Horse Festival at the Highest Level and Leaving the “Cloud” in Murghab


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Asia » Tajikistan » Murgab
August 13th 2017
Published: August 26th 2017
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Wrestling on horsesWrestling on horsesWrestling 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 namedKyrgyz Ate” and theKirghiz 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 saddleRiding high in the saddleRiding 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
Kicking up some dustKicking up some dustKicking up some dust

The race is on
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 scarfNarish accepted Tara's scarfNarish 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 rumbleReady to rumbleReady 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.


Additional photos below
Photos: 33, Displayed: 27


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Unique bride's dressUnique bride's dress
Unique bride's dress

Horse races, Tajikistan
Merry Jo & NarishMerry Jo & Narish
Merry Jo & Narish

Tajikistan Horse Festival
Preparing lunchPreparing lunch
Preparing lunch

The festival is busy work
Fight to the endFight to the end
Fight to the end

Murghab, Tajikistan horse festival
MJ dances!MJ dances!
MJ dances!

Locals invite her to dance
Pushing their baby sisterPushing their baby sister
Pushing their baby sister

Festivals are fun
It is a festivalIt is a festival
It is a festival

Every one dances


27th August 2017

It's lovely...
that you left a memory of Tara in Tajikistan. I'm enjoying your travels.
27th August 2017

It's lovely
It was the right time and the right person. I'm glad Tara's spirit will continue to travel the world.
27th August 2017

Always amazed.
Beautiful MJ and Dave-- Again I am amazed by your wanderlust and the stories that you send back. I don't know how/why you pick your destinations-- but I remain fascinated by you both! Safe travels!!! xo
27th August 2017

Always amazed
Our wanderlust does help us select some interesting locations. Our general rule of thumb is that we don't want each trip to be the same. We want diversity in how we travel, comfort and what we see. The key is to understand the people of each country. To talk to enough people to get a sense of who they are, the history and where they may be heading.
27th August 2017

Horse Festival
Despite the fact that it's all very dry in Murghab everyone's costumes are beautiful and colourful. Wrestling while on a horse though does seem a form of acute madness!
27th August 2017

Horse Festival
I might not have figured I would enjoy the horse wrestling so much until I had seen it. Love local activities and sports.
27th August 2017

amazing travels--sounds awesome!
I see you guys are having a great time, I have not been to any of the 'Stans- yet, it looks amazing. Great pics and story as usual, looks like very breathtaking scenery and culture. I'm back on the Ice after health and family issues, hoping to do a long trip after the winter/summer here is over, going through travel options and budget planning, way too early to finalize, so many places yet to see!!!! have fun and safe travels, when back in FL i will let you know---dave
27th August 2017

Amazing travels
We were talking about you last week and wondering if you had made it back to the ice. Would love to read some ice blogs and see photos. Yes, way too early for you to make travels plans. Love to see you once you are back in Florida. Keep us posted. Consider the Pamir Mountains.
27th August 2017

We feel your struggles
I was so excited to read the next instalment of the Tajikistan series. Love it! Theresa and I do feel your struggles with the higher than normal elevations, but it all looks amazingly worthwhile. Great stuff!
27th August 2017

We feel your struggles
Altitude can be a show stopper for some. We always take diamox and it helps a great deal. We can deal with being short of breath. We want to avoid more serious symptoms of altitude sickness. We heard a few tales of others not fairing so well...especially those who started the trip in Osh instead of Dunshabe and increased elevation quickly. We live at sea level so it is all up hill for us. Thanks for following along.
28th August 2017

Beautiful photos of beautiful horses
The festival photos are so captivating, I'll have to talk to you when you get back home about which of your two cameras you used (still deciding on the new camera). From these photos, it seems like the festival is more about the blokes than the horses....and looks like blokes will be blokes no matter which corner of the world we go to ;)
28th August 2017

Beautiful horses beautiful photos
We really enjoyed all the festival activities. The winners of most races won a heater and 40 gallons of propane for the family. When you are snowed in 8 months a year a heat source is a good prize. We can talk later about cameras.
28th August 2017

I am not jealous
I am not jealous. I am not jealous. Really, really not jealous! Please keep sharing and hello to Shane, Dave and Denise.
28th August 2017

I am not jealous
Hellos from you to our Travel blog team. The next story might make you laugh and show what a small world we are living in. The festival really show cased the sports abilities. After being house bound due to snow all those months a year an event like this is a big deal and well attended. Many wore really nice clothes. It was lovely, lively and colorful.
29th August 2017

Hellow fellow bloggers It was pleasure that I was able to find you from the ocean of Internet. As I am also a fellow traveler who write blogs, was looking for some interesting new information which I got it from you. Thanks for all information I got from here
29th August 2017

Fellow blogger
Thank you for reading our blog and commenting.
29th August 2017

Truly an amazing race
I am so glad you were not only able to go to the races, but that you found someone for Tara's scarf. Being remembered in such a way is amazing. Glad you enjoyed yourself and looking forward to more.
30th August 2017

Truly an amazing race
Tara will be remembered by so many of us travel bloggers. We enjoyed the festival and it was the right place and time. What a trip. An adventure. Something very special about this trip.
30th August 2017

A different world!
Looks like an interesting part of the world; fascinating culture and people with beautiful rugged landscape and events like this horse festival to enjoy!
30th August 2017

A different world
Hem, you may want to consider this location for one of your trips. You are an extraordinary photographer and this place calls for your talents. So much beauty. It is indescribable. As you say, rugged.
30th August 2017

Horse Festival
Wow, what a wonderful opportunity to have been able to attend their annual Horse Festival. Great to hear the people were so welcoming, and happy for pictures to be taken too - you certainly have some amazing and unique photos here :) I wasn't fortunate enough to have known Tara, but a beautiful gesture to have left her travelling scarf with a fellow animal-lover in Tajikistan. Lovely blog :)
31st August 2017

Horse Festival
Alex, it is always grand when you are in town for a festival. The people in Central Asia are warm and welcoming. We didn't meet Tara, we had actually planned on that next year but that didn't work out. We sent email and FB messages and felt like we knew her a bit. I think she'd be happy with where her scarf ended up. Hopefully, you'll consider this trip. I think you would enjoy it. MJ

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