It's been an insane, jumbled, eye-opening, belly-building, gratifying and intense experience. I leave Kyrgystan a far better informed individual with a re-drawn mental map of the world.
My last few weeks in the country consisted in me cramming in as many of the many things I loved about Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan as I could, so there was plenty of meat on a skewer and beer in chilled glasses at the railside shashlyk jount, a certain amount of cocktails on the 13th floor looking down over the city at 12bar, numerous strolls down Bishkek's many leafy boulevards and park areas and my leaving do, where we rocked the full Bishkek Korean experience.
To this end, a great (I was taken aback how many actually, thanks all) swathe of Brits and Aussies and 'Mericans and Kyrgyz and Russkies gathered at a Korean place over at vostok pyat to munch beebembap and bulgogi and lashings and lashings of rice (but not pudding).
|I think you'll agree I look rather fetching...What do you mean it reminds you of Donnie Darko!|
Next up, off to the karaoke (or should I say Noraebang). The PA wasn't properly set up in our private room, but the set up time was the perfect excuse for me and Alec Forss to belt out an a cappella version of The North West Passage for one last time.
|Fuck a beat, we go acapella|
|Balls Deep Mahoney and The Big Ian performing a jaunty rendition of Electric Six's popular dittie 'Gay Bar'|
Leaving do done I hopped on a plane back home..............................................................
No, wait, hold on, that can't be the end. There hasn't been any spurious cultural comment or observation to counterbalance the druken revelry yet.
Fortunately, I didn't follow tradition and leave after my leaving do. Oh no, I didn't even stay to the end of my own leaving do. At 2am, me and Miranda said our goodbyes and hopped into a taxi to take the overnight ride to Karakol to catch a day of traditional Kyrgyz horsegames.
After a quick nose at Karakol's Russian Orthodox Church, we took a bus provided by CBT from Karakol up to a couple of yurts on a mountainside, to be greeted by a band playing traditional Kyrgyz music (beautiful) and a plethora of tourists who wouldn't shut up throughout the performance (damned annoying).
We were then invited to join in with the erecting of a yurt. If this experience taught me one thing it is that many Kyrgyz people are good at erecting yurts, but most foriegn tourists are bloody terrible at it.
|Tourists using our well-honed skiills to set up a yurt|
|A Kyrgyz gent sorting out the mess our well-honed skills have made of it|
There then followed a display of traditional Kyrgyz eagle hunting. I have no intention of saying anything about this on the basis that you can find far more engaging and informed commentary on the topic at the excelent Keen on Kyrgyzstan blog than I could ever hope to write.
And so...On to the games!
The first game, Ulak Tartysh, is a little bit like football; except very violent, played on horseback and the ball is a decapitated goat. Actually, come to think of it, it's not very much like football at all.
It's a hell of a thing to witness, but certainly not for the faint hearted (those cantering horses get damned close to the crowd) or the weak stomached (watching the goat being slaughtered is part of the attraction.
The next game, Kyz Kumnai, involves a guy on a horse chasing after a girl on a horse with a whip. The guy tries to catch the girl and kiss her and the girl tries to whip the boy so he can't catch her. Once the guy has kissed the girl, he runs the hell away and she (suddenly enthusiastic) tries to chase after him and catch him. Now if that's not the perfect metaphor for the traditional course of male-female relations I don't know what is.
The final game was Oodarysh, or horse wrestling; which is exactly what it says on the tin. Two guys on horseback try and wrestle each other off their respective horses. So simple it's genius.
Traditional games done (big tick) and on to the next hastily crammed-in cultural experience...the obligatory Central Asian yurt stay.
So we hop on a marshrutka down to a yurt camp near Bokonbaaev on the south shore of Lake Issyk-Kul (incidentally as 'kul' is Kyrgyz for lake, calling it Lake Issyk-Kul is a little bit like calling an Italian resaurant The La Trattoria). The yurt was down by the lakeside and after a comfortable night's sleep we awoke to some of the most beautiful views I have seen in Kyrgzstan.
Unfortunately, Miranda's camera ran out of batteries before we went to bed, so we only have an image of the yurt in the stygian gloom of night (I curse you Ulanbek).
|Our yurt (on the right) in the gathering gloom of nightfall|
At the end of the trek, our guide invites us in for chai and lepyoshka, shows us around his smallholding and feeds us fresh apricots from the garden.
The guy who organises the horsetreks in the area (who by a marvellous coincidence has a name pronounced 'jockey') takes us to pick up our stuff from the yurt camp and then drives us to the marshrutka rank in Bokonbaev town.
Halfway to town Jockey receives a phonecall and we stop unexpectudly at the roadside. He explains that our guide for the day wants to go to town as well and would we mind waiting a moment for him. We say no problem. We wait, A few minutes later our man gallops into view at full pelt. parks his horse in a convenient parking spot, tethers it up and hops in.
And then a Marshrutka back to Bishkek and the final preperations for leaving. After a final meal at the Georgian restaurant (spicy, stewy yum) I take a taxi to the airport ready to catch my flight back to the UK....
...or so I thought.. I arrive at Manas Airport with some 6 hours to kill just sitting around. However, I am determined that I won't fall asleep, definitely not, I'm going to stay awake, sleep will not happen, fall asleep, not...awake, won't, asleep, awake, sleep, going....sleep....
And I jerk awake to find that I've dozed off for a few hours. It's 5am though, still plenty of time.
I wander over to check the situation and find that the flight has been delayed a little. By a bloody day, 24 of them hours. So I get a taxi back to Bishkek and turn up in the early morn on the doorstep of Miranda, Eve and Dirk throwing my shouldn't-you-have-left-the-continent self on the mercy of their charity.
An extremely pleasant final day of pottering around the sunny Bishkek streets and saying my last goodbyes (again) later and finally I board the plane back home to the U of K
And so Goodbye to Bishkek, to Kyrgyzstan. Goodbye to Lagman and police shakedowns, to komuz and kumyz, to shashlyk and ice cold beer by the railway lines, goodbye to London School, to wednesday night poker sessions, to kalpaks and kurdak, to The Lake Issyk-Kul's azure shores, to majestic mountains and vast bazaars; and to more fine people than I could possibly mention.
So long Kyrgyzstan and thanks for all the mutton.
Credit for the photographs in this blog article must go to Miranda Phua and Daniel Mahony, thank you both.