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Published: August 26th 2017
Wrestling on horses
Unique sport......would not want to do this!
Months ago, we had read about a horse festival held the second week of August each year in Murghab. We were not certain if we would be in town on the right dates but as it turned out our timing was perfect and we were very fortunate to attend this local festival. As we entered the outskirts of this town, we turned to the right, went up a rather steep incline and there it was…..a gathering of locals and visitors alike….for the annual horse festival.
We are not entirely sure how long they have been holding this festival, but it appears to be at least about 10 years since the first one. A website dedicated to the festival states that, the foundation named “
Kyrgyz Ate” and the “Kirghiz NGO for the protection and the promotion of the Kirghiz horse and the equestrian traditions of the nomads.” Seems the horses are quite special as they do their work at high altitudes quite well.
For the record, it is both exhilarating and daunting to be living at this altitude. We are seeing some simply amazing and majestic sites……all the while we are challenged as we
Riding high in the saddle
All the riders and horses were champions at this altitude.
are living at 12,000 feet (3630 m)
and struggling to adjust due to our age and the fact that we normally live at sea level. Murghab’s elevation is the highest for a town in Tajikistan. Apparently, the horses and their riders think nothing of it and perform at a very high standard.
As we arrived at the event we were pleased to see many men and women in some fine frocks, beautiful colorful clothing, scarves and hats. There were a couple of yurts set up and rugs on the ground nearby where the women were cooking food on basic grills. A few tables were set up selling drinks and assorted snacks. There was even a soft ice cream machine …needless to say it was a big hit during these warm days. The Tajik people are warm, friendly and not camera shy. Some countries we go to that is not the case so we were excited to find out they didn’t mind.
Wandering around the festival grounds we heard music and headed in that direction. We stopped and took a photo of a couple of gentleman that looked as if they may be officials
for the event. We continued on towards the stage. A few locals were dancing to the music and we thoroughly enjoyed watching. A few minutes later one of the officials we had taken a photo of asked MJ for a dance. She was having a great time but at this altitude she was winded when the dance was over. Later in the afternoon the majority of our group got out and danced together. The locals enjoyed watching us dance and enjoyed watching us enjoy their festival. Afterwards many smiled, waved and came to talk with us or get their pictures taken.
This was a day of enjoying the sights and sounds of the festival, which is good as nothing happened very fast related to the actual races. The first horse race consisted of 11 horses and was a distance 7 kilometers, 4.62 miles. They had a roped off an area for the track and a few hundred of us lined the ropes for maximum viewing for the start of the race. We witnessed the beginning of the race, but then they sped off into the arid land and disappeared behind a mountain in the distance. It wasn’t
Narish accepted Tara's scarf
Tara Cloud's traveling spirit travels on in Tajikistan
until about 10 minutes later that they re-emerged around the other side of the rocks and headed back. And down the stretch they came…. The speeding horses zipped past, leaving us standing in the dust, literally turning away from the dust churned up by the race. There was a great deal of cheering and excitement as the lead horse headed towards the finish line. He had a good 15 second lead. It looked as if nothing happened he was a clear winner…and he was.
During the break in races we wandered around the festival grounds and we were introduced to Narish who was one of the women involved in planning the race. She cared for all of the horses and inspected them prior to the race to make certain they were in good shape. She was a very articulate woman who spoke English very well and we enjoyed talking with her. All of a sudden there was the realization that this is the woman who needed to become the recipient of Tara Cloud’s purple scarf. You may have read our recent blog about us attended a friend’s memorial service where they gave away many of Tara’s personal
belongings and asked us to see they traveled around the world. I brought this scarf with us on the trip. I took the scarf off and explained to Narish that I would like to gift her the scarf and a short explanation of why. I told her Tara was a lover of animals and it was important to give the scarf to someone who shared that love. She accepted the gift and Narish said she would treasure it forever. She allowed us to take photos. I saw her several times during the day and she was still wearing the scarf and had styled it very nicely around her neck. A piece of Tara’s spirit will live on in Tajikistan.
Later in the afternoon, they had the bride’s race. A bride in colorful clothing with a very small lead would charge down the horse track hoping to get to the end of the track and back without being caught by the groom who was chasing them on their horse. It was very exciting. All the brides were caught but one. During one of the bride’s races, there were a couple of incidences of note. One of the horses
was highly spirited having a mind of its own and half way down the track turned right into the crowd at the exact spot we had been standing 5 minutes earlier. We had been in that spot for more than an hour but decided to move down closer to the start of the race near Shane. As this bride and her horse turned around to come back the horse did the same thing on the return trip in the same spot. Fortunately, no one was hurt by this runaway horse. The following race the bride went up the track and back down as she was attempting to slow her horse next thing we know she is on the ground. She hit hard. She appeared uninjured, but her pride might not have been in tack after her less than graceful landing.
The final event of the day saw us taking in a very unusual event….wrestling on horseback. This was outrageous. Two buff-looking men with no shirts mounted their horses with pride and proceeded to the center of the track. They had colorful sashes around their waste. A five minute time limit was set, the goal was to pull
Ready to rumble
Horse Festival Murghab
your opponent off their trusted steed. And ….the fun began. They locked hands and began tugging, pulling, horses circling, kicking seemed fair game although they didn’t do too much of that because they need to use their legs to help keep them from being pulled off the horse. We watched three matches and there was a winner in the last match but not the others.
It is well worth watching this cultural event….we were fortunate to be there.
We are so pleased to have left a piece of Tara’s traveling spirit in Murghab, Tajikistan. We can’t say for sure but we feel like she would have enjoyed our decision.
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