This post is a continuation of a previous post. But it is also a standalone post because the World Nomad Games deserve a special post of its own. (Nonetheless, if you haven't, you should start reading from Part 1! Click here.)
THE WORLD NOMAD GAMES. This biannual event, inaugurated by the Kyrgyzstan state in 2014, was the highlight of the entire trip.
Before we start, we need to understand a little bit of the geography and history of this region. Starting from 4,000 years (or more) ago, the nomadic people travelled from place to place without a fixed settlement. It was recently discovered that the movements of nomads moving their herds in the hope of finding fresh grass may have created the distinctive pathways of an ancient trade route that runs across Central Asia - the Silk Road.
The once bustling Silk Road was based on a delicate dynamic between settled populations and communities that were more mobile - the nomads. The nomads were an important source of livestock and strong battle horses as they brought these and other valuable resources from the steppes to the city dwellers through trade. The influx of commodities in turn ensured the success of rooted settlements as they grew into prosperous intellectual and religious centres. In exchange, traders from sedentary civilisations brought precious silk, gems and other refined goods to the nomadic tribes.
It was at these points of interaction between the nomads and the city dwellers where major trade nodes sprang to life, many of which evolved into political capitals and major market towns along the Silk Road and influenced history for years to come.
Present day nomadic groups - Buryats, Kalmyks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, mongols, Turkmens and Yakuts, to name a few - have different religions and speak diverse languages. They engage in different methods of stock breeding and migration patterns. Fundamentally, however, they branch off from two main linguistic groups - Turkic and Mongolian, and this binary distinction becomes apparent in other aspects of their cultural norms.
For example, the dwellings of Turkic nomads have spherical roofs, while those of Mongolian groups have conic roofs. Turkic nomads wear soft footwear, drink clear tea, and slaughter sheep in a way that drains away the blood; Mongolian nomads wear hard footwear, drink tea mixed with milk, butter, salt and flour, and slaughter sheep in such a way as to preserve the blood (which is made into blood sausage). The Kyrgyz people, who hosted this year's games, are a Turkic-speaking people.
With this background, we can now better appreciate the importance of the nomadic people and their role in influencing the world's history, and also feel a tinge of sadness laden with pity for the fact that the world is increasingly turning less and less nomadic, and becoming more and more sedentary. As urbanisation reaches new levels in this part of the world, much of the nomadic traditions which used to rule the steppes now face the risk of obscuration. The World Nomad Games consequentially serves the role of preservation on top of promotion of nomadic cultures.
Nonetheless, the World Nomad Games have propelled Kyrgyzstan onto the global stage. More and more foreigners are visiting the country - there appears to be good prospects for the local tourism industry. The future seems bright ahead.
On a side note, I gawk at the fact that we now live in the day and age where almost all nomadic people can be brought together to one place, to compete against one another in common traditional sports that withstood the test of time and space.
To recap, this was our journey so far (and the bolded part is where we are now):
Bishkek (1 day)
Kochkor / Song-Kol (3 days)
Bokonbaevo (2 days)
Cholpon-Ata / World Nomad Games (3 days)
Karakol / Altyn Arashan (2 days)
Cholpon-Ata (1 day)
Bishkek (1 day)
DAYS 7-9: THE WORLD NOMAD GAMES
We arrived early at Cholpon-Ata to collect our pre-booked tickets to the Opening Ceremony. The Opening Ceremony was the kick-off event of the Games and would see delegations of national athletes march in at the Hippodrome of Cholpon-Ata.
Since the ceremony was in the evening, we spent the morning at the beach of Issyk-Kul (a warm day is so great when you are in Kyrgyzstan).
Then it was time to leave for the Hippodrome. We packed up our picnic bags, dusted sand off our bikini, wrapped ourselves up in warm clothes and headed back to town.
The official opening of WNG was attended by many high-profile political guests of the Turkic States - the President Erdogan of Turkey, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazahkstan, the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, among others. Plus representatives from the Russian Federation and international organisations like the UN.
Some 1,500 performers took part in the opening ceremony of the third World Nomad Games, telling the story of both serenity and chaos of a nomad's life in a breathtaking performance.
The audience saw a colorful theatrical performance "The Birth of the World", which was divided into stages: the birth of life and man, the emergence of a nomadic civilization.
Hundreds of dancers on the field recreated the moments of nomadic life and culture, accompanied by laser beams and beautiful scenery. Then the official parade of all countries participating in nomadic games took place.
(Source: World Nomad Games)
After the dazzling displays, the march-in of athletes, representing 80 countries, commenced. Many were donning traditional outfits from their home countries.
The President's speech was entirely in Kyrgyz language, we had no clue what he was saying. The crowd was cheering and applauding. It turned out that one major announcement he made was that the next WNG (2020) will be held in Turkey!
The next day, we headed to the Kyrchyn Gorge.
The Kyrchyn Gorge, ~40km away from the main town of Cholpon-Ata, is another venue for the World Nomad Games.
The gorge is 30 km long. The tumbling mountain river of clean glacier water Ak-Suu runs along the bottom of the gorge, and along the slopes grow majestic Tian-Shan spruce. During the spring and summer, the clean mountain air is filled with the scent of aromatic alpine grasses.
Sports like horseback archery, traditional archery, and eagle/falcon/wild hound hunting were held here. Almost a thousand yurts were set up here for the Games. The entire time I could not stop being in awe of all that surrounded me.
This greyhound competition, the Taigan Zharysh, showcases the tradition of Salbuurun, which means 'hunting', whereby the hunter uses only a golden eagle, bow and arrows, horse and a taigan dog to hunt for prey.
No modern weapons are used - so that hunting does not adversely affect the natural populations of wild animals.
Then... we headed back to the Hippodrome to catch the indoor wrestling and also the horseback games!
We caught our first Kok Boru game!!
Perhaps the most unforgettable (and morbid) game of the nomads, Kok Boru, also known as Buzkashi in countries like Afghanistan, is a game in which horseriders play a game of polo, but with a headless goat carcass. The aim is to throw this headless carcass in a goal pit. The goat typically weighs 32-35 kg - can you fathom the amount of ab, legs and arms power, coupled with great horse control ability, that the players need to play this game properly?
A few days later, we came back for the Kok-Boru finals. Unsurprisingly, Kyrgyzstan was in the finals. But surprisingly, the Kyrgyz's long-time rival, Kazakhstan, did not make it to the finals. The opponent this time was Uzbekistan.
No matter how hard the Uzbek team tried, unfortunately the Kyrgyz team overpowered them in every way. The Kyrgyz players were just super strong (how does anyone wedge a 35kg goat between one leg and the horse???) and super steady in their horse-handling (they could get their horses to go exactly where they needed them to). It seemed like it also helped that all of the Kyrgyz horses were extremely well-trained. They sprinted for the pits the moment their riders got a grip on the goat! It was evident that they were trained to do so automatically, because sometimes they sprinted for the wrong pit.
It was such an amazing experience to be at the Games - my photographs only captured part of the breathtaking scenes. While I secretly wished that the next one would be held in Kyrgyzstan again (so I would have another reason to visit), there is no question in my mind that I will be getting my tickets to Turkey in 2020.
P.S. The guys at Nomadasaurus did a better job than me at explaining the various nomadic games in greater details! Check out their post here. I regretfully missed out on some of the stuff like the intellectual games and the archery competition.