One day? What can you hope to experience on just one Mongolia day trip – a country the size of western Europe? Well …
Tomorkhuu Batmonkh is a specialist bow and arrow maker in Ulaanbaatar. Batmonkh’s home is also his workshop and every surface of his home is dedicated to his skill with sinews, glue, arrows, bird feathers, arrowheads, readymade bows, tools, and implements everywhere. As soon as you enter his 3-room apartment in the Bayangol District, his love for this profession is evident.
From outside Batmonkh’s apartment, you would just think it yet another piece of brutal Soviet-inspired architecture in need of some TLC. It is. But, inside Batmonkh’s apartment is a different story. As you cross through the doorway, his dedication for what he does becomes apparent. It is remarkable what you can fit into a three-room apartment.
In Mongolia, bows were primarily used for hunting animals for food and protecting the tribe from outside enemies. The composite bow and arrow also accompanied the Mongol Army as they conquered what became the largest contiguous land empire on earth. Over the centuries, the tradition of archery was passed down to become one of the Three Manly Sports of the Naadam Festival.
The Mongolian composite bow remains a formidable tool. And those that have experienced the archery competition at the National Naadam in UB will tell you that is has explosive acceleration and velocity.
It takes one year to make one bow. Birch wood is typically used as it is resilient (and in plentiful supply in Mongolia). It is cut, glued and shaped into a bow and kept to dry. Most available surfaces of Batmonkh’s apartment are used for drying the bows and each one of them had dates of when they were put up to dry.
Also filling the apartment are the other component parts required for making the bows (and any arrow sets). There is also the fish glue, birch bark (to protect against moisture), horn or bone (Ibex is good – used on the ‘belly’ of the bow), sinew (stretched on the outside of the bow) and feathers and arrowheads. As I said, as soon as you enter his 3-room apartment in the Bayangol District, his love for this profession is evident.
As a visitor, not only do you get to see Batmonkh’s craftsmanship, you’ll also get an informal history lesson as he tells you about the development of the bow and arrow in Mongolia. So enthusiastic is he about his profession that it has become a family affair – with all family members involved and his son following in his footsteps.
Batmonkh was formerly a professor of geography but he was a competitive archer so for him it was a natural progression to constructing them. He still competes and as you spend time at his apartment, archers pass through – coming to talk about the purchase of a new bow or just coming to have a chat in general. Like I said, from outside Batmonkh’s apartment, you would just think it yet another piece of brutal Soviet-inspired architecture in need of some TLC. It is. But, inside Batmonkh’s apartment is a different story.
Having understood how the bows and arrows are made you will then head to the Naadam Archery Field in the company of Batmonkh as he teaches you the basics of Mongolian archery. Batmonkh’s made to measure bows are famous for their explosive velocity and acceleration and bought by Mongolia’s Naadam archers. This is the real deal. You’ll spend a couple of hours in the company of Batmonkh learning the art of Mongolian archery by the man that made the arrows himself.
All of our Mongolia one-
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes