| Photo Campbel bridge
Campbel Bridge
Mon, 12 Sep 2022

Here in Mongolia - the land of the great conqueror Genghis Khan - no festival would be complete without archery contests, horse and camel racing, and the wild Kazakh game of kekbar (or buzkazi).  Here two men on horse back effectively have a wrestle over possession of the carcass of a goat. 

The game in one form or another remains one of the great ritual sports of Central Asia.  It is still played from Afghanistan across the Central Asian republics into these western parts of Mongolia.  

A real crowd pleaser was the kyz kuar – the man and woman’s horse race.  In this crazy event a man and a woman on horseback race at full gallop over 400 metres. The woman has a slight head start before the man sets off in pursuit, his ambition being not only to catch her and kiss her but also to use all his charms to talk her into meeting him later.  In her efforts to get to the finish line first the woman is not only entitled to ride as fast as she can, but she also resists his advances by striking her pursuer with a large whip.  The rules are very simple – if the man does not catch the girl, he loses.  This was a favourite event of the ladies!  

Throw in other tests of horsemanship, long distance horse racing, a camel race, and a contest of Mongolian archery on horseback, and the two days of the festival was over all too son.  

The festival ends with a grand dostarkhan - Kazakh party.  Not surprisingly, this involves much eating and drinking of Vodka as well as the telling of many great hunting stories late into the night.  The winner of the buzkazi chooses the host of the dostarkan. 

In former times the choice was made by throwing the goat carcass into front door of his chosen host’s tent or ger as they are known here.  The ger (or yurt) is the traditional dwelling of the nomads in Mongolia and Central Asia.  It is a large portable tent (complete with beds and a fire) made from a wooden frame and covered in felt.  These days the dead goat is simply flung onto the bonnet of the host’s car!

A Mongolian travel company - Blue Wolf Travel at Bayan-Oglii – is preserving the tradition with the staging of the Golden Eagle Festival in October each year. The fees paid by tourists provide the financial support for the staging of the event as well as providing generous prize money for the most successful competitors.  The success of this venture is apparent from the large numbers of local participants.  You stay in a ger camp.  There is also plenty of opportunity to mix with the local people, eat their food and drink (including the local fermented mare’s milk), and take in their music and dancing.

Watching this wonderful festival shows why the Kazakhs are renowned for their unique and extraordinary skills in relation to equestrian sports and hunting. While the changes of the modern world place hunting with eagles on the verge of extinction in most of Central Asia, the fascinating tradition still lives in this remote western corner of Mongolia.  

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