Buzkashi: Polo for the Nomads of Central Asia
However, there is one sport that I love – buzkashi. The name is the Tajiki and Dari word for a game that exists throughout Central Asia. (In Uzbekistan, the game is called kopkari or ulak tartysh.) Buz means “goat,” while kashi means “pulling” or by extension “struggle.” Befitting the name, the sport can boiled down to just that – a struggle over a goat (and not a living one).
As Turkic nomads filtered down from the northern steppes with their herds, horses, and horsemanship skills, they brought buzkashi with them, introducing it to the Indo-European groups already inhabiting the region. Nowadays the sport is most popular in the mountainous and less-accessible parts of Central Asia, especially in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and northern Afghanistan.
As the pictures show, the resulting scrum of men, horses, whips, dust, and mud can be quite dangerous. Injuries are not rare, and the sport is played only in the cooler months so that the horses (and riders) don’t overheat. Many riders wear tank helmets left over from Soviet times to protect themselves from the flailing whips of their competitors.
Buzkashi is relatively common in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the fall, winter, and spring, but the only time games are guaranteed and planned far in advance is around the holiday Navruz, an ancient Persian holiday celebrating the vernal equinox.
For a description of the game as played in Uzbekistan, read this New York Times article, “In Uzbekistan, Encounters with a Dead Goat. (But in a Good Way.)”
Travel with MIR to Central Asia
MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Central Asia and has an affiliate office in Uzbekistan, with a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you didn’t even know you wanted to go. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
You can watch a buzkashi match for yourself on this MIR small group tour:
- Backstreets & Bazaars of Uzbekistan – see an exhilarating match in a small Uzbek town
(Top photo: A view of Buzkashi from the top of the hill. Photo credit: Jake Smith)
PUBLISHED: January 5, 2015