Day seven – Kyrchyn and the ethno village

Up at 8, out for 9 and off to the ethnovillage in the Kyrchyn gorge. This is a long trip as it situated some 30Km up in the mountains. The road is winding and dusty but just about has room for two way traffic but there are also animals on the road either roaming free or being driven by a farmer. We had Amir with us today and he had a bit of a strop which caused us some angst but we eventually arrived at the beautiful sight of hundreds of yurts well spread over a large area in a bowl shaped hollow at the foot of magnificent mountains. 

After parking it was a long rough walk across natural countryside to the village. Aina took the easy way with Amir, on horseback as there were numerous men offering lifts to whichever part of the village you wanted to go to. We found out later they were charging 200 SOM although Aina knocked it down to 100SOM! This is roughly £1

Incidentally the bus fare from the Hippodrome to the Ethnovillage is 50-70SOM! 60-80p

Meanwhile we headed for the mid point of the mass of yurts and were then at a loss as to what to do or where to find the events we wanted to see. It was explained to us that the yurts were arranged in villages one from each of the 9 provinces of Kyrgyzstan and that each one would put on a performance periodically throughout the day. Our  companions, a woman friend of Aina’s mum and Asgar a young man from Kazakhstan also staying at the guesthouse directed us to one of the yurts to partake of food and Kumiss (fermented mares milk – not to my taste but of course I tried it). There we were encouraged to take photos of each other reclining it on the carpets and of course some beautiful embroidered pictures came out for sale. Mostly these were of Putin, their  PM and Trump! We were not at all interested in these but there was a small picture of a Kyrgyz archer but I didn’t buy it because I really wasn’t sure what the custom was here. 

As we left the Yurt it was obvious something was about to happen so we stopped. It was a beautiful and interesting musical play of a courtship of a young man and woman and village life, we think! Dancers in beautiful costume and little girls playing Ordo, a game played with sheep bones and looked the same as knuckle bones of my youth! A narrator sang the story and members of the village acted out the play. This lasted for about an hour and we stayed for it all sitting in an audience with a small party of Japanese tourists. 

We then meandered slowly up to the northern most point where Aina and the UNDP yurt was situated. Lots of dressed up people to watch and a big bazaar. We had a few words and then found out that the sporting activities were in another group of yurts some 1/2 km to the east. We walked over and then sat on a hill avoiding the cow pats and horse dung and settled to watch hawk and golden eagle hunting/ baiting. One Arab was virtually disqualified because he was not swinging the lure to entice the hawk but letting it rest on the ground. The referees were very kind though and just timed him out really. 

The eagles were another thing. The first two ‘enticements’ ended with the eagles flying off in the wrong direction. There seemed to be distractions such as dogs and would you believe it a drone! But once they sorted that out we saw some fabulous flying! 

It was now about 2o’clock and we had had no lunch! There was no food or drink in this area and we reluctantly decided we would need to take the half mile hike to the bazaar when we came across a very enterprising man selling pastries and cakes  from the back of his van. Just 60 SOM for two large pain de chocolate type pastries. So we were able to stay some more  and went to watch the archery.

This was fascinating! In the event we saw, the competitors stood with their backs to the target, all in national costume, loaded the bow and then turned the top part of their bodies to fire. There were handsome representatives of all the  home countries as well as a lady in Tyrolese gear from Germany. We stayed a while watching and then moved on. We decided to pass on the boules taking place in some open walled yurt shaped structures.

So we took the long walk back to the main camp. Where are those horses when you need one? (I had walked 7.5km by the end of the day). We headed for the bazaar to seek proper lunch and found a corner selling Plov. Nothing like Sultans but dead cheap at whole £1.50! And a huge portion. Ian went looking for drink and came upon compote which he was given free. 

It was huge bazaar with just about everything nomadic. Skins of all varieties, craft products, food products especially dried fruits, clothing, lots of drinks including the local concoctions. These were not to my taste although we were assured they were very thirst quenching.

Being very foot sore by now we wandered off south looking for seating and came upon an arena where, once I sat my bum down, I discovered was to observe events on a huge central stage where a number of demonstrations and competitions around the concept of narrations from different areas was in progress.

We sat and listened for  awhile. The stage was a long way from the audience which was a shame but the music was mystical and the performance was held in an amazing venue with the mountains in the background, and stone and wooden ethnic stage and decorations. 

We were then attracted by noise to the tail end of some kind of horse acrobatics but we only saw I person standing on his horse. Shame. 

So we continued our walk around the different camps. We enjoyed a good 15 minutes watching a different village music and dance performance sitting on a slope amongst several families dressed in different ethnic costumes. Shortly afterwards Aina rang to say we needed to head back up the archery at the other end of the village because they have organised a one way system for access. It was a long way! And all the horses had disappeared again! But we got there, watching a dog race on the way. 

So a long drive home through spectacular scenery. No pictures though as I had a sleeping baby in my arms. Amir was totally exhausted from all the excitement. He had had lots of rides on horses one way or another. 

Home then for another delicious meal from Aina’s Mum. This time another delicious soup, kippers much tastier than those we usually have, chicken breast, mashed potato and salads, and finally fresh fruit. 

The evening was spent in earnest discussion between a friend of Aina’s mum, with no English and who used to work with the Soviets, Askar from Kazakhstan translating very rapidly and Ian. I was mostly nodding off! 

Day 6. Kok Boru, wrestling …. and posh frock

Up early as Aina needed to get up to the ethnic village at 9 so we arrived at the hippodrome in good time to see the opening ceremony of the Kok Boru. This is a game of three periods, twenty minutes each although clock stops when the game stops. We watched the first game between Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan thrashed Mongolia 29-5. The game starts by the goat carcass being dumped in the centre of the field and three players from each team gallop to pick it up off the ground. This carcass weighs 35kg and is very awkward and heavy to hold. The Kyrgyzs seemed to win every time and Mongols just couldn’t keep up. The trick once winning it seemed to be to get a secure hold of it over the saddle and then sling it over the arm as you approach the well so it can be thrown in. At least once I saw the player follow the carcass into the well. Not a deep well I am pleased to say. The Mongolians sometimes manage to get it off the ground but either dropped it or got it wrestled off them.

After the game we went for a coffee but had to wait easily half an hour for it. They seemed in no rush. It was nice when we got it and we bought a pastry to accompany it. A sit in the glorious sun and then we moved towards the Sports Complex for wrestling but were diverted by a huge crowd gathered around an outside stage. This turned out to be arm wrestling, male and female, by body weight. Obviously a very popular sport considering the crowd. We watched for an hour. I was surprised at the fact that they can hold a pole with the other hand, wrap their leg round the table leg if they wanted, and use their whole body if need be. Many bouts were over in the blink of an eye. Some collapsed in one way or another. Some took a while. The contestants were often very vocal on their winning a bout. Countries such as India and the USA didn’t do too well. It was mainly the *stans who did best. This went on all day and we saw the medal winners leaving about 5 although we had moved on by then. 

We moved on to the last type of competition on today. Belt wrestling.  This is a type of wrestling where the competitors wear a loose waist belt and their oponent grabs the belt with both hands and then attempts to wrestle the opponent to the ground. They get one point for doing so but 2 points if they pin their opponents shoulder blades to the ground. Again there were bouts for males and females, equally, and of different weights. We really enjoyed this and the place was packed. We stayed for some time til we realised it was 3 o’clock and we were very thirsty and had had no lunch. So we left and drank coke and ate Caesar salad. 

A return to the arm wrestling for the finals and then we waited for Aina to come from Kyrchyn where the ethnic village is situated.  We are off to the UK Ambassador’s local villa for a reception! She was late because they closed the road for VIPs again. That must be so annoying for the people here. 

We had planned to change in the hippodrome loos, and put my posh frock on that I packed just in case! but when Aina arrived she had rung ahead and arranged for us to change at the Ambassador’s villa.

So we drove another 30 mins to the east to a nice country villa and helped ourselves to one of the bathrooms. Then we discovered the reception was being held out in the garden where the temperature was quickly dropping. I told Aina that a glass of wine would soon help me to keep warm.  Two glasses did it even better!

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We spoke to lots of interesting people. And kept our shoes on! We had a quick word with the Ambassador, a very friendly guy, before he got called away. We also had quite a chat with Baroness Stern who appears to be a sponsor of Kyrgyzstan. We also talked to a media guy, various people who worked at the embassy including a Scottish girl from East Kilbride, but the best fun was chatting to the UK team who had been invited to the reception. Nellie(Neil) and another three guys from the Highland Games Association who had given a demo of caber tossing and hammer throwing, and a small group of pipers from the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery. The Pipe Major commented on the great time they had had that day visiting the ethnic village and how …. bizarre ……it was for a serving officer of the British Army to be welcomed into all the yurts including Afghan ones. Neil was a hoot with colourful language, knocking back whisky and dwarfing me but chatting away like I was one of the guys. I felt quite at home.

The evening ended with a demo of the pipes and the Highland Fling performed by a very anxious looking young man. Ian had a conversation with him and he confessed to having been very nervous  doing the Fling at the ceremony at Kyrchyn, but in truth he had no need to be as his performance was excellent. Ian also chatted to one of the athletes who turned out to have been taught History by one of Ian’s former colleagues!

Day Five – Opening Ceremony

We slept late but joined the family at breakfast. Buckwheat porridge for Ian, I had zucchini pancakes which tasted just normal although a little sweeter. Boiled eggs. Lots of fruit. Then we got chatting to a young man from Kazakhstan who works for a TV station. Askar.

We took a walk down to the lake shore over very dry shrubland past grazing cows watching where we stepped. The shore of the lake was sand and the water so clear and blue. I took a wee paddle of course and sat on a swing seat to look across the lake. The evening we arrived we could see the mountains on the south side but today the lake seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance. It is 70 km wide! 

Called back for lunch we had a delicious soup of meatballs and chick peas. I also had Manty followed by  more delicious fruit. We then set off for Chalpon-ata where the World Nomad Games are being held. Aina’s father took us and dropped us off as near as possible. We had hoped to see some intellectual  games such Mangala but they were some distance back the way we had come in an hotel. We had just missed the wrestling so we took a look at the Hippodrome next door and then went looking for something to drink. We managed to while away three hours that way over coke and some of the local brew maksym. (There is a fab advert associated with this drink!) Askar had an amazing knowledge of all matters Central Asia. 

At 6pm we were admitted to the hippodrome where we met up with Aina and her UNDP colleagues. I had my photo taken with a snow leopard and with Leonardo de Caprio. We looked for some food and chose from the pictures as most of the notices were in Russian/Kyrgyz but managed a nice hot dog and beefburger and two sprites for a whole £4. We then went on the stadium in preparation for the Opening Ceremony. It was getting quite chilly! 

The ceremony was fabulous. Only professional pictures and video can do it justice. Stories and scenes and music from Kyrgyz history. Colourful and spectacular. 

Then we had the entrance of the athletes. Some surprising countries taking part including Nigeria, Austria, Columbia, Ecuador and the UK. Well, a Scots regiment and some Highlanders. 

Once the President opened the Games, there was a mad rush for the exits. Not in time though. Thousands of people locked in to allow the dignitaries to leave in peace. Quite a crush. Dunno what health and safely back home would say! . (Every time any VIP is on the road all the traffic gets stopped. There seem to be a lot of VIPs). Got out eventually. Bit of a traffic jam but got home eventually. 

Day Four – Lake Izzyk-Kul

Up nice and smart today as we are off to Altynai’s induction to school. She starts next Tuesday, but today the parents get to meet the teachers and see the other pupils and the school and classroom. School runs from 1st Sept until 29th May. Umar has his induction also but goes first with his Dad. He looks very smart and takes some white roses. 

Altynai is very neat also with a bunch of flowers for her teacher. In her hair she wears the tartan bows I brought. When we arrive we are directed into a tennis court where all the teachers are waiting to greet their pupils. Every teacher is introduced, several pupils demonstrate dance, the Head teacher gives  a stirring speech about the value of education – all in English! The school itself has mottos also in English. I have been reminding Altynai about her English and she has been quite shy about using it but I guess she will soon have no choice! 

After a lunch of Plov, we all set off to Izzyk-Kul. This was a long trip across the level plain and then through a gorge surrounded by many and very varied mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

After four hours we saw Lake Izzyk-Kul, the second largest lake in the world. Can you see it through the trees? It is a salt lake formed from tectonic movements which is being filled  from glaciers and rivers but with no outlet, hence the salinity. It is 170km long and 70km at the widest point. Narrower here you can see majestic snow capped mountains on the southern shore. We are going there after the Games. Lots of horses roaming the pastures, and the roads, as these are a crucial part of the Kyrgyz people’s way of life.

Another half an hour and we arrive  at Aina’s mothers guest house. Here we have a suite, bedroom, lounge, bathroom and drying room. Spotless and comfortable and with room to properly sort out suitcases. We had just had a good repack when we got called to dinner. I was given a noodle soup although I could not see any noodles, and Ian a vegetable soup which turned out to have cabbage in but was delicious. This was followed by the usual delicious fruit, locally grown.

Then Aine suggested visiting some local hot springs. These are piped from a source deep underground to several different outlets. So Aina, children and ourselves spent an hour in a swimming pool at 37degrees. Very tiring. But very relaxing. I have no idea how anyone would find these springs as it was accessible through a number of non descript buildings. On the way out we met ten coaches bearing police for security at the Games starting tomorrow. Feeling all warm and relaxed we retired to bed.

Day Three Independence Day

Today is Independence Day! For Kyrgyzstan. Lots of celebrations in Bishkek but first, time to get the family organised. And no rush so a bit of a lie in. The family are always careful to keep quiet and not disturb us until we wake. Which is generous as our bedroom is between them and the bathroom!

We had a leisurely breakfast and then into Bishkek. Umar elects to stay home alone to carry out a number of chores such as cutting up and laying out  any fruit ready from the garden. Today it is apples.

Bishkek is still not frightfully busy although there is lot of pomp and ceremony. We head for the main square when there is a concert ongoing. Young and old are singing or dancing. And there are lots of national costumes round about.

After a while we move on in pursuit of other celebrations firstly looking for sports demos  but this is not happening where advertised so we move on for some topiary. The children have great fun climbing around and posing on the various animals . Next to this is a small play park with the rides made out of varnished wood. 

Aina needs to fetch her work laptop. She works for the UN. So we go to a coffee shop for my first cup of coffee since we arrived in the country and a slice of strudel. Altynai has stayed with us and despite not remembering any English we manage to communicate. Strawberry ice cream! She and Ian then rebond over a game of hide and seek around the coffee shop followed by stories. The people here are very child friendly.  Following a walk in one of the lovely parks, we go to the opening of a new kindergarten, a new venture for one of Aine’s friends. A lovely place where they intend to teach English and this is demonstrated by the posters with fruits for example which have the names in three languages, Kyrgyz, Russian and English. We are invited to join them in tea, compote and nibbles. I liked the pumpkin samosas. Time then to go home for a real treat. 

Sultan has decided to cook Plov a kind of pilaff with rice, lamb, yellow carrots, onions and cumin. This takes awhile to cook but it is absolutely delicious. This is accompanied by tomato, bread and chilli water! Melon and watermelon  for pudding, both really delicious. But then they are fresh. Sultan told us about men’s club meetings when they make and eat Plov together although nowadays women come sometimes.