A crash of horses and men deep in a mountain pass signals the start of another game of buzkashi, Afghanistan’s national sport.
Buzkashi, which translates roughly as “goat pulling,” has been played for centuries across Central Asia and is one of the most enduring and iconic symbols of Afghanistan, reports Reuters.
It is a sport which is often violent, but designed to showcase the riders’ horsemanship and warrior spirit.
Amid foreign invasions, civil wars, and insurgent attacks, Afghans have gathered to cheer on their favorite “chapandaz,” as the riders are known.
On Friday, a typical community match played out under the soaring, snow-capped peaks that surround the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul.
Rusting hulks of Russian-made tanks and guns litter the Panjshir, testifying to the years of war when famed guerilla commander Ahmad Shah Massoud used the mountains to hold off first the Soviets, then the Taliban.
“It’s been almost fifty to sixty years that buzkashi matches have been happening on this site,” said Abdul Anaan, a spectator.
“I myself was a horseman and usually played buzkashi, and today many youth are interested in this game and playing it.”
The game typically involves riders on horses wrestling over half of a calf carcass, which is usually able to withstand the pounding better than goats.
Matches may involve individual players competing, or teams, often owned or sponsored by powerful warlords or other leaders.
In both cases, the goal is to carry the carcass and drop it on a target on the ground, all while dozens of other riders and horses grab, hit, kick, and struggle to tear the carcass away.
“If we fall down on the ground or get hurt it doesn’t mean that we are angry with each other,” said horseman Mohammed Hafiz. “This is just the rule of the game.”