Ulaanbataar is a city of contrasts: a skyline dotted with gers (nomadic tents), Soviet brutalist buildings and towering skyscrapers. Walking down the busy streets are herders in traditional tunics and fancy hats, Armani-suited businessmen and women, and mohawked punks. You might find a horse cart bouncing down the central avenue alongside a Mercedes Benz, or a market selling both livestock and designer clothing.
The high point of tradition is the Nadaam Festival. Join in the carnival atmosphere of the elaborate opening ceremony of the annual ‘Mongolian Olympics’ – see brightly costumed riders, musicians and dancers; enjoy the thrill of the 35-kilometre horse race where the child jockeys under twelve displaying the equestrian skills of Genghis Khan; observe the brute force and finesse of sturdy wrestlers, resplendent in knotted caps; and watch the elegant ritual of the archery competition where the judges sing the scores!
Transit through Beijing onto your flight to Ulaanbataar, arriving in the morning.
Join fellow delegates for a welcome dinner at the hotel tonight.
We visit the Gandan Monastery (‘the great place of complete joy’) and hope to catch one of the mesmerising ceremonies as well as admiring some of the magnificent temples. Next we go to the National Museum, which offers an unparalleled overview of Mongolian culture, ranging from Stone Age petroglyphs and exquisite gold ornamentation to (arguably the highlight) the full gamut of traditional ceremonial costume – which unmistakably inspired the look of characters from the Star Wars prequels.
We drive out of Ulaanbataar to Terelj National Park, a beautiful area with woodlands, birds, elk, bears, wildflowers and interesting rock formations. After lunch here, visit a nomadic family and take a short ride on a Przewalski’s horse (you may remember Australia was involved in a breeding program to conserve the ancient breed).
Your final stop will be the Genghis Khan Statue Complex that includes a museum and a scenic view from the top of the statue. The Genghis Khan’s statue is the current largest equestrian statue in the world at 40 meters tall. You will also see the giant Mongolian boots, which are the largest leather shoe in the world.
Return to the hotel for dinner.
Full day conference session.
The evening is free for you to explore Ulaanbaatar on your own.
Today, enjoy the spectacle of the opening ceremony of the Nadaam Festival. Watch as soldiers dressed as olden-day warriors parade by on horseback and the brass band heralds the start of the ‘three manly games’, little changed from its origins in Genghis Khan’s 12th century. Be swept up in the colourful whirl of dancers clad in brilliant traditional costumes. Hear the most beautiful, bewitching sound of Mongolian throat singing reverberate through the stadium.
After lunch we will go to the horseracing field (definitely not a race track as we know it).
The race can be up to 35 kilometres long and jockeys are eight to 13 years of age (younger ones have now been banned). First watch as they head off out of sight to the starting line. Then follow the winding plume of dust as the young boys, most riding barefoot and bareback, cling to the manes of their sturdy horses, galloping across the steppe to the finishing line. The occasional horse is riderless – but there are responsible adults who collect the strays.
Return for dinner at the hotel.
This morning join spectators for the wrestling. The competitors’ strange outfits – tight shorts and a chestless pair of sleeves joined at the back – were apparently introduced after a muscly woman won the competition disguised as a man. Stocky men cling to each other in a lumbering waltz before one finally manages to get his opponent onto the ground and the winner prances around doing the eagle dance of victory. A hush surrounds the archery competition where the participants, wearing traditional dress, use the same kind of composite bow that conquered Asia and struck fear into Europe as Genghis Kahn swept westwards.
Local hospital visit.
Morning conference session.
After lunch you will get to meet an Eagle Trainer from West Mongolia who will demonstrate his eagle’s hunting abilities.
Tonight join your fellow delegates for a wonderful Farewell Dinner
Transfer to the airport to begin your homeward journey. Transit through Beijing, arriving in Australia on Monday 15 July.
OR join the post conference tour travelling the Silk Road of Western China.
End of arrangements. Please note this program may be subject to change