Kyrgyzstan - Yurts, eagles, lakes, and stars


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Asia » Kyrgyzstan » Yssyk Kol
September 1st 2019
Published: September 10th 2019
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A couple of friends I made on the Africa trip and I decided to do a nice weekend trip. This was coming soon after my trip to the US, but it was Islamic New Year and expected to be a three day weekend - for most, it turned out that they did not get the day off, but two of us did. We won't go into too much detail about me joining a friend for drinks before my flight.... almost missing said flight and losing my camera enroute. I'm still devastated about the camera.

Friday

Anyway, I made the 10:45pm flight, slept fairly well and felt ok when we arrived early in the morning at the Bishkek airport. Anita and Rej and I were joined by three others and our extremely adorable guide, Merriam, along with her young nephew and a driver. After the Zimbabwe trip, we were pleasantly surprised to see a nice, large van with more than enough room for all of us to transport us for the next few days. I felt a little nauseous initially, but held it together for our four hour ride to Issyk Kul (huge lake).

Along the way, we made a couple of stops, the first being breakfast. This was provided at a guest house in a small village. The food was great, but consisted of lots of bread. However, the raspberry jam was incredible. We were licking jam off our fingers the entire trip and could not get enough.

The second stop was the Burana Tower, an archaeological site with remnants of the town of Balasagun - all that remains are the tower, excavated palace foundations and a really cool cemetery. We first climbed the tower, very steep, dark interior, but the brick construction was absolutely incredible. The tower was restored in the 1970's after years of damaging earthquakes and is about 20m shorter than originally. The legend of the tower being built to house a princess who was fated to die sounds like a mix between Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Outside, we walked along some old foundations of the former palace, which was illustrated in the onsite museum but was destroyed over 500 years ago. But the coolest part was the cemetery - well it may be a cemetery. It had little stone people all around and they looked like headstones. Very different.

The next stop was for lunch and to watch a yurt construction demonstration. Three guys took the basic supplies need to build a yurt and quickly put one together. Anita, Rej and I helped, but filling in some of the bent rafters (apparently heated and molded), adding some tassels which are like talismans, and helping to cover the outside with fabrics (used to keep warm and keep out small animals like mice). According to Merriam, the top is made of 12 wood strips to represent the months in four sections (seasons). The top of the yurt is what is also shown on the national flag. The three guys were going to participate in a competition the next day in Bishkek - building a yurt in the fastest time - as part of the Independence Day celebrations. We wished them luck and enjoyed another large, very filling meal. The food was delicious, but it was so much and at this point we were all so full. I felt a little rude, but I could not eat all the soup and homemade pasta after having more bread, jam, veggies....

Then we drove another hour or so to the lake where we were to stay in a yurt camp. We arrived and the three of us were able to room together in a nice little yurt. I was exhausted, so took a nap while everyone else went down to the clear, cool lake. The camp was pretty nice and we had yet another huge dinner (with apricot and the best raspberry jam of the trip). Afterwards, the three of us went to a semi-dark area and observed the stars and Milky Way. Here was where I really missed my camera - I had brought my tripod and was so looking forward to improving my photography of the night sky, but it was not to be. Instead, we just laid out and enjoyed the beautiful sky until quiet time.

Saturday

Anita and I got up early to visit the lake one more time. She went for a swim, I put my feet into the cool, very clear water, kicking myself for not bringing my swimsuit (it was nowhere near as cold as Seneca Lake). Then we went up to the main yurt to have breakfast, which was actually pretty tasty (more jam of course).

The next item was to go for a short hike to a panoramic view point, but first Merriam wanted to stop in town to get supplies for a picnic lunch. It took her a while and in the meantime we enjoyed watching people gear up for the Independence Day festivities - we saw kids dressed up as well as adults and horses. We were able to leave before what seemed to be a parade starting. The drive to the hike was pretty long and our hike was pretty short - maybe a half hour. But the views were phenomenal. We stopped our bus at a yurt camp in a lush green valley, the kind of place I was actually expecting stay instead of on the beach. When we got to the top, you really could see great 360 degree views. The lake below, green valleys and horseback riders (another thing I was expecting to do but was not available), and snow capped mountains in the distance. Truly beautiful and peaceful.

Merriam had planned for us to have our picnic in that beautiful green valley after the hike, but it was still so early, barely 11 am. After all the food the day before and a large breakfast, we begged her to postpone lunch. Instead we had a piece of fruit while she prepared the foods for the lunch for later. We saw a guy riding by on a donkey, other new comers ready to hike to the top, a couple of people on horses along the trails.... It was a tourist spot but it was still so peaceful and quiet - not a lot of people.

Our next stop was to see a man who would demonstrate eagle hunting. He pulled up in a small car, with his squawking golden eagles (Tunook) in the back. He gave us a little lesson about the tradition. The eagles were taken from the nest by four men - one who descended, two who held the rope, and one who distracted the parents - and they took just one of the eagles, the female, which are generally bigger than the males, especially as chicks. They start flying around 3 months and it takes about 4 months to train them. Typically they hunt during the winter months. The eagles 'retire' when they are 20 years old and are released in the wild where they find a mate, one they stay with for life. He showed us how the eagle hunts by dangling a fox skin and then how it comes to him when he calls.

After the eagle demonstration, the guy demonstrated archery and we each had a turn trying to shoot at the target - I got close distance wise, but just missed. That was so much fun.

Afterwards, we started to drive and just picked a random spot off the road for the picnic. We had simple fare, such as bread (of course), sardines and tuna, fruit, cucumbers and tomatoes and sweets as well as juice or water to drink. I think my favorite part of this impromptu picnic was Merriam telling us that this was her dream: she had always wanted to sit around a meal with people from various places, speaking English. She was seriously so sweet and a fantastic guide - I have nothing but great things to say about her.

The rest of the day mostly consisted of driving: it took us about 4 hours to reach Bishkek, and most of us were able to get a little sleep in, which was nice.

We checked into our hotel, Art Hotel, which was very cute and classy. So nice to be able to sleep in a real bed and take a nice hot shower! I was able to take a long, hot shower before we went out for dinner. Merriam took us to a local restaurant where we could sample the local foods, and occasionally they had songs the staff danced to. I was still a bit full but I enjoyed the spicy green beans dish as well as the chicken wings. Of course, there was more bread.

Then we walked to the town center, where they had constructed a stage for live performances to commemorate Independence Day. We got there just in time as apparently their most famous female singer was about to perform (she did not look all that enthusiastic and her demeanor screamed "diva"). She was accompanied by another male singer and they sang a song, which the only word I understood and the only one of importance was "Kyrgyzstan". During their performance, fireworks went off just behind the stage. It was so cool. I loved seeing Merriam with her little nephew enjoying the night and got a pretty nice video of them together.

We then went to
Roadside picnicRoadside picnicRoadside picnic

Merriam said her dream was to sit around a meal talking in English with people from all over
a local bar to hangout and talk a bit more, but most of us were so tired, so just one drink and we were on our way back to the hotel.

Sunday

On our last day, we woke up for breakfast and checked out. The other American girl was not feeling well, so she stayed at the hotel, but the rest of us went to Osh Bazaar. We got there early, so it was interesting to see the people just opening and setting up their stalls. They had just about everything, but the food looked delicious: bread, vegetables, honey, JAM, and even a butcher area. I wound up buying a ridiculous winter hat in one of the local souvenir shops and wore it for most of the rest of the outing. I also bought a lot of honey, mainly for my young nephew who loves the stuff (which caused me to have to check my bag.... grrr…)

After the bazaar, our driver took us to the square, which was already all cleaned from the previous evening's festivities. We walked around as Merriam showed us some of the highlights of town, including many statues that we could not help using as tools for memorable poses. We saw the old town square, and museum, a giant flag showing the yurt top design surrounded by the forty stars that represent the previous forty clans brought together under their local hero Manas. The city has a lot of greenspace, the most of any central Asian city (or close to it), of which Oak Park is the biggest and formerly hosted an art exhibition, so there were some remaining statues. Bishkek translate as the stick that is used to mix the fermented milk they are so fond of.

It was very interesting to see the mix of traditional and Soviet - the architecture, the schools, etc. For instance, there was a dance hall for Russian ballet near the opera house, but they were basically separate. The former town square also had a very Soviet look to it and is no longer used as was originally so.

Merriam says they also still have ties to the history of the Monguls and Genghis Khan; previously, the Kyrg people had reddish hair and light eyes, but when they were conquered, they took on more of the Asian features. So, some people still have the Asian features, but blue or green eyes (like her brother).

Afterwards, had a nice lunch with coffee and then returned to pick up the sick American girl before heading to the airport. We said our goodbyes to sweet Merriam; she is looking to open her own tourist company next year after completing her studies and I highly recommend her. We felt that while we did not do everything that was in the plan sent (such as horseback riding, yurts in the valley), we felt she gave us a truly authentic experience, she seemed to know a lot of people and the history of her country. The airport is quite small with not a lot to do, and did not seem to have overly friendly staff, but we left on time on our flight and I got home by 8:30pm.

So, all in all, it was a fantastic 3-day weekend trying something new and seeing a new place! I highly recommend Kyrgyzstan - there is a lot to do, and in the country especially, the people are super friendly.


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15th September 2019

Kyrgystan
We loved our time here. Thanks for taking us along on your experience.

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