetery in 2005, most of the team visited Khar Balgas, Erdene Zuu (there was no Kharkhorum Museum then), and the stone turtle marking the ruins of Qara Qorum.  Later that day, we went to a large local Naadam to see horse races, wrestling, and a massive countryside celebration.  Given how similar that first Naadam was to the danshig naadam that was held exactly 10 years later in basically the same place, I realized I'd actually been to a danshig naadam once before without knowing what was going on.  This day brought me closer to 2005 and my first brush with Mongolia than any experience over the last ten years.  While the danshig naadam was an unexpected part of that nostalgia, there would be more to come.

We drove through the sprawling parking lot, where jockeys and horsemen wove between dusty vehicles, and headed to the danshig naadam main stage.

A jockey minds two racehorses in the vast parking lot around the main danshig naadam grounds

Not to be left out, a little troupe of camels was available for rides
Crowds pressed around a central circular arena as the honor cavalry flying Zanabazar's banners and the Mongolian national flag opened the ceremonies.

Honor guard in ceremonial dress queue up for the parading of danshig naadam flags in the opening ceremony.  These outfits are very similar to the dress worn by the national naadam honor guard.

Banners flown by the honor guard

Marching in step

The honor guard were followed by a procession of monks, reincarnations, and other Buddhist dignitaries in full ceremonial regalia.

Music accompanies the procession: cymbals, conch, and trumpets

A cadre of high-ranking monks carry a statue of Zanabazar, the first Jebsundamba Khutugtkhuu

The opening ceremony rolled onward after the monks left the arena, but we wanted to see what else was happening at the danshig naadam.  We wandered past booths selling children's clothing, religious paraphenalia, toys, and imported goods.

Horsemen ride through the danshig naadam

Most of the crowds were watching the main show or one of the horse races in the valley to the north, but we walked alongside folks on horseback, young flaneurs in search of a kick, and grannies minding small children to several carnival games.  Some games looked downright deadly - bungee-jump contraptions for children - where others were more down-to-earth games like darts or feats of strength.

Reade impresses a group of onlookers with her amazing feat of grip strength!

Vendors at the danshig naadam peddle their wares under the blazing July sun
After our little exploration of the various vendor's stalls and festival games, we happened upon the somewhat-overlooked archery arena.  Archery is the only naadam sport in which adult women are allowed to participate.  All the participants were decked out in their finest: brilliant deel, glorious hats, and accessorized with lovely belts and boots.

A round of women's archery

In Mongolian archery competitions, archers line up as a group facing a row of targets.  Multiple archers will shoot at the same time, challenging spectators to keep track of who has hit which mark.

A male archer aims for the target

Other archers and referees stand around the targets in order to keep score; they immediately signal the rating of an archer's shot through a combination of gestures and singing.

A hit acknowledged by the referees/other archers keeping score at the target line

The target, as shown below, is incredibly low to the ground and meant to represent an enemy soldier's body.  There is apparently a variation in competitive Mongolian archery where the target is placed in a small ditch, forcing archers to angle their shots accordingly.

Closeup: almost a bulls-eye!

While Mongolians have explained the correlation between enemy body-part and section of the target, I admit that I don't quite follow.  The closer the arrow comes to the center of the target (red cylinders), the higher up on the body it hit; except that this seems to break down when it comes to the head, which doesn't appear to be the highest-scoring shot.  Some of this was explained to me and I supplemented these explanations with observations of how the gestures and singing of the referees and archers at the targets changed depending on where the arrow hit.

Profile of an archer drawing the bow
But we had many miles to go that day and archery was our last danshig naadam event.  We stopped briefly at Erdene Zuu monastery once more to see the temples and art during regular visiting hours.

Entrance to one of the temple complexes in Erdene Zuu

Stupas in the grounds of Erdene Zuu monastery
Although we could have stayed longer at either the danshig naadam or Erdene Zuu, I pushed us onward because we had two major stops left that day: Khar Balgas, the Uyghur imperial capital, and Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu on the north bank of the Tamir River approximately 80km from Kharkhorin.

Khar Balgas, or Ordu Balik, never fails to impress.

The view from the walls of Khar Balgas

Reade at the top of the central tower inside the citadel ruins

Walking the walls of Khar Balgas, with ruined stupas along the outside

And now for the bittersweet part of the trip - the failed return to Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu!  One of my major motivations for making this 5-day trip was to pay homage to the place where I got my start in Mongolia: the Khunnu/Xiongnu cemetery at Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu, where I worked in 2005 on the joint Silk Road-MUIS archaeological expedition.  Sadly, the bridge over the Orkhon River between me and Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu had other ideas...

This rickety bridge over the Orkhon River has marked three major events in my Mongolian career: arriving at my first expedition's excavation site in 2005, crossing into survey area for the first field project I ever led in 2010, and celebrating my 10-year anniversary in 2015.

Crossing the Orkhon River in 2010 headed into Arkhangai aimag

Deciding against driving across the same bridge in 2014

What remains of the bridge over the Orkhon River in July 2015

How frustrating to be thwarted at the last moment!  I say that the bridge had other ideas, when actually it had given up on life and decided to collapse into the murky waters of the Orkhon.  The five days in July were meant to culminate in a symbolic return to my origins as a Mongolist and field archaeologist with a visit to the Tamiryn Ulaan Khoshuu site.  But sometimes you just have to let things go, especially when the bridge gives out.

Ямар уудам* юм бэ / Монголын тал нутаг
["How wide and calm is the Mongolian steppe  homeland"]

That evening was serene, as befits a campsite along such a placid section of the Orkhon surrounded by the steppe.  Unfortunately one of our party had a little midnight misadventure, but that's his story to tell.

Al fresco dinner at sunset, accompanied by dogs

In the final installment of 5 Days of July: more ruins, more archaeology, and a surprise camel attack!

*10/12/2015 edit - thanks to Ariuna for the correct lyrics to one of my favorite Mongolian songs, "Mongolyn tal nutag/Монголын тал нутаг"!

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