Epic of Manas
Since 2009 this legend is on the unesco world heritage list (china). In 1995 the Manas Epic was
declared 1000 years old by Unesco, according to some kyrgyz it is much older.
The story of a population looking for a country .
The manastchi (STORYTELLER) or akyns, are transmiting the Epic of Manas since over one
I lived in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for over 4 months last year. I participated in a Russian Language Immersion program with the London School in Bishkek, spending half of my time with a Russian family.
The Russian lessons are cheap ($4/hr for 1-on-1) and the locals speak Russian. I learned more Russian in my 4 months there than I would in over 2 years of University study. Most people are quick to associate Russian studies with Russia alone and forget about the former Soviet republics, where Russian is still an official language in some.
I am from Osh. And I can exactly say that there aren't any caravans or pack animal. Nomads already had changed pack animals to cars. So they moves by cars. It is very hard to find nomads on their pack animals. However some people prefer it.
People here highly respect bread so you should never set it upside down or throw it on the ground. I've been scolded for throwing old stale bread away, so if you have to do it, make sure no locals are looking (or give it to a dog, which seems acceptable).
When meeting new people, men should always shake hands with all the men, while women should just stand and wait for the hand shaking to end. Women only shake hands if a local man extends his hand first - which is rare, in the 9 months I've been here I can count on one hand how many times I've shaken hands with a local man. Also, don't shake hands (or kiss) over a door way - always step inside or outside to shake hands.
When you travel through the mountainous areas of Kyrgyzstan, you often feel like you've never been so far away from any civilizastion (well, that's at least how I felt!!). However, this is not entirely true. Once in a while you can notice a Yurta or two by the road or on the mountain side. They may look deserted at first, but when you stop your car, someone usually comes out of the Yurta. Well, usually the women are 'at home' and they welcome any guests. Of course it helps to speak their language, so you can ask questions about their life, but even if you don't, you'll be most likely offered some bread and kumys and asked to sit down for a while. Don't think it is strange when all the people who are at home sit around and stare at you. After all, they hardly see any people around, not to mention travelers from far-away countries. So, don't be shy and visit the locals!!
It was a fun experience to see all schoolkids - younger and older - dress up in black skirts/pans and white shirts on their last day of school. It is definitely an old Soviet custom that they've decided to maintain ever since their independence.
Manas is considered the Kyrgyz national pride and is often referred to as "the epos-ocean." Rightly so - Manas is the longest epos in the world. It consist over million (yes!!) lines and is many times bigger than the Oddisey and Illiad together!!
Don't take the photos of women without their permission. Usually Kyrgyz people are very open & friendly but it is considered against etiquettes to take photos without permission.
When entering a yurt, remove your shoes. Always respect the culture and traditions of the local people.
In most cases it will not happen to you but you should be aware about one custom of Kyrgyz people. They can steal your knife. I know that it sounds strange but it is not a sin for kyrgyz to take somebodies knive. It is not really a stealing but just a custom that you have to agree with and always carry your pocket knives with you. It is especially important while dealing with shepherds. I hope you don't want to stuck opening your canned food with a spoon somewhere in the mountains.
Also don't be surprized if you recieve money back for giving away your knive as a present as some people believe that a gifted knive will be lost or stolen soon and must be bought at least for symbolic summ of money.
If you are lucky enough to get to know a family grazing their heards in the high pasture you can go to their portable home, the Yurt. Unchanged since before Gengis Kahn counter Kyrgyz amongst his soldiers, the yurt is built of felt and wood.
There is a removable roof flap to trap heat or to release smoke. The floors are well padded with Shyrdak rugs. Very comfortable to sit for a meal or rest for a night.
Along the roadsides of almost every country road are smal comunities of Yurts, Felt tents. The Kyrgyz tend their flocks and herds and sell Kumis to travelers who take the time to stop. Though I'm sure the road changes the culture to some extent, this is a way to see the nomatic lifestyle as it has always been.
Kumuis (Fermented Mare's MilK) is an aquired taste. It has a strong flavor, kind of like liquid blue cheese with a sour aftertaste. It is slightly alcoholic. 4-6%, like beer, nothing too serious. It is the flavor,not the alcohol that will suprise those not used to the unique taste. In some parts of the Country, Talas, they mix honey or sugar into it, this adds a sweet taste upfront but doesn't change the rest of the flavor.
Kumis is different but you have to try it for the Kyrgyz experience. Plus if 4 year old Kyrgyz girls drink it, I'm sure you can handle it!
Kyrgyzstan, like all of the Central Asian countries, is mainly Moslem. We stopped at a cemetery near the lake to look at the headstones and mausoleums, which were unlike any I had ever seen. One grave even had a full-size yurt, made of metal and decorated with painted flowers.
When visiting a nomad family in their yurt, show some respect and don't treat them just as an object to take pictures of. First go up to them and talk with them, even if it's only with hands and feet. They are even more interested in our countries and habits as we are in theirs! Then ask permision to take pictures. They will be honoured to comply. Your pictures will be more relaxed, and the local people will know that tourists are people as well, and not that special breed with one glass eye that makes a klicking sound.
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