Central Asia has many spectator-friendly games. But the most famous of them all is the dead goat polo known as Buzkashi (in Afghanistan and Tajikistan) / Kokpar (in Kazakhstan) / Kokboru – Kukpari – Ulak Tartysh (in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan).
Competitions are held, even nationwide and international games are played, but finding out when and where is terribly difficult. These things just aren’t advertised, and only organised in the most informal manner.
So let’s see what we can discover!
Tips for finding games
- All over the region, the season for buzkashi is winter, say from November until early April. That’s when it’s not too hot for the horses, and when countryside people have the most free time on their hands.
- It’s a village sport. That’s where the best players live and the most authentic games are played. The city hippodromes host matches on national holidays.
- Top national holidays when ulak tartysh will be played are Nauruz/Norooz/Navruz (around 21 March), and the different Independence Days.
Games around the region
The main region for kokpar is the south, around Shymkent, Turkestan and Taraz, although the north around Astana and Aqtobe also has minimum 20 teams now.
The national kokpar association of Kazakhstan is a subsidiary of the national sports associaton of Kazakhstan. They are quite active and should be a great source of information. Ring them up to start your search for a game nearby.
Local tourism offices might also be of help.
Holidays when kokpar is being played (in order of likeliness): Nauruz (21st of March), Independence Day (16th of December), Republic Day (25th of October) and Constitution Day (28th of January).
Nurata Ecotourism association organises a kukpari competition in the Nurata mountains from mid-November until the end of March. Norooz (21st of March) is definitely the top date for kukpari in Uzbekistan. All other games are held “when we feel like it”.
Asrlar Sadosi was an annual event celebrating folk culture with kukpari games, usually in May, held in a different location each year. It was supported by “Googoosha’s” Fund Forum, but since her fall from grace, no editions have been held (last one in 2013). We’re waiting for a new initiative.
Other festivals of note: Independence Day, (1 September), Uzbek Flag Day (8 November), Constitution Day (8 December).
On Nowruz (21st of March – see report here) and Independence day (31st of August – see report here), the Bishkek hippodrome will be packed for the game. The Nomad Games (no info on dates) is another opportunity.
The center of buzkashi culture lies east of Dushanbe in the Hissar area and in the southern province of Khatlon. 2 small villages in the Garm valley near the Kyrgyz border have also been recommended: Kichi Karamyk and Jaylgan. The At Chabysh festival has a smaller spin-off in Murghab, but it is not certain if buzkashi will be on the program.
Xinjiang and yak buzkashi
The Kazakhs of Xinjiang are very traditional people and you will find them playing kokpar in winter. That’s all I can say. In the southwest of the province live Tajiks, around Tash Kurgan. These people are known to play not only horse-back buzkashi but also buzkashi on yaks. Your job to find out where and when.
Buzkashi is huge in Afghanistan. It is the national sport and often played on Fridays. Matches draw thousands of fans. That’s really all we can say right now – seeing the security situation at the moment it’s not the best place to go and watch a game. Hopefully it will get better soon.
Tips and experiences welcome in the comments!