India: A Little Bit Of Kambla In My Life

After the brightly lit palace of Mysore, the peaceful trekking in Ooty (peaceful if you don’t think about the four tiger attacks that took place over the previous week), the beautiful beaches of Goa and the surreal landscapes of Hampi, Loes and I got it in our heads that it was time to take in some traditional south Indian sports. Not just any sport, mind you. We are talking about Kambla. Whoever first decided it was a good idea to rile up two massive, muscular buffalo, tie them together and hold on for dear life as all three of them barrel down a water filled trackway with no way to stop except running into an awaiting crowd of spectators is a mad man. Wait, scratch that. I mean mad genius.

The journey to find Kambla wasn’t an easy one. You see, we didn’t really know where or when to go, we just knew we WANTED to go. So we asked around. And around. And around. After eight different answers from seven different people, we finally found a lead that sounded promising. So off we went, in a cramped bus for 90 minutes to some town we, nor the Lonely Planet we have come to rely on, had any information about. A quick bite to eat and another short 20 minute rickshaw ride later we rolled up to the Kambla track congratulating ourselves on a job well done. Opps. Premature congratulations (It doesn’t happen very often, I swear. I was just really excited!). Turns out the races were over and unless we wanted to watch some illegal cock fighting, it was time to keep moving. Thankfully, some random guy informs us of a different Kambla event, only another 90 minutes away, in another town we’ve never heard of. Hmm, sounds legit. So after some brief convincing of Loes, we were on our way, yet again. This time we had a much happier ending.

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(Above: And they’re off! They raced the buffalo in two different fashions. The first was with a person holding on to them with a rope as they ran down the trackway behind them. The second was on a “T” shaped sled that skimmed over the water)

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(Above: The buffalo sometimes got the better of their handlers. It would take up to a dozen men to control them again.)

The most notable event of the race was when we decided that, in order to take the most Facebook worthy of photos (which is oh so very important these days), we would stand at the finish line, directly straight in front of the charging buffalo. It was a solid idea until the buffalo didn’t stop and broke through the line. I stood there, watching in slow motion as everyone scattered and ran for cover. When the commotion ended, I looked around for Loes, who had scampered up onto the VIP stage with wide eyes and a heaving chest. She was a little excited and just a bit more jumpy than usual, but she was alright. A wise woman, she moved to the side for the next race. Me? I stood in the exact same spot I did for the previous race. Brave or stupid? I’m still not quiet sure.

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