The World Nomad Games are a biennial event showcasing nomadic sports, culture, and lifestyle. They’re a spectacle to behold. Read on to find out why you should visit the World Nomad Games at least once.
Headless goat polo! Eagle hunting! #Yurtlife!
The World Nomad Games promises all of the epic nomadic action you’ve only ever seen on National Geographic. But, as we all know, promises and reality are not always one and the same.
If you’re like me—that is to say, overly skeptical—you might be a little dubious. The Games sound like they could be intriguing, but they could also be a huge tourist trap. I thought the same before attending the 2016 World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan, and went in expecting the least and planning to only stay for a couple of days.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Are the World Nomad Games worth the trip? Heck yes they are.
My expectations: An overblown, painfully touristic cultural show.
What I got: An ever-surprising, action-packed, Central Asian festival.
Each day was filled with masterful stunts on horseback, insanely photogenic everything, and hospitable nomads delighted to show off their culture. I was satisfied, to say the least.
But don’t just take my word at face value: here are 5 reasons you need to visit the World Nomad Games.
5 reasons you need to visit the World Nomad Games
1. They’re not a tourist trap.
Okay, the World Nomad Games are intended to attract tourists and boost tourism in their host country. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be drowning in a sea of obnoxious foreign tourists!
There were far more Kyrgyz people than foreigners at the World Nomad Games in 2016 and 2018. Spectator and performer alike were excited to show off their culture, and oh were they a sight to behold.
Plenty of nomadic families rolled in to set up yurts near the event. Men and women donned traditional clothes. Many a spectator were on horseback. Young, aspiring eagle hunters wandered through the crowds with tiny eaglets in tow.
It’s entirely possible you’ll enjoy watching the crowd more than the actual events!
2. You’ll see all kinds of crazy things hard to find elsewhere in the world.
Let’s be real. Where else can you see sports involving headless goat carcasses, horseback wrestling, mounted archery, long-distance racing, and eagle hunting all in one place?
What about massive yurt camps filled with people in nomadic garb?
Random camels wandering around?
And most importantly, endless quantities of nomad noms?
How about event venues in jailoos, soaring alpine pastures, surrounded by mountains?
Or sports arenas on the shores of one of the largest lakes in the world?
No, your television does not count.
3. The World Nomad Games are cheap.
It seems a bit odd that such a big event would be so cheap to see, but that’s the truth!
To start, there’s the fact that in 2016 and 2018 the World Nomad Games were free to attend. Yes, free!
The only events you needed tickets for were the opening and closing ceremonies. Everything else was ticket-free. There was a free shuttle system to the major venues, and people were all too happy to treat you to all kinds of delicious (and usually free) goodies in the cultural camp.
On top of that, Central Asia is a relatively cheap place to travel in for both backpackers and traditional holiday goers. You can have…
- An ice-cold beer for under $1
- A juicy kebab for $2-3
- A lakefront guesthouse for under $20 a night (if booked far enough in advance)
Don’t believe me? My budget report for Kyrgyzstan is proof.
4. The World Nomad Games will only get better.
At the 2016 and 2018 World Nomad Games there were yellow-clad volunteers galore, ensuring attendees had as smooth an experience as possible. They spoke a variety of languages, from English to Russian to Kyrgyz to French, were happy to show people around (and translate!), and were well informed about the schedule… when possible.
But, to be honest, being well informed was easier said than done. A definitive schedule was the only thing missing from the World Nomad Games… and it led to a lot of confusion.
Is this kok buru match between Russia and Kazakhstan or America and Kyrgyzstan? Are the eagle speed trials today or tomorrow?
Part of it was due to a bit of bad weather at the start, and part of it was… well, typical Central Asian planning (or a lack thereof).
In the end, it wasn’t a big deal—there was always something interesting going on, though it wasn’t always what you expected. On the positive side, volunteers were constantly surveying attendees on how the event could be improved. Expect much improved organization and infrastructure in the future!
5. They’re epic. (Do you need any other reason?)
I’ve touched on this already, but it needs to be said again.
I won’t even bother trying to put words to this. Just take a look at these photos and see for yourself:
When are the next World Nomad Games?
So far, Kyrgyzstan has been the only country to host the World Nomad Games. However, the 2019 WNG are supposed to be held in Turkey. You can stay tuned for more information using the World Nomad Games website and Facebook page.
And, of course, keep on watching my blog! I also want to check out the next World Nomad Games. Maybe I’ll see you there? 😉
Want more beautiful Kyrgyz goodness? Don’t miss my photo essay of our problematic horse trek to Song Kul lake.