When I received an invitation to visit Kyrgyzstan, my friends reacted at it with surprise: for last twenty years after split of Soviet Union, Kyrgyz SSR became a distant an unexplored land, with no articles on the Internet and which is not shown in global news. Throughout my journey I learned that Kyrgyz people are always happy to meet new guests and managed to save the traditions of their nomad ancestors.
Kyrgyz people were nomads for most of their history and many of them follow that way even today. Every year at least 230 thousand families (total population of Kyrgyzstan is 5 million) leave their houses in villages in valleys and travel to highlands with herds of their animals for a summer grazing.
For nomad settlements Kyrgyz people are using very special housing – yurt. You can easily make it and then put it down. One medium yurt can host four people (with decent comfort), and disassembled parts can be transported by horse.
To put up a yurt first you need to make a wooden carcass and put a roof (tunduk), and then cover yurt with cane mats called “chiy”. Then yurt is covered by thick felt carpets and tightened by ropes for better fixation. As a protection from a strong wind additional ropes are added and then tightened by wooden sticks, dug into the ground. Round tunduk on the top is also a window, which provides a great view on the starry sky at night, and let in a bright sun rays at day.
One yurt sometimes is not enough for a big family, and you can often see plenty of small buildings, vans and parked cars. Quite often you can see a luxury SUV right next to yurt. Modern nomads enjoy using advanced technologies: diesel electro generators, TV’s and cell phones and it is common as well.
Regardless of an “iron horse” every nomad family has some real horses! Any farm animal costs good money, but good horse may cost a small flock of sheep. Market price for a young sheep may come up to hundred US dollars, so you can quite easily calculate the wealth of one family when sheep flocks are passing nearby. That’s why theft of a livestock in Kyrgyzstan is perceived very negatively and can end up very disappointing for a seeker of a good life.
Horse meat used to be a main decoration dish in Kyrgyz cuisine. Young horses were selected for killing, and they will never be ridden and fed with double amount of food. After that horse meet will become very delicate and tasty. There is many places where you try a horse meat, such as restaurants with national cuisine or if you take part in big family celebration – jubilee, wedding or funeral. In everyday living horse meat was replaced by more accessible and cheap mutton and beef.
Against all diseases
Many families set their yurts on the sidelines of main motorways and road hubs, where they sell homemade kumys (fermented mare’s milk), kuruts (salted balls from cheese), mountain honey and fish (depending on the region.
National cuisine is a pride of our people, mainly because all ingredients are all natural and meat is boiled thoroughly, with addition of potherbs.
Kyrgyz national cuisine will deliver you a special pleasure, but you should keep in mind that practically every meal that you eat is stuffed with animal fats, which may lead to certain discomfort for those, who is unfamiliar with such food. Along with black tea you can also try a green tea, “kok-chay” and try “lepeshka” (similar to pancake, made like bread) from tandyr (clay oven). Surely you can find places where serve more common European dishes, but it’s possible in large cities only. Also you should keep in mind that many nomads that house foreign guests regularly store beef especially for their guests.
In Kyrgyzstan you can also find many fermented dairy beverages – ayran, tan and kumys, and little known in Europe grain beverages, like bozo and jarma, which are made from millet and barney. Each beverage has a unique taste, which at first may seem weird. Also remember that those drink are made by fermentation processes and when drank uncontrollably may cause slight dizziness. Among other beverages kumys keeps the special place. Kyrgyz people believe that it is a cure from all diseases, that can overcome any sickness and saturate the organism with vitamins.
What makes a true nomad is a friendliness, mutual understanding and respect for nature. Many Kyrgyz people are not rich (even quite), but when you look at them you clearly realize that happiness lies somewhere far from Western standards. Kyrgyz are very natural, unpretentious and hospitable. When you visit them you will be seated at most special place for guests and with drinks and on a tableful event you will be served with most delicious meals.
When you get to know them closely you start understand how much had lost people of large cities, when they cut their ties with nature. There is nothing else inspiring such as beautiful lakes, mountain chains, waterfalls and caves, untouched by civilization.