Imagine: groups of men dressed to ward off the chill, wearing heavy coats, woollen hats, and thick boots; impatient horses churning towards their goal: in this case, a decapitated calf corpse. The crowd hunkers on an overlooking cliff, and gets up to cheer as a rider and his horse break free from the circle of players, dragging the heavy calf around a flagpole and into a white circle. He’s scored a goal!
Prize money includes sums from local businessmen, ranging from $20 to $100 — a considerable amount by local standards. Some games are modest, but some attract up to 800 riders. More prestigious games involve warlords and politicians adding to the pot. Foreigners are also beginning to join in the fun.
There is hope that the game of buzkashi will unify Afghans, as it did during the reign of King Zahir Shah from the 1950s to the 1970s.