Yesterday we went up to Panjshir Valley north of Kabul to see a Buzkashi game. We were so fortunate in that the season started last Friday so this was only the second game of the season, and the first on that pitch.
First of all we went up in the minibus, passing through the Panjshir valley which was home to a great deal of fighting during the Soviet war. Moving along the valley there was a lot of evidence of the fighting with tanks remains in the river, and a downed helicopter.
We ate in a local restaurant having some rice and meat, and were very much the centre of attention but it was an experience that could never have been planned. There was a lot of excitement when I gave a couple of Scottish postcards out to the people.
We headed back to watch the second Buzkashi game in the afternoon. It was fairly obvious we were new spectators as we hadn’t realised the game had started and had to let it across the pitch as the horses came running towards us. I still had my camera bag half open on the ground.
When we moved to the side we caused a bit of commotion after complaining to elders about small stones being thrown in our direction from some of the kids. It wasn’t a bad atmosphere, it was just a new experience for them, maybe more so that there were a couple of females with us.
We then headed to the other side of the pitch but unfortunately it was down wind of the game, meaning we were covered in the endless clouds of dust thrown up.
The game is very traditional and involves scoring by transporting a goat carcass around the field, using only their hands. I was amazed they just reached down to grab it – I assumed they’d carry it with something. All the horses charge together in the equivalent of a rugby scrum to get the carcass.
My mate has been speaking to a few mujahaddin men, including a general, so we met the commander by chance at the end of the game. We were then taken up to the general’s house for tea which was fascinating. It was one of those travel moments you have to embrace as you could never plan it. We were welcomed to his house and told to treat it like ours, and that we were always welcome whenever we went back. Unfortunately we had to turn down his offer of staying overnight.
Again I handed out one of my postcards of Scottish pictures as a gift which they were thrilled with. It got into one of those cultural exchanges where he felt obliged to give us a gift, despite giving us all his hospitality and his impromptu tea and cakes for eight visitors. We were assured if we went back and got in touch, we could have lunch, be guests in a better box to watch the game from and more.
What a superb day. We never got the chance to see the tank graveyard as it was almost dark when we left, but really that’s nothing compared to the experience we had.