Stories from the Old Silk Road - A Friendly Village ... KYRGYZSTAN
​Dateline: September 2018
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The young girl wasn't happy!  Her chore of getting the water and taking it back to her family's home hadn't changed much in hundred's of years, but that didn't make it any easier as she lifted the two pales of water, turned and trudged back home with her heavy load. 
 
The bucket might have been made from galvanised steel and her clothes may have been more colourful than what her grandmother wore on workdays. Even the old hand-pump she used to gather the precious liquid may have been more efficient at dragging the water up from underground, but the sheer drudgery ... and hard work ... of life in this small village tucked away in the remote mountains showed on her face and told us a story no books or Facebook page could ever emulate.

Still, she was the only one who was so obviously unhappy with her lot in life. Hopefully it was a passing phase as is the way with kids sent out to do their evening chores after a day at school?
Most of the people we met in this small village Kyzyl Oi, surrounded by high, near bare mountains, and strung out along the road that roughly paralleled the tumbling Kekemeren River, were friendly and seemingly happy with their lot. The mountains, bare and rugged, were part of the Tian Shan mountains, that dominate the whole of this small, Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. We had come here as part of our Silk Road journey that had started in Zi'an, China, and had headed west like the great silk caravans of old. 
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We had crossed the high, breathtaking Torugart Pass through the Tian Shans on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan, slated by some as the most exciting route in Central Asia; whatever, we were just glad to be out of China.
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Bringing the animals down from the mountains before winter sets in.
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Our route continued to follow the ancient trade route as we bussed our way along the Naryn River and then the Chu River where the Burana Tower, or minaret, once overlooked the camel trains marching along the old pathway. A short distance to the west was the nation’s capital of Bishkek, the modern city being nothing more than a fort in the days of the Silk Road.   
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The Burana Tower once overlooked the camel trains marching along the old pathway.
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The national's capital, Bishkek, is quite a modern city.
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Some interesting monuments in Bishkek.
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Plenty of fresh produce available.
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Two days later after a circuitous route through the mountains on a variety of roads that varied from reasonable blacktop to corrugated gravel, we found ourselves wandering along the Kekemeren River valley and onto the village of Kyzyl Oi and our meeting with the not-so-happy girl.

Still, the people in the village were not only friendly but also more dynamic than most, with a recently painted barn that doubled as the tourist information centre, which was supported by a host of farmers’ homestays - 'guest houses' in the vernacular of the tourist industry, for travellers to choose from. And a few adventurous travellers had come, bringing their affluence and money to this small, still poor village that for the most part is so far removed from the capital, just 200km but a full day's drive away, that it is almost impossible to comprehend. Government services don't come this far in this country, one of the poorest in the world, where over 30% of the people live below the bread line. Here you either thrive or die by your own endeavours; this village was not going to die ... and hopefully it will thrive!  
Just along the main road we met a few horsemen who had come in from the fields with their mobs of sheep and goats, just a short time earlier. Slumped in the saddle of their trusty steeds and with a bottle of vodka shared between them, they yarned and laughed, smiled and waved at us and life was looking and feeling good in the late autumn sunshine. Nearby a father and son were shoeing a horse, smiling and nodding their heads when we asked to take a photo, before turning back to the job at hand.  
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A very friendly young girl approached us and asked in surprisingly good English where we were from. She was delightful!!
We then met a young girl who rode up to us on a pushbike and asked in surprisingly good English where we were from. It turned out the village school had an American teacher who spoke fluent Kyrgyz (a Turkic language) and was teaching the kids English - she was obviously doing an excellent job. From our pleasant informer we found out that the village had a population of 850 hardy souls and the school had 200 kids attending classes. In winter the village is always smothered in snow and often cut off from the outside world. She wanted to be a interpreter ... and was well on the way to being just that. After 15 minutes of lively chatter, with a smile and a wave she said she had to go and bring in the family's sheep from the fields as the weather was changing and snow was possible; she peddled away having enriched our day no end.
There was a flurry of movement further along the street as a mob of horsemen appeared and trotted towards the north side of town. Word quickly spread that there was a game of kok-boru(pronounced 'coke-bah-RU') about to happen and who could resist to go along and watch a rough and tumble game of the national sport?

Played with a freshly slaughtered, decapitated goat, the object of kok-boru is to drag and lift the 25-30kg carcase off the ground and deposit it into a circular goal pit, called a ‘taikazan’. The horse-mounted competitors, three or four to a side, do this while getting wrestled and rammed by their opponents and their horses; at times it is an absolute free-for-all, the goat carcase often on the ground amongst a dozen or so stamping hooves, before it is lifted from the dirt and slung under a rider’s leg, who then tries to get out of the melee and race onto the team's goal. There are rules, like when the 'ball' goes out of play, it is thrown back in where a single rider from each side vies to take the carcase for a ride, but once it is in possession the rest of the team members join in for a free-for-all.   

The short whip each rider carries is held in the rider's teeth when they are not whipping their horse for more speed, or belting their competitors' horses to help get the goat. It is no genteel game of polo chaps, that's for sure! But the horsemanship is unparalleled and after the game the goat is cooked and the winning team shares it with the losers.
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As the sun dropped below the tall mountain ridges the cool of the evening quickly set, with the snow on the nearby peaks adding a chill to our walk back to our farmer's house and where a mattress on the floor awaited our slumber. 

Dinner that evening though was a traditional warming Borsch soup - cabbage, red capsicum, potato and meat, and traditional 'Oromo' - a light thin dough with several layers filled with potato and onion. We scoffed it heartily, enjoyed a couple of cold beers and went to bed after one of the absolute highlights of our journey so far.
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Beautiful Kazak women wear a traditional headress and clothing.
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If you want to read about all our travels and adventurers we had following the Silk Road, see: www.polarsteps.com/RonMoon/968969-following-the-silk-road
Copyright Ron & Viv Moon