Kila Raipur Sports Festival – Getting Up and Close With Rural Punjab

Tung tung da Sound Karda, tung tung da

Tung tung da saaj
Tere mere dil vich loud vajda
Tung tung tung hai tung waaj

It was MTV Sound Trippin that introduced me to the adrenaline pumping sports event of Rural Punjab. Kila Raipur Sports Festival went a little mainstream in 2016 when Amir Khan chose the setting has the shooting location for Dangal. After spending three days in this festive extravaganza, I realized what must have been the reasons for him to select this place as the shooting location.

Back in 2014, Bullock Cart race was very popular here, often called the USP of the event. For some reasons, animal right groups got it banned and since then horse and mule cart race have taken all the attention of the festival enthusiasts.

(C) Anshul Kumar Akhoury

I took a train from Delhi and reached Ludhiana at 5:30 in the morning. I had no idea about how I am supposed to travel further. All I knew was that there are buses going to Dehlon from where shared auto rikshaws will take me to Kila Raipur, or as the bus driver told me, Killa Rapper.

When you are traveling in Punjab, you are supposed to be very specific about two things. You do not pronounce the names as they are spelled in English. For example, Dehlon is Dhellon. This whole Dehlon, Dhellon confusion got me into the wrong bus and I almost reached Jalandhar.

(C) Anshul Kumar Akhoury

Second thing that you must take care of is that when a Punjabi offers you food, you must eat it. Punjabis are very emotional about their food and take is as a personal offence when you refuse to eat what is being offered. I was traveling to Anandpur Sahib, I stopped at a Dhaba. My tired face, dirty clothes and messy hair gave the dhaba owner and the guests a feeling that I haven’t eaten anything for a year. They started putting food on my plate. Chapatis to the size of an entire plate, daal filled in a tumbler double the size of regular ones. Then came a glass of Lassi whose quantity was enough to feed me four times. Politely, I asked them to stop and the dhaba owner looked as if I have questioned that entire logic behind his faith. I told him, I’ll get fat if I eat so much, a guest replied, ‘ agar mote nahi hoge to pata kaise chalega ki Punjab aae the’ (If you don’t get fat, how would you tell people that you were in Punjab.) Everyone laughed, Apparently in Punjab, there is no such thing as too much food.

It was 12:30 in the afternoon when I finally arrived Kila Raipur sports venue. For a change there were no soft drink billboards and banners sponsoring the event. This actually felt like one of those places free from the grip of corporate chains and mainstream media. I tried to get into the sports ground but was stopped by policemen as I didn’t have a press pass. I looked around and then entered the sports ground from the fields. I kept running away from the organizers so that they don’t send me back.

Teams from different districts of Punjab were trying to outmatch each other in a high flying kabaddi match. There were players who had previously participated in National Kabaddi League. A team member from the opposite team crossed the line and jumped on the defending team, they tried hard to catch him, he tried his best to eliminate atleast one of his opponents, both failed and the game continued.

(C) Anshul Kumar Akhoury

Tussi Said (side) ho jao, ghodeya wich breakan nahi hondi (Move aside, horses don’t come with breaks)

While human competitors are in their full force to perform the best, it is the animals who take the center stage. The hunter dogs from Punjab Police, the mules, horses and even a camel flaunting his intricate decorations, each of them is trying their best to impress the audience.

The race of the hunter dogs from Punjab Police is enough to thrill and scare the shit out of you at the same time. They are unleashed by their handlers and they run across the track in such a fierce speed that my camera fails to capture them. They themselves are unable to control their speed and by the moment they stop, they are already in the nearby fields. Not a big deal, they recognize their handlers through a special whistle. They are found in no time. A journo shows me the pic of dog race from his huge camera. It is so precise that I almost feel jealous at my inability to buy a decent equipment, but it turns out that these are some of my finest clicks till date.

(C) Anshul Kumar Akhoury

Finally, I get to see what I was waiting for. The horse race starts. There are competitors from Rajasthan, Haryana and the host state Punjab. A fire in the air and the horses and their jockeys race to their destination. The thrill can be felt from their faces and everytime the jockey screams the horse responds, trying to outmatch the leading horse.

Kila Raipur is a visual treat. For anyone who wants to get up and close with the culture of Punjab, this is the place to be. The sports event is sponsored by Grewal foundation and invites sportsmen from far off corners of Punjab and even Kenedda (That’s how Canada is pronounced here). It has something to offer to everyone, whether you are a sports enthusiast, a photographer or a culture seeker, you’ll find everything that you have been looking for. The range of sports varies from sprint events of 100, 400 and 1600 meters for men, women and senior citizens. There is a wheelchair race for army veterans, weight lifting contests with truck tires and wheat sacks.

(C) Anshul Kumar Akhoury

Kila Raipur gives you a glimpse of rural and rustic Punjab. Green fields, glasses of lassi, sugarcane juice and spicy choley kulche are here to feed your soul. Bhangra performers take your heart away while stunt coordination by The Nihangs takes your breath away. Kila Raipur Sports Festival is one event that you must experience in the coming years before it goes mainstream.

When: Kila Raipur Rural Olympics is held every year in the month of February

How to Reach: Ludhiana is the nearest city where you can stay. There are buses leaving for Dehlon every half an hour from ISBT. From Dehlon you can catch a tuktuk to sports venue.

Follow my journeys on Instagram and Facebook

About the author

Anshul once used to be a struggling comic book writer that gave up his dream like many others, now he is just a struggling writer. As an engineering dropout he found his dreams hidden in the mountains and sea shores and since then he has been solo traveling across the country. Anshul likes putting down his thoughts and travel experiences in form of poetry, he calls himself a hopeless romantic who wishes to fall in love with the mountains, the oceans and the rivers. Apart from bitten by travel bug, Anshul loves reading comic books and writing his travel stories in his blog at

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9 thoughts on “Kila Raipur Sports Festival – Getting Up and Close With Rural Punjab

  1. The sports festival is raw, enthusiastic and utterly amazing! The adrenaline rush is amazing. Would love to visit Punjab for this very reason. And yes there is no such thing as too much food in Punjab!

  2. Looks like a modern spin on ancient activities. I would love to get up close and personal to see first hand these taking place. The race of the dogs sounds really intense but exciting at the same time.

  3. Wow, this sounds like quite an experience! I thought it was interesting that you basically had to accept food when it was offered to you, that will be good to remember. Also, the horse race sounds absolutely thrilling–you did an awesome job describing it!

  4. Awesome. This is the first time I am reading a post covering the sports festival of Killa Raipur. Being from Punjab, I can actually feel the emotions Punjabis have with their food and the Language. Only they are the one who can understand their language very well. Honestly! even at times, I fail to understand. Thanks for sharing this and you got me back to the memories of Punjab. I really need to plan a trip soon.

  5. We are very fascinated by the rural part of the land of Punjab. And your account of the Kila Raipur Sports Festival is just awe-inspiring. This is how the culture and tradition of India should have been always represented isnt it? Free of hoardings and advertisements! It is interesting to see that even kids are part of the festival. Thanks for the tip on food though there is very probably that we would have to go through same but we will definitely take care in advance 😉

  6. I have always found Punjabi so very lively. And they are so welcoming as well. True they are very emotional about their food. And they are as strong a tribe. A sport festival like this seems just apt in Punjab. Will love to experience sometimes.

  7. I am actually happy to hear that animal rights groups got Bullock Cart racing banned. It is not hard to understand why animal rights groups would be against these sports using animals. A lot of times when you use animals for these kinds of races they end up dying or being seriously injured (Which results in the being put to sleep as they are of no use anymore). There really is no need for animals to be used for our entertainment. I feel like the rural Olympics would be a something we would give a miss to.

  8. Amazing! Love reading about these little known things from remote corners of India. Bangalore is one concrete jungle, hard to see such scenes.

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