For the past ten years, camel herders have been meeting annually in the sleepy town of Sainshand to celebrate their animal of choice. The Temenee Nadaam (Camel Festival) is held in provinces around southern Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, where camel herding is most popular. The festival began about a decade ago in an effort to bolster support for the unique Mongolian Bactrian camel (two humps, not one), and the camel herding lifestyle.

Herders from across the province brought their livestock to Sainshand to compete in a variety of games. There were over 100 camels present, and about 400 people.

Camels surrounded the festival area, most of them tied up, but there were always a few who managed to get loose

Festival Activities:

  • Parade
  • Camel Race
  • Fashion Show for Beautiful Couples: Husband-Wife couples dressed up in matching traditional costumes and decked out their camels for this one
  • Camel Reign Braiding Race: One line of men whittled a piece of wood for the piece that goes through the nose, while a row of women braided camel hair into rope
  • Relay Race: My favorite event, involved Husband-Wife teams. The men first rode the camels around a series of posts, then dismounted, the women took the reins and led the camels through a field of dried dung, which they had to collect and put in their baskets, then the men remounted, rode the camels to an area where they had to throw three darts, and finally raced back to the starting line. Endless fun.
  • Camel Polo Tournament: this is exactly what it sounds like.

Camels lined up outside of the Sainshand arena

The main event was the Camel Polo Tournament. Each sum (county) entered a team in the competition to represent them. Thesums also each set up a ger with their flag out front for their festival participants. Anyone was welcome to come in and warm up with some hot milk tea or soup. While we sat in one particular ger, the county’s government official presented each polo team member with special medals, acknowledging their participation. It seemed like a big deal.

Overall, the festival was a real joy. It was a bit cold (but then again, it is in Mongolia). I was able to try camel for the first (and hopefully only) time in my life. And everyone there was truly excited to be participating. It was an event that many people look forward to for months to come.

Now, without further adieu, camel polo:

PHOTOS:

Sainshand is near a coal coking mine, making it one of southern Mongolia's industrial hotspots

A group of festival-goers pose near the stadium

A newly invented game of camel polo was the main attraction

Two young boys wrestle outside their county's ger

A polo player after finishing a match

Players wave their polo mallets in the air amidst a match

One of about twenty gers erected by the attending county representatives

Participants in the 'Beautiful Couples' fashion competition

Camels on Parade

A band played as camels paraded through the streets of Sainshand

A polo player races his camel through the streets during the parade

The beginning of my favorite event: the camel relay

A competitor throws a dart during the camel relay

A women collects strategically placed dung as part of the relay

These baskets are traditionally used by herders to collect dung, which they use as fuel

A crowd watches the relay competition

Women race to see who can braid a camel hair rope the fastest

Polo players in the central stadium

Players hit each others' mallets after each polo match

66 thoughts on “Camel Festival in the Gobi Desert

  1. So I’ve heard that camels are notoriously — well, pissy. So how do they do with the polo match? Are there camel tantrums thrown and lots of spitting?

    Fun photos … looks like quite the adventure!

  2. Wow, great story and amazing images. I particularly like 6th one where they play polo. The guy in the background looks very.. unusual on the camel.

  3. The colors are amazing. I didn’t realize the camels hair (fur?) could get so long and luxurious. What do they use camel hair rope for? Is it used like any other rope?

  4. I agree that China has a long way to go to clean up the air in its cities.

    However, Mongolia has one of the most polluted cities in the world–even more than any city in China.

    In 2011, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ulan Bator made the top ten list as number two. Although most of China’s cities have smog problems, not one Chinese city made the to ten list last year.

    Source: http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/09/27/the-10-most-air-polluted-cities-in-the-world/

  5. I love camels. My favorite camel moment is when Arnold Schwarzenegger punches one for spitting on him in one of the Conan movies (can’t remember if it was the good movie or the really, really, really bad one).

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