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Playing Buzkashi in Central Asia

by Akhil Kalepu

Aug 26, 2014

A Kokpar Match at the Republican Equestrian Games in Temirtau, Kazakhstan © Tyrin | Dreamstime

Adventure

If polo gives off too much of a country club vibe, consider a trek down to Central Asia for a traditional game of buzkashi. Much like polo, buzkashi is played on horseback, with the chapandaz trying to get the boz into the goal zone. Unlike polo, the ball is a beheaded goat carcass cured with cold water and salt. The traditional game has a fierce spirit of competition and is a rite of passage for young men, tracing its origins to the nomadic people of the region.

 

The rules are fairly straightforward; carry the ball to the goal area without fouling other riders. Despite the simplicity, playing can be difficult, with the cured meat being heavy to lift from horseback. Players and horses can take years to perfect their technique. The game underwent standardization with national committees establishing their own rules. Afghanistan even tried to have their national sport become a part of the Olympics, though they were rejected.

 

Buzkashi monument in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan © Nijethorpe | Dreamstime

Buzkashi monument in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan © Nijethorpe | Dreamstime

 

The game can get pretty rough, so players will wear heavy quilted cloaks called chapans as well as protective headwear. The rider does not typically own his horse; rather a wealthy landlord will hire players and provide training facilities for 8-10 man squads. Buzkashi players can become regional celebrities in their own right and get sponsorships from wealthy fans. Aziz Ahmad is one of the most famous professional players in Afghanistan, with wealthy lords having him helicoptered to Kabul for games. The Taliban takeover during the 90s put a ban on the game and forced Ahmad out of the country, though he was able to return to Kabul after the 2001 War in Afghanistan, and is now considered one of the best living buzkashi players.

 

Buzkashi games are a spectacle to see, often played for special occasions like weddings and religious events. One of the biggest matches held is for the celebration of Navruz, the Persian New Year, in the town of Urgut, Uzbekistan. Tourists and local Uzbekistanis alike travel far and wide to come see this extraordinary sport.

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