Mongolian herdsmen engage in their beloved wrestling game at the Nadam festival.
Buhe stood casually at the east side of the field; his eyes were fixed on the wrestlers. At 35, the father of two appeared very excited about the upcoming tussle.
"I do this just for fun, as it is not easy for us to get together and exercise," he says with a big smile.
It was the opening day of Bayinhushu's Nadam on August 5. Nadam in Mongolian language means recreation or entertainment. Held during the harvest season, it is one of the most important festivals for Mongolians. It mainly features three kinds of performances: wrestling, archery and horse racing.
Bayinhushu is a little village with less than 400 people in the heart of Hunshandake Sandland of Xilin Gol League, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The famous Kublai Khan's imperial palace relic is only 80 kilometers away.
It took almost one week to inform villagers and invite distinguished guests when the fair finally opened. Herdsmen came after milking their cows in the morning. But Buhe came to the flat communal grassland around 9 am.
"Over 100 candidates from the village and around will take part in the game. Among them are many good players coming from far, far away places," he says.
"But we all play for fun," he insists. He usually wrestles with neighbors every day for entertainment.
"Aside from wrestling and drinking with friends, you have nothing else to kill the time," he explains.
Nasen Wuritu, the village head, made the final check of the power supply and loudspeakers. The electric station is too far away, so villagers use a small diesel generator instead.
Wuritu's son erected a registration desk on the left side of the yurt where all visitors wrote down their names and made donations.
"We hold the Nadam by ourselves, so we have to raise the money by ourselves," Wuritu says. Usually the donation from each family is 200 yuan ($26) and one piece of house-made milk tofu. The money raised barely covers the cost of fair.
Around 11 am, the herdsmen from Bayinhushu rode to the sport ground. Some herdsmen set up stalls selling snacks such as cheese, beef jerky and beer. Children chased and laughed around the field. Women dug a pit on the ground and started cooking food, just as their nomadic ancestors used to do while herding the animals and chasing the pasture.
Surprisingly, almost all herdsmen rode motorcycles instead of horses. "It is fast and time-saving. We stopped riding horses a long time ago, even though the motorcycle costs 2,000-3,000 yuan ($260-400)," says Buhe. He has a brand-new blue Honda motorcycle.
According to custom, the first event is wrestling. The final reward for the champion is a cow. Because there were no seats, people sat on the grassland waiting for the performance.
"With all the good wrestlers, the competition must be very interesting," said Buhe, stretching for some warm-ups.
In order to save time, five pairs of candidates started competing at the same time. The herdsmen with tanned faces applauded, cheered and threw their hats in the air when one wrestler defeated the other. But the two hugged each other after the match.
"Wait to see my performance. The cow is mine," said Buhe, stepping into the field while taking off his T-shirt.
This year's Nadam is unusual, as a record drought hit Inner Mongolia this summer and most places in the region aborted their carnival plan.
What's more, this is also the first Nadam held by the village in 25 years.
"Thanks to the generous heaven, the past several years have seen a more and more prosperous Bayinhushu," says Wuritu.
Due to overgrazing, Bayinhushu suffered from severe grassland degradation since the late 1980s. All this changed in 2000 when the central government launched a large-scale forestation project.
A new road linking the village with the outside world will be finished this autumn. "It is not only for Bayinhushu but also for all people live in the grassland," Wuritu says.