11th May 2018
This September, the 3rd annual World Nomad Games take place in Cholpon Ata on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan. Here are five reasons you should visit.
The opening ceremony of the World Nomad Games is a spectacular affair. Last time out it featured flame-backed horse riders, fireworks and a guest appearance from Steven Segal in full Kyrgyz national dress. Competitors from the 62 represented nations paraded around the large stadium and the ceremony was broadcast to 800 million people. Who knows what is in store this year, but it is sure to be entertaining.
Athletes compete in 37 different sports in the World Nomad Games. The most prestigious and hotly contested is undoubtedly Kok-Boru. This is Kyrgyzstan’s national sport but is also widely played throughout Central Asia, including in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, where it is called Buzkashi. It is a form of polo played with a dead goat’s carcass, where the aim is to drop the goat into a tyre to score a goal. Two teams of four riders each wrestle for control of the goat before speeding away towards the goal. This centuries old sport is usually played in open fields, at the World Nomad Games this takes place in the largest stadium.
Other notable sports include various forms of wrestling, archery, eagle hunting, tug of war and horse racing.
The World Nomad games are where you can see some of the world’s most bizarre sports. Just look at some of the names: stick wrestling; horseback wrestling; bone throwing; eagle hunting. Many of these sports hark back to the ancient nomadic culture of the region. Take bone throwing, or Ordu as it is known locally; this ancient game is based on military tactics. A drawn circle on the ground represents the territory of the enemy and rivals use this to work out the plan of battle and defeat the Khan. Eagle hunting meanwhile is an ancient nomadic pursuit where golden eagles would bring foxes or hares to their owner and today is practiced by a dwindling number of nomadic people, so this is one of the few places left to witness it.
The nomadic sports are a big deal here. Whilst the games are increasing in popularity amongst foreign tourists, locals still far outweigh tourists in what is a true authentic nomadic experience. The enthusiasm for the games amongst the Kygyz is immense, and they are something the locals are rightly proud of. You’ll likely be offered a reasonable amount of vodka, and you’ll be encouraged to try local specialities such as Lagman, a lamb stew served with boodles, and plov, the central Asian staple of rice, carrots and goat, which is much nicer than it sounds almost like a cross between a risotto and a biryani.
Lake Issyk Kul, the backdrop for the games, is not Kyrgyzstan’s most beautiful spot, but whilst here you should take the opportunity to discover what is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. The Kyrgyz have a saying: When God was giving out countries to all the races on earth, the Kyrgyz man was asleep. When he woke up he found out all the countries had been given away. “But where will I live?” he asked God. “There is one place” God replied, “a place of lofty mountains, flowing streams, forests and clear mountain air. It was so beautiful I was saving it for myself, but you can live there.” Visiting it’s easy to see how this myth took hold. High altitude turquoise lakes such Son Kul, the beautiful Tien Shan mountains, walnut forests, breath-taking drives across high mountain passes and clear night skies with little to no light pollution make it one of the most visually rewarding countries on earth.