The World Nomad Games Opening Ceremonies
The 2018 World Nomad Games have begun! Horses are galloping across the steppe and for some reason, many people have been on fire through the opening ceremonies. This year’s edition of the nomadic, Central Asian games began in style with not one, but two opening shows, and I have to admit, the hosts Kyrgyzstan put on a roaring performance both times.
The first opening ceremony was held in the Hippodrome at Cholpon-Ata, scene of the horse racing, dead goat polo and much, much more, while in the mountains away from Issyk Kul Lake, an entire yurt village has been set up to provide a cultural display from every region across the nation and from countries across the world, and here too, on the second day of the games, a second opening ceremony was held.
Both of these ceremonies were, to put it bluntly, unexpectedly epic. Here’s what went down.
What Are The World Nomad Games?!
The World Nomad Games are held every two years in Kyrgyzstan. It’s essentially the Olympics of traditional, nomadic sports and although the first edition was held only in 2014, it’s fast becoming an essential experience on the Central Asian travel circuit, because it’s an undeniably unique mixture of tradition and madness that can be found nowhere else in the world. Forget 2018’s FIFA World Cup, 2018’s World Nomad Games are the sporting event of the year!
I arrived in Cholpon-Ata with few expectations, because I wasn’t quite sure what was actually going to happen. I did know that this was going to be an experience that I would never forget, and the grand, lavish, colourful and dramatic opening ceremonies are just the beginning of an insane week of unusual and exciting sports and cultural events.
The Opening Ceremony
The opening ceremony of the games began on 2nd September 2018, after the sun had set and darkness had filled the Hippodrome of Cholpon-Ata. Thousands of people were attending, as were the heads of state of many of neighbouring countries, and even President Erdogan of Turkey.
Drumming rose to a crescendo in the darkened stadium, and then light and sound burst across the open field as hundreds of performers began their dances. The opening ceremony was filled with singing, musicians, dancing, yurts and mock battles. Talented acrobats rode their horses across the track, standing, spinning and jumping from their saddles, while processions of costumed performers acted out traditional Kyrgyz stories and legends to the awed crowd.
The ceremony ended with an explosive firework display that followed a rousing speech from the President of Kyrgyzstan, and the World Nomad Games were officially opened.
After a lacklustre Independence Day celebration just two days earlier in Bishkek, on 31st August, I hadn’t had huge hopes for this. But, it seems that Kyrgyzstan put all of their time and money into this opening ceremony, and I was most definitely impressed by the efforts, as were the rest of the audience.
The Competing Nations
Almost 80 nations and thousands of athletes are competing through the week in countless competitions and sports, from Kok Boru – otherwise known as dead goat polo – to horse back archery and hunting with eagles. It’s all about the traditional sports, but there are a surprising number of countries competing in some of the more unusual events.
After the fireworks and the speech, the competitors began a lively procession around the track. The Central Asian countries – particularly Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – were out in force, with hundreds of athletes each, while other traditionally nomadic nations such as Mongolia and Turkey were well represented.
A lone Australian wearing flip flops – who I later discovered was competing in Sumo – marched on his own, as did solitary figures from countries such as Armenia and the Philippines. The USA is fielding an entire Kok Boru team from Wyoming as well as horseback archers from Texas. The British even had a bagpipe band marching alongside the Union Jack flag.
Kyrchyn Gorge Opening Ceremony
Up in the mountains, is the beautifully scenic Kyrchyn Gorge, a place that’s straight out of a nomad guidebook. Green pastures roll down from the snow-topped mountains, while clear water runs down the river and along the valley. This is the setting for the second stage of the World Nomad Games, where traditional sports such as archery and hunting with eagles are played and where a huge Ethno Bazarr has been built, complete with hundreds of yurts and a huge main stage for cultural performances.
It was at this main stage, that in the afternoon of the 3rd September, a second ceremony was held to officially open this enormous yurt camp to the world. This performance was just as dramatic as the first.
Hundreds of people came out from the yurts that surrounded the stage and what followed was a display of Kyrgyz history, and a display of Kyrgyz sportsmanship and fighting prowess. The horse acrobats were back storming across the grass while great chiefs and their soldiers fought on horseback. People were knocked to the ground, dust filled the air and soldiers were even set on fire.
It was chaotic yet strangely enthralling, an exciting display of nomadic culture from not only Kyrgyzstan but much of Central Asia, and an epic way to open the third edition of the World Nomad Games.
All Words and Photos by Richard Collett