We have had a very exciting but rough ride up to the mountain pasture at Son Kul and I am ready to settle into our en-suite room. The driver has directions to our yurt but these are sketchy because the roads don’t have signs. After driving through a stream and going some distance, there isn’t anything there. Nothing but wide open spaces, a large lake and mountains all around. No yurts. No one to ask directions from.
We turn around and go back to the group of yurts in the lead photo and Azermat, our guide, speaks with the owners. They agree to put us up because the family we were suppose to stay with hasn’t arrived yet. It is early in the season. It is always fun checking out a new B & B, but this is over-the-top.
Checking out our Room
I lied about the en suite – our sink/shower is a pail with water carried from the closest stream and placed outside the door and the toilet is the silver box behind the yurt. I am grateful that I’m not a prude about such things. My Grandma lived on a lake while I was growing up and the only facilities were across the street (a two-seater with a Sears & Roebuck catalog) and when our kids were young we did a lot of primitive camping because it was cheap.
For women only: I want you to get a clear picture of what is going through my head as we prepare for bedding down. It is cold; I have long underwear on under my jeans (along with ear muffs, gloves, and three shirts). I am wondering how long my bladder can last if I don’t drink any of the bottled water we have brought with us. I am also thinking that there aren’t any street lights (no electricity) and we have only small flash lights with us. I really don’t want to have to get up in the middle of the night to stumble around in the dark on a meadow that goes on for a really long way.
About the yurt. The yurt to the left is being built in Bishkek for a cultural event. It is built by setting up the expanding side wall, similar to gates in front of doors to protect children or circular fences for animals in a yard. Then several men lift the domed roof, that has been put together on the ground, and set it on the side wall structure. The wool felt that covers the outside of the frame is very thick and dense making them quite warm and water proof. Below is the wall and ceiling inside our yurt, covered with woven strips and piece-work felt that is a kyrgyz craft. There are felt rugs on the floor over sheets of plastic.
We slept on the ground, but there was a pile of mats and thick comforters made of beautiful fabrics that we could use as needed. It became windy in the night and I think it rained but it woke me only because there were no other sounds of the night. I slept soundly.
But I move ahead too quickly. The group of bird watchers from the Netherlands had stopped for lodging also and they didn’t seem to want to mingle with us – I guess they wanted to talk bird. They took over the dining tent but this worked well for us because Sharon & I, through the aid of our Kyrgyz guide, are invited to eat in the family’s private yurt.
Supper includes a vegetable soup, lots of bread (see plate in center), jams and candies for dessert, along with lots of tea. This family speaks Kyrgyz, my daughter speaks some Russian, and the guide is fluent in Kyrgyz and Russian and has about as much English as Sharon has Russian. I ask if I can take a picture and we are to discover that Grandma loves to have her picture taken.
I took this first picture of the father and his prided son (oldest child). I wanted to snap everyone and everything but felt very voyeuristic about it because we were in their private space. But I solved that quickly. I was using a simple digital camera so I motioned for the son to come and handed the camera to him showing him how to use it. He beams and immediately starts shooting pictures. After a few minutes, I asked for it back and motion for the second oldest (a daughter) to come and take it. She, too, takes lots of pictures, followed by he next youngest daughter. Everyone come alive and I could tell I was getting wonderful shots. Not all the shots are good but with some cropping I get some wonderful pictures. And Grandma was in most of them.
They have a new baby that is sleeping in a crib. While we are eating, the mother went off to the side to nursed the baby and then gets her ready for the night. They don’t use diapers and it appeared that the mother put on all the clothes that the baby ownes – layer upon layer. They have a stove in the yurt but I would assume they use it only for cooking because there aren’t trees for firewood. They burn dried dung.
The baby appears to be about 6 months old and the mother appears to be sleep deprived and exhausted. It is amazing how clearly I remembered that feeling and I want to connect with her but the language barrier make it very difficult.
The guide must have taken this picture because the four photographers are in the picture. The hat that Sharon is wearing is a typical Kyrgyz hat but she was on the receiving end of a lot of strange looks because it is for men. She loves it and wears it in Michigan winters – where no one knows she is cross-dressing.
We are sitting on mats on the ground around a round table that fits nicely into their round structure. Their bedding is piled behind us. Space is at a premium so they hang things from nails in the wooden frame. They also have a canvas tent that is used for storage. The bring everything they need for the summer on rented trucks.
Being a closet sociologist, there was so much I wanted to know about family structure and norms but because of language barrier we weren’t able to have much conversation.
After I left Kyrgyzstan, Sharon made a little notebook of pictures and arranged for the guide to take it to them the next time he went to Son Kul.
- Kyrgyzstan: Going to Son Kul (imissmetoo.me)
- Yurts (bobinayurt.com)
- The Endless Steppes (otherguysdime.wordpress.com)