THE

Spektator

№23 December 2013

Your rarely published guide to what’s happening in and around Bishkek

One

Steppe

Ahead:

Riding Kazakhstan

Plus:
Person of the

Year

Catchin’ up with

Coolio

Ghosts of the

Mountains

Tourist Map Latest News Restaurant Guide

One Steppe Ahead

Contents

Our feature article sees those Spektator
cads Jamie and Matt off on another jolly
jaunt, this time on horseback across the
eastern Kazakh steppe. Charles HowardBury, are you reading this?

The Spektator Magazine

Non-News

Founder: Tom Wellings

Catchin’ up with Coolio

Coolio has been busy since he was first
sighted sayin’ prayers in the streetlight in
1995. The Spektator pretends to interview him after his recent gig in Bishkek.

Editor: Tom Wellings
(editor@thespektator.co.uk)
Staff writers: Ben Rich, Robert Marks,
Thomas Olsen, Dennis Keen, Palmer
Keen, Holly Myers, James Maddison,
Jika T, Adeline Bell, Jamie Bunchuk
Patrick Barrow, Dina Tokbaeva, Alice
Janvrin, Sergei Vysotsky, Tom Tweedy
Guest Contributor: Adriane Lochner

Design: Hvare Firouzeh

Focus
This Month
News and Views

Kyrgyzstan is making organic apple juice,
Uzbekistan is making cutting edge theatre, Kazakhstan is making combatting
violence against women a priority and
Germany is making accusations that Tajikistan’s ruling family is driving its stolen
cars. All this in addition to our editorial.

Person of the Year
Aida! Aida! Aida!

Aida Salyanova is easily the sauciest general prosecutor in the post-Soviet space.
She also reminds us of a cracking musical
we once went to see.

The Ghosts of the Mountains

4

The last time we checked in on the snow
leopard’s progress was in our ninth issue,
so we thought it was time for an update.
Adriane Lochner meets the people who
spend their lives trying to preserve the
world’s most elusive cat.

12

16

18

8

Out & About
Kicking it at Kol-Tor

10

City Map

11

Following our hike through Ala-Archa in
Issue 22 we go a little bit further off the
beaten track with a trek to the stunning
alpine lake, Kol-Tor.
Don’t get lost.

The Guide
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs

All the best bars and clubs in town. Some
well-known spots have been taken out
of this month’s edition with new spots
added. Full listings available on the
website.

www.thespektator.co.uk

The End
Loco Motion

Want to contribute as a freelance
writer? Please contact:
editor@thespektator.co.uk

Patrick Barrow takes a testing train ride
from Kustani to somewhere. Is this where
the Spektator gets off?

22

26

ON THE COVER: Nothing to see but steppe (Matt Travers)

THE

The Spektator Magazine is available at locations throughout Bishkek, including: (Travel Agencies) Adventure Seller, Ak-Sai Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, Celestial Mountains, Ecotour, Glavtour,Kyrgyz Concept,
Kyrgyz Travel, Muza, NoviNomad (Bars & Restaurants) Hollywood, Metro, New York Pizza, No1, 2x2, Boulevard, Coffeehouse, Doka, Fatboy’s, Four Seasons, Live Bar, Lounge Bar, Meri,
Navigator, Stary Edgar’s Veranda, Adriatico, Cyclone, Dolce Vita, Santa Maria, Bella Italia (Casinos) Europa, Golden Dragon, XO (Hotels) Dostuk, Hyatt, Golden Dragon, Holiday, Alpinist
(Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.

Spektator

.co.uk

The Spektator is now online at www.thespektator.co.uk

4

This Month

The Bum that Could Kyrgyzstan: Entrepreneurial Class
Debates Customs Union “Value Added”

Once upon a time the slumbering ugly that is
the Spektator was nodding off in the dark depths
of a faraway land called Panfilov park, surrounded by rotting leaves, cigarette butts, empty bottles of vodka and obsolete fairground attractions.
So convinced was it that its work in the city was
done, it prepared for the longest sleep of its fiveyear life; an open-ended hibernation, perhaps
the last of many.
But all that changed when it was rudely awakened by a plentiful spirit, flitting between the
shashlyk stands, merry-go-rounds and spinning
teacups, peppering the world-weary tourist
magazine with taunts about its outdated restaurant guide. “Is this your legacy?” the spirit chided.
“No Kvartira 148, Fat Cat Café or Barsuk? Adriatico
got renamed Giorgo’s and then destroyed by a
tree! Where the hell have you been all this time?”
Aside from the fact that the plentiful spirit was
far too lazy to get up off its arse and write some
reviews, it had a point. Even as the local economy
toiled new eateries had popped up around the
city like mushrooms after a rainstorm, washing
away the ill-gotten gains of the country’s beezness class. Some of them had bankrupted themselves before they had even had a chance to enter the guide’s hallowed pages.
Worse still, Nelly and Craig David had visited
the city in close succession and the only institution capable of making merciless fun of their sold
out, washed-up celebrity in print had passed up
the opportunity. Now the plentiful spirit teased
it with the news that Coolio, fifty years old and
still partial to crack cocaine, would be rapping his
way to a pension plan in Bishkek. Would he, too,
live to avoid the sharp edge of Spektator satire?
Thus, the Spektator hauled itself out of intended exile, went to a bunch of new grub houses
and adapted reviews for the rest by consulting
with friends and local “steakholders” (Matthew
Stowerbridge™), particularly the excellent new
Russian-language website enot.kg. It also went to
see Coolio; an historic, perhaps even pre-historic
experience that made it glad its grandfathers had
never tried to grow their hair out in braids or perform tracks like I Like Girls.
“Has Coolio still got it?” folks that will remain
anonymous for the sake of their own credibility
were heard asking in the build-up to the show.
Did he ever have it? We are not talking about Bob
Dylan and the Never Ending Tour here. This is a
man that made two hits that anyone can remember and has spent the rest of his ‘career’ womanizing, inhaling illicit substances and basking in the
fading memory of a former glory. Bishkek and
Coolio were made for each other!
Anyhow, apart from catching up with Coolio
(not difficult now that he is fifty) Kyrgyzstan’s favourite tourist mag has a vaguely Kazakh theme
this month, featuring both horse rides and train
rides through the physical and philosophical
wilderness of the Kazakh steppe. In addition to
those sorties, we have given out our prestigious
Person of the Year award (Time magazine eat
your heart out) and provided a very important
update on international efforts to save the snow
leopard. Best Wishes to all for the New Year! We
will CU when you get there, if you ever get there....
December2013 The Spektator

CHRIS RICKLETON
BISHKEK, December 12 (Eurasianet) - Sitting in
his office, surrounded by marketing materials,
Dastan Omuraliev voices lots of confidence in his
new startup: “Kyrgyzstan has some of the best
fruits and vegetables in the world,” he says. Once
processed and packaged into colorful three-liter
boxes of organic apple juice, “they can compete
anywhere.”
Few visitors to Kyrgyzstan would dispute
Omuraliev’s claim about the country’s produce.
For much of the year, bazaars teem with juicy
peaches, tomatoes, apples and all sorts of melons. But with a weak economy and foreign investors frightened by chronic political instability, turning Kyrgyzstan’s natural abundance into
exportable goods is difficult. Overwhelmingly,
Kyrgyzstan remains a nation of poor farmers and
traders hawking products produced elsewhere.
The debate over domestic productivity, or lack
thereof, has taken on a new dynamic as Bishkek
negotiates to enter the Russia-led Customs Union, a protectionist trade block that also includes
Belarus and Kazakhstan. Opponents of accession
in Bishkek point out that all three countries have
stronger, more industrialized economies. By contrast, in Kyrgyzstan, revenues from re-exported
consumer goods, mostly produced in China,
generate upwards of 15 percent of GDP, according to Bishkek-based economist Roman Mogilevski. The World Bank lists Kyrgyzstan as Central
Asian country with the highest dependence on
trade relative to GDP.
The quandary for Bishkek is that Customs Union membership is expected to curtail the country’s re-export trade.
Kyrgyz officials, fearful that their country won’t
find a niche within the club, are asking forconcessions with generous grace periods on over
1,000 products, many of which are Chinese inputs essential for its own light industries, such
as textiles. Last month the chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Committee for CIS Integration,
Leonid Slutsky, told Kyrgyz MPs they were being
greedy.
Soon thereafter, Economics Minister Temir
Sariev said Kyrgyzstan needs over $1 billion
in aid from members to smooth over potential bumps in the accession process, Vechernii
Bishkek reported on November 25. The requested aid -- $200 million a year over a five-to-seven-year period -- would help the government
create “growth spots” and “new value added” in
the economy, as well as compensate local businesses affected negatively by accession, he said.
Sariev added that another $215 million was necessary to bring Kyrgyzstan’s border infrastructure
into line with Customs Union standards.
Omuraliev, the entrepreneur whose EcoProduct Asia makes juice extracted from domestic
fruits, is already primed for entry. Since August
his company has processed 16 tons of local apples per day using Austrian equipment at their
factory in Shopokov, half an hour from Bishkek
and three hours from his main export market, Almaty, in Kazakhstan. Omuraliev refused to give

turnover figures but said about 20 percent of his
sales are in Kazakhstan, on the other side of the
Custom Union’s barbed-wire fence. He claims to
have had interest from Russia, too.
“In May next year, when we begin production
again, the challenge will be to produce enough
juice to meet demand,” he says, adding that expects sales to “double if not triple” in 2014.
Bishkek has recognized that the production of
food, beverages and tobacco help diversify the
economy using source materials that are already
in abundance, but which currently often go to
waste. The sector has grown 300 percent in the
last 10 years and accounted for 14 percent of
total industrial production in 2012, according to
the National Statistics Committee. New food processors such as EcoProduct Asia have benefited
from generous tax breaks.
In an interview with the Russian television
station Mir on August 30, President Almazbek
Atambayev restated his commitment to entering the Customs Union. Noting that re-exporting
Chinese products to Kazakhstan and Russia had
helped the country “survive through difficult
times,” he said it was now “time to think of the
future” by developing homemade industries and
services ahead of Customs Union entry.
Bakai Zhunushov, the business advisory services coordinator at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), is more
cautious about Customs Union entry, anticipating a “difficult adjustment period.” Still, he agrees
that innovative startups such as EcoProduct Asia
– by linking farmers to larger, richer markets outside the country – would be able to take a step
in the right direction. “When it comes to growing
fruits and other primary products, a large part of
this value is often lost. … A big part of the harvest is spoiled before it is sold,” Zhunushov told
EurasiaNet.org.
Omuraliev is part of a new generation of entrepreneurs that “start from nil,” says Uluk Kydyrbaev, a former head of the Bishkek Business Club,
a prominent lobby. He contrasts today’s businessmen with those who got rich during the initial post-Soviet privatization rush. “Today’s [entrepreneurs] have a wider compass. They think in
terms of globalization and the mass possibilities
it offers,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
But Kydyrbaev argues that the majority of new
and would-be Kyrgyz producers will be better off
outside the Customs Union than inside it, despite
government messaging to the contrary.
“Currently if a small company is trying to build
a factory they can choose between expensive,
excellent quality materials and equipment from
Europe, or cheap affordable equipment and materials from China.” That “cheap Chinese component” is often a default preference for new businesses in Kyrgyzstan, who tend to lack significant
start-up capital, said Kydyrbaev. The Customs
Union, with its high import tariffs, will increase
the cost for both options and “restrict choice,” for
entrepreneurs, he said. That’s “bad for innovation.”
www.thespektator.co.uk

This Month

5

Uzbekistan: Cutting-Edge Theater Surviving in Tashkent
JOANNA LILLIS
TASHKENT, December 19 (Eurasianet) - Sex
and drugs are not often publicly discussed in
Uzbekistan, where the state casts itself as a
guardian of traditional values. But even in such
a tightly controlled environment, one can occasionally come across an oasis of free expression.
One such oasis is the Ilkhom Theater of Mark
Weil, a Tashkent stage with a long tradition of
producing alternative works. On a recent evening, an audience was riveted by a show – written by Russian playwright Yuriy Klavdiyev and
titled Rain Behind the Wall – exploring the grittier side of urban life. It is a grim story about
sexual abuse of males and females in a family
wracked by alcoholism and also featuring drug
addiction. And if those themes were not heavy
enough, the work also touches on the topics
of police brutality, corruption, economic hardship, and political disenchantment. The action
is set in Russia – but the setting is familiar to audiences anywhere in the former Soviet Union.
Despite flashes of comedy, the performance
is grueling for actors and audience members
alike. Taking a look at the dark underbelly of society, and raising the unmentionable, is nothing new for the Ilkhom Theater. It has been
smashing taboos since its foundation in 1976, a
time when then-Communist Party boss Leonid
Brezhnev was presiding over the Soviet Union’s Stagnation Era.
The theater was founded by renowned actor and director Mark Weil, who was brutally
murderedin 2007 in Tashkent. Three men were
tried and received lengthy prison terms in 2010
for Weil’s murder. In the scenario presented by
prosecutors, the crime was perpetrated in protest over the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in the play Imitating the Koran, a work
based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin: it is
a hypothesis that many find hard to swallow.
Weil’s colleagues have always believed his
general tendency to produce trailblazing
works, and his willingness to challenge the
status quo, was a major factor in his death at
the age of 55. His dissident voice and maverick tastes were thorns in the sides of Soviet-era
authorities, and remained so in independent
Uzbekistan, where political freedoms are repressed and censorship is tight.
“This was, of course, no tragic accident,”
Irina Bharat, Ilkhom’s assistant general manager, told EurasiaNet.org in an interview in
the theater’s cheerful coffee bar before a performance. “I don’t think we’ll ever know [the
truth].”
Weil was stabbed to death right before the
opening of a new season at the theater, recalls
Bharat: “He had a dress rehearsal of the show
on September 6, and on September 7 we were
supposed to open the season. After the rehearsal he went home and he was killed by the
entrance to his apartment block.”
Before he died in the hospital, he conveyed a
www.thespektator.co.uk

The late Mark Weil (ArtsRightsJustice.net)
message to the troupe: the show must go on. “I
open a new season tomorrow, and everything
must happen,” were reportedly his last words.
The actors swiftly opened the 2007/2008
season with Weil’s last production, Oresteia,
a Greek tragedy about vengeance and death,
going ahead although “absolutely everyone
was afraid,” Bharat acknowledged.
Six years on, Weil’s towering presence still
looms over the theater, and its survival represents a triumph over adversity.
“I think the idea was that the theater should
die; if there was no Mark Weil, then his theater
should die,” Bharat explained. “We expended
all our heartfelt efforts for the theater not to
die, and that was the most we could do for
Mark Weil – and we showed everyone, ourselves first of all, that we could do it.”
The award-winning Russian-language theater has gone from strength to strength, continuing to slice through stereotypes and produce
shows that examine what are generally offlimits topics in Uzbekistan, including domestic
violence and homosexuality, as well as sex and
substance abuse.
Elsewhere in Uzbekistan, the government
has taken quick action to attack outside influencesdeemed corrosive to society’s cohesion.
In their self-proclaimed capacity as morality
police, officials have railed against western imports such as rap music, while frowning upon
what they perceive as the influences of cultural
imperialism such as Santa Claus and Valentine’s Day.
Bharat says that, despite this repressive environment, the Ilkhom Theater still enjoys total
artistic freedom: “There is no censorship in our

theater. No one comes and tells us what we
can and can’t do.”
Ilkhom’s wide-ranging repertoire goes far
beyond provocative performances on contemporary themes. It includes classics from the
Uzbek, Russian and western canon. There are
works by 15th-century Turkic writer and Uzbek
hero Alisher Navoi; by Russian literary giants
Chekhov and Pushkin; by western writers like
Norway’s Henrik Ibsen and Italy’s Carlo Gozzi;
and by writers from Uzbekistan such as the Soviet-era Abdulla Qodiriy, and the modern-day
Sukhbat Aflatuni.
Ilkhom receives no state subsidies and generates revenue from sales of tickets and merchandise, from its small cafe, and from foreign
donors’ grants. It also runs a theater school and
an arthouse cinema club, hosts festivals such
as IlkhomRockFest, and stages art exhibitions
in its lobby – an important venue for artists in
a country where the public modern art is discouraged.
Members of the troupe (numbering about
25 actors plus 25 support staff ) call Ilkhom a
“home” – for performers and audience alike.
But are they not apprehensive about the future? “Of course we look over our shoulders
at what could happen to our home, because
no-one expected that something like [Weil’s
death] could happen to us,” says Bharat. “But
on the other hand you can’t be afraid all the
time.”
It is Weil’s legacy that keeps driving the
theater forward, she says, and “for him, there
were no impossible things.” When the performers get together, “the first toast is always for
Mark Weil.”
December 2013 The Spektator

This Month
6
Kazakhstan: Domestic Violence Rising on
Political Agenda
JOANNA LILLIS
ALMATY, December 10 (Eurasianet) - When
banker Darkhan Botabayev tried to book a flight
on Kazakhstan’s national airline last September,
what started as a routine transaction turned into
an assault that shocked the nation: Botabayev
lost his temper and punched the young female
ticket clerk in the face.
Another violent incident occurred in October,
when Kanatbay Turmaganbetov, a rural mayor
in northern Kazakhstan, took exception to a
woman photographing a billboard of President
Nursultan Nazarbayev: He summoned her to his
office where he “bashed her head against the
wall, punched her several times in the chest and
kicked her,” according to a local media report.
Turmaganbetov was prosecuted, fined and
fired; Botabayev was forced to resign as a member of Kazinvestbank’s board and blacklisted by
Air Astana – after which he apologized to his
victim bearing a bouquet of flowers, and donated $10,000 to charity. These incidents caused
an outcry in Kazakhstan, but activists point out
that they aren’t isolated cases. Most disturbingly,
many assaults against women take place behind
closed doors.
Take Marina, who married an abusive man to
escape a father who turned violent on her after she was raped at the age of 15 and became
pregnant; or Irina, whose husband set fire to her
mother’s flat after she fled there to escape further
abuse. Some victims do not survive, like Rashida,
found with a knife sticking out of her chest after
her husband broke into her safe house, locked
her daughters into a bedroom and stabbed her
to death.
These testimonies were collected by the Podrugi (Girlfriends) Crisis Center in Almaty, which
offers psychological and legal support for victims
of violence, and training for law-enforcement,
education, and healthcare professionals. The organization also is trying to force the issue upKazakhstan’s political agenda.
When Podrugi was set up 15 years ago, domestic violence was not acknowledged as a problem or a crime, instead it was often portrayed
as a private family matter. Activists’ relentless
efforts have helped change public perceptions.
And in last year’s state-of-the-nation address, an
“alarmed” President Nazarbayev singled out the
issue as one in need of attention.
“Violence is not a private problem,” Nadezhda
Gladyr, Podrugi’s president, told EurasiaNet.org
in an interview. “It is a social problem, because it
goes beyond the boundaries of the family. It is a
problem of the state.”
One landmark in the fight to raise awareness was the passing of a law against domestic
violence in 2009. Legal amendments to tighten it
up and offer victims more support are currently
making their way through parliament.
No one knows how many women are victims of
domestic violence in Kazakhstan every year. Paradoxically, official statistics (notoriously unreliable
on gender violence in most countries) show that
the number of reported crimes has fallen since
the law was adopted, whereas a rise might have
December2013 The Spektator

been expected with a new legal mechanism in
place.
According to data from the General-Prosecutor’s Office Legal Statistics Committee, there were
783 registered cases in 2012, against 887 in 2009.
Last year, 285 women died in domestic-violencerelated incidents, according to Gulshara Abdykalikova, head of the National Commission for
Women’s Affairs and Family Demographic Policy.
Last month, she was promoted to deputy prime
minister.
Podrugi representatives suggest that one-fifth
of families in Kazakhstan suffer from domestic violence. Meanwhile, the national Statistics
Agency’s report on crime against women in 2012
said 13,797 violent crimes against women were
registered, “in many cases” incidents of domestic
violence.
The stigma of reporting it is great, so “not all
women talk about this, they don’t want to air
their dirty laundry in public,” Abdykalikova said in
February. “Society is very tolerant toward domestic violence,” Tatyana Usmanova of the Center for
Supporting Women, an NGO, told a round table
in January.
Even when women go to the police, complaints are often dropped for reasons ranging
from family pressure to financial dependence
on the alleged perpetrator. Some 20,000 women
filed police complaints about domestic violence
in 2011, Deputy Interior Minister Kayrat Tynybekov told parliament last year. Only a fraction of
those initial complaints, however, end up in the
official records.
The disparity between the number of reported
crimes and the number of women seeking help
is huge: In October parliament heard that 37,000
women had sought assistance from special Interior Ministry Units to Protect Women From
Violence so far in 2013, and 11,000 had turned to
Kazakhstan’s 28 crisis centers.
The conviction rate for domestic violence
crimes appears to have fallen since the law was
adopted. There were 509 convictions in 2012,
against 988 in 2009 – a 48 percent drop that is
far greater than the 12-percent fall in reported
crimes, although convictions on lesser charges
can skew the numbers. Last year 386 people received custodial sentences (76 percent of convictions).
In connection with the annual global Say NO
campaign, which began November 25 and concluded December 10, Podrugi lobbied Astana
to set up a nationwide network of state-funded
shelters for victims of domestic violence. At present, non-governmental organizations operate a
patchy network, and some major cities – including Almaty – do not have designated shelters.
MPs have spoken out in support of a state role.
“It is important for us human rights defenders who represent women’s rights that the state
should play a major role in preventing this violence, and state shelters are therefore really important to us,” Gladyr said. She is confident that
Astana is “now listening to us, and they are with
us.”

Tajikistan’s
President Drives
Stolen German
Cars - German
Media
DAVID TRILLING
December 19, (Eurasianet) - When police
close the roads and President Emomali Rakhmon’s fleet of black Mercedes-Benzes hightails
it through Tajikistan’s capital several times
each day, the ensuing traffic jams cause a fair
amount of grumbling.
But the grumbling is not confined to Dushanbe. Apparently authorities in Berlin are
peeved, too: They say hundreds of luxury cars
in Tajikistan have been stolen off German
streets and are being used by the president
and his relatives, according to a German media
report. And despite Berlin’s repeated requests
to redress the issue, Tajik officials are ignoring
the appeals.
Using GPS technology, German investigators have traced approximately 200 stolen German luxury vehicles to Tajikistan, including 93
BMWs, reports Deutsche Welle, citing the German tabloid Bild.
There have long been detailed rumors in
Dushanbe’s Western diplomatic community
that many of the luxury cars plying Dushanbe’s
streets were stolen in Europe (and traded,
somewhere along the way, for heroin), and
that Tajik police officials are unwilling to address the problem.
It turns out, according to Bild, the dispute
goes to the highest levels of the Tajik government and that a recent bilateral meeting in
Berlin was cancelled because the Tajik foreign
minister did not want to deal with the awkward questions. From Deutsche Welle:
When Berlin’s Justice Minister Thomas Heilmann learned of this, he wrote a letter to the
German Foreign Ministry in which he noted that
most of these stolen cars now belong to “people
who are connected to the president of Tajikistan
by economic and familial ties,” reports Bild. At
Heilmann’s request, former Foreign Minister
Guido Westerwelle summoned the Tajik ambassador.
According to Bild, the German Foreign Ministry has repeatedly appealed to the Tajiks on this
issue, to no avail: The Tajik authorities refuse to
return the stolen cars. In October, former Foreign
Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi at the last minute refused to visit Berlin, as the government intended
to include the issue of the stolen cars on the
agenda.
Ignoring a problem is pretty much standard
operating procedure in Tajikistan’s government. No doubt, if the reports are true, no one
wants to tell Rakhmon that he has to pony up
for his own Benz.
www.thespektator.co.uk

7

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December 2013 The Spektator

8

Person of the Year

Aida!

Aida!

Aida!

JOHN BERESFORD

S

HE IS THE SHINING light of the war on
Due to a lack of other plausible candicorruption, a sexier, sassier version of
dates and a certain nostalgia for nights
Stalin’s ‘show trials’ rottweiler Vishinsky,
in London’s West End, the Spektator 2013
Bishkek’s answer to Harvey Dent, and,
Person of the Year is Aida Salyanova, Kyrpossibly, the inspiration for Elton John
gyzstan’s general prosecutor.
and Tim Rice’s semi-eponymous hit musical. Dear

readers, please meet the Princess of Naryn, a political survivor of the highest order, General Prosecutor
of the Kyrgyz Republic, Aida Salyanova.
Why has Salyanova stolen the Spektator’s cold,
sarcastic heart this festive season? Well, apart from
bearing a strong resemblance to the primary school
teacher that gave it its first stiffy, we still believe in
goodies and baddies, and, as the republic’s chief investigator, Salyanova is a bonafide goody locking up
some of the baddest baddies around.
Thanks to Aida, half of Kyrgyzstan’s graft-ridden
Top Salyanova struts her stuff while the lads parliament are now packing their suitcases and
pondering an extended vacation in Dubai. Thanks
play Snake on their Nokias (archive)
to Aida, the former mayor that allegedly earned a
Below Ancient Nubia’s very own General fortune embezzling cheap Chinese buses and the
former tax chief whose tax-collecting expertise alProsecutor (archive)
legedly made him a multi-millionaire are looking
forward to a New Year behind bars. Thanks to Aida,
the Joker and the Penguin (nationalist clowns Japarov and Tashiev) were almost incarcerated, only for
a petrified judge to reverse his prior verdict when
their supporters started throwing shoes at him.
But perhaps things aren’t so black and white,
you say. Kyrgyzstani politics is a dynamic and fluctuating process of conflict and bargaining, with marginalized peripheries and corrupt cores; a vicious
struggle for scarce resources among disparate elites
with broadly varying agendas. Perhaps Salyanova is
just a pawn of the President’s Office, administering
punishments in line with academic theories of asymmetric justice? We respond that you are over-complicating things. The real question is: Has anyone ever
looked this foxy in a prosecutor’s uniform before?
We do concede that Salyanova’s tenure as general prosecutor has had a few blemishes, especially
this year. In April she was accused of complicity in a
scandal that saw Aziz Batukayev, the mob boss that
once had half the Kyrgyz underworld and a sizeable
portion of the political class wrapped around his
December2013 The Spektator

little finger escape captivity and travel on a chartered flight to the Gangsta’s Paradise that is Grozny,
Chechnya, in order to treat a disease which turned
out to be a mere figment of his imagination. Oops!
Then, the following month, as villagers in the region
surrounding the Kumtor gold mine waged a pitch
battle against riot police, Salyanova’s car was spotted
parked outside a Bishkek beauty salon for a full five
hours - a discovery that sent a series of politicians,
who aren’t as hot as Aida, into uproar. Nevertheless,
in spite of these scandals, two and three-quarter
years and three prime ministers on from when Roza
Otunbayeva first appointed her in March 2011,
Salyanova is still General Prosecutor of the Kyrgyz
Republic: They don’t call her Teflon Aida for nothing!
“Salyanova is a very clever and very strong woman,” one long-time correspondent for a Bishkek
newspaper told the Spekatator. “I still remember her
when she was working as a civil servant in the parliament after the Tulip Revolution [2005]. She was
so young then but knew every law in the book and
how to use them. Now she is prosecutor she has a
file on every other politician in the country!”
Indeed, and perhaps even one on the Spektator.
But what is Written in the Stars for 41-year-old Salyanova over the next couple of years? A dozen more
MPs banged up in the slammer? A $5,000 pedicure?
Enough kudos amassed for a tilt at the presidency in
2017? We don’t know. What we do know is that over
thirteen years since Aida first lit up Broadway, the lyrics of The Dance of the Robe have never rung truer:
Aida, your robe should be golden, your robe should
be perfect, instead of this ragged concoction of thread.
But may you be moved by its desperate beauty to give
us new life, for we’d rather be dead than live in the
squalor and shame of the slave to the dance, to the
dance. Aida, Aida, all we ask of you - all we ask - is a lifetime of service, wisdom, courage. To ask more would be
selfish, but nothing less will do. Aida, Aida, Aida, Aida,
Aida, Aida, Aida, Aida. You know expectations are wild
and almost beyond your fulfillment. But they won’t
hear a word of a doubt or see signs of weakness. Your
nigh on impossible duty is clear. If you can rekindle your
ancestors’ dreams, it’s enough, it’s enough, it’s enough
(Aida, Aida, Aida, Aida, Aida, Aida). It’s enough.
www.thespektator.co.uk

10

Out & About

Kickin’ It
at

Kol-Tor
We busy working-folk can’t swan off to the
countryside for weeks on end like Bishkek’s
layabout crusty-backpacker-types. But when
Altyn Arshan or Batken are just too far away,
our own little Chui Valley is given a chance to
shine. Stephen Lioy takes a look at Kol-Tor
Lake in the Kegeti Gorge a few hours from the
capital.

Getting there:

A

STEPHEN LIOY

FTER A LUNG-PUNISHING uphill hike has had a lot of rain recently you’re probably better
through fragrant green glades (what off taking the left fork that climbs up an open hillcan I say, horses in Kyrgyzstan make na- side as it will be significantly drier than the route to
The Lowdown: The hike from the Trekking
ture everywhere a bit fragrant), one last the right. The two meet again in a green meadow
Union Hut in Kegeti to Kol-Tor Lake takes appush beyond a steep muddy stretch of and climb together up a few more rises to arrive at
proximately 3 hours up and 1.5 hours down. It trail brings hikers to an open hilltop overlooking Kol-Tor. The hilltop just to the right of where the trail
is suitable for anyone with a reasonable level a bright turquoise lake. Kol-Tor is just as beautiful meets the lake provides a great view of the whole
of fitness, and requires no special equipment (hint: or more) as anything in Ala-Archa National scene and is worth a scramble, or you can continue
other than good boots and warm clothes.
Park, but doesn’t get nearly as many clueless hikers on the path as it winds around the lake, eventually
Transport: To get there by public transport take or drunken picnickers as
reaching a small rocky
“You’ll spend the day alone with delta where the tribua minibus from the East Bus Station towards the Bishkek’s most famous
village of Kegeti (50 som, about 2 hours). Just excursion. Instead, a friends in the foothills of the moun- tary stream feeds into
before crossing a riverbed into Kegeti, get out hike to Kol-Tor may
Kol-Tor. As a reasonably
of the minibus and head down the road to the pass a family of walkers tains that make Kyrgyzstan such a fit hiker, expect to walk
south. Hitch or hike the 10km to the end of the staying at the Kegeti beautiful place”
for two or three hours
road (veer left at the split, rather than taking a Tour Mountain Hut or
from the hut to the tribright over the bridge) and you should see the a handful of walkers out for the day on a trip with utary (and half that on the way back down).
hut located just before the end of the road. If the Trekking Union. More likely, though, is that you’ll
The valleys en route to Kol-Tor offer several
you want to stay at the hut during warmer spend the day alone with friends in the foothills of prime spots for camping with beautiful views and
months, you’d be well-advised to contact the the mountains that make Kyrgyzstan such a beauti- easy access to fresh water, while beyond the lake a
Trekking Union to make a reservation (Tel. +996 ful place.
trail heads south towards an imposing glacier be312 909 115). If you’re not comfortable hiking
Starting from the Kegeti Tour Hut, follow the dirt fore continuing west and eventually making a loop
solo or just don’t want to figure out the trans- road a little further into the mountains until it ends back towards the small bridge on the road to Kegport logistics, the Trekking Union also organises at a clearing that houses a yurt during shepherding eti village. Although the Kol-Tor hike is easily incorfrequent excursions from Bishkek during sum- months. After taking a couple of photos (come on, porated into multi-day trekking routes, its location
mer months for around 400 som/person.
you know you love yurts with mountainous back- makes it a great day-hike from the capital. And for
Navigation: Maps of the Tien-Shan south of grounds!), exit the clearing to follow the river for those more used to sedentary weekend activities,
Bishkek can be purchased at GeoId (Kievskaya several kilometers along a wooded path that climbs I urge you to give it a go - after all, you can get a
107) at 1:100,000 scale.
up and over several small scree slopes. Around whiff of Kyrgyzstan’s fragrant hills and still be back
forty-five minutes after leaving the Kegeti hut, look in time for a pint!
Above Left Hiking up the hillside beside Kol- for the path to angle right across some stones in the
river and further to a clearing at the foot of a sharp Stephen Lioy is a traveller and photographer who
Tor (All photos Stephen Lioy)
right turn that heads uphill to the west. After most spends part his year based in Bishkek. For more scenes
Above right Hiking up Kegeti Gorge along of the immediate uphill is over the trail hits a fork. of Kyrgyzstan’s natural and cultural beauty, check out
Both routes will get you to Kol-Tor, but if the area Stephen’s webpage at www.MonkBoughtLunch.com
the river
December2013 The Spektator

www.thespektator.co.uk

12

Out & About

One

I
Steppe
Ahead

One hundred years to the day after Sir Charles
Howard-Bury set off on a Central Asian odyssey, Jamie Bunchuk and Matthew Traver
embark on their own journey, following in the
old explorer’s footprints, across the Kazakh
steppe and into the Mountains of Heaven.

Above and Right Scenes from the steppe (All
photos Matthew Traver)
December2013 The Spektator

JAMIE BUNCHUK

AWOKE TO BLACK THOUGHTS and a thick
tongue. Thirst gnawed at my parched throat
in the darkness and all I longed for was a glass
of fresh water, not the salt-laced stuff that currently filled my Nalgene bottle. Yet something
else also sat there in the tent alongside my
physical discomfort. It was the smallest, nagging
seed of worry that all was not well with the horses
outside. Getting up, already fully dressed as a barrier against the innumerable whining mosquitoes,
I hurried out into the chill midnight. Despite the
fiery star-punctured skies above, the valley floor
lay shrouded in dense shadow. Below, I could see
three shapes streaking silently, rapidly through the
long grass: huge black dogs running in the night.
“S**t. Matt, get out here!”
I ran down the bank, stumbling barefoot in the
thorny scrub. I wished I’d had the forethought to
bring a knife or torch down with me, but there
seemed no time if wolves were amongst our
horses. The shapes began to move faster, as they
sped and whirled around in a blur, never issuing a
single sound. I couldn’t see the horses in the dark,
nor hear them either, until I got right up close and
threw myself onto their staking lines. Pulling at the
straining ropes I found our animals – in complete
panic, eyes wide and white spit flecked across their
mouths. It took me a moment to comprehend,
but then the realisation hit home; there had been
no black dogs running out there in the night. The
shapes I had seen were my very own horses. And I
had been the wolf.

The Post Roads Expedition had been on my
mind for much of my early twenties. The idea
hit me back in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, when I was
rattling about rather dejectedly in the back of a
Russian UAZ. Coming home prematurely from
an expedition to an unexplored section of the
Tian Shan, I had cast about for some plan that
could justify getting back out to the region.
Then I remembered a book I had read – through
a cold winter in a small room in Sheffield – called
Mountains of Heaven. This compilation of diary entries told the story of an old Anglo-Irish
explorer called Sir Charles Howard-Bury, who
had come to Central Asia in 1913 to explore
and to hunt, riding down the Russian post roads
of eastern Kazakhstan to reach the mountain
range I was then heading home from. Hence
the idea formed to celebrate the horse-riding
section of Howard-Bury’s original journey with
a modern expedition, to be launched a century
to the day from when he first set off. After three
years of planning and a lot of sacrifice, we were
finally on that expedition.
On The Road
The town of Kindikti currently holds the title of
the bleakest outpost of humanity I have yet to
visit. Haphazard streets, littered with debris and
rubbish, were surrounded on all sides by battered once-white dwellings and ramshackle
fencing. Exposed electrical wires hung abundantly, connecting the handful of lamp posts
www.thespektator.co.uk

Out & About

that dotted the town. We didn’t stop for long,
imagining some drunk would take an unhealthy
interest in us.
The town bristled against a border of greener
hills, rising out from the monotony of the desert flats behind; it was into these mountains
we headed. Rising slopes threaded between
forlorn-looking peaks, green culverts snaking
down their steep flanks. Uphill progress was
slow, not helped by our guesswork navigation
from 1:1,000,000 maps, and there are limits to
how long you can sit on top of a horse without
cramping up in complete agony. So we stopped
for a moment’s rest and I went to adjust the saddle on my horse, Charlie.
“Oh man, come have a look at this,” I called
over to Matt.
Charlie’s previous owner – the swaggering
head of an aged, near-defunct collective farm –
had not treated his horses well and an old saddle
sore had opened up from the rubbing of my saddle’s girth-band. We had been forced to buy two
of our animals from this unscrupulous farm boss
owing to a lack of other options. Unlike neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, in Kazakhstan
horses are primarily raised for their meat and
their milk and, as such, securing suitable riding
steeds is difficult and expensive.
“What do you reckon we should do?” Matt
asked.
“Well, we can try putting some foam around
it perhaps? Or what happens if I shift the band
www.thespektator.co.uk

13

back… Arghh! F**k!” Charlie had proceeded to much attention at that particular moment, preocbite me in the crotch. It was turning into a long cupied by my own hunger and thirst.
and frustrating couple of days.
“Shall we stop for a bit?” Matt asked, already
beginning the complex process of dismounting
Kazakh Picnic
from his spaceship of a saddle, surrounded on all
There is nothing more profoundly demoralising side by two tripods and the other paraphernalia
than travelling all day in the bleak, baking heat, of his photography.
only to look back and see exactly where you
“Yeah, I’ll get the noodles out too, just a sec.”
Kindikti had not been a well-stocked town, and
the only breakfast food we’d been able to get re“We continued to eat, squat- sembled gruel, with lunch consisting of a single
ting in the empty steppe, burping packet of old dried noodles each and a handful
gasoline fumes and expletives into of biscuits. We squatted, surrounded by our horses, holding their reins. “Oh s**t. That tastes rank,
the stifling air “
mate,” I spat out the biscuit. “It tastes like petrol.
How the hell did that happen?”
“Christ if I know,” replied Matt. “The petrol stove
started that morning. Coming down out of the must have leaked somehow,” he added, peering
hills above Kindikti an endless sea of flatness had into our full packbags for the offending item.
engulfed us. I was still worried about Charlie; I had
“Now what?” I asked.
managed to disinfect the wound, but I couldn’t
He shrugged. “We haven’t got anything else,
get the girth-band to sit right and it kept on slip- not if we want dinner at any rate. We’re just goping onto the cut and re-opening it. The nauseat- ing to have to eat them.” We continued to eat,
ing guilt that accompanies hurting an animal in squatting in the empty steppe, burping gasoline
your care is a horrible experience, and I decided fumes and expletives into the stifling air.
that I would walk the remainder of that day. The
sun crushed into Matt and I, beat into all three A Bend In The River
horses too. A scarf was wrapped around my face The relentless beating of the rain on the tent
and the world was seen through a veil of fine red walls was driving me to distraction. The camp
mesh, shade from the searing intensity of the sun- was a chaotic mess of hastily strewn kit, thrown
light bouncing off barren earth. Charlie walked haphazardly about the place as we settled into
alongside me complacently, but I didn’t pay him the regular rest-day routine.
December 2013 The Spektator

14

Out & About

Above The arduous 2500 km crossing of the
Wrapped up in a stinking horse-blanket I light. The reds of small flowers transformed into
eastern Kazakh steppe took 63 days to complete listlessly tried to memorise the alphabet in streams of colour with the acceleration of our
Morse code, tapping out each letter on the side gallop, like lines of paint streaking down a canof my water bottle, p***ing Matt off more and vas. I gave Totoro another kick and he spurted
more with each repetition. Tension was creeping even faster than before, my vision narrowing to a
through the empty air that hung in the other- tunnel of what obstacles lay immediately ahead.
wise hushed tent. I gave up, sighed and grabbed The horse responded to the slightest touch of
Sir Charles Howard-Bury, (b.1881) was a famous the vodka bottle, taking
the reins, putting
British explorer, botanist and writer, reputedly flu- a full shot from the cap
“We picked up yet more and as much faithasinI
ent in twenty-seven European and Asian languag- in a vain effort to dull the
my judgement
es. His travels took him far and wide across Eurasia acute malaise that was more speed. The wind howled past did in his, and we
and were characterised by innumerable manly es- settling all over me. Fiour ears and the ground dissolved picked up yet more
capades.
nally, I stepped outside.
and more speed.
In 1905 Bury was able to gain entry to Tibet by
I went to visit my fa- into a blur”
The wind howled
staining his skin with walnut juice and disguising vourite horse Totoro,
past our ears and the
himself as a local trader; whilst in India he shot and who was stood in an athground
dissolved
killed a man-eating tiger that had carried off and letic pose in the dull grey light. He greeted me into a blur; the sensation of such immense moeaten twenty-one holy men; and on his 1913 explo- with a snort of familiarity and trotted over. As I mentum, joy and risk was cathartic. We were the
ration of the Tien Shan he spent much of the expedi- stroked his neck absentmindedly, he dropped only two around for many, many miles. Riding
tion riding his horse tandem with a baby bear which his head to my calf – his breath warm against through an empty land, unchanged for a milhe had bought in a local market. The explorer later bare skin – and rubbed against me, obviously at- lennia or more; timeless and at that moment,
transported his pet, which he called Agu, back to tempting to relieve an itch he couldn’t scratch. utterly perfect.
his country estate in Ireland (for exporting your own Then he raised his eyes to stare out with me at
We stopped briefly at a shallow river. Pantpets out of modern day Central Asia see Spektator the grey world all around, strange and alien to ing heavily and thirsty from the efforts of our
issue 5) and would occasionally wrestle with the us both.
sprint, I jumped off the horse and we both drank
seven-foot mature bear during moments of bore“Screw this,” I said aloud, my dark thoughts greedily from the clear stream. Totoro’s muddy
dom, citing it as his favourite form of exercise. After lifting for once, and I went to get the saddle. To- hoof prints started to fill with water as I swung
serving with distinction as a frontline officer during toro seemed as eager to get away from his con- back into the saddle to head for home. Above, I
the First World War Bury found fame when he was straints as I was mine, and he stood perfectly still noticed the first evening star was poking its way
chosen to lead the first reconnaissance expedition as I saddled him up. I sprang up onto his back through a clearing sky. The past few days had
to Mount Everest in 1921.
and with the slightest touch of my heels we been a trial – and a taster of the many ordeals
You can read more about Bury’s boy’s-own were off, accelerating across the flats adjacent that still lay ahead for us – but as we galloped
adventures in Tibet in Peter Hopkirk’s excellent Tres- to a river.
back to camp that evening I knew that for some
passers on the Roof of the World. Bury’s own book,
Jagged and shattered cliffs streamed past. We reason, at least the night would be okay. For no
Mountains of Heaven, which chronicles his 1913 had no real destination in mind, other than to beasts prowled in its darkness.
Central Asian expedition, was published for the first see where the curve of the water took us. The
time in 1990 and is still in print.
land here was lush; dead yellow grass turned to
Sir Charles Howard-Bury died in 1963.
green, retaining a hint of gold in the evening Adapted with permission from sidetracked.com

C.H-B Man of Action

December2013 The Spektator

www.thespektator.co.uk

16

Non-News

Catchin’
up
with

Coolio

Earlier this month, 50-year old rapper
Artis Leon Ivey Jr, aka Coolio rocked
Bishkek’s Garage club-restaurant with
a dodgy hip and a heartfelt rendition of
the 90’s classic Gangsta’s Paradise. After
the show finished, the Spektator was
lucky enough to sit down backstage
with Coolio over a crack pipe and a glass
of Arpa and ask him about hair, hard
drugs, cookery books and his views on
gender equality in Kyrgyzstan. Parental
Guidance: Contains Explicit Lyrics.

O

STEVE HOWEY

K COOLIO, thanks for sitting down
and talking to Bishkek’s one and
only English language hip-hop
magazine, the Spektator. If you
don’t mind, we will get to the
most obvious question first: what the hell is
with the hair?

know. Now that you have lived to see the
grand old age of FIFTY, how does it feel?
C: Still f***ng without a Zimmer frame. How
much ass u getting?

TS: Probably less than you, Coolio. But tell me,
who do you think of when you hear the words
Coolio: The girls in ur hood dig it, if u feeling me. “One Hit Wonder”?
C: Ha! Sugar Hill Gang, or some s**t.
The Spektator: We feel you, Coolio. But is that
the only reason you came here – the ‘hoes’, so TS: My bad -“Two Hit Wonder”?
to speak?
C: I did three platinum albums, you motherf***er.
C: I’m a man of business. And like my man Nelly Who the hell reads the Spunktator anyway?
told me when he came here real recent, there’s
business to be done in the B. (Ed.- he means TS: Point taken. But we don’t have two spindly
Bishkek: R’n’B pastit Nelly visited ‘the B’ on braids sticking out of the sides of our heads
like wilting antlers. Do you think you could
November 7 to put on a private show).
identify a moment in your rap career when
TS: Our sources tell us you arrived here via an you, to use hip-hop parlance, “fell off”?
economy class booking on Pegasus Airlines.
C: Oh u done f***ed up now, bro.
Was it a Fantastic Voyage?

C: Fantastic Voyage my butt cheek! Haters made TS: We’ll move on. In 2009 you were arrested
me pay for the sandwiches and the serviettes. I at Los Angeles airport (LAX) for possession
of crack cocaine. You have also spoken about
can’t stand that shit!
being addicted to the drug as a teenager.
Top left Coolio back when he had three spiky
TS: And now that you are here, what are your Exactly how much crack had you consumed
things (All photos archive)
impressions of Kyrgyz culture?
before you decided that hairstyle was a good
Centre Available from Amazon.com for 50
idea?
C: Say what?
cents
C: Don’t ur Editor-in-Chief got ginger hair? I rest
TS: In your classic hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” you
Right More Snoopy than Snoop Doggy Dogg
my case, cases.
mused: I’m twenty-three now, will I live to see
twenty-fow? The way things is going I don’t TS: In addition to being a ridiculously old
Bottom right WhatchULookin@Fool?
December2013 The Spektator

www.thespektator.co.uk

Non-News

17

rapper, you also released a cookbook –
Cooking with Coolio: 5 star Meals at a 1 Star
Price – in 2009. Since you have been in
Bishkek, what is your impression of the local
cuisine?

you have appeared in reality TV shows such hour after hour!
as Celebrity Big Brother 6, Celebrity Cook Off
and Celebrity Boxing. How long does a hip- TS: Finally, given that it is unheard of for you
to be “treated like a punk”, and that many
hop mid-life crisis last, on average?
of your adversaries end up “lined in chalk”
C: How long is ur d**k, mother****er?
would you agree that there is a strong chance
C: These people got flava, if u know what I’m
the Spektator will get “a cap in its ass” when
sayin’. I like the minty (ed. – manti), the gang- TS: On the subject of your d**k, you have had
your management team find out about this
bang (ed. - gan fan) and the shak-her-up (ed. – seven children with four different women and
“interview”?
shakarab). These motherf***ers love their deep were ejected from Celebrity Big Brother Six
heat and like I say in my book: “If you ain’t frying, for issuing a string of sexist jokes that made
U can bet ur motherf***ing butt on it, “homie”.
I ain’t buying!” But the best meal I’ve had since another contestant cry. Do you have any
I’ve been here would have to be the pulled pork wisdom, drawn from your life’s rich tapestry
at Smokies’ Barbecue and Grill on Donetskaya and of experience, to impart to the young people
Zhukeyeva Pudovkina! Sorry, I had to say that - of a country where bride kidnapping is sadly
prevalent?
I’m on commission! But it is really, really great!
TS: It certainly is. We understand from our
sources on da street that you spent your
first evening in Bishkek acquainting yourself
with the local rap scene. Do any of Bishkek’s
spitters have what it takes to enjoy longerlasting success than you did?

C: Carpe diem, homies. Which, as I understand,
means “seize ur wife” in the local slang.
TS: Latin, actually, Coolio. But are you aware
that when you type “Coolio sti..” into a Google
search the auto-complete function reflecting
the most popular searches using a given
combination of letters brings up “Coolio still
alive?” before “Coolio Sticky Fingers” and
“Coolio Stimulate”, both of which were singles
on one of your better-known albums?

C: My homie Fifty Som’s got some potential fo
sho. But a dude gotta change his name – with
inflation he’ll be worthless before the record’s
cut. He gotta shorten his rhymes too. He got this
one called Manas that go on longer than the Iliad C: U got a lot of time on ur hands. Are u aware
or some s**t. Radio won’t play that jam!
that ur a prick?
TS: Another washed out rapper, Snoop Dogg, TS: Ok, we’ll move to rap this up, pardon the
42, recently changed his name to Snoop Lion pun. I say power and the money, you say…
and has been spending more and more time
in Jamaica. Since you last made a decent song C: Money and the power, minute after minute,
www.thespektator.co.uk

December 2013 The Spektator

18

Focus

The

Ghosts

Mountains
of the

For all its elusiveness, the snow leopard remains
an icon of Kyrgyzstan and an important part of
Kyrgyz heritage, as well as a red-listed species
internationally. This month Adriane Lochner
takes a look at the global and local battle to preserve the species..

P

ADRIANE LOCHNER

Top Snow leopard range countries (NABU)

NABU

Wildlife Rehab Center

NABU operates near the village Ananyevo and
with 7,000 square metres of territory is the world’s
largest enclosure for snow leopards. The two females Bagira and Alcu have lived there since 2002.
The male Kunak arrived one year later. All three
snow leopards were rescued from traps and due
to their injuries cannot be released to the wild. In
2009 they accidently had offspring, but NABU has
no intentions to begin a breeding program. Other
confiscated animals at the rehab center, such as
birds of prey, are cared for and then released to
the wild. The center is not open to the public.
December2013 The Spektator

RESIDENT ALMAZBEK ATAMBAYEV was
in a confident mood at the Global Snow
Leopard Conservation Forum, October
22-23. “Today we are taking first steps.
I am confident that together we will be
able to achieve the goal we set,” he told delegates.
That goal is to preserve the snow leopard and
its habitats in the upper reaches of some of the
world’s loftiest mountain ranges. Altogether, 12
participating Central and South Asian countries,
from Russia to Bhutan, have come together for an
unprecedented push to protect the species.
Like many other big cats, the snow leopard
is facing extinction. Between 3900-6400 snow
leopards are thought to be left worldwide. Illegal
hunting and the expansion of livestock breeding
and infrastructure are all key factors in the snow
leopard’s decline. As of 1986 the cat has been red
listed by the International Union for Conservation
of Nature (IUCN).
The idea for the forum, like all good ideas, was
born over drinks at a bar. Leaders of the Berlinbased Society for Nature Conservation Germany
(NABU) talked about the success of the Global Tiger Initiative and wondered if a similar campaign
could work in favour of snow leopards. After they
got other nature conservation organizations on
board, NABU presented its proposal for a global
forum to then-Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva. Other partners that combined to support and
organize the forum included the Global Environment Facility, the Global Tiger Initiative, NABU,
Snow Leopard Conservancy, Snow Leopard Trust,
UNDP, USAID, the World Bank, and the World
Wildlife Fund.
Joining with conservation experts from around

the world, the 12 nations endorsed the Bishkek
Declaration. In this official document, they acknowledge that “the snow leopard is an irreplaceable symbol of our nations’ natural and cultural
heritage”. They also pledged financial support
for the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Recovery Program (GSLEP), a detailed action plan for
saving the cat. The ultimate goal is to secure 20
healthy populations of snow leopards by the year
2020 (“20 by 20”). A common secretariat to coordinate the joint efforts will be located in Bishkek.
The overall cost of this ambitious undertaking
will be around US $190 Million. About half of this
money will come from the international donor
community.
One item in the GSLEP action plan is the intensification of scientific research to better understand snow leopard ecology and behavior. The
Snow Leopard Conservancy is a specialized, international NGO with headquarters in California. The
executive director is the famous wildlife biologist
Rodney Jackson, who has 30 years experience in
snow leopard research. (Ed.- An interview with
Rodney Jackson on the topic of snow leopard
conservation efforts can be found in issue 9 of the
Spektator available via www.thespektator.co.uk.)
In the early 1980s, Rodney launched a pioneering radio-tracking study of snow leopards in the
Nepalese mountains which made it onto the
cover of National Geographic. A photograph in
the article showed his bandaged hand - Rodney
had got bitten while collaring a cat. The collars
transmit a radio signal that can be detected by a
receiver over a range of several kilometers. Such
groundbreaking research with the help of radio
- and later GPS - collars offered unique insights
www.thespektator.co.uk

Focus

into the ground the cats can cover. In Mongolia,
scientists GPS-tracked a cat with a home range of
over 463 square kilometers - more than five times
the size of Manhattan. These findings showed the
urgent need for transnational collaborations in
terms of research and data-sharing. Snow leopards don’t care much for official state borders.
So far, most of the snow leopard range countries have been working in isolation, not only
when it comes to compiling scientific data, but
also with regard to law enforcement. Snow leopards are killed and traded for their fur and other
body parts including teeth, claws, and bones.
The fur is used for clothing, hats and furnishings.
Usually the items are exported for sale on international markets in the West or in China. In the
future, the snow leopard range countries want to
establish joint border inspections to stem illegal
wildlife trafficking.
Not only has the illegal hunting of the snow
leopard itself threatened the species. The cat’s
prey, the Siberian ibex and the argali wild sheep
also fall victim to poachers. In addition, the Kyrgyz government issues hundreds of legal trophy
licenses each year and conservationists argue
that hunting in the country is mismanaged. Kyrgyz rangers typically have a hard time covering
the high-altitude landscapes and verifying how
many animals are actually shot each year. Rangers earn around 2,500 KGS per month (US $50),
barely enough to feed their families. No wonder
that some of them are prone to corruption turning a blind eye towards illegal hunting.
Aware of the lack of man power for law enforcement, NABU founded a special task force,
the Gruppa Bars - or Group Snow Leopard. In
www.thespektator.co.uk

1999, four men were selected based on their
environmental knowledge together with police
or military experience. The Kyrgyz government
equipped them with police powers for official
and hidden operations. The Gruppa Bars was allowed to detain suspects and confiscate live animals, skins, weapons and other evidence. During
the past 20 years the group made quite some
achievements: they convicted 180 poachers and
traders, seizing skins and more than 100 traps
and weapons. One of their biggest successes was
the rescue of three live snow leopards from jaw
traps. The cats, too mutilated to be released in the
wild, are currently living in NABU’s wildlife rehab
center near Ananyevo, in Issyk-Kul oblast.
Head of the Kyrgyz NABU-Office, Tolkhunbek
Asykulov, has been working in nature conservation for almost 20 years and has long been involved with snow leopards and illegal hunting.
“In the early nineties, the farmers had no jobs
and wanted to earn extra money. In the past six
years, poaching has changed. Now it is mainly rich
people who thrive on trophies,” Asykulov says. In
Kyrgyzstan the fine for killing a snow leopard is
500,000 KGS (US $10,000) – a weighty deterrent for
the average citizen, considering the fur’s value on
the international black market is roughly the same.
In order to conquer poaching, the Seattle-based
Snow Leopard Trust provides locals with incentives
not to poach, actively engaging communities in
snow leopard conservation via its program Snow
Leopard Enterprise. Kuban Zhumabai uluu, head
of the Bishkek SLT-branch says “Some mountain
people support poaching by providing accommodation, food, horses and guide services to illegal
hunters.

19

Above Left A GPS-collared snow leopard in
Mongolia’s Southern Gobi region. Tracking
by GPS/Satellite telemetry provides valuable
insights in the cats’ behaviour (SLT)
Left to Right, this page A rescued snow leopard at NABU’s wildlife rehab center. Due to
paw injuries, this female cannot survive in
the wild any longer(Photo Adriane Lochner);
Snow leopard at NABU wildlife rehab center
(Photo NABU); Snow leopard captured via
photo trap in the Sarychat-Ertash area on
November 1, 2013 (Photo SLT/Kubanychbek
Zhumabai uluu); President Atambayev listening to translation of delegates speech during
the main session of the global forum (Photo
Adriane Lochner)

December 2013 The Spektator

20

Focus

Clockwise from Left to Right, this page & opposite Head of the Gruppa Bars and geographer, Joldosh Akunov, checks a camera trap
(Photo Adriane Lochner)
Prey of the snow leopards are also captured
by the photo traps. Here the Siberian ibex
pauses in contemplation (Photo NABU)
Researcher Orjan Johansson monitoring a
sedated snow leopard. Soon he will equip the
cat with a GPS-collar (Photo SLT)
Previously counts were based on indirect evidence, such as paw prints. (Photo Kubanychbek Zhumabai uulu)
Snow leopard caught by photo trap at night
(Photo SLT/Kyle McCarthy)
A snow leopard
(Photo NCF-SLT)

ranging

its

territory

20 by 20

The “20 by 20” goal is to identify and secure at least
20 healthy snow leopard populations by 2020.
Criteria for a healthy population are; (i) at least 100
breeding age snow leopards; (ii) containing sufficient and secure wild prey populations; and (iii)
connection of landscapes to other snow leopard
populations.
In order to achieve this goal conservationists have
put together a detailed action plan, the Global
Snow Leopard Ecosystem Recovery Program
(GSLEP). The main points of the program are:
•  ngaging local communities in conservation, inE
cluding promoting sustainable livelihoods, and
addressing human-wildlife conflict.
•  anaging habitats and prey, based on monitorM
ing and evaluation of population and range areas.
• Combatting poaching and illegal trade.
•  ransboundary management and enforcement.
T
• Research and monitoring.
•  uilding capacity, awareness and enhancing
B
conservation policies and institutions.
Currently snow leopards face threats from:
• ncreasing livestock and overgrazing: domestic
I
animals displace the snow leopard’s prey and
farmers set out for retaliatory/protective killings.
•  abitat fragmentation and degradation. IncreasH
ing infrastructure such as new roads for mineral
exploration, gas and oil pipelines or hydro electric power facilities and reduce quality of habitats
and prevent genetic connectivity.
•  limate change: retreating glaciers in Central
C
Asia could increase the risk of droughts, and increased scarcity of water may impact pastures
and the availability of food for both wild prey and
domestic livestock.
• llegal trade and poor law enforcement. Many
I
countries have poor wildlife laws and porous
borders that encourage traffickers.
•  eak transboundary cooperation in terms of law
W
enforcement and habitat connectivity.
•  imited human and financial resources for conL
servation.
•  ack of scientific research on ecology, behavior.
L
December2013 The Spektator

We therefore need to offer them alternatives for making money.” Herding communities
who participate in the “Snow Leopard Enterprise”
contractually agree not to help poachers. In exchange, traditional handicrafts made by women
from these communities are imported to the U.S.
and sold there. Program participants get an extra bonus from the SLT if they don’t illegally hunt
snow leopards or their prey animals inside the
community protected area. Participating villages
in Kyrgyzstan include Enilchek and Ak-Shyyrak in
the Central Tian-Shan Mountains. In addition to
these efforts both the trust and NABU are working hard to educate the public on the importance
of snow leopard conservation, focusing on early
education in schools.
Counting to Protect the Cats
Assessments of snow leopard population sizes
across countries remain vague (see textbox). The
snow leopard lives in remote and harsh mountain
areas and is an expert in camouflage, subterfuge
and evasion. In Kyrgyzstan this elusive character
has earned the animal the moniker “ghost of the
mountains”.
But SLT’s Zhumabai uulu says that it is important to try to discern precise numbers and locations of the cats. “This information allows us to
identify the areas we need to focus on to conserve the snow leopard. To find out how many
cats live in a given region you can look for paw
prints, scratching, urine markings and feces.”
Counting prey is another way of assessing
snow leopard abundance. Siberian ibex and argali, a wild sheep species, are the Kyrgyz snow leopards’ main food source. If their numbers decrease,

we have reason to worry about the snow leopard
as well, says Zhumabai uulu, adding that he regularly spends weeks on end with local herders in
the mountains. “They’re the only ones who really know how abundant certain species are in an
area. But they don’t easily open up to outsiders,
and it takes a long time to gain their trust and get
information.”
Beyond building relationships, Zhumabai uulu,
who works in Kyrgyzstan’s Sarychat-Ertash State
Nature reserve, also relies on modern technology.
Next year, he will set up 40 state-of-the-art camera traps. They are triggered by a motion sensor
and take photos of everything that moves in front
of them. ”To perform an accurate count and to
distinguish certain individuals based on their fur
pattern, we always set up two cameras at a one
location, opposite of each other,” says Zhumabai
uulu. “This way, we get photos of both sides of the
cat, which makes it a lot easier to identify the animals when we photograph them the next time.
Their coat pattern is unique - like a fingerprint.”
Zhumabai uulu has only actually encountered
a wild snow leopard once, a meeting he recounts
with relish. For the Kyrgyz, the “Mountain Ghosts”
have a very special meaning, he explains. “The
animal is sacred for us; it symbolizes strength. The
ancient tribes believed that their ancestors descended from snow leopards, and whoever kills
one will be cursed. “
A Snow Leopard’s Venture
It was only a few days ago that Zaraa was weaned
away from her mother. They lived together in
the Tost Tosonbumba Mountains in Mongolia’s
Southern Gobi region. Her new name came with
www.thespektator.co.uk

Focus

a GPS-receiver and a satellite phone transmitter.
Altogether SLT scientists have collared a total
The receiver frequently records Zaraa’s where- of 19 snow leopards in the South Gobi region.
abouts and every five hours, the transmitter They learned that some of Zaraa’s fellow snow
sends it to a satellite server. This process contin- leopards also embark on such courageous hikes
ues for 18 months until the battery gets low and across mountain ranges. Often it is relatively flat
the collar drops off by itself. It can be collected areas that are under highest pressure due to the
and reused. This is important, because with a construction of new roads and the mining inmarket value of around $4500, Zaraa’s necklace is dustry. “Thanks to the GPS data from the collars
quite an expensive piece.
we have learned that we need to focus on these
The scientist Koustubh Sharma is working for corridors if we want to protect the snow leopard,”
the Snow Leopard
says Sharma.
Trust in Mongolia. He
monitoring
“The animal is sacred for us… This
and his colleague, Ormethod called GPS/satjan Johansson sedated the ancient tribes believed that ellite telemetry is also
the young snow leop- their ancestors descended from used in Kyrgyzstan. Unard and equipped her snow leopards, and whoever kills der the supervision of
with the lightweight
the researcher Maksatdevice. Now he just one will be cursed “
bek Anarbaev, rangers
needs to turn on the
have put GPS-collars
computer and download the data sets. Sharma on the wild sheep in the Sarychat-Ertash State
tracks Zaraa’s path by transferring the GPS-coor- Nature Reserve. Based on the data they retrieved,
dinates to a Google Earth map. As a result, he can the nearby Kumtor gold mine accepted a request
see her movements in recent days as a combina- to concede a nearby canyon within its license
tion of points on a map.
area since it turned out to be a key area for arNormally, Zaraa moves only within her territo- gali reproduction. Ahead of next year, researchers
ry, rests during the day and starts looking for prey are planning GPS-collaring snow leopards in the
at dusk. Today, however, the lines show a different area. The mission to save this beautiful, enigmatic
pattern. Sharma barely believes them. According species is a restless one.
to the GPS coordinates Zaraa has left her home
range and hiked about 80 km through the open
steppe to the Nemegt Mountains. The youngster
Adriane Lochner is a freelance journalist and a
had set out to find a new home.
contributor to National Geographic. The interview
“We assumed that the mountain ranges in with Kuban Zhumabai uluu also featured in her arthe South Gobi are habitat islands separated ticle Schneeleoparden: Inventur bei den “Berggeisby steppes and grasslands - until we got Zaraa’s tern“ that appeared on National Geographic.de,
data,” explains Sharma.
October 18, 2013.
www.thespektator.co.uk

21

Where Do They Live?

Snow leopards live in high mountain regions
at elevations up to 5,400 meters. The mountain
ranges include Himalaya, Hindu Kush, Pamirs,
Tian Shan, Altai, the Tibetan Plateau and the
Mongolian Gobi region. The cats inhabit a total
area of about 1.8 million square kilometers.
The 12 range countries and their estimated
snow leopard populations are:
Afghanistan (100-200), Bhutan (100-200)
China (2,000-2,500), India (200-600), Kazakhstan
(100-110), Kyrgyz Republic (150-500), Mongolia (500-1000), Nepal (300-500), Pakistan (200420), Russia (70-90), Tajikistan (180-220), and
Uzbekistan (20-50). The modest snow leopard
population in the Russian Federation is a sore
point for Russian conservationists - during the
conference one of them light-heartedly offered
free visas to any cats willing to emigrate!
As for Kyrgyzstan, the Sarychat-Ertash State
Nature Reserve (about 150,000 ha) remains one
of the best studied snow leopard habitats in the
world. The reserve lies just south of Lake Issyk-Kul,
not far from the Chinese border and the Kumtor
gold mine. Based on DNA-analysis and extensive
monitoring via camera traps, 25 snow leopards
are thought to live in this protected area. With
support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF)
and the United Nations Development Program
(UNDP), the Kyrgyz government plans to establish a Khan-Tengri National Park (187,000ha) next
to the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve.
December 2013 The Spektator

22

THE GUIDE

Bars and Restaurants

culinary goodies. Also, treat yourself to some Barashek is out in the micro region so you get a
decent Armenian cognac whilst your here, you’ll dose of fresh air free with your mutton rack. $$$
So, here is the latest version of the guide – updates never go near Bishkek cognac again. Ever. $$
Barclay’s Pub* NEW (Sovietskaya/Mederova)
always welcomed at editor@thespektator.co.uk.
Much as with Burger Kiиg on Akhunbaeva st, we
CHINESE
Be aware that NEW may mean new to the guide,
fear Barclay’s were not paid for the use of their
rather than the capital...
name. Nevertheless, this isn’t a place to quibble
China Town NEW (Orozbekovа/Toktogul)
intellectual property rights, it’s a place to wash
As ever, there’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and Open since last December, this joint is the real
down fried onions with a jar of beer and watch
‘restaurant’ in Bishkek. Places more suitable for deal - two metre terracota warriors even feature
the people’s sport. (That’s not baseball, by the
drinking sessions are marked with a star *
in the decor. Pricier than the other Bishkek
way). $$
Price Guide (main course, garnish, beer)
Chinese spots but overwhelmingly better. We are
$ - Expect change from 300 som
hoping that they fix up an English menu in time Barsuk NEW (Tynystanova 122)
$$ - In the region of 300-500 som
for summer, when the outdoor deck will be yet With its great location on the south side of the
$$$ - Expect to pay more than 500
another sell. Straight to the top of the class! $$$ Russian Drama Theatre, Barsuk is very much

AMERICAN
Hollywood* (Drujba/Sovietskaya)
As you would probably guess, decorated with
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popular
with a younger crowd and is usually packed
from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a
few drinks before heading off to the clubs. $
Metro* (133, Chui)
In the impressive location of a former theatre,
Metro remains the première drinking hole for expats. A high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff
compliment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide
selection of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for
catching sporting events on TV, although thanks
to the hideously late kickoff times for Champions
League football matches, don’t count on the staff
waiting up unless it’s a big one. $$$
Obama (Toktogula/Erkindik)
A homage to the historical one, Obama is as
good a place as any to debate healthcare bills
and the debt ceiling over decent, if slightly
over-priced “Chili’s”-type fare. We dislike the
management but don’t feel the same way
about the stuffed crust pizza and faijitas. Sister
restaurant on Ibraimova has a saxophone night
Fridays and Saturdays. $$$
Smokie’s (Donetskaya/Jukeeva Pudovkina)
Bishkek’s first and only traditional American
barbecue restaurant serves pit-smoked spicy
beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, lamb legs
and chicken quarters. Well worth the trek out
to Orto-Sai market in the cooler half of the
city. Enjoy a range of whisky and well-made
cocktails, too. $$

ARMENIAN
Landau (Manas/Gorkova)
Fancy something a little different? If you can
tolerate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad
spot for a pork steak or some other Armenian
December2013 The Spektator

Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui)
With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way
and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you are
getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own
personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly
select a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies
to throw in. Beware, the ‘spicy’ sauce, although
delicious, may leave delicate stomachs in some
distress several hours later - consider the ‘notspicy’ sauce as a suitable alternative $$
Frunze (Chui/Pravda)
Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out
this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch
and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in
scope, but if you’re feeling bewildered, just point
to something tasty-looking on a neighbouring
table like we did. $$

Bishkek’s new hip place, graced by Russian
rappers and the capital’s free-spending youth.
The food feels overpriced, but its worth a look
later in the evening. $$$
Blonder Pub* (Pravda/Kulatova)
Blonder Pub is a brewery-restaurant worth
visiting. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent
music during the week, football, Eurogrub and a
good selection of ales. In regard to the latter we
recommend Irish Stout or Blonder Premium. $$$
Buddha Bar* (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva)
Buddha bar offers a taste of the East inside a
tastefully constructed zen log cabin. The sushi
is excellent, and for those on a budget, the
stir-fry noodle dishes make an excellent lunch.
Recommended! $$

Cave NEW (Gorkova, close to Sovietskaya)
Wow. To be honest we aren’t sure what the
INTERNATIONAL
food is like here - we spent most of the evening
supping mulled wine and gazing at the hundreds
12 Chimneys (Village Teplye kluchi)
of wooden cranes poetically suspended from
Wooden cabin located by a rushing river thirty the ceiling. The wine is decent, but the latter are
minutes out of town. The overpriced food is more revolutionary by Bishkek’s base artistic standards.
than compensated for by the chilled atmosphere $$
and wild surroundings. Locally caught fish is
a house special. Hotel accommodation also Chicago* NEW (Gorkova 1)
available. To get to Teplikluchy village, head south Home to a young, denim-wearing demographic
down Almatinskaya Street and keep going. $$$
that like to bukhat (get wasted), the best thing
Chicago has going for it is decent prices on an
ARTishock* (Gorkova, opposite Vefa)
array of whiskies, in addition to acceptable pub
Good live music and tasty homemade soup. If food. Whatever you are ordering, order two of
that’s not a hit combination we don’t know what them – the service is slow. $$
is. Suitable for a pre-party drink as well. $$
Coffee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova)
Avenue 71 (Kiev, 71 on the corner of the square) Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and
With its spacious, Ikea-like interior, Avenue 71 is cakes Bishkek has to offer at one of three ‘Coffee
family-friendly by day and more dancey by night. Houses’; cosy boutique cafés with a European
The gasto-restaurnt-type grub here certainly flavour. Curl up and read a book, or just drop in
passes muster but the ice cream here is some of for a caffeine hit and a chocolate fix. $$
the best in town - walk it off with a stroll around
the square. $$$
Democrat* NEW (Frunze/Gogol)
Democrat is the latest shashlyk and beer hub to go
Barashek NEW (Tokombaeva 78)
viral among Bishkek’s fattening middle class. We like
Sister restaurant of Tubeiteka but more lamb- the lulya kebab, the 200 som buffets, the free cola
focussed and with a pretty water feature that refills and the table football. The interior has a dash
adds a measure of calm to outdoor dining. of Manhattan to it – no complaints. $$
www.thespektator.co.uk

Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta)
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range
of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as
an impressive array of pivo. This is where the KGB
operatives take their girlfriends. $

A buzzing centrally-located cafe popular with a
mostly younger clientele, Johnny Pub is a good
place to load up on chips, steak and fresh beer
before moving on to a hukka pipe filled with
absinthe later in the evening. Last time we
checked, the pub had a resident cat, but since
Dragon’s Den * (Shevchenko/Frunze)
this creature seems to rub some customers up
Bishkek’s English pub comes complete with the wrong way by touting for scraps.... $$
English barfly regulars, English publican, and
English pub quiz (Wednesdays at 8pm). Kyrgyz
Kvartira 148 NEW
weather allows for a summer terrace. Both English
(East Wing of the Circus on Frunze)
and regional dishes, and a well stocked bar. $$
We love this place – and we are not alone. ‘The
flat’ has charmed Bishkek with its slippers, hair
Dream Bar* (Kievskaya 137)
Pop into Dream Bar for an Alko Lunch, which at rollers, homemade borsch and board games.
350 soms including a wine or a beer is one of Flat parties – beginning from 20.00 and not for
the better priced lunch deals in town. A posh, kids – can feature anything from female and
purplish lounge-type place patronized by the male strippers to jazz quartets. Sister restaurant
sushi-loving business crowd, Dream Bar gets in Almaty. $$
smooth and smoochy in the evenings. $$
Elki-Palki (Yunusalieva 171a)
A constant in an era of restaurant flux, Elki-Palki
serves great steaks with 1A sauce, although
they may not be around forever, wink, wink. A
comfortable, cosy place and well worth a ride
out to the suburbs – every taxi driver knows it. $$
Fab Bar* (338a, Frunze)
One of our favourite places to drink in the
summertime, when we can afford it. Outdoor
balcony-cum-terrace high above the street with
slouch-couches and fine views of the circus which you can sometimes smell in hot weather.
Nice. $$$
Fat Cat (Razzakova/Bokonbaevo)
Perhaps the most experimental interior out of
all Bishkek’s cafes, Fat Cat do a good burger and
have both smoking and non-smoking seating.
Check out the real cat that isn’t fat and the fat
cats at the entrance that aren’t real. Very cool. $$$
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova)
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek.
Elegant, yet modern interior and polite service.
Great place to splash out on a special occasion or
just for the hell of it. $$$

die-for Belgian waffles and a mushroom soup
Spektator writer Thomas Olson describes as
“orgasmic”, it isn’t difficult to see why. Sit with a
group of mates, a laptop or the latest copy of The
Economist and imagine that you are in Seattle. $$
Sky Hall NEW (On top of the Ak-Keme, 93, Manas)
Set on the mountains side of town and 50 metres
above ground, Sky Hall (not to be confused with
the old Sky bar) is a lofty escape route from the
daily Bishkek grind. A steak will set you back 600
soms but we think it’s worth it. Engagement ring
territory. $$$$

Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panfilova)
The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre
conceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy
basement bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a
collection of old bits and bobs decorating the walls
make Edgar’s an attractive alternative to the city’s
Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda)
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at mainstream cafés. A blues band plays most nights
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the and a pianist adds a romantic ambience on some
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the Sunday evenings. $$
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$
Telegraph (Chui/Isanova)
Navigator * (103, Moskovskaya)
People better in the know than us say that this
A pricey, but pleasant place to while away an sleek little number has filled the culinary hole left
afternoon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or in the city’s dining scene by Dillinger – a top-notch
lounge in the airy non-smoking conservatory. restaurant in its time . We’ve only had a light lunch
Attentive service and a refreshing selection of here, but the salads offer something a bit different
salads, a good place for a light, healthy lunch and the tomato soup is a winner. $$$$
when fat and grease are getting you down. $$$
U Mazaya  (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya near the
Pinta Pub* (Frunze/Manas)
Sovietskaya/Frunze intersection)
Pinta Pub is a bright green lighthouse for the Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed
Spektator on a hot day. With a host of well-kept restaurant. Descend into this underground
beers on tap, the best grub here is pub grub with warren and tuck in. Also check out both the
any pork or lamb dish recommended. $$
fairy-light adorned flagship U Mazaya in Asenbai
micro region, and the fairly new U Mazaya on
Almatinskaya/Chui. $$
Pivnoff* (Karalayeva/Koibogarova)
A lovely little ale garden in the 4th micro-district
which one of our readers stumbled on while trying
GERMAN
to find Orto-Sai market. Good pub food and a
range of brews on draught, surrounded by other
interesting-looking cafes too. $$
Steinbrau* (5, Gerzena)
Don your beer drinking trousers and head down
Prego Club NEW (Chui, 219)
to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They
Smack bang where Adriatico used to be before it
brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid
was pole-axed by a tree , Prego Club is like its sister
bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment
restaurant in Dostuk hotel but with a bit more of a
boudoir feel. Enjoy a break from meat with some your pint with a plate of German sausage with
sauerkraut. $$$
of the best vegetarian cooking around. $$

GlavPivTrest* (Asanbai region, next to City Club)
We watched a band called Liquid Cactus play
here and admired the old Soviet paraphenalia
hanging on the walls. Lenin makes an appearance
outside the bogs and you can get Spektator
favourite Venskoye on tap. Good beer snacks and
the burgers aren’t bad either. Nice for a ‘theme’ Rosso NEW (Shopokova/Ivanitzena)
night out. $$
Rosso means “red” in Italian, and this bistro’s
decor will make you feel like you’ve stepped
Guinness Pub* NEW (338 Frunze,opposite the
inside an artery. Once swamped in bloodcircus)
coloured velvet you can order some tasty fried
You can get a Guinness here, when it isn’t held
mozzarella cheese balls and half-decent goulash.
up at the border with Kazakhstan, and the other
A bland alfredo pasta and the feckless waiting
beers are decent too. We haven’t ordered, but our
staff are drawbacks, but given Rosso has only
Irish chums say the nosh is grand and dress-up
opened recently it is probably worth a shot. $$$
evenings have made it a key fixture on a Friday
evening. Starts to fill up around 8ish. $$$
Sierra Cafe (57, Manas)
An established expat favourite and with the
Johnny Pub* NEW (Toktogul/Orozbekova)
Starbucks-standard caramel macchiatos, the towww.thespektator.co.uk

23

Vienna    (Moscow/Soviet - tucked away slightly
off the main street on the southeast side of the
intersection)
Actually an Austrian restaurant, but subsumed
into our German section in the name of the
Anschluss. Vienna is a cracking little place to
people watch on Mossoviet over some great
European dishes and a glass of fine Austrian
wine. If you didn’t know that Austria produced
fine wines, you can check out the adjoining shop
to begin your viticultural education. Vienna is
spelled BEHA in Russian.  $$
December 2013 The Spektator

24

Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
GEORGIAN

Egao NEW (Chui 140)
Egao is an intimate Japanese affair on Bishkek’s
main drag and with only two tables inside we
Chito Gvrito NEW
wonder how it breaks even. But the chef is
(Donetskaya/Jukeyeva Pudovkina)
Japanese, some of the Kyrgyz waiting staff there
Georgian joint out in the micro regions. The
speak Japanese and the ramen is very tasty to the
khadjapuri passes muster, although you get the
Spektator’s untrained tongue. Order a meal and
impression the place is still finding its feet. $$
get an Arpa for 60 soms. $$

in town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good
that they have often run out by supper-time. Save
an appetite and go early. Slightly more upmarket
sister restauraunt on Mederova/Tynastanova. $

Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya)
Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you
gut rot) in the centre of town. Probably at its best
in summer, when the shashlyk masters flanking
Mimino (Kievskaya/Shopokova)
Furusato NEW (Bokonbaeva 132)
the entrance offer their creations straight to guests
Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowlExcellent Japanese cuisine in this homely, lively, sitting at Eastern-style tables – cross your legs and
fulls of steaming, hearty Georgian fare with
charming little cafe that opened in summer 2013. see how long before cramp sets in. $
pomegranate seeds a-plenty. Order a bottle of
We shouldn’t say a bad word about the staff, who
chacha firewater and make it a night. $$$
offer excellent service, but be prepared for the Sauporo (Kok-Jar Village)
way they all scream something at you in Japanese A veritable Kyrgyz Disneyland. Manas greets you
INDIAN
and bow in unison as you leave the place. It can at a dung-scented entrance, old men catch their
be quite freaky. $$
supper in a lake and waitresses in national dress
The Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt)
bring out things like beshbarmak po-Talaski. Great
A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian
food, unless you keep kashrut. Closed in winter. $$$
KOREAN
food make this place a real treat. We recommend
the Lamb Rogan Josh and the Palak Panir. A real
Tubeiteika (Moskovskaya/Turusbekova)
stand out and a Spektator favourite! $$$
Kyung Bok Kung NEW (30, Chui), Vostok 5)
Hard to spell but great to eat at. The menu is well
Family-run and extremely popular among a small beyond the traditional Central Asian scope, with
circle of ex-pats, who begged us not to put it in nods to China, Japan and Europe, too. We liked the
ITALIAN
here for fear of ruining ‘the secret’ - sorry guys, the Chinese chicken, the sushi and the shashlyk. $$
game is up. A seat at the doll’s house table is a
Bellagio (Erkindik/Bokonbaeva)
strictly shoeless experience and can be awkward
At its best on a not-so-roasting summer day for the long-legged. $$
UKRAINIAN
when you can people-watch from the terrace on
Erkindik boulevard while enjoying some of the Chong Gi Won (115, Chui), Vostok 5
best cuisine in Bishkek. Try the snails - the waiter Across the street from Kyung Bok Kung, our Pirogoff-Vodkin (Kievskaya, 107)
resident Korean tells us this place isn’t bad either. Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century
says they are Kazakh. $$$$
atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have
$$
your tea in a giant samovar. $$$
Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
Run by Italian chef Walter and positioned behind
LEBANESE
Taras Bulba
the October cinema, Bella Italia is quite simply the
(Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya)
only authentic Italian food in town. We tend to
Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in
Beirut (Sovietskaya/Mederova)
order big - a litre of house white, a plate of tortellini
PPF and the four cheeses pizza, plus dessert. Relocation has made Beirut more accessible Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked
to Bishkek’s ‘southerners’ without affecting the the potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious
Deceptively low cost. $$
quality of the grub. Similar to L’Azzurro in both soups and fresh salads. $$
price and mezze. $$$
Cyclone (136, Chui)
Zaporyzhia (9, Manas)
Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior,
Zaporyzhia is a cossack flavoured restauraunt in
L’Azzurro (105, Ibraimova)
efficient, polite serving staff and a warm
atmosphere to alleviate Bishkek’s winter chills. This is a delight, albeit a pricy one. If the plan is to a varnish-scented log cabin. Hearty rustic dishes
Pasta dishes stand out among a menu of stick to Levantine treats then L’Azzurro has the full and a homely atmosphere. The medovukha is
range, but we recommend dabbling in the fish as recommended! $$$
traditional Italian favourites. $$$
well. The grilled trout, in particular, is a winner. A
good place to take large parties. $$$
Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
TURKISH
Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses
serving excellent, good value pizza. Also serves
NATIONAL
salads and European cuisine. Small terrace outside
Ojak (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya,
for summertime dining, but be warned, it fills up
Toktogula)
Bukhara NEW (Shopokova 126, behind circus)
on weekends. $$
Bukhara’s menu overflows with the best Uzbek Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact
cuisine has to offer but also boasts a plethora ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is
of tasty salads, making it a magnet for both the limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’.
JAPANESE
gourmand and the grease-lover. The Bukhara salad, Beerier sister restaurant opposite the Ministry of
Kazanski kebab and Dim-la-ma get the Spektator’s Foreign Affairs on Frunze. $
Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
full endorsement. $$
Usta (Opposite the main mosque, Moskovskaya)
Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking
suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals. Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) A handy hop from the main city Mosque, ‘Usta
The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range Kebab’ is perhaps unsurprisingly the standout
of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an dish on the menu. $$
together enough soms. $$$
impressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football
Beliaist (Moskovskaya/Turuzbekova)
Yusa (Logvinenko/Bokonbayeva)
nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $
Watch your meat and vegetables fried in front of
The lavash is outstanding here, as are the range of
you on an oval metal pan attached to your table. Faiza I (Jibek Jolu/Manas)
sauces that compliment a wide array of vegetable
Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub and meat dishes. $$
Limited menu but a very cool experience. $$
December2013 The Spektator

www.thespektator.co.uk

26

The End

Loco
Motion

B

PATRICK BARROW
OARDING AN EMPTY TRAIN before
departure I find two hessian sacks of grain
stored under the lower beds. I heave one
of the sacks onto the top storage above
and tuck my rucksack beneath my bed,
leaving the other sack in its place. A young
student girl, who will be pretty when her acne clears
up, boards the train and takes the bunk above. She
says goodbyes on her phone as we wait to depart. A
silent Tatar takes the bunk adjacent to the young girl
and we roll out of Kustani, Northern Kazakhstan, on
time to the minute.
A few stations on, a short, stout Russian babushka
takes the bunk opposite mine and complains loudly
that she paid for a whole place but that half her
storage has been taken up by a sack of grain. The
train’s conductors, it transpires, are transporting the
grain south to sell.
This isn’t the only train packing contraband.
Below and Right Eurasia’s train stations can be The Bishkek-Moscow train is regularly fitted with
bundles of goods; Adidas tracksuits, lingerie, t-shirts,
both tittilating and tiring (archive)
jeans. Vacuum-sealed by wrapping machines at
Dordoi bazaar or squeezed into those Chinese
bags that always break, countless Chinese goods
make their way from Dordoi onto Russian bound
trains every week. At the borders the carriages are
stripped, travelers searched and given bogus fines
(200 som for overweight luggage, for example),
subjected to sniffer dogs and official intimidation “Where is your heroin?” I was asked one time - yet
somehow the tracksuits and lingerie remain safely
hidden below every bed, untroubled between
mattresses or wrapped in sheets. At stations across
Russia the goods are collected by Kyrgyz migrant
traders – cousins, uncles, sisters, who placed the
orders. Money is exchanged openly. (An Adidas
tracksuit that might cost $10 at Dordoi can be sold
at a market in Russia for $40.)
Compared to this Central Asian sportswear
shuffle, two sacks of grain are negligible, but the
old woman’s right to storage has been violated. As
she rants I am hit by a foul blow of ancient breath. I
try to read but every few minutes a wave of rotting
stomach air envelopes the cabin. The smell becomes
intolerable, but no one says a word.
In the evening a Kazakh woman roams the
carriages selling peroshki and snacks she’s bought
in town, while the Tatar lies silently playing with his
phone and the young girl reads on the end of my
berth until I fall asleep and she climbs to her bunk.
At 7 am only I am awake. The conductors want to
move the sack of grain from the top storage. We lift it
down and put it inside an old linen bag disguised as
dirty bed clothes. For a few early hours it is quiet and
I read my book in peace. The author hikes in Nepal
and I drift away.
The next morning the same babushka still stinks
the same stink, the same Kazakh woman sells
the same fresh peroshki as yesterday, but another
follows selling electric children’s toys that buzz and

As 2013 slips into 2014 the Spektator
hops on a Kazakhstani train in an
existential frame of mind, sandwiched
between sacks of contraband grain
and a grandma with foul breath.

December2013 The Spektator

flash. A second babushka has joined us and she takes
a long look at the toys but doesn’t buy, complaining
that they are more expensive on the train than in the
shop.
A boy comes by hawking cheap radios, then again
an hour later, mobile phones. The babushka with the
bad breath sees something has eaten the bottom
of her plastic bag. She left it on the floor of the train
overnight and the corner of the bag, including half
a sausage, has been chewed away. Both babushki
are shocked and appalled. Mutinous, they conspire
to confront the conductor about the cat they know
exists on the train. I look up and the Tatar has his
index finger resting in the handle of the window
blind, mute, staring blankly at the wall.
The young boy comes by again. “Gold, diamonds,”
he offers, swinging a shining tray of gems and
ornamental trinkets. The old woman that doesn’t
stink has a long look at the jewellery, as everyone
watches, but doesn’t buy. The young girl sits on the
end of my berth again, reading and occasionally
smiling. I write in my notebook.
Our small train community is a microcosm,
detached in time and space, riding the long and
flat of Eurasia. Outside the steppe glides past
unchanging, a still shot on repeat, the fading
October grasses cradling an infinite, overcast sky. I
relish the sloth of the journey.
The conductor mops the floor and asks if I’m
writing a book or a letter. I tell him a book. The
better-scented babushka ambushes the conductor,
explaining how the plastic bag and sausage have
been savaged. There is a cat aboard, she accuses,
before adding that it might be a mouse. “There are
no animals on this train!” The conductor defends his
institution. “People saw it!” she contests. “Show him
the plastic bag!” But the babushka with bad oral
hygiene retreats. “Why show him? Never mind, I’ve
already thrown it away.” Secretly she is ashamed: she
knows there are no animals on the train. She knows
her bag was pre-chewed.
The girl finishes her book and I help her get some
things from the storage under my bed. She asks what
I’m writing and I tell her a diary. We are at Karaganda
now, her destination. I remember they make beer in
Karaganda. The stinky babushka gets off at the same
industrial stop, a Soviet blot on pristine steppe. I am
glad for it.
I carry one of the girl’s bags off the train. I find out
she is studying medicine here, and we are met by her
boyfriend, to whom I pass the bag. The silent Tatar is
also getting off. The babushka with the bad breath
steps off the train leaving fish stains in her place. I
clean them away with toilet paper.
Three Kazakh lads board, make their beds in place
of my old neighbours and soon fall asleep. I read
again. Later the second babushka alights in a small
village, a dot to Karaganda’s blot. I carry her bags out
and place them down on the platform. She is met by
no-one and walks off into a headwind.
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