Sunday, July 7, 2013

The reindeer festival

Picture of Lake Khovskul displayed at the Murun airport
We took time from our Family History training to enjoy a day at Lake Khovskul. Our other activities (home visits, countryside scenes) will be described in a succeeding blog.
Painting at the Provincial Museum in Murun
The Reindeer Festival. Lake Khovskul is the pride of Mongolia - The Blue Pearl. We visited here last August and spent a day by the lake. Then I was able to take some early morning photographs on a bright, calm sunny day.
The title is grammatical correct - in the Mongolian language
This time we visited on the first day of the Reindeer Festival, an event started 10 years ago to bring tourists to the region.
Reindeer Statue in Murun
It had a "made for tourists" feel to it with just of few families from the Tsaatan clan bringing their reindeer down from their remote location in the mountains surrounding Lake Tsaatan west of Lake Khovskul.
Painting of Tsaatan people displayed at the Provincial Museum
This is located in the most inaccessible part of Mongolia. Only adventure tourist companies arrange for trips to their actual community. 
Modern reindeer people

Tourist, academic, and local curiosity about the Tsaatan clan, their Shaman religion, and their lifestyle centered around domesticated reindeer constitute a strong draw to the area

Painting of a reindeer herdsman in Khovskul Provincial Museum

Parade at opening ceremony
The once-a-year summer event (a second event is held in winter) at the lake is tourist friendly. The setting is beautiful and even though a few Tsaatan families participate, they give the festival authenticity.
The Tsaatans lead the parade
Local vendors and artisans have their wares displayed for sale.
Family fixing food for visitors

Sandals and other items

Row of venders hoping for a big day
He has the "Chinggis Khan" look
There was an opening ceremony with pageantry and a song and dance program. 

Lighting ceremony
Opening act - a Shaman Dance
Shaman Dance
Performers in Khazak traditional dress
Afterward we visited the reindeer camp where we could mingle and take photographs with the 20 - 25 reindeer.
Majestic antlers
Deer and pony show
Away from the hubbub

This is how its done
Reindeer games. The reindeer races themselves reminded me of the turkey races in Pukwanna, South Dakota. The reindeer didn't understand what they were expected to do and reacted unpredictably and uncooperatively.
Deer browsing during the race
This made it fun but it was definitely abnormal for the reindeer. The object was for tourists to pull or coerce the reindeer to run in a straight line fashion about a hundred yards, be saddled and ridden back by a young child while again being guided by a parent/tourist. This was a timed event with one reindeer running at a time.
Onlookers at reindeer race
A lot of things went wrong in the process: no straight line running, defective saddle cinching causing a child rider to fall off, a scared jockey who had to finally taken off the reindeer despite parental encouragement, a browsing reindeer who decided lunch was better than racing, and near abusive force trying to get the reindeer to move.

Only two of the five racers finished the course and one of those was after we left.

The highlight was when two Tsaatan children, ages about 7 and 5, couldn't take it any longer and ran to the other end of the course to rescue their reindeer from any more ill-treatment from a tourist.
Taking control of the situation
They ran with their reindeer all the way back to the start at a fast pace. They obviously knew their reindeer and their reindeer knew them and they "moved." It was a tender human moment to see these children thumb their noses at the promoters of the festival and take charge of their animals.

Our unhappy camper agreed to pose for us - barely
After watching this event, we knew that reindeer polo, scheduled for later, was an impossibility or else unwatchable.
The eagle dance
Wrestling.We concluded our day at the festival by watching Mongolian wrestling.
The Mongolians are true hardcore wrestling fans
The organizers paired a couple of accomplished wrestlers in "uniform" against each other. They went through their ritualized routines (eagle victory dance) before and after the match.

Waiting their turn to wrestle
Then volunteers were solicited come from the audience and wrestle them. Most of the volunteers were Mongolian and were revisiting their days of former glory. Some foreign tourists, brave but foolhardy, joined in. Against the professionals it was generally no contest, though a few were interesting.
This was the real deal
The best matches were volunteers wrestling each other. There was nothing pretend about these matches. The ground was hard and we witnessed a few body slams. Ouch!
The snake tree with Buddhist shrine in front
The Snake Tree. On the way home, we stopped at the snake tree. This tree has religious/spiritual significance. There was a party of singers and tourism officials also visiting the site.

Two of Mongolia's singers, one a pop star and the other an operatic singer, were a part of the group. Our Mongolian hosts instantly knew who they were and enjoyed the casual meeting.
Oyundalia, Dorjhand and the two divas

We enjoyed pleasant conversation and took pictures with our two groups combined.
Paying homage to the snake tree
The skies darkened, the wind blew...and we left

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