Month two in Kyrgyzstan is drawing to a close, just in time for winter to really begin. I am all prepared for the snow (which has already begun to fall) thanks to a large, puffy “Russian” coat that I successfully haggled for and purchased recently from ‘Dordoi’ – the largest market in Central Asia.
If you loved corn mazes as a child, or have always wanted to be in ‘The Labyrinth’, I strongly recommend you make your way here. I’m fairly certain some people never find their way out of the sea of stalls and vendors. Want dishwashers? Check. Want fresh fruit and veggies? Check. Want a cart of cow’s feet? Oh buddy, you better believe they got it (I know this for a fact as I was almost ran over by said cart).
Outside of the cart incident things are going well, and this post is going to focus on what I’m doing, and where I’ve been since I’ve arrived.
A Tour of the East
Throughout the week I continue to study Russian language (each grammatical construct mastered is an accomplishment), and learn about Central Asian history and politics. On the weekends I explore. Thus far my wanderings have taken me east to the base of the mountains that border China, just along side the region known as Issyk Kul. After the Caspian Sea, Issyk Kul is the 2nd largest saline lake in the world and it never freezes, essentially making it Kyrgyzstan’s version of Hawaii. While there we learned how to build the nomadic structures called yurts (hello future resume skill), rode horses and hiked up the mountains in search of elusive waterfalls. I also really enjoyed hearing all the folk tales on how Lake Issyk Kul originated.
My favorite is the story that says two young men fell passionately in love with a Kyrgyz woman, and asked her who she loved more. Unable to decide, she cried so hard she formed the lake from her tears and disappeared into it. The men, not having received an answer, turned into the north and south winds and battle to this day for her love.
It’s All About Manas
In the complete opposite direction, I also visited the region of Talas in the west. This trip entailed one of the most breathtaking, winding and treacherous mountain passes I have ever had the pleasure to drive through. Talas is most famous for being the reputed birthplace of Manas, the Kyrgyz hero.
The Epic of Manas has been sung and told for over a thousand years. If there is one word I can use to describe the culture of Kyrgyzstan is would be “Manas”. While there, we were taken in by a very friendly and hospitible Kyrgyz family and then spent the next day wondering the Manas burial complex, listening to the epic story told in pieces (it takes days to hear it all, but here is a cool excerpt from a famous Kyrgyz film), and getting stuck behind seemingly endless herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and horses.
Kymis to Meet You!
In Talas I decided to kick it Kyrgyz style and live it up with a large bowl of Kymis. What is Kymis? I’m glad you asked. Kymis the national drink of Kyrgyzstan and at this point the most interesting thing I have ever drank. Kymiz is mare’s milk that has been put into the stomach of a sheep (much like Haggis) and then left to ferment for a few days.
Traditionally, it was left to hang in a pouch outside of the yurt. It was considered polite for all passer-bys to take the stick called a “Bishkek” and hit the bag, stirring up the contents of the milk to keep it rich and smooth. After fermenting for a few days, it is served at room temperature. Words cannot accurately describe Kymis, all I can say that is tastes like very salty and sour yogurt. It reputedly has great health benefits and is slightly alcoholic.