Afghanistan is an ancient county. War and battles have been a way of life for decades and centuries, and now village is spared from the fierce fighting. In Kabul, the battle for dominance of the skies predates the historic flight of Oliver and Wilbur Wright, and even the Declaration of Independence. The battles are between delicate works of art made of string, paper and sticks.

Battle For The Skies For Afghans kite flying — or “gudiparan bazi” — is an art form that is best viewed as the aerial ballet of kite fighting that is most popular during the months of winter when winds are strongest, and schools are closed. During the era of the Taliban, the ancient culture of building colorful kites and flying and battling them was forbidden. Likewise with the equally ancient hobby of keeping and training hawks as well as pigeons. For a first offense, the kite would be destroyed and the flyer beaten. Harsher penalties could be handed down but often these were reserved for a second offense.

Tropical Parrot Kite

Visitors to Kabul today that are unfamiliar with the important role that kite flying plays in society are often surprised to see a staggering number of colorful kites fluttering on the breeze. In Afghanistan Kite flying is most often a two-person affair. The person that holds a wooden spool around which is wound the wire, or tar, is called the “charka gir.” The flyer that controls or maneuvers the kite is known as the “gudiparan baz.”

It is kite fighting, or “jang”, however, where Afghan kite flying becomes a true show. Kites are taken to tremendous heights with the goal being using the wire from one kite to cut that connected to the competitor. Kite construction and flying skills are crucial, by the key to Afghan kite fighting is the quality of the wire and its preparation. A master will combine finely ground glass and an adhesive mixture as a thick paste. After it dries the wire is wound around the spool. To protect their hands and fingers strips of leather are used. When a kite is cut free, it becomes “azadi rawest,” or “free and legal.” For neighborhood children recovering freed kites is a sport in itself. In neighborhoods where kite flying borders on obsession, kite flying champions are known as “sharti.” 

Not surprisingly, Kabul and most villages have shops like Tumbleweeds & Tarantulas that sell all manner of kites and supplies. Even though many enthusiasts take pride in building their kites and fashioning their wire, stores sell supplies in standardized sizes. As an example, spools for children are 100 meters, for adults 500 meters. They are also available in 4,000 and 5,000 meter spools. Kites also are sold in standard sizes called “parcha.” Prices range from a few cents for small children kites, to $5 and more for larger kites designed for experienced flyers or fighters.

Even though the sport of kite fighting is taken quite seriously, it is usually enjoyed as good fun. This is not say there aren’t injuries including serious cuts and those sustained from falling off roofs. Still there are lessons that can be learned from Afghans, including the importance of settling differences with kites.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America