Monthly Archives: September 2018

Day ten – no such thing as a free lunch!

Back in Bishkek and planning our last two days. What did we still want to do? There were two things on my list. A visit to any local museums and art gallery, with immersion in the culture -we decided to do this the next day to give Aina and her family some peace at the weekend before school and work starts again – and the Osh market! Aina’s Mum offered to take us this afternoon after our lunch out. (I never did learn her name!)

So we spent a relaxing time with the family in the morning before taking a taxi to the Park Hotel where we were meeting Isakov Ruslan Executive Director of Glavtour. A very nice hotel! One of two that this company owns, the other being at Lake Issyk-Kul next door to Aina’s Mum’s guest house!

(Incidentally taxis are really cheap, to British people, in Bishkek. For a half an hour journey expect to pay about £2. But agree a price first. If you don’t speak the language you can get ripped off. And few taxi drivers speak any English so we had the address written down. )

So we had a look at the hotel restaurant menu with a critical eye in preparation for our meeting. It was very comprehensive! A number of Kyrgyz dishes; I felt there could be more, and a wide range of  dishes from Europe and beyond. It would keep me happy for days. Isakov arrived a few minutes late with a young lady we had met the previous night. Her role it seemed was principally interpreter although she was very interested in what we had to say.

We were never sure what exactly they wanted from us but we spent a good couple of hours generally giving our thoughts about what we would expect of them to be enticed to Kyrgyzstan as a tourist. The biggest issue we could see was they outsourced trips to other local tour guides rather than providing a ‘package’ and this seemed to be in response to the tourist looking up the attractions and asking to see them rather than the tour company providing a holiday with these attractions inbuilt. We also spoke about retaining their culture, organising cultural experiences in the different districts similar to those at the Games and including a night or two in a yurt!

Once we had finished our lunch, we met up with Aina’s Mum at her apartment via a taxi. Who got stopped by the police! A very active police force and in great numbers! Not sure why. But we got there although we were confused by the numbering of the apartments and had several three way conversations via Aina. Because her mother did not speak English either!

Once we got together! she took us on a trolley bus to the Osh market.

Now this was an interesting cultural experience once again. I have never met such polite and considerate young men, and women! The minute we got on the crowded bus, a young man got up to offer me his seat. And as we travelled we saw this happen again and again, with not the slightest hesitation. And when there was no young man, a young lady did this instead. And this included mothers with children and small babies. Pushchairs did not appear to be much in use – babies are carried! And I saw lots of babies at the breast with no embarrassment!

So the Osh market! A labyrinth of colourful stalls within, surrounded by local people selling goods from cars, mats, offering services like getting weighted, car boot style, or their local produce. This was melon season and I have never seen such huge, varied and numerous melons. Sultan came home with several different types for us to try whilst we were there. We really were not looking to buy anything much because everyone had already been so generous with their gifts but I did want to experience the smells and sights. I did buy some spices and big bobbles for the girls.

A phone call from Aina to explain that she would meet us at her Mum’s and we took the trolley bus back. Aina’s mum lived on the sixth floor of an apartment block. No lift that I could see! The lounge was taken up with a huge dining table with various teas, fruits and nibbles as permanent fixtures it seemed.

Ian modelling a Kalpak

Difficult to talk but she got on with her chores and we sat patiently apart from a bit of fun with Kalpaks of various styles.

Then another phone call from Aina. We were off to her sister Nelly’s flat for dinner and would we mind another trolley bus trip to meet her there. No way. I love people watching.

Nelly’s flat was beautifully decorated but quite small. We all sat in the lounge on small chairs around a coffee table eating a very nice meat, potato and vegetable dish. The secret is in the length of cooking it seems.

Lots of fresh fruit for desert as well as little courgette pancakes/ omelette.

After a pleasant evening we headed home with Aina minus one child! Altynai went home with her gran for the night with her cousin.

 

Day 9 – Bishkek and posh frock…..again.

Our yurt!

Not a bad night. A certain little Amir stirred several times but very quickly went to sleep again. He was up at 7 though so an early start for us all.

Breakfast in the big yurt and then back to Bishkek.

Fairytale canyon

The original plan was to visit a local majestic formation in the mountains, the fairy tale canyon, but unfortunately Sultan had to fly to Tajikistan that afternoon, and we needed to get back for the children getting out of school.

So we retraced our steps and travelled to the intersection of the north and south roads around Lake Issyk-kul to pick up Aina’s Mum. We stopped for second breakfast at a local spotless cafe for coffee and a break before the longer drive to Bishkek. The mountains had more snow on them today.

The children were delighted to see Mum and we were then reminded that we had been invited to a second reception with the U.K. ambassador at a local hotel. So the posh frock came out again. And we met up with the pipe band and Highland games athletes once again. We were delighted to see the young Highland fling dancer demonstrated the sword dance.

UK ‘athletes’ demonstrating once again at the Ambassador’s reception.

We also met several people we had seen at the previous reception and got into conversation with the Chief Executive of a local tour company about the potential that Kyrgyzstan has in the tourist market. As a result we were invited out for lunch next day to discuss this more!

Day eight – a night as a Nomad!

This morning after breakfast we were to spend a final morning at the Games before heading to the south coast of Lake Issyk- Kul staying overnight in a yurt camp. 

Askar, Aina, Ian and myself headed for Games. Today on the programme Sumo wrestling, Kyrgyz wrestling and more Kok Boru! We settled down to see Kok Boru first as I rather enjoy the sport, but the Russian state could not get good horses and thus refused to play. Kyrgyzstan therefore got a bye. So we tried the Sumo next. This was crowded but was quite fun to see. Not as big wrestlers as I had seen before on the television though. It was quite tiring watching in the sun so I retired to my favourite cafe where I have become so well known after two previous visits that the guy mentioned my Scotland origin. He told me that he had applied to the UK to work in Reading but his visa had been turned down. He suggested this was because they were worried he was young enough to want to stay on as an illegal immigrant. Not sure why anyone would want to leave Kyrgyzstan with its culture and life style. I could see the Sumo as well from here so I watched til the final way over and then tried to find Ian. Mmmmm. 

No sign of him but I guessed he would head for the wrestling next but what a crush! There was simply not enough room for all the spectators. I managed to get in with great difficulty but with four lines of spectators there was no way I was going to see anything. 

So I went shopping! Well I had a good nosey at all the craft stalls outside the ground. I had previously bought an Temir komuz which I now need to practice playing. I bought nothing on this occasion although there were lots of temptations but I have been given so many gifts I don’t know how I will pack them all! 

I reached the Hippodrome only to walk into Ian. He hadn’t even managed to get into the wrestling! So we returned to the Kok Boru which was about the start with the second game. Kazakhstan v Krasnoyarsk. This was a fiercely fought match with a piebald goat, if there is such a thing. Many a time the carcass was stolen by one side or the other, and riders were falling off horses or climbing on to the opponents horse to wrestle for the goat. Unfortunately we had to leave after two thirds of the game to move onto the next stage of our holiday. 

Back to the Guesthouse, another lovely lunch…….. and three songs from our Kazakhstan friend as a farewell.

Saying bye to Aina’s Mum.

We paid for our four nights dinner, bed and Breakfast, 7000 SOM in total for the two of us (about £80!!!) and off to the south side of Lake Issyk-Kul. 

 

This was another long and very picturesque drive. Some very contrasting terrain and huge mountains. Not many photos I am afraid but then a camera never really does them justice. I had a sleeping boy on my lap once again. The roads were very rough. Apart from Bishkek and near the Games, the roads give the appearance they have never been given their final surface. And the further off the beaten track, the rougher they got. 

After about two hours we reached the Yurt Camp which was rustic and beautiful. About ten yurts in a circle with various outbuildings made out of wood and branches; a meeting room, toilets and showers, playground. Kitchen, bar and reception come souvenir shop in small barn like structures. A beautifully decorated large yurt as the dining room. Our yurt held the four of us with mattresses on the floor and not much else other than electric sockets and a light. I quickly learnt to hang my things on the struts of the wall. Two wooden doors closed the yurt and a heavy canvas flap could be unravelled to give added protected against the snow and the wind. 

As it was an hour to dinner we explored the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. It’s very pebbly here unlike the north shore. We saw a number of yurt camps along the shore. There were lovely shades of colours in the mountains as the sun was setting. We sat for a while in the lovely wooden meeting room. 

Dinner was served in a central yurt. Beautifully decorated on the inside with semi circle low tables and cushions to sit amongst. On the floor! Not the easiest pose for me but very much in character of the yurt. We had a potato dish with onions and the occasional piece of meat accompanied by bread and salad and with watermelon and sweets for dessert. Served with tea of course. We sat with five Japanese students who were enjoying their last vacation before their final year at uni. They had had to take a taxi to reach the camp as there is no alternative. Taxis are very cheap though. 

There was not a lot to do after dinner other than admire the amazingly bright stars! No light pollution here. So we retired to the yurt, the four of us, to get a little boy to sleep and to relax and read. Amir was definitely tired and became a little naughty. He got a row from his Mum and promptly threw himself onto my bed ….. and fell asleep! 

The downside of staying in a yurt? The outside loo. And needless to say, I needed that facility more often that night. 

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!