Anyone messing with Genghis Khan did so at his peril. The illiterate son of a nomadic herder, following the unification of Mongolia's fractious tribes in 1206, he built the world's largest continental empire, twice the size of its Roman predecessor, from China to the Adriatic Coast, with large chunks of modern Iran, Hungary and Russia, spanning more than one hundred languages and cultures.
In folklore his name is synonymous with conquest by brute force with no quarter given and none sought. As in other central Asian armies in medieval times, his cavalry units were obliged to play polo to hone their equestrian skills. Legend has it that skulls of slain enemy served as polo balls, but Christopher Giercke, German-born founder-president of the Genghis Khan Polo & Riding Club, is wary of giving the legend credence. "Certainly severed heads were served up on plates, and the cavalry was never intended to pluck flowers," he shrugs. "They might have done this to intimidate enemies and persuade them to surrender, but it remains unproven."
Giercke is the central figure of the story which follows. After aeons as a court pleasure, quite as much preparation for mounted warfare, polo had all but disappeared in Central Asia by the 19th century. Giercke led the way in restoring polo to the horse-mad nomadic herders of Mongolia, a sovereign republic since 1924.
Shangai Tang Polo Cup, August, 2010.
Monkhe tengri, Orkhon Valley, Central Mongolia.
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