The biggest festival in the Mongolian calendar is Naadam: also known as 'The Three Manly Games’. The games in question are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. Wrestling (Bokh), is the most important of the three. Women can compete in the archery competition and girls can ride as jockeys in the horse racing, but no females are allowed to wrestle. A wrestlers’ outfit consists of very small briefs and open shirts and is said to have been designed to make it easy to spot illegal female participants.
The winner of the Naadam wrestling contest is given the rank of ‘ulsin arslan’ meaning ‘lion of the nation’. (CS Lewis’s Aslan comes from the related Turkic word for ‘lion’). If you win the competition twice you are known as a ‘giant of the nation’; four wins and you’re ‘wide giant of the nation’; five wins makes you the ‘Undefeatable Giant of the Nation’.
Other festivals in Mongolia include the Ice festival, the Eagle festival and the Thousand Camel festival - a celebration of the endangered Bactrian camel.
Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. Its population is about the same as that of Wales, but it is six times bigger than the entire United Kingdom. The population density is two people per square kilometre.
50% of the population of Mongolia live in tents. Mongolian canvas and felt tents are called gers. Living in a ger is not necessarily an indication of poverty. Gers were protected from evil by the hanging of bows and arrows above the door.
Mongolia's Football World Cup record reads: 1930-1998 ‘did not enter’; 2002-2014 ‘did not qualify.’ The only teams they’ve ever beaten at football are the Philippines, Myanmar, Guam, Macau and the Northern Mariana Islands.
A popular game in the countryside is ‘Shagaa’, in which participants flick sheep anklebones at a target a couple of feet away.
All but two of Mongolia’s 24 Olympic medals have come in wrestling, judo or boxing. (The other two were in shooting).
There is only one species of genuinely wild horse left in the world, equus ferus przewalskii, the Asiatic or Mongolian wild horse. Most of the horses described as 'wild' today are feral horses, descended from escaped or abandoned domestic stock, like the mustangs of America or the Australian Brumby.
The Asiatic/Mongolian wild horse is commonly known as the Przewalskii's Horse, and named for the Russian military surveyor and naturalist Colonel Nicolai Przewalskii, who located the last of the wild herds in 1879.
According to the Mongol Creation myth, the tiger made man, woman, cat and dog and ordered the animals to look after the people. However the devil distracted the dog and cat with a piece of meat and a saucer of milk respectively, and urinated on the people.
As punishment for neglecting their duty, the cat was forced to lick all the dirtied hair from the man and woman; the hair was put onto the body of the dog.
To cure hangovers, Mongolians supposedly used to eat pickled sheep's eyes.
There are more Mongols living in China than in Mongolia.
Popping out for a cigarette and chatting with your friends is known as 'seeing to one's horses' in Mongolia.
A summer meal popular in Mongolia is shoulder of marmot - it is known as ‘human meat’.
Mongols call the night of a full moon ‘Red Circle Day’.
A Mongol army could travel over a hundred miles a day - they ate on the move and even stood up in the saddle to evacuate themselves while galloping along.