Unlike the Khatgal Naadam that we attended the previous week, the town's Yak Festival was a little bit more low key in terms of foreign tourist numbers. The only tourists in attendance were the ones, like us, who happened to be in Khatgal at the time. We had found out about the event from our horse trekking guide Munkhsukh who was extremely excited to show off his (and his yaks') skills.
The mood at the yak festival was extremely upbeat and light-hearted, unlike Naadam which was a little more serious. In fact, it seemed like Khatgal residents had basically gathered to laugh at the town men who spent the afternoon trying to get their yaks to do things that yaks don't really want to do. To add to the humour of the day, many (maybe most) of the men were inebriated. The festival kicked off with a song and dance cultural show, performed by the local youth before proceeding to the yak-based entertainment. Here is a summary of the yak festival's events:
Random Yak Mounting
This may not have been an officially sanctioned event, but once every few minutes someone would mount an unruly yak, run around the festival grounds and get thrown off. This event was particularly popular with the spectators. Yak Racing
Yak racing was by far the highlight of the festival. Basically the yaks are slowly herded to the outskirts of the festival grounds. They are surrounded by jeeps and men on horseback and forced to begin by a slow advancing of the vehicles. None of the yaks move. The jeeps and riders get closer and honk/yell at the yaks. The yaks begin to scatter in various directions. Most of them are not running in the direction of the finish line. Most of them are not running at all, they are walking, slowly or grazing. Several minutes later a few yaks appear at the finish line to claim their titles. Most of the yaks do not finish the race. Yak Polo
Mounted on their yaks, equipped with wooden mallets and plastic construction hats, the local men attempted to play a polo match. As with the racing, the yaks ignored commands from their riders. Many yaks stopped to graze. Occasionally a yak sprinted off in anger. Surprisingly many goals were scored, all in what seemed like slow-motion. Yak Beauty Pageant
We weren't sure if it was the yaks or their riders on display, but everyone looked lovely. Medals were handed out in vast quantities (including gold and silver medals in the in the two-team polo tournament). Of course, there was also a wrestling tournament because no Mongolian festival would be complete without a wrestling tournament.