Thursday, 12 June 2014

N 42.28.43 E78.23.09 Glorious Kyrgyzstan mountains

Momos (dumplings)  we met
some variation of these all the way from Turkey
Whitewater rafting along the Kazakstan border
with a group of Russian guides
Our home on Lake Issykul

delicious soft ice cream in a tiny
town near the walnut forest

We were in Kyrgyzstan from 6 to 22 June. Then we travelled through China and Tibet where all google products, including Blogger, were not accessible. So this post is being composed a month after our time in Kyrgyzstan. Time for reflection, but also a bit of creative memory, perhaps, where memory fails.

If Uzbekistan was beautifully restored silk road buildings, then Kyrgyzstan was Mother Nature showing off all her natural beauty. Except for one night in Bishkek, it was bush camps, hostels and homestays. We shared the beauty of the mountains, lakes, streams and alpine meadows with the local nomads in their felted yurts as well as their cows, horses, sheep and even a herd of yaks.

Begiam, our Kyrgyzstan guide, was as different as her country Where our guide in Uzbekistan, Bec, was a polished shoes, dress pants and shirt city guy, Begiam was coolmax shirt, technical pants and well worn hiking boots. Her love was her countryside and she did her best to share that love with us. She was shy and quiet, surprised that the guys in our group took an equal share of camp clean up and set up and was always willing to pitch in where needed. In a quiet moment, she mentioned that if she could travel out of country, she would love to visit Italy. That she had learned Italian in college. That she had trained to be a professional opera singer but there was no one to sponsor her for further education. The parallels to the shopkeeper in Tblisi who had also wished she could travel, Victims of the former soviet systems. The blessing of choice we have in first world countries.

Kyrgystan in some ways is a very new country. Like the other "former stans" it was created by the Soviets as a way to manage and administrate central Asia. Before that, nomadic tribes controlled areas or passed through. But in other ways, civilization here is as old as the silk road. Most written history has been removed to Moscow and the people of Kyrgyzstan are just starting to relearn their past.

Borders with neighbors are touchy issues. Large groups can't travel into the Fergana valley because of risk of terrorism - the valley is divided between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan thinks it should be theirs. the border with China is almost 200 km of no mans land.

Kyrgyzstan is a small poor country. It's resources are water, hydropower and the Kumtor gold mine (jointly owned with Canada). Nomads take their herds of sheep and cows up to the high pastures for summer grazing. The shepherds are actually employed by a number of farmers to care for the flocks as they travel which explained why we would see mixed groups of sheep wherever we went.

Our last homestay was at Karakol (which is also the name for a kind of sheep's wool that is very curly) The eagerly awaited felting workshop was as fun as I had hoped. My Calypso family tolerated my enthusiasm and many curious questions. I made notes of the meanings of some of the designs and the one I used on my journal quilt is the auroch (sheeps horns) symbolizing prosperity - not money, but health, happiness and family. Begaim also sent me traditional Kyrgyz designs that I will have a place in future quilts.

And following up with the rest of the water story- Kyrgyzstan would say that Uzbekistan keeps turning off their natural gas supply and what else can Kyrgyzstan do but threaten to turn off the water?

One of the designs Begaim sent

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