Cowboys in Hungary? Believe It!
On our second visit to Hungary, we took several days to visit the puszta,
the great plain in the eastern part of the country. It’s 800 square kilometers and the largest continuous natural grassland in Europe, all within the Hortobágyi National Park.
The Hungarian puszta is cattle country and along with sheep and goats, these magnificent gray beasts are the traditional breed still raised in this area. Of course, where there are cattle, there are . . .
. . . cowboys. They’re called csikós in Hungarian (pronounced CHEE-kosh) and I must confess they gave us the most thrilling display of horsemanship I have ever seen, either before or since.
Still wearing the traditional garb, the csikós all carry a long bullwhip which they whirl and crack while riding at breakneck speed and driving herds of horses or cattle ahead of them.
For me, the most thrilling performance was one csikós driving five horses all galloping at top speed. He was standing on the backs of two horses, holding the reins of all five animals in his left hand, while whirling and cracking his whip in the other.
Of course, before our visit, I had no idea that this part of the Hungarian culture even existed, let along being a centuries old tradition, originally brought to this part of the world by the Mongols.
Hungary is off the usual tourist itineraries, and Americans mostly spend just a couple of days in Budapest, but it’s a damn shame not to take an extra couple of days to see the puszta. It’s absolutely unforgettable.
Coming from the flatlands in the Low Countries, I found the puszta a bit dull. The traditional clothing is something not worn everyday, but still more often than in the West, where traditional has become historical dress… But yes, you haven’t been to Hungary without seeing the puszta, as with every country, you haven’t met the people by only going to the capital or one of the biggest cities…