I went to the bull races for the first time last Friday. This is an exciting event held in villages all over Pakistan, and as luck would have it, this one was held at a village just 30 minutes from Islamabad. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we drove to the site, where about 5,000 spectators — all men — have already gathered. Some waved and cheered us welcome. Many, especially boys and teenagers, gawked at us – an odd group of 15 foreigners including seven women. We became part of the attraction as some couldn’t take their eyes off us while the races were going on.
Bull races are often held in open fields. Each team is made up of two bulls and their “driver,” who holds the reins with his left hand, a stick to prod them with his right, while standing on a sled made of what looks like thick leather. Some teams have men running alongside the bull to make sure they stay on track. And that’s all, no helmets, or protective pads, nothing but quick reflexes to jump out of the sled if things go wrong as they often do. These bulls are fast. As if that’s not enough they also set off firecrackers on both sides of the track to make the animals go faster. It’s a very dangerous sport: drivers run the risk of being dragged, trampled, and getting their neck broken. The same risks apply to spectators who get in the way when the bulls veer off course.
This is why I was advised to stay away from the starting line, so that we can at least see the bulls and have a chance to run if they coming running towards us instead. Many people just get on top of trucks and carts, even trees. And our host arranged for a pickup truck for us. This was great, because we were able to see a lot of action. My friend Monica entertained us with stories of bulls charging into vehicles, and about one driver who got dragged on his stomach but refused to let go, and still managed to pull himself up and back on the sled to finish the race. Really remarkable when you see how fast these animals go. The only thing I didn’t like about this setup was we were facing the sun so it was hard to get clear shots, more so when the dusts were so thick. But I managed to get a few shots and video clips to give you an idea: