Travel Theme: Red – Decorative Arts in Kyrgyzstan

For this week’s travel theme of red, I chose to focus on the decorative arts in Kyrgyzstan. A lot of their creative work is done through weaving and patch work quilts using wool. We visited a family living in the suburbs of Bishkek and Shereen shared the work that she and her mother had finished.

The inside of yurts are also decorated with woven strips and hangings – with the main color also being red.

This was the yurt my daughter and I slept in when visiting Song Kul.

To see more posts on the travel theme of red, visit http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/09/07/red/

Biskek: The People

 

I spent a lot of time walking around Bishkek, which has lots of green space and parks. The Kyrgyz love the Russians because they provided the infrastructure to make life much more enjoyable. This is an arid country with lots of water so irrigation ditches were built throughout the central part of the city that allows water to flow on schedule to irrigate the trees that the citizens value highly. The walk from my daughter’s apartment to the American University of Central Asia was along one of these tree-lined streets.

Where we saw trees, they had been painted with a white stripe. We don’t know why and would love to know if anyone has an explanation.

The population of Bishkek is relatively young so you see a lot of young people in the parks in the evening. There is also a small amusement park that is very popular.

It used to be that young people could not take a potential mate home to meet the family until they were engaged. Consequently courting needed to take place in the parks. I understand that the social rule for taking lovers home is changing but obviously the park is still a place for passion.

And a place to hang out and be seen.

The roses were blooming when I was there and they (the roses) demanded that I take their picture. I didn’t want to offend.

 

 

My last post of Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek will be on family life.

 

Glimpse of Life in Bishkek – Shopping

I spent a wonderful 10 days in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. My daughter had an apartment on a road called Jibek Jalu, which translates into Silk Road. This would have been one of many silk roads going between east & west and every morning my daughter would ask if I heard the camels going by in the night. I missed the camels but I did have the joy of seeing the above view every morning and evening outside her southern windows.

Because my daughter was living in Biskek and has always wanted to immerse herself in the culture of the countries she has lived in, she doesn’t live in expat communities. This allowed me to meet her Kyrgyz friends, be invited to their homes, and experience her neighborhood. I’ll be sharing bits and pieces of my experiences in future posts – today is about shopping.

This is the market that was a block from her apartment where we bought our fresh fruits and vegetables brought in from the farms. This is an area that doesn’t see tourists and one day I ventured there alone to get some tomatoes for our supper. I smiled and raised up three fingers as I pointed to the beautiful red spheres. The woman looked at me really funny and started to put one in a bag. She raised up three fingers with a questioning look on her face. I nodded – and she started loading tomatoes into the bag. I registered a look of shock and quickly pointed to three tomatoes with three fingers in the air. She thought I wanted 3 kilos. We both broke into laughter and I could feel her wall of uncertainty about this “stranger” go down.

By far the best purchase was the fresh strawberries. They are small, about the size of a large thumb nail, bright red, and with such sweet, intense flavor that I am letting out a moan of pleasure as I write. They are so delicate that I have to very carefully carry my plastic bag home, not letting it bump against any other purchases. They need to be eaten immediately 🙂 saving just enough for supper, because they disintegrate into juice within 24 hours.

At a kiosk next to the market we buy our fresh yogurt that comes in a recycled Coke bottle and at the kiosk next to that I pick out a loaf of bread. That afternoon we cook a vegetable soup to go with my purchases of the day.

The appliance next to the stove is her washing machine. We hung our clothes out on the line outside her 4th story window in early morning or late afternoon to avoid the high altitude sun. They dried fast because of the arid climate – and I only lost one clothes pin to the bushes below.

A couple of times we walked several blocks to the large supermarket that serves the foreigners who work at the many NGOs that operate out of Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan has a relatively stable government so there are large numbers of humanitarian agencies centered there that serve the less stable countries of Central Asia. Just like shopping in the US except I can’t read labels – made even more difficult by the different alphabet. Makes me appreciate the hardship of being illiterate.

On Saturday we took public transportation to the Osh Bazaar. Wow what a feast for the senses.

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rows of bins of spices, nuts, multiple types of raisins, different types of flours & grains, spices, beans, dried fruit – all measured and bagged for us. Stoves, irons, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines (all black reconditioned Singers), stalls with toiletries, household items, fabric, baby clothes, hats, clothes of all descriptions.

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several times we walked to the shopping mall where electronics of all types are sold and I was able to buy felt souvenirs. My daughter also showed me a couple of shops that sold hand-crafted textiles, paintings, and pottery by Kyrgyz artists. Items I purchased are displayed in my home and bring back memories of my introduction to their culture. I smile when I look at them.

Issyk-Kul lake

Thus far I have shared my experience in Kyrgyzstan of spending a couple of days at Son Kul where I slept in a yurt and learned how to milk a mare. We also traveled around Issyk-Kul lake. It is believed that the Chinese traveler Jan Chan Tzan explored this lake in 128 BC as part of his 6-year travels. The lake is a tourist area in the northeast corner of Kyrgyzstan, close to Kazakhstan and China.

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English: from cia wfb

English: from cia wfb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now a little information for those of you who like numbers. It is 668 meters deep at the deepest point making it the 5th deepest lake in the world. It is the world’s second largest mountain lake at 1606m above see level.

Issyk Kul is Kyrgyz for “warm lake” but it isn’t! We sat on the south side of the lake and put our feet in the water – for a little while. The only thing that made it tolerable was the very hot sun. The real reason why it is called warm lake is that it doesn’t freeze in the winter. It is probably due to the fact that it is at the bottom of a drainage hollow and has no outlet so the only way water is lost is through evaporation. This gives it a slightly salty composition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASharon and I were able to hire a driver with a van and a guide for 5 days with accommodations in homes that provided supper, B&B and a picnic lunch each day for a total of 777 USD – what a deal. This is our tour guide, Azamat, who is Kyrgyz and is decedent from a khan. And he likes Kumis!

Here are some of my favorite pictures and stories from our trek around Issyk Kul.

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In the town of Karakol our driver let the three of us off at the mosque and then we walked through the town to the Orthodox Church. We were able to go inside the Orthodox Church to see the paintings and to purchase icons.

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My picture of the inside of the church isn’t real good but I always feel like I’m violating the sanctity of places of worship by taking pictures of the interiors.

The walk to the Orthodox church was uphill and about half way up we came upon the town market. Sharon pointed out that the woman sitting on the steps was a beggar. I was intrigued so, being tired, I sat on the step a ways from her and we smiled at each other.

Aug08 00036After a couple of minutes I moved closer and because she looked Russian, Sharon asked her in Russian if we could take her picture. She seemed pleased to oblige.

Her family is local and we learned that she has grand children and a new great grandchild. She was very proud of them – they were all well established but there isn’t a pension in Kyrgyzstan so she was begging to bring in a little more money. Azamat was somewhat bewildered as to why I would speak with her and concerned – or just curious so he sat behind where he could hear our conversation.

I thanked her and paid her for the privilege of taking her picture and sitting by her on the market step.

On the edge of Karakol was the town cemetery with the beautiful backdrop of mountains that were visible from everywhere.

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The landscape changed frequently as we rode along the southern side of the lake.

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Our driver took us to an area along the lake that wasn’t developed and to get there we drove along the floor of what they described as motley clay mountains. This was an extremely rough ride over boulders and through ditches with high canyon walls rising on either side. Even with seat belts on we were thrown around the back seat. I thought my all my insides were going to be shaken loose and my spine broken apart. He went through places that I didn’t think possible – and he was loving it.

But we were rewarded with a time to look for beautiful stones along the beach, sit and cool our feet in the water, and a picnic lunch – in the usual tail-gate style.

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This is the market square in the village of Kochkor.

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On this square was a shop where they made felt and quilted handicrafts and had a store where their crafts could be bought.

I bought some wonderful felt craft objects and a pillow cover made of antique embroidery.

After a supper of soup and bread at our B&B we went for a walk in the neighborhood. These young boys were more than eager to pose for us.

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The next morning as we were leaving for our trip to Son Kul, we asked if the owner of the B&B would pose with us for a picture. She said yes but asked us to wait for a moment. When she reappeared she had on her traditional attire

This was a Kyrgyz woman of prestige and social standing which she was very proud of. Her deceased husband had been a doctor and a director of a hospital so he would have been trained in Russia. She had large portraits on the walls which is fairly uncommon in Kyrgyzstan and enjoyed using her nice table service when she served us our meals.

Related articles

Kyrgyzstan: Going to Son Kul

I did it! My daughter was living in Biskek, Kyrgyzstan (see map link at bottom) working at the University of Central Asia in 2009 and I wanted to visit her while she was there. Kyrgyzstan is pretty much off the typical tourist map and I didn’t think it was somewhere I would ever be able to go again. My husband didn’t want to go because he doesn’t have much tolerance for not having a bathroom off his bedroom. Sharon was eager to have me come and I knew we would have fun together because we had traveled to St. Petersburg Russia in 2004.

My first posts on Kyrgyzstan will be about our most amazing trek to the mountain pasture around Son Kul. This mountain pasture is high up (9,895 ft. above sea level) and surrounded by mountains. It is almost as if the pasture was too big to fit down into the bottom so it is wedged high up. The Kyrgyz word for lake is kul, and you can see Son Kul as the light strip in the upper left corner of the above picture. It is the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and it is big – the plateau is big,  the mountains are big, and I felt very small.

It was June and our driver wasn’t sure the mountain pass to Son Kul would be open but locals told him it was. Sharon & I are in the back seat of this 4-wheel-drive van with a Russian driver (who should have more fear) and a Kyrgyz guide (who should know more English). It had been a long time since this road was graded and I kept thinking, “Oh my Lord, my body is going to hurt so much after this ride.” Then I would yell, “You can’t get through there – jez, Valodi, you got through there!” And he would laugh.

Son Kul is a working pasture: every spring people from surrounding regions drive their herds through the passes so their livestock(horses, cows, sheep, goats) have greener pastures. Horses have historically been very important in the Kyrgyz culture. The lower areas, where these people live in villages, have very dry summers because Kyrgyzstan is an arid country. Historically the Kyrgyz, one of the world’s oldest distinct nationalities, have been nomadic people moving from pastureland to pastureland.  Many people still live this lifestyle, staying in the villages during the cold winters but moving into the higher elavations in the summer

We had reservations to sleep in a yurt, the dwelling place of the families when they move to the pastures. However, there are no road signs, in fact the roads are only one-lane paths, and our driver couldn’t find the family that was providing our B & B. They tried calling the office but couldn’t get a cell-phone signal – even when standing on the roof of the van. This was early in the season and there weren’t many families but our guide found us lodging with the family that owned this set of yuts. The van with the side view was transporting a group of bird-watchers from the Netherlands.

I titled this picture “Moving Day” because this is the vehicle that families rent to bring their summer belongings to the mountain pastures. We passed a trucks on the way up with people hanging off every runningboard and a baby goat riding in the far back. I think you can tell from the pictures that this is living a step down from primitive camping. There is no electricity or running water. They carry their water in containers from the lake & the streams carrying mountain run-off. We didn’t drink it.

We reached our B&B mid- to late afternoon so Sharon & I decided to take a little walk to see the sights and people watch. The sights were the wild flowers growing abundantly but subtly beneath our feet (buttercups? and edelweiss). The people included a father & a son (of 12 or 13) talking and laughing together as they carried water back to our B&B for preparing the supper meal.

The altitude is high (close to 10,000 feet) and we became winded very quickly. Our pace became slow but that was okay because there wasn’t anywhere for us to go – except the present. What a magnificent present to be in.

Note on living with fibromyalgia: By this time I had stablized my symptoms and didn’t feel like FM was controlling my life. I was living life and just happened to also have FM. That didn’t mean that I could ignore the FM. I made sure I took medications on time, I had back-ups if I had a flare, and I said no to doing some things along the way because I knew it would put too much stress on my body. I also worked with my doctor to prepare for the trip. The trip from Detroit to Bishkek was close to 24 hours long, going through Paris and Istanbul, arriving in Bishkek at 4:00 a.m. He asked my to bring him a schedule of my flights and layovers, using Eastern Standard time so he could help me figure out when was the best time to take medications and when I could use a short-acting sleep aid. He told me how to take care of myself once I was there and when I returned. I also had a lot of adrenaline to help me and determination up the wazoo.

My next blog will cover “A B&B Yurt”, followed by “How to Milk a Mare.”

Some of the above information was obtained from “Kyrgyzstan: Travel Guide” published by Discovery, http://www.centralasia.travel

Copyright © Patricia A. Bailey, I Miss Me, Too/imissmetoo.me 2012-2013.

Excerpts and links may be used, but please give credit to me, Patricia A. Bailey and provide a link to http://imissmetoo.me  All pictures were taken by the author and I would appreciate credit if you use them.