Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Formula Hmong - wooden cart racing

Hmong people are an ethnic group believed to have migrated from the Tibetan highlands to the Yellow river region before being pushed out of their homeland by the Chinese Han expansion. They journeyed to several South-Asian countries and are now native to Burma, Vietnam, Laos and North Thailand. Fierce "montagnards", they are keen to keep their Independency, traditions and cultural identity. Their isolated dwellings, on mountain slopes, facilitated this. In present-days, however, the younger generation tends to drift to larger cities with modern facilities.

The Hmong New Year, celebrated in late December or early January, is still a main opportunity for families to get together, rejoice about the rice crop and honor the elderly, ancestors and spirits. In addition to household rituals, it is a time to enjoy traditional communal outdoor activities, like tossing cloth balls, singing, dancing and playing with spinning tops.

The celebration goes on for three days and might be shifted to allow friends and relatives to participate. In Chiangmai district, a fourth festive day is added, by rotation between the villages, to allow the inhabitants of the twelve Hmong settlements to have fun together and to enjoy the "Formula Hmong" wooden cart race; a thrilling downhill driving competition.

In January 2016, the host was "Nong Hoi Mai" a Hmong village on the north slope of Mon Chaem (Maerim district, Chiangmai province). From the early morning on, a colorful crowd of visitors flocked the access road and the village's festive places. The wooden cart competition, on the hill’s slope, is not the only attraction; it is however, the venue's highlight.

The “Formula Hmong racing” being a gravity sport, the vehicles have to be lifted uphill for the tournament. Nowadays, this burden is taken care by pickup trucks. The carts' construction has also to respect certain rules, for instance, a maximum length of 100 centimeters and a width limited to 80 centimeters. The maximum wheel diameter is one foot for a thickness of about one inch.

This year, twenty-two drivers competed, on the purposely-prepared dust trail, in a breathtaking confrontation. Accidents are frequent, but not too serious, as the contestants wear helmets.

The starting block is the launching ramp to the 200 meters long “Nong Hoi Mai” racing slope. On this dusty earthen trail, with 50 meters of denivelation, the carts can reach a speed of about 50 km per hour.

By pairs, the competitors take their position on the launching ramp. The first round sees twenty-two drivers, from eleven villages, challenging each other in an eliminator leap; eleven will remain in contention for the second race.

In all sports, the feat of the champions raises the spectators’ enthusiasm and cheering. For the “Nong Hoi Mai” venue, the star was Jang Sealee, already a triple winner. He wears the “number 1” shirt, in red or green, depending upon his challenger’s color.

For the first time, the venue was well covered by "TV Channel 3"; this nationwide broadcasting boosts the organizer and participants' mood, as it highlights the worthwhile preservation of a fancy tradition

On the dust covered trail, the arrivals are sometimes tumultuous.

Some are rushing down the slope just for fun and some are dreaming to become the next champion.

For comprehensive photographic coverage of this event and more details about the venue and the champion, follow the link to my write-up (on GT-Rider forum):

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