Naadam started on a patriotic note, as a small army blocked off Janchiv Square, while flowers were laid at the giant statue’s boots to honor his short heroic life. A silken tide of deels pressed against the sinewy curtain of camouflage; colorful hats bobbed above chevroned shoulders, nabbing a peek of the formalities. We stood back on the stairs of the Government House, and took pictures of the elderly, more curious about the citizenry than the ceremony. The ancient ones have seen the same spectacle for decades, so they passively perched on the edge, and waited for the next act to unfold. After some shots were fired, presumably for Janchiv, we saw movement from the opposite side of the square. A parade, sectioned off with banners, formed in front of the Sports Center, and slowly coiled into the square, like a great colorful caterpillar. It soon splintered off into its various components: ethnic groups in traditional attire, accomplished teens draped with gold medals, very fertile mothers flicking mare milk offerings, and towering wrestlers, formidable in their flapping deels. Bystanders spilled in, mingled with the cliques, into a jubilant mass of hugs and laughter!
It seemed all of Altai City and its guests turned up for the opening ceremonies of Naadam at the Wrestling Stadium. The stands were crammed up to the nosebleed sections, and the smartest, who knew to come last, grabbed the best vantage points, on the edge of the field, surrounding the action; we were in this category, only by default, as we came on time, and for the first time in Mongolia, were late! Pointing to my camera, I delicately negotiated a moat of situated Mongols, surrounding the field, to get to the middle of the action. With the appearance of walking on broken glass, I tried to find gaps between the jigsaw of knees and thighs, but was elbowed furiously by an unforgiving crone, for accidentally nudging her boot, before I made it through. What followed for the ‘pre-games show’ was a surreal conglomeration of military demonstrations, traditional music and dance, and choreographed dances, straight out of American half-time shows! The field was frantic with machine-gun-firing-commandos, knife-juggling-wonderwomen, blood thirsty German shepherds, mauling hooded perps, leopard-skinned-Mongolian-throat-rappers, brick-breaking-karatakas, pyramid-forming-cheerleaders, mare-milk-flicking-maidens, and cute dimpled girls lip syncing cute dimpled songs! The show before the show had something for everyone!