Guide To The World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan: Sporting Event!

Being nomadic and traveling nearly 365 days of the year is in many ways a dream job for me. However, one thing that I really miss about being back home in Canada is having the opportunity to follow sports throughout the year. When I had the opportunity to attend the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan, the dormant sports junkie inside of me jumped at the opportunity.

Opening Ceremony fireworks to kick of the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
Opening Ceremony fireworks to kick of the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

The World Nomad Games are a sports and cultural event held in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan (not Bishkek) and they are an attempt to preserve and promote nomadic culture and traditions throughout Central Asia. This was only the second year the event was held, yet it featured 23 sports and drew athletes from over 40 different countries.

Imagine a festival where ancient traditions, thrilling competitions, and vibrant cultural celebrations come together in a spectacular display. This unique gathering showcases the rich nomadic heritage of Central Asia and beyond, making it an essential experience for anyone visiting the region.

Mountain range backdrop at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Why Is It a Must-Try Experience?

Cultural Extravaganza: The World Nomad Games offer a deep dive into the diverse cultures of the nomadic peoples. From traditional music and dance to stunning crafts and delicious cuisine, the event is a celebration of nomadic life. It’s an immersive cultural experience that provides insights into the customs and traditions that have shaped these communities for centuries.

Exciting Competitions: At the heart of the games are the thrilling competitions that test the skills and endurance of the participants. Events like horseback wrestling, eagle hunting, and Kok-Boru (a rugged team sport involving a goat carcass) are not only exciting to watch but also steeped in historical significance. These contests highlight the physical prowess and spirit of the nomads.

What Makes It So Epic?

Spectacular Setting: The World Nomad Games are set against the stunning backdrop of Kyrgyzstan’s mountains and valleys. The natural beauty of the location adds an epic dimension to the event. Imagine watching a fierce game of Kok-Boru with snow-capped peaks in the distance—it’s a sight you won’t soon forget.

Global Gathering: This event brings together participants and spectators from around the world. It’s a global celebration of nomadic cultures, creating a unique atmosphere of camaraderie and cultural exchange. Meeting people from different backgrounds and sharing in this collective experience is truly epic.

Traditional Kyrgyz Yurt At The World Nomad Games

What Makes It a Great Experience for Visitors?

Interactive and Engaging: The World Nomad Games are designed to be interactive. Visitors can participate in workshops, try their hand at traditional crafts, and even sample nomadic cuisine. This hands-on approach makes the experience more engaging and memorable. You’re not just a spectator—you’re a participant in the festivities.

Family-Friendly Fun: The games offer activities and entertainment for visitors of all ages. From kid-friendly workshops to mesmerizing performances, there’s something for everyone. It’s a fantastic way to spend time with family while learning about different cultures and traditions.

Rich History and Tradition: Attending the World Nomad Games is like stepping back in time. The event celebrates ancient traditions that have been passed down through generations. Watching these traditions come to life is both educational and inspiring, providing a deeper appreciation for the resilience and creativity of nomadic peoples.

World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan with my wife That Backpacker Audrey Bergner taking photos on site

How to Arrange the Experience?

Getting There: Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is well-connected by international flights. Once you arrive, local transportation options like taxis and buses can take you to the event venue. It’s advisable to plan your travel in advance, as the games attract a large number of visitors.

Booking Tickets: Tickets for the World Nomad Games can be purchased online through the official event website or at designated ticket booths in Bishkek. It’s a good idea to buy tickets early to secure your spot, especially for popular events and competitions.

What to Bring: Dress comfortably and be prepared for varying weather conditions. Layered clothing is ideal, as the weather can change quickly. Don’t forget your camera or smartphone to capture the incredible sights and moments. A reusable water bottle and some snacks will keep you refreshed throughout the day.

Tips for Visitors

  • Explore Beyond the Games: Take time to explore Bishkek and the surrounding areas. The city has much to offer, from vibrant markets to historical landmarks.
  • Engage with Locals: The local people are incredibly hospitable. Don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation and learn more about their culture and traditions.
  • Stay Informed: Keep an eye on the event schedule and plan your days to make the most of your visit. There are often multiple events happening simultaneously, so prioritize the ones that interest you the most.

The following post will share some of the highlights of the World Nomad Games through photos and videos.

World Nomad Games Video:


In this video you’ll see our experience attending the World Nomad Games
If you have trouble viewing this video click here:  http://youtu.be/KwDoJVCLm2Y

World Nomad Games: Favorite Sports

As mentioned previously there were 23 different sports at the games. Here is a brief overview of some of my personal favourite sports. Keep in mind none of these sports were familiar to me at all prior to attending the games!

Kok-boru:

This sport was my personal favorite and it was definitely the most popular event at the World Nomad Games. Basically, two teams on horseback play something that sort of resembles polo, except instead of using a ball, they’re carrying and tossing a goat carcass with the intention of scoring a goal against their opponent. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get right on the field during the game. I got a little overzealous at one point getting too close to the action and I had to retreat suddenly as horse-mounted players galloped in my direction. My favorite match was between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan with the Krygyz team coming out on top.

Mas Wrestling Competition At The World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Mas-wrestling:

Two wrestlers face each other with the soles of their feet on opposite sides of a wooden board. In their hands they’re holding a stick, and it’s basically a tug-o-war to either get the stick or pull their opponent over to their side of the board. These typically massive men were physically exhausted by the end of a match even if the game only lasted a few brief seconds.

Salbuurun:

This was my favorite hunting/prey event involving eagles. The competition was to see how fast eagles can fly while chasing after a fox skin over a stretch of 200 meters. It wasn’t only the human athletes that impressed me during these games!

Other Sports At The World Nomad Games

The World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan celebrate the rich traditions of nomadic cultures through a variety of thrilling and unique sports. Here’s a detailed look at the diverse sports featured at this extraordinary event:

Kokboru World Nomad games intense moments of competition

Kok-Boru (Buzkashi)

Description: A traditional Central Asian team sport similar to polo but played with a goat carcass instead of a ball.

Objective: Players on horseback try to grab the carcass and score by placing it in the opposing team’s goal.

Significance: Demonstrates the strength, agility, and teamwork of nomadic horsemen.

Er Enish (Horseback Wrestling)

Description: A physically demanding sport where two wrestlers try to unseat each other while riding horses.

Objective: The goal is to throw the opponent off their horse.

Significance: Highlights the importance of horsemanship and physical prowess in nomadic cultures.

Intense Kyrgyz style wrestling in Kyrgyzstan at the World Nomad Games

Kyrgyz Kurosh (Traditional Wrestling)

Description: A form of wrestling unique to Kyrgyzstan, combining elements of judo and freestyle wrestling.

Objective: Competitors aim to throw their opponent to the ground using various holds and techniques.

Significance: Reflects the traditional combat skills of Kyrgyz warriors.

Tyin Emmei (Coin Pickup)

Description: A horseback sport where riders pick up coins from the ground at full gallop.

Objective: Collect as many coins as possible within a set time.

Significance: Demonstrates the precision and agility of horse and rider.

Jereed (Equestrian Javelin Throw)

Description: A traditional Turkish sport involving horseback riders throwing javelins at each other.

Objective: Hit the opposing rider or their horse with the javelin.

Significance: Simulates ancient cavalry battles, showcasing horsemanship and accuracy.

Birds of prey event at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Salburun (Hunting with Birds of Prey)

Description: A hunting tradition using trained eagles and falcons.

Objective: The birds hunt small game like hares and foxes.

Significance: Highlights the symbiotic relationship between nomads and their hunting birds.

Ordo

Description: A strategic game played with sheep knuckle bones.

Objective: Players aim to knock out a central bone using other bones as projectiles.

Significance: Combines skill, strategy, and a deep connection to traditional nomadic life.

Mangala

Description: An ancient board game similar to mancala, involving the strategic movement of stones.

Objective: Capture more stones than the opponent.

Significance: Reflects the intellectual and strategic aspects of nomadic culture.

Toguz Korgool

Description: A traditional nomadic board game akin to mancala, popular in Central Asia.

Objective: Capture the most “korgools” (game pieces) through strategic play.

Significance: Encourages strategic thinking and planning.

Skilled Archer at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan

Archery

Description: Traditional archery using bows and arrows.

Objective: Hit targets at various distances.

Significance: Demonstrates ancient hunting and combat skills.

Traditional Horse Racing

Description: Various forms of horse racing, including long-distance and endurance races.

Objective: Be the first to cross the finish line or complete the course.

Significance: Celebrates the endurance and speed of the horses and their riders.

Alaman Baige (Long-Distance Horse Race)

Description: A grueling long-distance race over challenging terrain.

Objective: Test the stamina and endurance of both horse and rider.

Significance: Reflects the nomadic lifestyle’s reliance on horses for long journeys.

Cirit

Description: A traditional equestrian team sport from Turkey, similar to jousting.

Objective: Riders throw javelins at opponents while galloping.

Significance: Simulates ancient battle tactics and horsemanship.

At Chabysh (Endurance Horse Racing)

Description: An endurance race over a set distance, testing the stamina of both horse and rider.

Objective: Finish the race in the shortest time possible.

Significance: Demonstrates the bond and endurance between nomads and their horses.

Mas-Wrestling

Description: A test of strength where two competitors try to pull a stick out of each other’s hands.

Objective: Wrest the stick away from the opponent.

Significance: Highlights physical strength and determination.

Here is a complete list of the sports from the World Nomad Games.

World Nomad Games Photo Essay

Now, my favorite photos from the event in no particular order.

One of the traditional Kyrgyz swings with two people swinging back and forth as part of the festivities
One of the traditional Kyrgyz swings with two people swinging back and forth as part of the festivities
Intense Mas-wrestling match between two competitors in Kyrgyzstan
Intense Mas-wrestling match between two competitors in Kyrgyzstan
Men wearing traditional Kyrgyz hats attending the Games in Kyrgyzstan
Men wearing traditional Kyrgyz hats attending the Games in Kyrgyzstan
A shot of the sheep carcass being tossed into the air for a goal during a Kok Boru match between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
A shot of the sheep carcass being tossed into the air for a goal during a Kok Boru match between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
A professional Kok Boru player from Kyrgyzstan about to score a goal during a Kok Boru match at the games
A professional Kok Boru player from Kyrgyzstan about to score a goal during a Kok Boru match at the games
Team Kyrgyzstan and team Kazakhstan shacking hands after a match at the event
Team Kyrgyzstan and team Kazakhstan shacking hands after a match at the event
A traditional Kyrgyz yurt setup during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
A traditional Kyrgyz yurt setup during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
Men climbing a pole during a cultural performance at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
Men climbing a pole during a cultural performance at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
A lady shooting a bow and arrow while standing upside down during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
A lady shooting a bow and arrow while standing upside down during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
Cheering after a sword fight during a cultural performance at the festival in Kyrgyzstan
Cheering after a sword fight during a cultural performance at the festival in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz men squatting down to enjoy a plate of Plov during the Games
Kyrgyz men squatting down to enjoy a plate of Plov during the Games
A close-up shot of a man wearing a traditional hat performing traditional Kyrgyz music at the event
A close-up shot of a man wearing a traditional hat performing traditional Kyrgyz music at the event
A high vantage point view of all of the yurt camp during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
A high vantage point view of all of the yurt camp during the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan
A Kyrgyz man wearing a traditional hat clapping during a musical performance at the world event in Krygyzstan
A Kyrgyz man wearing a traditional hat clapping during a musical performance at the world event in Krygyzstan
Two Kyrgyz ladies showcasing their craft during the sporting event in Kyrgyzstan
Two Kyrgyz ladies showcasing their craft during the sporting event in Kyrgyzstan
An overhead shot of the crowd at the event
An overhead shot of the crowd at the event
A talented performer doing equestrian tricks at the World Games in Kyrgyzstan
A talented performer doing equestrian tricks at the World Games in Kyrgyzstan
Two Kyrgyz men with distinct faces at the nomad games in Kyrgyzstan
Two Kyrgyz men with distinct faces at the nomad games in Kyrgyzstan
An action scene from a cultural performance at the Central Asia sporting event
An action scene from a cultural performance at the Central Asia sporting event
Another action shot from the world event in Kyrgyzstan. This was some intense action. Almost as good as the sporting events!
Another action shot from the world event in Kyrgyzstan. This was some intense action. Almost as good as the sporting events!
Some Kyrgyz men gather for a quiet picnic at the competition in Kyrgyzstan. Possible to find some quiet areas.
Some Kyrgyz men gather for a quiet picnic at the competition in Kyrgyzstan. Possible to find some quiet areas.
A Kok Boru player from Team China carries the goat carcass during a match at the sports games against the United States
A Kok Boru player from Team China carries the goat carcass during a match at the sports games against the United States
A Chinese Kok Boru player throws the goat carcass into the goal at the sporting spectacle in Kyrgyzstan
A Chinese Kok Boru player throws the goat carcass into the goal at the sporting spectacle in Krygyzstan
A man wearing a distinct hat at the Kyrgyzstan games. I want one of those!
A man wearing a distinct hat at the Kyrgyzstan games. I want one of those!
An eagle wearing an eye-cover before the start of the event in Kyrgyzstan
An eagle wearing an eye-cover before the start of the event in Kyrgyzstan
A man practicing archery at the competition in Kyrgyzstan. Can you feel the concentration?
A man practicing archery at the competition in Kyrgyzstan. Can you feel the concentration?
Gorgeous mountain backdrop at the sporting event in Kyrgyzstan. Sometimes hard to focus on the actual event with scenery like this.
Gorgeous mountain backdrop at the sporting event in Kyrgyzstan. Sometimes hard to focus on the actual event with scenery like this.
Stunning scenery with mountains in the background at the Kyrgyzstan exhibition. Kyrgyzstan is simply beautiful.
Stunning scenery with mountains in the background at the Kyrgyzstan exhibition. Kyrgyzstan is simply beautiful.
A massive collection of arrows hitting the target at the event in Kyrgyzstan. What great accuracy!
A massive collection of arrows hitting the target at the event in Kyrgyzstan. What great accuracy!
Wrestling event at the games in Kyrgyzstan. Can you feel the intensity?
Wrestling event at the games in Kyrgyzstan. Can you feel the intensity?

World Nomad Games Final Thoughts

Kyrgyzstan is a country that rewards the adventurous traveler, and these off the beaten path experiences are just a few examples of the unique and authentic adventures that await those who are willing to step outside their comfort zone.

Now it is over to you! Had you previously heard of the World Nomad Games? What do you now think of the event?

Any particular sport you’re more interested in viewing as a spectator? What did you think of the various events?

Let me know in the comments section below:

This trip was made possible with the support of Discover Kyrgyzstan and USAID. As always, all opinions expressed here are my own.

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18 Comments

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    1. says: Guest

      Hi Hayley,
      Last time I checked the website still wasn’t live – they are aiming to have that up and running at some point in May. I have been informed that the sporting events and the festival in Kyrchyn will be free to the public, meaning you’d only need tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies. It might be worth confirming that for sure later this summer.
      Cheers,
      Sam

  1. says: Mart

    Quite an amazing place to be. The people seem friendly, the sports entertaining and the scenes just beautiful. The culture seems to be upheld and deeply instilled in the people.
    Would be a nice travel and get to interact with the people

  2. Wow! I had seen the pretty pictures of Kyrgyzstan but didn’t know about the unique games that can be played. Bow and arrow upside down! Amazing! Loved their traditional attires!

  3. This is epic. I will definitely try to attend next year. When I lived in Ireland and Nepal I was exposed to a few new sports, and I never looked back. I started to consistently play hurling and cricket. I think the more important matter that you bring to our attention in this article is the importance of preserving ancient cultural traditions through reenactments – it is a key part of promotion that can help these traditions live on, be recognized and be respected.

  4. says: Zharkyn

    Hi, I’m really happy to read your post about my country. Thank you!!! Great post!) I hope you’ll enjoy in next World Nomad Games 2018. ☺