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Nomad Games – Chasing Nothing



Back in Kyrgyzstan

I thought I'd continue the Tech Meets Terrain journey.
Scandinavia had been a success.  I'd built the drone and got it flying with mixed results.  I put a new kit together and even had a giant leather bag to put it all in (still a work in progress).  And I'd managed to film a cinematic project with Niko's help in some of the wildest places in Sweden and Norway.
In the midst of wrapping that all up, and opportunity arose - the Nomad Games were on in Kyrgyzstan, half a world away at that point, but several people I knew were planning to go.

I was  feeling the pinch in my wallet thanks to all that time in Sweden ... and particularly Norway.
So  a change of scenery ... cheaper scenery ... was probably in order.

My old friend from last I was in Central Asia - Tom Clifton - was leading a little group of travelers to the Games, he had a place for me and everything, I just had to say yes and get myself over there...
Nothing for it - let's do this.

What would ensue would turn from a week long planned trip to see the nomad games, into living in Kyrgyzstan for 2 months for the hell of it.
I ended up shooting a tonne here and taking my work in some interesting directions.
The Nomad Games are like the Olympics for a whole heap of sports that you've never heard of, but are actually quite important to people that still live in the traditional nomadic style.
It's also somewhat of a focal event for people looking to maintain and celebrate their traditional cultures in this modern world.
Think Horse-back archery, all kinds of wrestling, eagle hunting and falconry, as well as the crowd favourite, Kok-Boru.
This event is something truly unique. 


First up - I urge a bit of cultural relativity for anyone viewing this with strong vegetarian/vegan/animal rights views.
This isn't your culture, your society - and many people in this part of the world really do still live in the traditional manner, off the land.

More-over nomadic lifestyle are no more or less cruel to animals than our the big, static, modern societies with their huge cities and industrial-scale agriculture.
Judge not, lest ye be judged and all that.

That all aside.
Let's just say, the food at the games was fresh..
Everywhere I went in the little Ger village that had sprouted around the valley hosting the main events - there was steam and smoke rising from hundreds of campfires, all the babushka's cooking up feasts non-stop.
And you couldn't walk past a camp without being offered something.

And then there's the animals running around:.
The Eagles and falcons - tied to the wrists of their handlers.
The dogs in every shape and size.
Camels and ox, and of course - horses... so many horses.
But in every case, there was someone nearby - you want a photo, that'll cost you.
You want a horseback ride - well that'll definitely cost you.  But more than that, you couldn't move for people offering you animals to pet, to take photos, to ride or touch.  And that's really not what I came here for.
If like me, you want something authentic - I don't think this is the event for you.
IF you want a show - a wild display of all kinds of things; culture, food, people and a veritable menagerie ... then I suppose this would appeal.

But personally I got in, I got out .... and I started to make other plans.


The Games are set to move to Turkey soon.
For the last 3 times it's been held in Kyrgyzstan. Though that's soon to change unfortunately, as Kyrgyzstan is definitely an ideal place to have it - there's not much in that country except mountains, and if you can say anything about them, it's that the Kyrgyz know how to throw a party.

So I'm glad I made it this year and saw it before it undoubtedly changes.
Another thing; is that it's becoming popular.

I'm not the only one thinking this, I think.  Several others remarked, that they'd never seen so many foreigners in Kyrgyzstan ... ever ... never mind in one place at one time.
It's great for tourism, the economy and hell... a little bit of recognition for a corner of the world that is too often forgotten.
No, it's not a bad thing at all.
But; for anyone familiar with travel in Central Asia, one of the big appeals is how off the beaten track it is. I hope that with the increased interest in the hidden corners of this region and in their unique cultures, that the people will be able to maintain those things that make their home so special. That it's not ruined by the inevitable tourism that will come

Escaping into the Kyrgyz mountains 

After the games I  joined a group headed into the mountains and another nearby lake - Sung Kul. 
Further into the mountains and alot more remote - there was a single bumpy dirt road in and out of there..
We stayed in a Ger camp setup for tourists - it's no hotel though, you really get the full experience here.
This was way better than the show of the Games - this was where I could find some real nomad culture.


I needed a break.
I can't even explain why ... but I did.
I mean, I hadn't stopped moving non-stop in over over 4 months ... and really that alone should be enough.
So I took a break in a place I knew would be good for it.

It's a small town on the furthest shore of Issyk Kul.
It's closer to the Chinese border than anything else, and it's ringed by mountains and hills, press up to the lake and is somewhat of a hub for all the local farmers in the region.

I've been here before.
You might recognise the farmers market - I revisited it ... and boy, I wish that had changed.
This was also where I met Tom and the rest of the group who tried crossing the Pamir's in that  dodgy Lada a couple of years ago.
Good memories, and this was one way to revisit them...

I spent 2 weeks here; worked, slept, rested.  I went exploring, went drinking with locals on a hill, fly my drone as often as I could and spent my time - for once - not moving.