Posts Tagged ‘buzkashi’

You’ve seen some action shots and a sepia toned homage to the doomed, saddled fighters against the Bolsheviks.  Now, some character studies of the buzkashi riders.

Serious and not-so-serious

On the ridge, amongst the spectators

Sauntering and smiling

Looking up at the crowd

Sure you can lose a tooth or two playing buzkashi, but it's worth it

And now, we say goodbye to Gharm and buzkashi, the match is over.

On the way home...


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The consort of the acting Swedish ambassador asked me at lunch what the deal was with all the posts about buzkashi. Did I have a thing for buzkashi?

The truth of the matter is that I took a whole of a lot of photos and many of them came out well, so I wanted to share.  Added to that is that I may never go to something quite as, uh, different as a buzkashi match again, so I wanted to memorialize it.  Plus, there are pictures like this:

Me playing with sepia tone, him looking like a happy basmachi

In case you’re wondering, a bit about the basmachi.  They fought the Red Army in Central Asia during the Bolshevik Revolution in the early 1920s, including in Tajikistan, what was then the eastern portion of the Emirate of Bukhara.  They fought on horseback.  They lost.

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From Yarkhap village about 12 km outside of Gharm, let me present the riders in a buzkashi match, the chapandoz, up close.

Battling to grab the goat, in the scrum

Whip in the mouth, angling to snatch away the goat

Slouching outside the scrum

Striving for the tire-goal, where the goat goes

More to come…

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I have one more full-length buzkashi-in-Gharm post waiting to be written, but probably not today.  So, in the meantime, a photo of me with one of the buzkashi riders, called a chapandaz.

Culture clash much?

Yes, I wore an orange baseball cap to buzkashi.  I was going to say that it made sense at the time, but no, it never made much sense.  Of course, the chapandaz is wearing a plastic bag over his tuppi hat, so there was bad haberdashery all around.

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Buzkashi is a Persian word, Tajik being a Persian language, meaning approximately “goat grabbing“.  For those of you who have not seen Rambo III, let me paraphrase Wikipedia to describe the game:

People on horseback try to pick up a headless, disemboweled goat carcass off the ground, or away from the other riders, and throw it into a scoring circle (the “Circle of Justice”).  The riders will carry a whip, often in their teeth, to fend off opposing horses and riders.

This anodyne description cannot do justice to the violence, aggression, and oddity of a buzkashi match.

Battling for the goat in a dry riverbed outside of Gharm

In the scrum, whips flying, blood flowing

The setting for the two-day buzkashi match I saw was idyllic.  Not idyllic in the sense that I’d want to build a vacation home there, but perfect for hosting a seething mass of horsemen struggling to scoop a dead goat stuffed with sand off the ground and toss it into a truck tire so to win prizes like a garishly-colored comforter made in some nameless Chinese factory city that is home to 8 million people.

Mountains stood as sentinels on either side of the river Surhob, which itself shifted back and forth like an oversized snake covered in mud.  The river only occupied a small portion of the bed, leaving exposed a kaleidoscopic variety of mini-boulders half-wedged into gray grit masquerading as sand.

Three yards and a cloud of dust

With the mountains looking down . . .

The riders kicked up a cloud of dust wherever they went, even when they seemed to be barely moving, which was often.  In some way, buzkashi is a cross between polo and rugby, with frequent scrums, horsemen shoulder to shoulder, whacking each other, clawing and grabbing for the goat.  But every so often, a rider would break free, goat in hand or splayed across his saddle, players in furious pursuit.

The chase is on, though the goat seems not to notice

There are no boundaries in buzkashi, so the riders can and do go everywhere.  Several times they came up the gully and onto the ridge where the spectators were, galloping amongst people, cars, and whatever else was in the way.

Battling over the goat, up on the ridge

At the time, there was a lot of downtime and I felt like I took too many photos (465) of the same scene: guys on horseback with antiquated Soviet tanker helmets battling over a dead goat.  But looking back on it, with perhaps some early onset nostalgia thrown in, it was a real cultural experience and fascinating.

Over the next few days, I’ll put up some more Gharm and buzkashi photos and posts, which will hopefully give you a sense of what it was like to be at the back of beyond watching buzkashi.

Off in the distance

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This weekend I was in Gharm, 200 km east of Dushanbe along a river valley in a gorge carved from soft rock, to watch buzkashi.  Buzkashi, of course, is the crazy Tajik game where a goat carcass stuffed full with sand is the “ball” and 50 to 100 mounted riders battle to pick up the goat and then throw it into the “goal”, in this case, a tire.  Obviously.

Anyway, lots and lots of pictures and anecdotes to share about the trip, but that’s for later.  For now, take a gander at this:

English is a more difficult language that we might think

Putting aside for a moment that this small SUV that I saw on the road to Gharm is not a Toyota Rav4, thus making the tire cover incongruous, look at the text on the thing.  It is a small wonder of language.  An amazing assemblage of words that when strung together is on the wrong side of coherent.

It’s an outdoor sport that has recently started to shine.  Outdoor sport is the science to raise spirits.

To choose sports for fashion or your personality.  The basic idea is to enjoy yourself.  That is important.

At some point, when I’m less tired, I think I’d like to do a textual analysis of this poem.  For let’s be honest, this is practically (but for the syllable count) a haiku in its simplicity, mystery, and inscrutibility.  And it’s on a tire cover!

I only had the pleasure of seeing this due to a mudslide that blocked the road, forcing us to wait while people kicked dirt aside with their boots to clear the way.  That, friends, is serendipity.

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