World Nomad Games: Kyrgyzstan 2018

The World Nomad Games began life back in 2014, a showcase for Central Asian culture, tradition and sport. Held in and around the Kyrgyz town of Cholpon-Ata, on the shores of Lake Issyk-kul, the games have grown in popularity and stature ever since. Held every two years, its third incarnation in 2018 was the biggest yet. From humble beginnings the event has grown rapidly, with numbers of sports, countries and participants trebling or quadrupling. The worldwide exposure has grown too, and with broadcast numbers increasing, it’s clear that the World Nomad Games are here to stay.

The Soul Of The Games

While the World Nomad Games have exciting sports like Kok Boru (‘dead goat polo’) and Er Enish (‘horseback wrestling) as their main events, the event is in fact about so much more. A huge number of cultural events also take place, showcasing the gentler side of the region’s traditions. In Kyrgyzstan, this side to the games has taken place in the dramatic setting of Kyrchyn Gorge, a wide grassy valley dominated by the surrounding mountains. It’s here that the personality of the Kyrgyz people has come forth – the true heart of the World Nomad Games. The violently competitive events in Cholpon-Ata drew large crowds, but the soul of the games was in Kyrchyn.

Thrilling individual events like horseback archery and hunting with eagles were held in the gorge; these were perfectly complemented by yurt building, weaving and blanket folding competitions. Temporary yurt villages were open to everyone, their owners inviting people in to eat and drink from overburdened tables. Impromptu singing sessions sprang up here and there. It was a true festival atmosphere.

New Beginnings

After being held three times in Kyrgyzstan, in 2020, the next World Nomad Games will take place in Turkey. Beyond that, not much is known. One thing is certain though – it will be a very different games from those witnessed in the Kyrgyz Republic. The sports will be there, but the unique culture of the Kyrgyz people will be sadly missed. A chance however for Turkey to celebrate its own rich and complex culture.

For now let’s appreciate the people, skills, traditions and events of the third World Nomad Games – a fascinating insight into the rich, historical tapestry of a nomadic people.

Click into the pictures to see them full size and read more about each one.

The More Dramatic Events

The turbulent and tumultuous history of the Turkic peoples has bred rough and violent games. The most notable of these is the intensely popular Kok Boru, also known by Buzkashi and other names in the countries of Central Asia. Two teams battle over a headless goat carcass. Players haul it onto their horses and gallop to their opponents end, attempting to heave it into a kazan – something like a huge bin. It’s not unusual to see the rider thrown in with the dead goat as his horse stops abruptly. At these World Nomad Games, it was master against apprentice as Kyrgyzstan destroyed everyone put in front of them. They finished by demolishing neighbouring Uzbekistan 32-9 in the final, cheered on by an adoring crowd in the Cholpon-Ata Hippodrome.

The horseback wrestling (Er Enish) was also a crowd favourite, as were the huge variety of both traditional and modern forms of wrestling held inside the Gazprom building in Cholpon-Ata.

The two main areas of the games, Cholpon-Ata and Kyrchyn Gorge, felt like very different sides to the same coin. The gorge wasn’t without its own drama though, the excitement provided by disciplines such as horseback archery, hunting with eagles and trick riding.

The World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan was a fascinating experience. After long anticipating the occasion, it lived up to expectations in many ways. We hope you enjoyed our pictures from this unique event and that it’s inspired you to attend in the future. We’re excited to see how the games develop in Turkey and the years to come.

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Did you make it to the World Nomad Games in 2018? If so, what were your favourite bits? Let us know in the comments below!

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Going the Whole HoggFabrizio Soggetto Recent comment authors
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Fabrizio Soggetto

Ha! We were there at the same time.. great memories, loved the WNG 2018. I devoured your videos the other day: the month in Scotland, the Highway (done too! 🙂 and Georgia. Glad to have found your blog guys.