World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan: A Nomad Olympics

World Nomad Games 2014
Posted by on August 14, 2016

World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan:
An Olympics for Nomadic Cultures

If you were following my Facebook Page or Instagram in 2014, you’ll have undoubtedly seen a flood of images from old-school portraits to crazy sporting events, all from one very specific and amazing event: The World Nomad Games 2014.

World Nomad Games 2014

Hosted by Kyrgyzstan and featuring teams from across the Pan-Turkic world and beyond, the World Nomad Games has been touted as equal parts celebration of traditional nomadic culture and competition in the many sports that come out of that nomadic tradition. No matter whether watching a close match of Horse Wrestling or just walking around the town of Cholpon-Ata looking for lagman noodles, the entire event has had an incredibly festive atmosphere.

Kyrgyz kids playing before the opening ceremony of the World Nomad Games

Even before the official opening ceremony, there was a feeling of excitement and fun in the air. Many of the dancers involved in the ceremony spent the hours before playing in the field – tossing bottles and playing ‘red rover’ and sitting and laughing in brilliant costumes. Once the ceremony actually kicked off, though, it was immediately clear just how much planning and preparation had gone into the World Nomad Games.

Dancers in stage at the World Nomad Games Opening Ceremony

Dancers waiting to go on stage at the World Nomad Games Opening Ceremony

Dancers in the World Nomad Games Opening Ceremony

The World Nomad Games were created in partnership with Kazakhstan, Turkey, and a number of other governments but the hosting duties fell to Kyrgyzstan. Not to be put off by all the extra work, they did manage to write a clause into the rules of the tournament saying that the host team got to put in two teams for every sports compared to the one team for each other country. As you might expect, then, the Kyrgyz were well represented!

Press Bus at the World Nomad Games Opening Ceremony

A big part of the cultural element of the games has been the Ethno Village at Jailoo Kyrchyn. Essentially an exhibition of all things Kyrgyz and Nomad, turning that last corner for the first time on the road up into the mountains was a legitimately breathtaking experience. Yurts stretching as far as the eye can see, horses all around, and brilliant peaks far off in the background. The most immediately obvious part of the Kyrchyn Experience is of course the games and songs and traditional clothing. Walking through the different encampments (set up by each of the districts of Kyrgyzstan) was like stepping back into time… except for the occasional cell phone and camera.

Jailoo Kyrchyn Yurt Camp at the World Nomad Games

Eagle Hunter on his cell phone at World Nomad Games Yurt Camp

Only after a few hours at Kyrchyn does the whole experience become clear. Many of these traditionally dressed Nomads are actually traditionally dressed Performers, here to put on a show. If you understand Kyrgyz there was, I’m sure, a very compelling historical narrative. If you don’t understand quite so well, the event is an experience in Crazy Horse Tricks.

Horsemen with a Kyrgyz flag at the World Nomad Games

Horseman on fire at the World Nomad Games Yurt Camp.

 

Of all the exhibitions to be seen at Kyrchyn, the most unusual may well have been the Eagle Hunting (not coincidentally, perhaps, this is something I’ve actually wanted to see for quite a long time). First a dove fell to the eagle’s talons, then a (very captive) wolf that looks a little worse for the wear. This is not the place to debate the ethics of the thing, to be sure, but I will say that it was extremely photogenic.

Eagles hunters at the World Nomad Games

Eagle Hunters waiting for the hunt.

Eagle hunting a wolf at the World Nomad Games

As exciting as these exhibitions are, however, the spiritual heart of the World Nomad Games is of course the Games themselves. Many of these will look entirely familiar to non-Central Asian audiences. There are three different types of wrestling, for example, and even after having seen them I’m still not entirely sure what makes them different from each. To the best of my knowledge the only difference between Kazakh Wrestling and Kyrgyz Wrestling is that only one includes shirts.

Kyrgyz Wrestling at the World Nomad Games

Kazakh Wrestling at the World Nomad Games

With the horse racing, similarly, I know that there are differences in weight and ages of horses and riders… but good luck trying to get me to tell you what those differences are. Even hanging out with a Kiwi horse trainer for much of the Horse Games, I didn’t manage to pick up a whole lot of Knowledge.

Young boys racing young horses at the World Nomad Games

Other sports are a touch more unusual or exotic, at least to Western perspective. Ordo can be found on the streets of Bishkek on any major holiday (and a lot of non-holidays as well) so that hasn’t seemed so spectacular despite being on a brilliant location just above the shores of Issyk Kol at the Rukh Ordo complex.

Playing Ordo at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

A game I had never seen before this week was Toguz Korgool. I am, it seems, not alone: several of the Peace Corps Volunteers who were enrolled in the tournament mentioned that they had literally NEVER met a Kyrgyz person who played the game before the week of the World Nomad Games. It isn’t Brandi Dog, to be sure, but might be worth some research back in Bishkek!

Toguz Korgool at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Things did get a *bit* more exciting, of course! The popular Kyrgyz ‘Bride Chasing’ is always good fun, regardless of whether the man wins (and kisses the girl) or the lady wins (and whips ol’ boy). This time: kisses were kissed.

Bride Chasing at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Less sport and more games, the Turkish team put on a couple of good shows with some of their ‘Nomadic Traditions’ as well. While the ‘throw blunt sticks at each other for an hour’ games wasn’t so awesome, Horse Archery definitely is. I mean, could YOU shoot backwards from a running horse and hit a three foot wide target?

The Turkish team showing off their Horse Archery skills at the World Nomad Games

As great as horse archery is, there is one better: Horse Wrestling. Two dudes on horseback beating each other with horses and hands – the first one to fall to the ground is the loser. I had heard of this before, but never seen it. Hearing about it, I can promise you, a significantly different experience from seeing it about ten feet away. The sound riders yelling and screaming and out of breath is only surpassed by the exhilaration of two angry horses stumbling into a crowd of journalist. An experience not to be missed, if you ever have the opportunity.

Opening Ceremony of Horse Wrestling at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Mid-match at Horse Wrestling during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Horses rearing during Horse Wrestling at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

The only thing that at this point could even come close to challenging Horse Wrestling as ‘Craziest Sport Ever’ is of course Kok Boru. Two teams, one goat, and three periods of twenty minutes. The only point, the only goal, is to throw the goat into the concrete bowls at either end of the field.

Kok Boru rider at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Horses falling during a Kok Boru game in Kyrgyzstan

I consider it the most recklessly dangerous sport I’ve ever been privy to, both for players and spectators. I can’t recall having ever seen a game where there weren’t at least a couple of instances of players falling underhorse or teams charging straight into the crowds. I legitimately love it, and of course watching Kyrgyzstan play Kyrgyzstan in the final game (two teams per sport, remember) was the only truly appropriate way to wrap up the World Nomad Games.

Horse falling during Kok Boru at the World Nomad Games

Kok Boru player scoring a goal during the finals at the World Nomad Games

After all the sports were finished, awards presented (several million Som to the first place Kok Boru team!), and yurt camp packed there was only one bit left of the World Nomad Games: A Gala Concert. (Predictably; if my time in Central Asia has taught me anything it is that there will *always* be a gala concert at the end.)

Closing Ceremony of the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

In many ways, what has made the World Nomad Games so much fun is the fact that it represents what makes Central Asia so interesting to travel and live in and read about and occasionally take photos of. The peoples and cultures and costumes and traditions that makes this region so interesting and photogenic are all part of what attracted me in the first place and what eventually convinced me to settle down here in Kyrgyzstan and stay around for the long haul. If you want to stick around for the long haul, at least virtually, make sure to follow my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook Page for more.


The 2016 World Nomad Games will be held in Cholpon-Ata from September 3rd-8th. If you’re planning on attending, book a room soon as the larger hotels have mostly sold out. Last I spoke with them, Apple Hostel (Cholpon-Ata) still had space available. Booking.com’s Cholpon Ata page also still seems to show availability at a number of places.

As an aside, we’ve also published a quick and dirty guidebook to show tourists around for their first few days in Bishkek. This includes information, including a map, of where to get the minibus to Ala Archa. If you’re headed towards Kyrgyzstan and expect to need some help getting around, consider our Unanchor: Bishkek guide!

 

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33 Responses to World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan: A Nomad Olympics

  1. Nan

    great article, loved reading it. have been reading everything you put on here.

    • Stephen

      Thank ya. It has been a bit hard to find enough time to write recently, largely because of cool things like this!

      • james dunkle

        do you know where i can get some stock footage for my world history/geography/and adaptive physical education classes here in hawaii……stoked teacher dude

        • Stephen

          Hi James, I would suggest contacting the Secretariat of the World Nomad Games as they’ve talked about building a database of files to use in responding to requests like this: http://worldnomadgames.com/en/page/Contacts/

          Hope that helps!

        • Julie

          Hello, I live in Hawaii. I am a Kyrgyz girl 🙂 if you need any help I would gladly help you. Originally, I am from Central Asia, but settled down here in Hawaii 🙂 If you need any help in your research I will be more happy to help you. Thank you for your interest in my culture.

  2. Derek Freal

    Best. Post. EVER! Amazing photos too. The Nomad Games look like an amazing event for both spectators and photographers alike. Like you horse wrestling is also something I’ve been dying to see in real life. Next year hopefully…be back in Asia soon!

    • Stephen

      Dude… it was all SO awesome. Horse wrestling was a sweet surprise, but of course the Kok Boru and Eagle Hunting and all of it were just as equally impressive. Not sure if/when/where they’ll do a World Nomad Games 2015, but if so you should definitely make it a priority.

  3. HENRI maselati

    Hi Stephen.
    the games are for sep 3-8 2016.
    i couldnt find Kyrchyn gorge on any map.
    could you send me a google map, where it is and where is the hippodrome.

    i am going for sure and will stay in bosteri or chopon ata.

    thanks
    henri

    • Stephen

      Hi Henri, you’re correct on the dates. The hippodrome is about 1.5 or 2km to the east of Cholpon-Ata. Kyrchyn is about 30km east, near Semyenovka.

  4. Nathan

    Great photos, and this is the most informative thing about the nomad games I’ve found! I also couldn’t find Kyrcyhn on any maps and also can’t figure out which place is best to stay to actually see the games (Cholpon ata or somewhere else?) I’ll only be in that area for a couple of days so hoping to make the most of it. Looks like you had a great time, great article.

    Thanks

    Nathan

    • Stephen

      Hi Nathan, easiest is probably to stay in Cholpon Ata, from which it’s a quick transfer to the Hippodrome and Sports Center. Kyrchyn is just north of the village of Semenovka, but I’m not sure what public transit will be available this year. You may end up needing to charter a taxi to get out there, so be prepared for that.

      • Nathan

        Cheers for the reply Stephen. I booked some form of accommodation on Cholpon Ata just to be on the safe side, so looks like it was a good move. I don’t mind chartering a taxi. I am looking forward to a few long (for me) walks and then staying in one place to watch some wrestling, horse riding, and wrestling while horse riding! Ta for the info, happy travelling.

        Nathan

        • Thomas

          Thank you both for the information. The truth is the offical website of the World Nomad Games is appealing but lacks practical information for visitors.
          I will also spend a couple of days around 6-8 of September to enjoy the games, so I’m going to book accommodation in Cholpon-Ata, considering possible to go to Kyrchyn by taxi during the day.
          Nathan, where have you found accommodation? from guides like Lonely Planet / Bradt ?

          Thomas

          • Stephen

            I know that a tentative final schedule has been prepared – hopefully they’ll get that posted to the website soon. I spoke with the owner of Apple Hostel recently and know they had rooms left as of a few days ago. I would suggest booking something soon, though, as all the big hotels are mostly full already.

            • Thomas

              Thank you for the advice, Stephen.

              • Nathan

                Hi Thomas, I decided to just do a search on booking.com, and I chose somewhere just based on the fact they had free cancellation (as I wasn’t sure Cholpon-Ata was the right place to be). I booked a random place called the Tan Nuru guest house (assuming the booking went through). Something like £45 for 4 nights. I was hoping when I got there, it’d be obvious what was going on, I have a phrase book handy just in case!

  5. Aiperi

    Great article! I was so proud of my nation while was reading all this, so nice pictures…thank you Stephen for the great feelings you gave to me, we are always ready to host you. If you need any help i am open to do my best, as i live here (Bishkek) i know better where is good, cheaper or not. You can just write to my email: emilbekovaa@gmail.com . And good luck guyzzzZ!!!!

    • Stephen

      Hi Aiperi – thanks for your kind comments. I’m planning on covering the 2016 WNG as well, and have been very excitedly looking forward to it for the past few weeks. Best wishes to you, and Алга Кыргызстан once the Games begin!

  6. Aigerim

    Hi everybody!!! I m volunteer there in this year. And if yu have problems yu can write me. My number of whatsapp +996554020894

  7. Lateron

    I am searching the web to try and fins a satellite channel which will broadcast the games. No success so far (I am in Europe and will probably not be able to get Russian (MIR) or Japanese (NHK) channels, if they are airing by satellite).
    Any information is welcome.

    • Stephen

      I know EuroNews is planning to cover it in some manner, though I don’t know if they’ll be live-streaming the entire thing or just publishing nightly updates. The best I know to tell you at the moment is to follow the #WNG2016 and #DiscoverKyrgyzstan hashtags on social media for live photo and video updates, and keep an eye on popular channels like EuroNews/BBC/etc to see what you can find.

  8. Gera-aigera94@mail.ru

    Hi folks!I m volunteer in nomadgames this year. If yu want to ask something yu can write me through whatsapp:+996554020894

  9. Aigerim

    Gluten Tag, die Besucher aus Deutschland und deutschsprachige Leute!) ICH bin Freiwillige in Worldnomad games
    Wenn Sie etwas fragen mochten, Sie können mich anrufen oder ein Sms schreiben!Mein
    Telefonnummer ist +996554020894.

  10. Felipe

    Getting excited on these events, when is the next event or date of events in the future , thanks

    • Stephen

      Hi Felipe, The assumption is that the next WNG will be in 2018 at the beginning of September, but unfortunately no firm dates have yet been announced.

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