What to expect at the World Nomad Games in Turkey this year

As Turkey prepares to host the games for the first time this September, Nick Goodyer recalls last time around in Kyrgyzstan

It’s half-time and the scoreboard reads Kyrgyzstan 4, Mongolia 2. The Kyrgyz home crowd love it and cheer the boys as they head to the rest area for refreshments. But this is no game of football, this isn’t Wembley and there are no crayfish and rocket sandwiches.

The ‘ball’ is a decapitated goat, the players ride horses and it’s not unheard of for participants to be maimed or even killed in this traditional game of kok boru, a heady mix of rugby, polo and pub-style brawling. And the half-time fare is salted, fermented cheese washed down with Arna beer.

The ‘ball’ is a decapitated goat, the players ride horses

I’m at the Cholpon-Ata Hippodrome for the World Nomad Games, held on the shores of Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul, a beautiful and enormous body of water framed by the Tian Shan mountains that border western China. This is one of two main venues for the games, the other being about 20 miles to the east in Kyrchyn Gorge, a sacred valley set against the magnificent backdrop of the Kungoi Ala-Too range.

Besides the brawling, other events include horseback archery, horse racing, wrestling, wrestling on horseback (naturally), hunting with eagles and straightforward medieval warfare with full armour and real weapons. But it’s not all testosterone-fuelled: the games bring people from all over the world to take part in cultural pursuits such as singing, dancing, music, cookery and verse.

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In all, there are 37 events, drawing 3,000 participants from more than 80 countries, some of them a real surprise. Singapore isn’t known for its nomadic culture, but has a martial arts team. Canada is well represented by its First Nations horseback archery team.

And even Scotland gets a look in with tossing the caber accompanied by bagpipes. This year’s fourth World Nomad Games, delayed by two years because of the pandemic, will be held for the first time in Turkey in the town of Iznik. And after a four-year gap, they promise to be back with a bang.

Book it

Wild Frontiers Travel offers an 11-day Turkey: World Nomad Games group tour from Cappadocia via Ankara to Istanbul, with three nights in Iznik for the games, from £2,475, departing August 28, 2022. The price is based on two sharing and excludes international flights.

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PICTURES: Shutterstock/Kertu, Katiekk

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