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THE Spektator №13 November 2010

Your monthly guide to what’s happening in and around Bishkek

Journeys in the
Forbidden Range
The State of
Kyrgyz Asylums
... and much more!

. .
Tourist Map What’s On Restaurant Guide

ContentsThe Spektator Magazine

White Walled Worlds
Alice Janvrin visits Kyrgyzstan’s psychiat-
ric hospitals and mental institutions, find-
ing rays of hope at the end of a gloomy

Founder: Tom Wellings Eagle Eyes 16

Falconry in Kyrgyzstan has been given a
Managing Editor: Chris Rickleton shot in the arm due to the initiatives of a
( hunter from the sleepy village of Bokon-
baeva. Dennis Keen heads to the shores
of Lake Issyk Kul to witness the revival of
one of the country’s timeless traditions.
Staff writers: Dennis Keen (den-, Robert
Marks (robertmarks@thespektator., Natalya Wells, Evan Harris,
Patrick Barrow, Pavel Kropotkin This Month
Anthony Butts (anthonybutts@, News and Views
The new parliament convenes, Mayor
Myrzakmatov is still stirring the pot in Osh
and Bishkek’s city dump is out of control.
Guest Contributor: Alice Janvrin

Design: Alena Krivyh Sticking to your Own

The Spektator’s resident anthropologist
and general know-it-all Winston Olsen
considers the genetic implications of the
Advertising Manager: Irina Kasymova ‘Butun Kyrgyzstan phenomenon’.

Out & About

Residents at the World’s End 10
What drives a man to alpinism? The upper
reaches of Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan are a
mountaineer’s heaven, while the Djangart
section of the range is a special paradise
preserved for the sport’s most ambitious

The Guide
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs
All the best bars and clubs in town.
City Map
Don’t get lost.
Want to contribute as a freelance
writer? Please contact:
What’s On
The pick of the entertainment listings.

ON THE COVER: ‘Feeding Time’ (Dennis Keen)

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) Cowboy, 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, Golden Bull (Casinos) Europa, Golden Dragon, XO (Hotels) Dostuk, Hyatt, Golden Dragon, Holiday, Alpi-

nist (Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.
The Spektator is now online at
4 This Month
With Joomart Saparbaev, A New Generation Enters Kyrgyz Politics

BISHKEK, November 10 (

According to tradition, the first session of the
new Kyrgyz parliament was chaired by its oldest
member, 65-year-old Tashpolot Baltabaev of the
Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Socialist Party.
But as lawmakers assembled for the historic
first seating of the country’s newly empowered
Zhogorku Kenesh, many eyes were on its young-
est members - including Baltabaev’s party col-
league, 25-year-old Joomart Saparbaev.
In a cynical season of gray-haired power-
jockeying in Kyrgyzstan, Saparbaev’s prominent
placement high on the Ata-Meken list was a
signal that parties are looking to their younger
members for new appeal.
“When I was put down as fifth on our party
list, I heard a lot of crazy things from our party
bosses, from different politicians from different
political parties,” says Saparbaev, cheerful and
confident in a crisp gray suit on a recent night
in Bishkek. “They said it was kind of an insane
experiment to put me so high on the list. But it
happened. Our party leaders understand that
we need young blood, we need new ideas. We
need the next generation.”
Ata-Meken is not the only party to promote
its younger members. Rival parties like Respub-
lika and Ata-Jurt - which are among the five
parties to enter the new parliament - have also
sought to bring fresh faces to parliament, pro-
moting some candidates as young as 22.
Members of the new parliament show their if it’s impossible, maybe you could do this. But tor on Kyrgyz issues when the Tulip Revolution
ID documents during the landmark first session not right at that moment, right after the revolu- suddenly catapulted his country into U.S. me-
in Bishkek. tion. Kulov didn’t even try; he just tried to get rid dia headlines. Now, he likes to think, there are
Saparbaev, however, argues that his politi- of all his problems. This is how our social activi- a lot of people in south-central Minnesota who
cal credentials outweigh the rest. He is already ties started. This is how we started fighting the know more than the average American about
a six-year member of Ata-Meken, the party led Bakiev regime.” Kyrgyzstan.
by Omurbek Tekebaev that is seen as the critical His activism grew even more determined Since returning home, Saparbaev says he’s
force behind Kyrgyzstan’s shift to a parliamen- following his country’s 2007 parliamentary had several opportunities to leave his country
tary democracy. elections, when claims of massive vote rigging for good. But the young lawmaker, who is mar-
In that time, he spent three years heading prompted Saparbaev and thousands of student ried with a 4-month-old daughter, says he’s de-
the party’s youth wing, spearheading efforts activists to stage regular public protests under termined to stay in Kyrgyzstan and fight for the
to make Ata-Meken the first political party in the slogan “I don’t believe.” nascent parliamentary system, created in the
Central Asia to join the Socialist International, Saparbaev was ultimately thrown in jail, wake of the country’s latest political overhaul,
a worldwide grouping of social-democratic, so- albeit briefly, for his opposition activities - a the April revolt that ousted Bakiev.
cialist, and labor parties. chapter he calls “more fun than dangerous.” But “It’s my ambition to create a real political
“Sometimes they listen to me,” he says of his the adventure cemented his opposition to the system,” he says. “A system that doesn’t depend
party elders, smiling. Bakiev regime and his fidelity to Ata-Meken, in- on only one leader.”
dependent Kyrgyzstan’s oldest major political Speaking just minutes after today’s first par-
Taking On Bakiev
party and the only group that he says puts ideol- liament session, Saparbaev admitted to feeling
During that time, Saparbaev was also active in ogy before clan loyalty. slightly overwhelmed by what he called the “gi-
youth movements that successfully fought an gantic responsibility” of tackling the economic
attempt by Felix Kulov, then the country’s new Representing Kyrgyzstan and political challenges ahead - including the
prime minister, to add Kyrgyzstan to the list of Saparbaev, who grew up the youngest of two very basic task of keeping Kyrgyzstan’s new par-
countries seeking debt relief from the Interna- sons in a small village outside Bishkek, had no liamentary democracy on track despite massive
tional Monetary Fund and World Bank. automatic entree into the world of Kyrgyz poli- resistance from fellow parliamentary parties,
Such a move, Saparbaev believed, had been tics. At a time when his fellow high-school stu- like Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys, that favor a return to
devastating for other impoverished countries dents were obsessing over “business and mon- a presidential system.
and would have spelled certain doom for Kyr- ey,” he became a self-taught political thinker, “It’s a big moment. It’s not getting the man-
gyzstan, which was just emerging from the 2005 devouring Machiavelli and Henry Kissinger at date I’m excited about. I’m excited by what’s go-
Tulip Revolution and the rise of President Kur- his local library, before moving to the capital to ing to happen in there,” he said. “We have Ata-Ju-
manbek Bakiev and his allies like Kulov. study political science. rt ex-Bakiev people. How are we going to work
“We had a new government that, in trying From there, he spent a formative year at with them? The nature of parliament is to find
to get into this program, was trying to rid it- Minnesota State University-Mankato, where a compromise, and I’m just so interested to find
self of its responsibilities,” he said. “I mean, why he volunteered with the Democratic Party and out how we’re going to compromise with these
wouldn’t you try to fix it yourself first? And then, found himself serving as an impromptu instruc- guys that we were fighting against. We’ll see.”

November 2010 The Spektator

5 This Month
Felix Kulov: A trip to Moscow doesn’t mean a meeting in the Kremlin
BISHKEK, November 12 ( the fuel supplies. And I believe this has damaged day, we have a weak president, a strong prime min-
Though he was no friend of the former regime, the United States’ reputation in the eyes of the Kyr- ister and government, and a strong parliament. We
veteran politician Felix Kulov has also been critical gyz public. Everyone’s heard about the size of bribes want there to be a strong president, strong prime
of Kyrgyzstan’s interim government since it seized for high-placed officials from the families of the two minister and strong parliament. We don’t want to
power in April. The chairman and face of the Ar- [former] presidents, but at the same time everyone grant the president enormous powers. The only
Namys (Dignity) party, Kulov ran for parliament on sees that the US administration is trying to hush this additional powers we want to give the president
a law and order platform and criticized the new whole thing up. are determining domestic and foreign policy; that
constitution approved in June, saying the country EurasiaNet: Should Kyrgyzstan challenge the he be accountable for ensuring the country’s secu-
needs a strong, centralized leadership. award? And if so, who should get it instead? rity; and also create an independent judiciary. And
When Kulov, 62, flew to Moscow shortly after [he should] not interfere in the government’s work
Kulov: We know that certain political forces have
the polls, the trip prompted widespread specula- on the economy. The president’s powers would be
a vested interest in continuing the [fuel-supply]
tion the Kremlin had selected him as its favorite enhanced just a bit, while the former presidents
arrangements that existed before in order to have
for prime minister, a position he held after 2005’s weren’t accountable for anything and at the same
money that will then be used for political battles
so-called Tulip Revolution and one that has been time had unlimited power. Of course, we don’t want
against their political opponents. Anyone deeply
strengthened by the new constitution. authorities like that.
involved in these arrangements will defend them
Yet as parties close to the interim government by any means necessary in order to avoid crimi- EurasiaNet: You campaigned on a law and order
discuss forming a ruling coalition, the charismatic nal prosecution. This will be a hotbed of political platform. Has the trial of the Alfa troops accused of
Kulov – a former KGB officer, interior minister and instability. So I believe there should be maximum unlawfully killing protesters during the April 7 upris-
Bishkek mayor – now looks set to lead the country’s transparency and public hearings, which result in ing hurt the morale of the security forces? And has
opposition. concrete conclusions about who should handle low morale affected their functioning during this
Kulov spoke with EurasiaNet’s David Trilling and these supplies. But without official results of investi- year’s instability?
Natasha Yefimov in his Bishkek office on November gations into corruption under the two former presi- Kulov: To some extent, it has. […] The most fright-
12. This interview has been edited for length. dents, it’s impossible to say that the [fuel-supply] ening thing is that the people [of Kyrgyzstan] no
EurasiaNet: Yesterday, President Roza Otunbayeva arrangements will be clean. longer fear anything or anyone, not the law, not an-
appointed the Social Democratic Party (SDPK), Since there have been no official investigation ything. They believe mob rule now ranks supreme.
headed by Almazbek Atambayev, to form a majority results yet, and since this [new contract] is being That’s the most frightening thing – for the state, for
coalition. Most likely, that will leave you in a minor- done without public hearings, I think the govern- democracy.
ity. Do you think she is right to appoint what was ment will have to challenge it. At any rate, in parlia- EurasiaNet: What role has Moscow played in the
formerly her own party – a party that came in sec- ment, the issue will definitely be raised. coalition building in Kyrgyzstan?
ond in the October 10 polls – as the coalition leader? EurasiaNet: Many have suggested that Moscow
Kulov: Absolutely none. And Moscow can’t facili-
Kulov: The proposal that she give first dibs in form- would like to see the Manas base closed. Is Moscow tate this process in any way. It’s unrealistic. In terms
ing the government [to SDPK] came from me per- worried about an American presence in the region of Moscow’s influence, I think its role in this gets
sonally – primarily to uphold the authority of our and would it really want to close the Manas base, greatly exaggerated. How can Moscow determine
president. She’s in a tough situation, where she has when it’s used for fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, or make peace between people with rocky personal
to choose from among several factions, whom to a threat to Russia? relationships? If someone’s been insulted by some-
appoint, and so for her not to experience difficulties, Kulov: I’ve met with representatives of various [Rus- one else, is Moscow really going to say, “But you’ve
I proposed that she nominate her allies. sian] security-related bodies – in the past, as prime got to form a coalition with him”? It’s unrealistic for
However, we cannot say with 100 percent cer- minister, and as head of the party – and I’ve never Moscow to influence anything. We know each other
tainty that Mr. Atambayev will be able to form the heard anyone say outright that the base should be better than any advice Moscow can give.
[ruling] coalition. Because creating a coalition is al- closed. Moreover, Russia has allowed transit of car-
EurasiaNet: You said you went to Moscow for per-
ways a complicated, painful process when positions go to our base. Personally, I believe the status of the
sonal reasons after the elections, but it’s no secret
and platforms have to be sorted out and aligned. base should be more transparent than it is today. you have met with very highly placed officials in
EurasiaNet: Could you say specifically what might Take, for example, the Russian base in Kant, which the past. Did you have a chance to meet with them
be standing in his way? simultaneously fulfills the function of defending again? If so, what did you discuss? How did you and
Kulov: There are always personal reasons. When the our airspace: Every plane that lands at that base and two other party leaders -- Respublika’s Omurbek
question of who gets what position crops up, it’s not takes off from there is met and accompanied by Babanov and top vote-getter Ata-Jurt’s Myktybek
always possible to reach agreement. You know that our border guards and customs officers. What gets Abdyldayev -- end up on the same flight?
a minimum of three factions must make up the coa- brought to or taken out from the American base Kulov: I’ve really got nothing to hide. It was a per-
lition and each faction stakes its own claims, has its we don’t know. Kyrgyzstan has no customs or bor- sonal trip, to see my friend who was recovering from
own desires. It’s hard enough to do with two; with der officials there. So various rumors crop up, from an operation. A trip to Moscow doesn’t necessarily
three it’s even harder. So will they manage to reach al-Qaeda prisoners being brought there to drug mean a meeting in the Kremlin. […] Someone else
an agreement within the two-week time frame? It’s smuggling – in short, all sorts of rumors that we can was on that flight with me. I don’t remember who.
not 100 percent certain. neither deny nor confirm. The Americans, naturally,
Oh yes! It was Mr. Abdyldayev. He was going to visit
don’t pay much attention to Kyrgyz press reports.
EurasiaNet: Last week, the Pentagon announced it his spouse’s relatives. They live in Moscow. His wife is
EurasiaNet: Kyrgyzstan voted for a parliamentary Russian. And the reason we all flew at the same time
will continue to use the same controversial compa-
system in June’s referendum. You say you want to is very simple: Up until then, we had all been busy.
ny to supply fuel to US troops at the Manas Transit
return to a presidential system. However, the past Once the election campaign ended, we got some
Center despite an ongoing Kyrgyz government in-
two presidents turned into greedy tyrants. Why do free time. That’s it. Unfortunately, there’s no other
vestigation into possible improper business practic-
you think a third time could be any different? way except through Moscow. I always raise this is-
es concerning fuel operations there. How does this
bode for the future relationship between Bishkek Kulov: We support a presidential-parliamentary sys- sue! We need direct flights to Europe. Talking about
and Washington? And what do you see as the ideal tem of government. Our aim is not to give the presi- investment when investors from Europe can’t fly here
solution? dent absolute power; our aim is that the president is nonsensical. Now I’m going to Kiev through Almaty
have rights equal to his duties, including responsi- and I’ll be returning through Moscow. And then eve-
Kulov: There’s been a lot of scandal surrounding bility for security in the country. Put it this way: To- ryone will ask, “What were you doing in Moscow?” November 2010 The Spektator

6 This Month
Bishkek Confronts a Waste Management Dilemma
BISHKEK, November 9 (
Blurred by smoke and putrid steam, eagles and
flocks of ravens hover overhead and swoop down
to feast on colonies of rats. On the ground, a solitary
pig roots through household debris, its snout bur-
ied in discarded plastic and rotting cardboard. This
unappealing ecosystem in Kyrgyzstan is not merely
home to wild animals: the Bishkek municipal dump,
deemed a health hazard by ecologists, is also work
site for human scavengers, mostly economic mi-
grants from rural parts of Kyrgyzstan.
Single parent Aizat Isabekova and her four chil-
dren one day recently could be seen sifting through
the discarded bits of food and dead animals look-
ing for plastic bottles to recycle. A migrant from
southern Jalal-Abad Province, she has been living
on the outskirts of Bishkek in informal accommoda-
tion for over two years. “You get used to it,” she says
of the plumes of smoke that rise out of the rubbish
mounds even in winter. “I can’t find work this profit- Above A lorry brings fresh pickings to the municipal dump (David Trilling for
able in the city.”
With the help of her children, who do not at- pal authorities arrive periodically with heavy-duty recently, a domestic initiative to solve the problem
tend school because as a migrant she does not packing machines to try and consolidate the waste, by the end of 2010 has been delayed by ongoing
have the necessary documents to register them in but young men working at the dump chase them political uncertainty.
Bishkek, Isabekova says she can bring in more than away. Even the police are afraid of them,” Ibraeva Vytoshkin is one of many observers who feel
500 soms (USD 11) a day. She sells plastic bottles for told the dump is an environmental time bomb. “Natu-
30 tiyin to middlemen who resell them for 50 tiyin Many trash sorters have organized themselves rally, waste incineration factories [produce] their
(one US cent) to vendors who wash and fill them into militant brigades in order to defend territory own negative environmental consequences; any
with homemade dairy products and condiments. and economic interests. Explaining why a pitchfork- plant would have to be in compliance with interna-
Kemal, 43, and his wife Nurgul, 40, both of wielding man chased two corre- tional standards,” he said. “But the alternative – no
whom refused to provide a surname, have resided spondents from the site, Kemal said; “People don’t system of waste management at all – is worse. Here,
at the dump’s nearby novostroiki – new settlements want their relatives to know that they work here. livestock carcasses are dumped in the same place
– since migrating to Bishkek eight years ago. Kemal It can be seen as a disgrace. Perhaps he thinks you as household waste. No one knows what diseases
says his seven children live with their grandparents want to show Kyrgyz people in a bad light.” these animals might have.”
at home in Osh Province, where they go to school. Environmentalists are eager to find a solution, While efforts to take decisive action have lost
“They don’t need to know how their parents earn a but realize they may have to choose between the political momentum, Nurgul and her husband re-
living,” he said. lesser of two evils. In the last five years, Italian and main firmly opposed to any plans that might insti-
Nevertheless, the couple admitted there are Japanese investors have made separate offers to tutionalize waste management in the city. “What
advantages to working at the dump. As she sort- build a waste-incineration plant. The government we do here might be dirty, but it is honest,” she said.
ed through a bag of “perfectly good” discarded announced at one point that both bids were suc- “Why does the government want to prevent me
clothes, Nurgul said she used to work at a sausage cessful, but so far there has been no more move- from making a living? I don’t interfere with them,
factory but quit because scavenging for recyclables ment toward construction of such a plant. More why should they interfere with us?”
was more profitable. “What you can find here, you
can sell. You don’t have to wait for a salary. Also, it
is warm enough at the dump. Even in January and Mayor of Kyrgyz City Criticizes Home Reconstruction Plan
February, there’s no snow on the ground here.”
This phenomenon concerns ecologists. Dmitri OSH, November 4 (RFE/RL) some of the new houses are being built in the
Vytoshkin, a program coordinator at BIOM, a lo- The controversial mayor of the southern Kyrgyz same way,” he said.
cal environmental non-profit, explained why the city of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, says homes Myrzakmatov added that all Osh residents
dump “smokes” even in deep winter. damaged or destroyed in interethnic clashes in whose new homes are not ready by winter will
The fumes “are the result of a chemical reaction. mid-June are being rebuilt without his consent, be given shelter in local sanatoriums and hotels.
The sun heats the mass of waste up, and the layers RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reports. Myrzakmatov is considered controversial
of plastic and glass prevent that heat from escap- Myrzakmatov told journalists on November due to his connections with ousted President
ing. Without any oxygen, the waste beneath the 4 that the majority of the Osh city homes dam- Kurmanbek Bakiev, who appointed him to his
surface neither burns [fully] nor decomposes, but aged in June are situated in “complicated” areas post, and his severe criticism of interim govern-
smolders all year round,” he said. Vytoshkin estimat- from a seismological point of view. He said he ment officials in Bishkek.
ed that temperatures at the bottom of the rubbish and his associates have been raising that issue The interim government tried to remove
mounds were between 60-70 degrees centigrade. since construction of the new houses started, but him as mayor earlier this summer, but after pro-
“no one took those concerns into consideration.” tests by locals, he remained in office. He took an
The problem is festering. Myrzakmatov added that some areas in- extended vacation and was not seen at his office
According to Gulnara Ibraeva, an expert from the habited mainly by ethnic Uzbeks have been re- for several weeks after an August meeting with
Social Technologies Agency, a Bishkek-based NGO constructed in the same way they were before President Roza Otunbaeva in Bishkek.
researching social and gender issues, the dump the riots during which they were burned down. Osh was shaken by deadly clashes between
has expanded from 10 hectares to over 25 hectares “Nobody burnt each of the houses in the ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in mid-June. More
over the last eight years, and is now encroaching on Uzbek districts, they were just built in such a than 400 people died and hundreds were in-
the city limits. “The site has grown out of control. way that if one of the houses is set on fire all the jured in the fighting in Osh and the neighboring
As many as 500 people work there now. Munici- other houses [nearby] will catch fire easily, and Jalal-Abad region.

November 2010 The Spektator

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8 This Month

to your
WINSTON OLSEN Above ”If your surname is ‘Butun’ clap your hands!” (archive)

AVING ATTENDED a series of protests a non-tendency that independence and nascent from northern Kyrgyzstan are more likely to have
held by the nationalist political party nationalism have since strengthened. formed in Bishkek than anywhere else. In a city of
‘Butun Kyrgyzstan’ (One Kyrgyzstan), In the ancient and medieval world, of course, a million, cultural pressures on young men and
I was alerted to the striking results of gene pool stagnation was much more of a prob- women to marry into a certain kinship group meet
‘sticking to your own’. Missing out on lem than it is today. It affected not only poor villag- a powerful counter in terms of the sheer range of
entry into parliament by a whisker, Butun’s sup- ers, whose lack of socioeconomic and actual mo- different potential reproductive partners in the vi-
porters were in restive mood, yet I found myself bility denied them the opportunity to breed with cinity.
less concerned by this than by the evidently detri- people beyond their own tightly-knit communi- Towns such as Talas and Naryn, by contrast, are
mental effects of generations of inbreeding. ties, but monarchs, who actively chose inbreed- better understood as large villages whose lack of
Kyrgyzstan is a small country (population un- ing as a means of conserving their accumulated economic opportunity results in almost no inward
der 5,000,000), of which the titular nationality, the wealth rather than squandering it on ‘outsiders‘. migration and thus no disruption of intra-commu-
Kyrgyz, comprise roughly 70%. That 70%, in turn, Over time, these tightly concentric patterns of nity breeding patterns. The startling outcome of
is riven by internal divisions predicated on politics, reproduction displayed negative consequences. this could be seen on April 7th and 8th, when ‘the
regional kinship patterns and some of the most Royal families, like those of their ordinary subjects, country visited the city’; the biological advantages
daunting, isolating mountain passes in the world. produced an alarming number of simpletons. This of urban life, as well as the socioeconomic ones,
Naturally, as a nomadic people who gradually in turn had damning implications for social and cruelly displayed.
drifted South from the Yenisei in southern Siberia, material progress - an inbred nation produces little As the ethnic group which controls the levers
the Kyrgyz have their own rich genetic heritage. in the way of inventors, philosophers and entre- of power in domestic society, there are few imme-
Due to patterns of conquest and confluence, a preneurs. The medieval period as a whole was one diate incentives for Kyrgyz to ‘marry out‘. Moreover,
DNA sample of the average Kyrgyz a hundred of long, fruitless grind. kinship groups or ‘clans’ are powerful associations
years ago may well have revealed notable reces- In those darker times, genetic overhaul was which can make the distance between an unem-
sive genes belonging to groups such as the Chu- eventually ensured by war. War, with its twin atroc- ployed peasant in the country and an influential
vash and the Uighurs, as well as a dominant Mon- ities of rape and population displacement helped political figure in the city relatively small. Yet in the
gol base attributable to names that time forgot; break up ’genetic communities’ and introduce ran- long term, ‘sticking to your own’, at least in the in
Naimans, Khitans and Keraits, amongst hundreds dom patterns into stagnant pools. Nowadays, that the narrowest sense, has damaging consequences.
of other more or less distinct groups. function is provided in a more benign and civilized Conversely, inter-ethnic unions often result in off-
Nevertheless, research in Albania has shown fashion by the ‘scattergun effect’ of the city. spring that are more than the sum of their parts.
that in small countries subject to significant tribal Writing in 1992 for his classic travelogue ‘The One need only look at the example of the United
and geographical divisions (Albania’s predomi- Lost Heart of Asia’, Colin Thubron noted: ‘A rural in- States of America, a ‘migrant hybrid’ with a near-
nant division is also North/South), the result of a vasion of Kirghiz was infiltrating the suburbs and absent ‘native’ population, to see that successful,
transition from nomadic to sedentary patterns crowding the shops [of Bishkek]…some of them prosperous societies are often those that are sexu-
of existence ultimately results in one thing: Gene looked like pantomime peasants…But within a ally as well as politically more inclusive.
pool stagnation. generation they could refine to a tenuous urban- Still, Kyrgyz folks are happy enough to ac-
This can manifest itself in physical character- ity, and these other Kirghiz too were all about, run- knowledge and mock their own reproductive
istics; eyes of unusual colour (an almost luminous ning small businesses in the liberalised economy, nepotism. One local anecdote a Bishkek friend
shade of green is typical amongst inbred people), percolating the civil service...’ told me runs thus: The farmer father of a young
misshapen ears, stunted growth, or behavioural Cities provide rural migrants not only with an man has told him that the time has come for him
defects and dangerously below average Intelli- opportunity to earn more money than they could to get married. “What about Gulnara?” the father
gent Quotients (IQs). do in their home villages, but also a more socially asks hopefully. “She is strong and able - she will
In the Soviet period, the institution of the and genetically competitive environment that of- milk well.” But the young man refuses the sugges-
kolkhoz (collective farm) actually helped cement fers a chance of producing stronger offspring. In tion. “Or Aizat, perhaps? She is very pretty.” But the
certain endogamous trends, as did the enforced Kyrgyzstan, only Bishkek and possibly Osh con- young man says he finds Aizat boring. “You know,
absence of pre-Soviet traditions such as bride- tain populations large enough and cosmopolitan papa,” he says, “there is a boy in the next village, his
knapping. Despite the ideological emphasis on a enough to produce a genuine scattergun effect. name is Sergei...” But the young man’s father cuts
’union of peoples’, cross-cultural marriages were Certainly, for instance, families with one par- him off abruptly, disgusted. “Son, how can you
relatively rare in most parts of Soviet Central Asia, ent from southern Kyrgyzstan and another parent even think of that? Sergei is Russian!”

November 2010 The Spektator

10 Out & About

Residents at the World’s End

Climber and journalist Jamie Maddison set MYRIAD OF STONES slip away un- The journey out was harsh. Confined to a Rus-
out to document the audacious attempt of der foot. Up above, the track, broken sian ex-military truck which, by the look of it had
a mountaineering team to ‘christen’ one of and washed out, winds its way around probably seen action in Afghanistan, we quickly
more sets of switchbacks, fading out became bored with the absolute lack of things
the peaks in the little-climbed Djangart re- of sight behind yet another rise in the to do. Watching the ever-changing scenery was
gion of the Tien-Shan. The following is his still distant huddle. The wind is bitter, and tears our hobby, trying to avoid receiving a concussion
account of how three of his companions mercilessly through a thin T-shirt, my sole layer of every time the truck catapulted us airborne as it
braved a challenging ascent to the top of protection thrown on carelessly earlier in the day passed over a bump in the road. Time dragged on
a mountain now known as Peak Howard- when the weather was perfect, and the distance despairingly slowly. Upon reaching camp on the
Bury (4766m). to the valley’s pass a mere happy guess. Now the first night Matthew Traver and myself, repulsed
sun is setting, dragging the temperature down by the further effort erecting a tent would exact,
with it. The trail has turned out to be much longer simply dragged our sleeping bags underneath
and steeper than expected, and, at four thousand the truck and spent the night there; stars peep-
metres and completely unacclimatized, I struggle ing through the gaps in the engine overhead, ac-
deeply for breath. Looking back down the sweep- companied later by the gentle drip of fine early
ing moraine lined on either side by sheets of once morning rain as we slept.
dazzling white snow, now slowly turning grey in The scenery altered from the deep blues of
the dim evening light, the blurred image of my Lake Issyk Kul, to the luscious green alpine val-
climbing partner, Dan, can just be made out lying leys around Barskoon and later, the dried, dead
on a rock several hundred meters away; he’s ob- steppe of the Kara-Say area. The roads deteriorat-
viously in a similar state, completely and utterly ed the further east we went and Sasha, our driver,
exhausted. was constantly forced to divert in and around the
I had flown into Bishkek a week earlier to re- glacial torrents, which poured off the sides of the
port upon a joint Anglo-American mountaineering encasing mountains. It was with much relief, and
expedition aiming to climb several new peaks in a severely bruised bones that we approached the
remote area of the Tien Shan called the Djangart. final checkpoint, military camp Ak-Shyyrak. This
The Djangart, part of the Kokshaal-Too (literally the last outpost of humanity, situated firmly in the
‘Forbidden Range’; an area of mountains that was a restricted zone between China and Kyrgyzstan’s
closed military zone until the late 1990s), forms part high Tien-Shan border, was once a sizeable Soviet
of the ridge line along Kyrgyzstan’s southern border mining town. Now, since the closure of the mines,
with China. The area had received little previous at- less than twenty families remain; keeping lone-
tention, with less than three visits ever being made some vigil over the few comings and goings that
to the region by mountaineers. Although slightly this area of the border receives. Permits in order,
Above Base camp in the Djangart valley is lower in elevation than its popular neighbour, the we were allowed to proceed, up the Kaichi valley
stunningly beautiful, but frightfully boring Western Kokshaal-Too, the Djangart still boasts and to the end of the first phase of our laborious
after a time (both photos Jamie Maddison) more than a dozen mountains over 5,000 metres, a journey. Tomorrow we would head up, over the
significant height for any aspiring alpinist to tackle. pass and finally into the Djangart.
Right Climbers Mathew Traver (UK) Dan Clarke At the time, all but one of these peaks remained un- Back on my feet, I stumble onward. After what
(US) and Mike Royer (US) returned from the climbed, something that the team hoped to rectify seems like a never-ending passage of time, the
end of the world victorious with their own visit to the region. top of the pass finally comes into view. It really is

November 2010 The Spektator

Out & About 11

Doing Djangart
a depressing place; a barren wasteland, populat- The initial start, although technically easy,
ed by a scattering of abandoned concrete pipes, was nevertheless a frustrating chore due to deep the
remnants of a long obsolete mining exploration. snow and unhelpful weather conditions. Matt
The wind picks up, whittling its way over this gap was to take the lead in this and made steady
in the mountains. Shivering violently, I dive into a progress over the first two hundred metres, up Firstly, trips such as this are not for the
tube, jamming my rucksack into one end in a vain gradually increasing snow slopes. As the ground weekend adventurer. They can take hundreds
attempt to block out the frightening cold. Sitting, behind them began to drop away, so the diffi- of hours’ worth of preparation and organisa-
huddled in a ball inside this little concrete coffin; I culties faced by the team began to increase. “By tion, and can cost thousands of dollars in ex-
do nothing but wait for my climbing partner Dan. now, snow was tumbling off the higher slopes; penditure. If however, you are really dedicated
After an age, he finally appears, not, it has to be never enough to take you down but enough to to exploring areas such as the Djangart (and
said, in the best of states, hyperventilating from keep you on your toes,” Mike was to tell me later. have the mountaineering proficiency to do so
too rapid a rise after too “Sloughing snow is actu- safely) then your first step should be to touch
little acclimatisation. “Sloughing snow is actually ally a welcome sign, as it base with an organiser. Our expedition used
Enough’s enough, and means it isn’t accumulat- the company ITMC Tien-Shan (http://www.
we beat a hasty retreat a welcome sign, as it means it ing to unload as a larger, and they were nothing
down the other side of isn’t accumulating to unload as potentially lethal ava- short of fantastic; providing us with transport,
the pass into this new lanche later.” communications equipment, accommodation
valley, the Djangart, a larger, potentially lethal ava- The onslaught of in Bishkek and dollops of advice. Such compa-
spread out before us, steeper sections forced nies can help plan an expedition around your
beautifully bathed in
lanche later” Mike Royer the group to take out given ideas, time constraints and budget.
the golden glow of a dying sun. their second rope to begin belayed climbing. On Once the structure of the trip is arranged
The day lasts more than a hundred years, as easy ground a team of mountaineers can often you can get down to the task of organising
the famous Kyrgyz author Chinghiz Aitmatov get away with ascending on a single line, tied small details, such as procuring food and
so eloquently put it. Nearly a week later and I’d on to each person. As the group climbs, pieces equipment. The bazaars are an excellent
come to well and truly know the meaning of that of protection are placed between them. In the place to stock up on cheap provisions for the
phrase. Sitting alone in a sodden tent in the mid- event of a fall that protection stops the moun- expedition, just remember to buy a modest
dle of the rain swept unknown, devoid of all but taineers from sliding off the face of the mountain, amount of vodka and cigarettes to ease cross-
a single book. Time stretched out, lengthening to and then the world itself. The technique is called ings though the border permit checkpoints.
ridiculous and previously unfathomable propor- simulclimbing, and is by far the fastest means If in need of more specialized equipment,
tions. And yet, whilst I sat and railed against the of ascent, albeit less equipment-heavy and thus mountaineering shops such as Red Fox (So-
slow passage of days, they were advancing in- riskier than other techniques. If, however, the vietskaya/Kulatova) usually have enough to
credibly swiftly for climbers Mathew Traver (UK) ascent becomes too severe, then a second rope meet the needs of most mountaineers.
Dan Clarke (US) and Mike Royer (US) who, high must be used; one climber leading upward on Lastly, if you want a bit of extra help around
up in the valley above me, were preparing to both ropes whilst the other belays him from an base camp, then you might wish to consider
make their first attempt at one of the surround- anchored position. Lead climbing, as this second hiring someone . Taking on local interns from
ing unclimbed peaks. A rocky pyramid of a moun- technique is known, is a safer, but much slower the Alpine Fund charity (http://www.alpine-
tain, they later found out (having lost their topo- form of upward progression. is not only cheaper than the guides
graphical maps at the time) that this was Pt 4766, It was at this point, grey-white slopes spreading provided by the logistics companies, it is also
a prominent peak sitting at one of the central gently away to the glacier far beneath them, and ex- a great way of helping out Kyrgyzstan’s under-
dividing points for the Djangartynbashi glacier. panses of steeper, just off-vertical ice towering privileged and orphaned youths. November 2010 The Spektator

12 Out & About

high above, that the group began to lead climb. I relented and traversed to the other side of the
“Dan led the first pitch, but didn’t get very far be- couloir (mountain gulley). I threw in a sketchy
fore the green rope ran out,” Mike recounts. “We nut, pounded in a marginal piton (metal spike),
thought it seemed a bit odd, but maybe the scale and shoved my shoulder into a corner of the wall
of the face screwed with our perception of dis- that arched over the couloir.” Mike then belayed
tance, a common issue on exposed mountains. Matt and Dan up to that frigid stance.
Often two half ropes aren’t exactly the same That one last difficulty surmounted, nothing
length as well, so with little concern I just ran off remained but the trio’s final rush for the summit,
to the next belay.” But as Matt took his turn for witnessed only by the masses of storm clouds
the lead after, Dan realised something was quite that had begun to gather overhead. Mike was
wrong indeed: “I was re-stacking the ropes so the first to reach the top: “Suddenly I was there;
Matt could have an easier belay, but all of a sud- scrambling over the final few metres, I just threw
den I got to the end of the green rope. There was my arms up and let up a shout.” Relieved and
masses of other rope, but none of the green; it quite exhausted, he proceeded to belay Matt and
must have been perhaps as much as twenty me- Dan up to the summit. The storm crashed around
tres short.” the peak, but they had done it! The mountain,
In the mountains speed is tantamount to formally Pik 4766 (designated according to its
safety; the less time one spends on the face, elevation above sea level) became Peak Howard-
the less likely avalanches, rock fall, falling ice or Bury, named after an early British explorer who
lethal storms are to hit you. The rope, which the had visited the region in 1913. It was the second
group later deduced was probably cut by the lo- mountain in the entire area to be climbed - the
cal horseman seeking a thicker cord for lashing first being Peak Letaveta (5280m) summited in
our equipment to their horses on the journey 2008 by a Russian expedition - and the first peak
over the pass, was now roughly a third as short. to be summited by Western mountaineers in the
This meant that in their current style of ascent region. At an alpine grade of Difficile +, the seven
they would only be able climb two thirds as far hundred metre line ranks as hard as many of the
on each pitch, increasing time spent on the super classic routes of the European Alps.
mountain to dangerous proportions. Mike then Back in the lonely rain-swept valley, I was to
suggested the much riskier option of all three si- wait another full day before the battered three
Above Peak Howard-Bury, an eminent, yet mulclimbing over the now difficult ground using made their return to base camp. They collapsed
previously unclimbed peak in the Djangart only the one rope. Devoid of any other options into the main tent, exhausted, sunburnt and stink-
section of the Tien-Shan range (all photos they had no choice but to employ this risky style. ing to high heaven. Yet, their smiles blunted any
Mike Royer) On the trio progressed, a single slender concerns of mine over their physical well-being;
thread now tracing between them as they tack- they joked freely about the adventures just ex-
Centre Matt Traver plots a lonely path in the led the ever more challenging obstacles that lay perienced, content that all their efforts, planning
couloir. Speed is synonymous with safety in in front. Then, as the sun was setting, the ridge and hard graft had finally come to fruition. Over
the mountains, but too quick an ascent can line that marked the end of difficulties and the the next two weeks the team was to climb a fur-
lead to poor acclimatisation and exhaustion path to the summit, finally came into view. “Eager ther two new mountains in this area of unknown
to finish, I placed my last screw and yelled down beauty and intrigue. Heading home early, I left
Right Snow drifts off the mountain face on the that I was going to gun it for the ridge,” Mike re- these pioneers planning their next and final sum-
ascent to Peak Howard-Bury members. “But, after Matt expressed his concern, mit, happy in life, residents at the world’s end.

November 2010 The Spektator

16 Focus


Western perceptions of Soviet mental MAGINE YOURSELF expatriated to Bishkek In contrast, the closed wards for women appear
health institutions arrived through the after the violence you have witnessed in your better off; real mattresses on beds, a piano where
filter of terrifying accounts provided native city of Osh or Jalalabad. It is not surpris- manic women play hyperactive tunes and evidence
by literary dissidents and Gorbachev- ing that you are anxious. This anxiety may in- of art therapy: sculptures made of beads, sewing
era rights activists. Alice Janvrin, who crease as time goes on; you relive your experi- and knitting. Patients in these wards are allowed
visited several psychiatric hospitals in ences over and over again and avoid any situation outside to walk around a fenced off area in the
Kyrgyzstan, found that conditions are which may remind you of your trauma. You have hospital’s grounds, but are otherwise kept indoors
slowly improving, but that much work got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which eventu- where family members are allowed to visit twice
still remains to be done. ally prevents you from leading a normal life, going a day. The stigma attached to having a mentally ill
to work, providing for your family, paying rent, and relative is a hard burden to bear and it is reported
even undertaking the most basic activities such as that families often refuse to pick up the patients
washing or any sort of social interaction. Eventually once their treatment in the hospital is over. If this
your neighbours find out about your condition but is the case, patients can be sent to institutions, or
instead of sympathising, they discuss you behind “neurological asylums”.
your back and criticise and avoid your family. These asylums are situated behind high walls,
The plight of mental health in Kyrgyzstan is not secluded from the outside world. The reason for
an easy one to bear. Once you develop a mental dis- this isolation dates back to Soviet times, when, in re-
order, the options are limited. The first point of call sponse to an international outcry against the Soviet
might be the Neuropsychiatric Dispensary, situated Union’s many political prisoners, the regime certi-
in the heart of Bishkek. Once you walk through the fied many such prisoners “insane” and transferred
large doors up the stairs, a commission made up them from the gulag to mental asylums.
of different doctors decides your fate. If you need Many investigations, notably over the course
rest and medical attention, you will be allowed to of research for the report on ‘The Budget of Men-
attend the day clinic on a first floor ward. tal Healthcare’ by Bishkek-based non-profit Men-
The rooms there are bright and clean, the lino- tal Health and Society, have exposed the far from
leum on the floor has been refurbished recently, and pretty conditions in such institutions. Living in of-
there are plants and quiet rooms for you to sleep ten decrepit conditions, patients barely get access
in and doctors and nurses to attend to your needs. to medical help, despite the fact that they are the
However, if your case is more severe, you might be most susceptible to physical diseases and death
sent to a closed ward to spend an average of forty- via tuberculosis, epilepsy or worsening “diarrhoea“.
Above The linoleum floor of a newly renovat- five days. These wards consist of large rooms on the Institutions are frequently understaffed, doctors
ed ward gleams for the cameras (all photos ground floor, with bars at the windows and a lonely are often elderly, and nurses work 24 hour shifts
Alice Janvrin) line of beds as the sole furnishings. The conditions and oversee too many patients for it to be humanly
for men seem worse than those for women; no mat- possible to do an adequate job; furthermore, they
Above Right Patients at one of Kyrgyzstan’s tresses on the bed, a thin eiderdown, a television are untrained in psychiatric medicine, and, having
largest psychiatric facilities enjoy an amble in which blares neglected and dozens of men, young been exposed only to out-dated modes of practise,
the sun and old, suffering from schizophrenia, dementia they provide care that ignores the legal, social and
and various types of depressions skulking around medical rights of their patients. Reports of patient-
For donations, please contact Mental Health and So- looking bedraggled and gloomy, shorn of activity beating are not rare occurrences. Social workers
ciety at and purpose. educated in the Humanities University of Bishkek

November 2010 The Spektator

Focus 17

are proficient in theoretical knowledge, but have no leader of Mental Health and Society, resulted in the and do not provide a solution for the majority of
practical experience. When we visited, conditions in creation of the Ombudsmen of the Kyrgyz Republic disabled children who end up in institutions where
Iskra Institution proved a positive surprise; yet the in October 2009. This organisation was installed all their physical disabilities often become psychiatric
general absence of patients and the fact that we over the country to oversee the protection of hu- as a result of neglect.
were only shown the recently renovated wards man rights and provide advocacy and legal repre- Mental Health and Society set up the first
begs the question: What are the other wards like? sentation for clients in the education, penal, legal outpatient mental health clinic in Kyrgyzstan. It
Corruption in this sector is rife since the posi- and medical sectors. welcomes around forty clients suffering mainly
tion of director in psychiatric hospitals is generally The Ombudsmen has a clear presence in the from schizophrenia but also various types of de-
sought for its monetary rewards and accompany- Neuropsychiatric Dispensary of Bishkek: members pression and other mental health disorders. Pro-
ing political influence. Horror stories appear alarm- of staff visit each ward every week, and know in- viding a warm and welcoming environment, this
ingly regularly, such as one concerning a former dividual patients personally. There are letter boxes centre is a source of support and therapy without
director who embezzled the food money and fed fixed to the wall of wards where patients can post stigmatisation. It offers different types of reha-
his patients cattle feed. When exposed through a anonymous requests or criticisms of the care they bilitation activities, from individual therapy to
press conference set up by human rights activists, receive – it was reported that recently the posts family therapy, group art therapy and education
he accused the activists of stealing the food in order sessions.
to incriminate him. ‘Horror stories appear alarm- Many success stories come out of this centre,
The government gave the Askri Institution, for instance one lady, who once suffered from
situated near Tok-Mok, five million Kyrgyz soms ingly regularly, such as one con- severe bipolar disorder, attended the centre for
for refurbishment in 2006 – to this day, there is no two years. Today, she speaks good English, writes
cerning a former director who
evidence of any improvement. Reports of patients poetry, draws and has held down a job for the last
used as slaves in both hospitals and institutions embezzled the food money and six months. She defies social stigma by proving
are not irregular, for example one hospital set up that, despite a mental disorder, she can function
a ‘Labor Therapy Workshop‘, using funds from the
fed his patients cattle feed’ successfully in the working world of Bishkek. Ti-
food budget in order to make bread. This bread was legen, now an assistant at the centre, is another
then sold, the profit from which disappeared down were mostly thank you letters. This organisation positive result for this programme. Once suffering
the black hole of healthcare corruption. Whenever also successfully fired a doctor who hit a patient in from schizophrenia, he now provides essential
capital is invested, institution officials tend to put Iskra Institution, near Tok-Mok, and another patient help to clients by manning the office and finding
it towards repair work (often using patients as free there reported that “beatings were less frequent” jobs for patients who are well enough to work.
labour) rather than medicine. Families are often re- since new management came into place in Febru- Reform in the Kyrgyz mental health system
quired to provide giant bribes to secure adequate ary. By law, directors of all institutions and hospitals must start at governmental level – yet jumping
conditions for their relatives. are obliged to work with this human rights organi- through the corruption hoops is no easy busi-
However, as bleak as the picture appears, it is sation. ness. It remains uncertain whether or not recent
improving. Human rights activists and NGOs are ap- Other NGOs, local and international, are political changes in the country will provide a
pealing to the government to improve the system. present throughout the country to help people government more responsive than those which
Article 38 of the 1999 Psychiatric Care Law, requires affected by mental health. For instance, homes for preceded it. Nevertheless, following a catalogue
the government to provide a service overseeing the disabled children such as the German Nadezhda of politically turbulent events that climaxed with
protection of human rights in the healthcare sector. (Hope) centre, are an alternative to children’s in- the June events in southern Kyrgyzstan, psycho-
Although such a specific service was never set up, stitutions and provide a family atmosphere where logical health and mental healthcare in the coun-
ten years of harsh battle by human rights activists, children are cared for and may have access to edu- try should be high on the new administration’s
amongst whom the bulldozing Burul Makenbaeva, cation. However, such homes are often expensive list of priorities. November 2010 The Spektator

18 Focus


Fulbright scholar Dennis Keen came HE DRIVE to Issyk Kul is supposed to be point systems, held in the open for all to see. A
to Kyrgyzstan in search of eagles. Find- scenic, but the cliffs, rivers and moun- few years ago Almaz organized his first hunting
ing that the nation’s age-old tradition of tain passes had all been blotted out by a festival, and started a new hunting tradition that
hunting with birds of prey was well on whirring white void. My translator Abay would draw dozens of interested people from
the mend, the main catalyst and obsta- told me “S pervym snegom!”, the Russian all over Kyrgyzstan, and even an American boy
cle in his research revealed itself as be- congratulation on the first snow of the year. We from across the sea.
ing one and the same; the High Priest of were headed to the sleepy side of the lake - the With the sun long gone and the chill of the
Falconry in Kyrgyzstan, an uncompro- southern side - where a little town called Bokon- night setting in, we arrived at our home for the
mising sage named Sary. baevo had emerged as the centre of Kyrgyz fal- night. It was a house of adobe that had appeared
conry. There would be a hunting festival in the unannounced out of the darkness, and I had lost
hills above the town that weekend and a small all sense of where we were. The mystery of the
hunting museum hid in its dusty streets. All of place was deepened by its legendary caretaker,
this was the result of one man, a man with a the master to Almaz’s apprentice. His name was
plan; a man named Almaz Akunov. Sary, and he was 81 years old. He first learned to
Almaz met us in the centre of town and hunt under Stalin in 1943. He was the high priest
drove us to a homestay that he had arranged. of Kyrgyz eagle hunting, a living encyclopedia of
When I met him the previous weekend he had the traditional knowledge that had been hand-
been cold and dismissive, unsure of my inten- ed down through his family for generations.
tions and disappointed that the “Request for Now he was living in the mountains with his
Financial Aid” he had sent me last fall had been grandson, himself a master hunter. They invited
met with months of no reply. Now that we were us in. We would be their honoured guests.
in his hometown, and it was clear we were there His family was gathered around a low table,
for research, he brightened up considerably. anxious to meet this strange man from a distant
Driving his jeep over potholes and into river- land. A Russian movie was playing on the television,
beds, Almaz took us up into the mountains and and in the corner a falcon was perched over a can-
told us of his vision. Ten years ago, he said, fal- vas, covered in shit. It eyed me nervously and flew
conry in Kyrgyzstan had been in a sorry state. towards the door, flailing against the leash that tied
Though the tradition of hunting with eagles it to the ground. With the nonchalance borne from
Top Falcons are the most common hunting had been a part of Kyrgyz culture for centuries, sixty eight years of taming raptors, Sary waited for
birds. Eagles are harder to come by and harder it had dwindled to a solitary pursuit enjoyed the bird to calm down and gently stroked its head.
to tame (all photos Dennis Keen) by only a handful of hunters. What if we could It closed its eyes slowly, comically relaxed. His fam-
take this lonely hobby of a man, his bird and the ily set the table with bread and jam, and the family
Right Nothing beats watching the eagles on a mountains, and make it into a public spectacle? matron, his grandson’s wife, pushed a bowl my way.
Saturday afternoon There could be competitions with judges and “Chai eech,” she said – drink tea.

November 2010 The Spektator

Focus 19

After the customary bread and apples, Sary mouse must have crawled to temporary safety for me. The shepherd shook his head, amused.
asked us if we had any questions for him. I took under the house. Behind us rumbled a tractor, and as we stepped
out my recorder and he opened up his mind. It After a little breakfast (bread and tea again), out of the way, Abay looked at me and shouted
was astounding. He told us about the dangers Sary had to head to a celebration, or toi, in an- “Country taxi!” Before I really understood what
of catching eagles from cliffs, how to tell a good other town on the lake. A relative was getting that meant, he hopped on the back and dragged
falcon by the blue on its beak, how to catch circumcised, and as the eldest member of the me in after him. We hitched a ride all the way
pigeons in the night and set them in traps for family his presence was requisite. Without our back to Sary’s. Three boys were crammed behind
raptors. He showed us an instrument he had subject to interrogate, Abay and I went for a the wheel, and they looked at us from the rear
made himself for grabbing the snagged bird. walk down the road. Shepherds waved us on our window, laughing.
He had learned to make it from his grandfather, way to Issyk Kul’s teal swell, and then we were Back at Sary’s ranch, grandson Rustam tied
who was born in the 19th century. He unloaded up a donkey and retrieved a felt bag from a shed.
these insights as if in a reflex, the mere surface of He was headed up into the hills to check some
a vast, deep lake of information I would have the
‘Sary claimed his family had traps he had set, and asked if we’d like to join
fortune of skimming. kept the dragon’s ear in a chest for him. We stumbled up rocks to a ridge overlook-
Friday morning, I woke up to Abay gently ing the house, where a strangely serene-seem-
nudging my shoulder, grinning madly. “Dennis,
years, but gave it to another fam- ing pigeon had been tied up as bait. Around
look!” He held his sheets balled up in his fist, and ily to use as a good luck charm him they had perched four sticks from which
something was inside, scratching. I was semi- a homemade net, or tor had been strung. They
conscious. This might not be happening. Abay during a pregnancy. They are still hoped that a fly-by raptor would see the bird
flicked the lump of sheets at the end of his hand seeking its return’ and carelessly get snagged in the surrounding
and, sure enough, something inside rustled strings as it dove down to catch its dinner. It
about. “I woke up and felt something tickling my seemed an improbable hypothesis, but they had
shoulder, so I grabbed it. Look!” He opened up in no man’s land, a desert buffer before the lake. apparently already caught countless birds this
the sheets and out poked a little mouse head, Abay told me to taste the air. It felt familiar. Here way. On this occasion, they lacked for luck and
whiskers twitching. “Falcon food!” we were in the middle of Asia, and we had come the sacrificial bird remained unscathed. Look-
We bundled up and went out into the morn- across a saline sea. A tree stood starkly against ing across a gorge with his binoculars, Rustam
ing to show Sary our find. He smiled and untied the sky, and rain clouds drifted towards us from announced that the other traps he had set in
his bird. Kneeling on the ground, Abay kept the the other side of the lake. the surrounding hills were just as falconless. We
mouse in his handkerchief, and Sary unhooded On the way back, I sang softly to myself as headed back, defeated.
the falcon. Abay opened the cloth and the crit- Abay smoked a cigarette. A flock of sparrows As the sun was setting, a car careened into the
ter darted out. With a quick flap of its wings the swarmed a bush, and I made a film of it with my courtyard, and out came a group of very inebri-
falcon was on the chase. Both animals moved so camera. A man was watching his sheep in the ated men. Sary was among them, buoyed by drink
fast I wasn’t sure what had happened. I looked field adjacent, and called out to ask what I was and his role as an overseer of ceremonies. Once
in its talons and saw that they were empty. The doing. “Just filming the birds,” Abay answered in the main room of the house he plopped November 2010 The Spektator

20 Focus

down in the corner and stroked his beard glee- er on a Kyrgyz tradition in a language most Kyr- One of Sary’s great-grandsons, Shamil, ap-
fully. Sary’s son came in too, and decided to tell gyz couldn’t even understand. What if we could peared from nowhere with a dead pheasant and
us everything we already knew about falconry. instead publish a book of Sary’s knowledge in a rabbit in hand, a smirk of pride on his face to
He wasn’t a hunter himself, and Sary told him his own language? What if we could take every- match. It was breakfast time for his hawk. Tying
to shut up. Old men here are called ak sakals, thing he had learned from oral tradition, passed a rope to the pheasant’s legs, Shamil threw it on
or white beards, and their authority is absolute. down from his father and generations before, the ground and stood at a distance. Sary stood
Sary’s son stumbled out of the room. I figured and make it available to anybody who was in- across the yard with the hawk, and when he un-
our chances for collecting more material that terested? Sary liked the idea of his name in print, hooded it, his grandson pulled the rope and the
evening had vanished, but our hunter insisted his sagely reputation enshrined. He told us he lifeless carcass sprung across the yard. Seeing
he was up for it, so after eating more plov we feared he would die soon, and felt like he need- it’s bright colours move through the snow, the
headed to a quiet room in the other building to ed to leave something of himself behind. To- hawk pounced. Next it was the rabbit’s turn, and
ask our questions. gether we could write his story, and Abay could it’s head was soon on the snow, severed. Sary
Abay conducted the interview in Kyrgyz, help put it all together in Kyrgyz. I was thrilled picked up the rabbit’s foot and fed it to his bird
and I sat nodding encouragement at moments like a drumstick.
that seemed appropriate. Soon, though, it ‘The bird’s bones were crushed; Before heading off for the big event, we
seemed Sary was growing combative, and Abay went back into the hills with Rustam to check
rubbed his temples in frustration. I didn’t really
it’s head hung limp. The boy took the pigeon traps. There was no good news.
know what was going on, because the back- the bird in his hands and ran off, One pigeon had been mauled through the net
and-forth continued without translation. After a by a fox, and the other was simply gone. We
while, my assistant explained. Sary had worked crying. Onlookers recorded the did come across a half-dead rabbit snagged in
with other Westerners before, and he wasn’t tragedy with camera phones’ a metal trap, one of a handful that Rustam had
sure he could trust us. It seemed that they had set earlier in the week. He took a proud photo
come and picked his brain and left with their and shoved it in his canvas bag. As we walked
pickings, never to return. It bothered him that at the prospect of this new project. Then Sary from trap to trap, he would point out various
he was such a source of knowledge, but all the said he would be honoured if I would be his first tracks in the snow. That one’s a rabbit, that one’s
knowledge he dished out left the country in the Western apprentice, so he could pass the tradi- a fox, that’s from this morning, that’s from last
researcher’s notebook. The Kyrgyz people don’t tion on across nations. A delirious handshake night. He had memorized the exact location of
even know about this tradition, he said, and you spanned oceans and continents. Everything was the traps, even though they were hidden under
plan to take everything you learn from me and coming together. the snow.
bring it to California? I felt ashamed, scolded by The morning of the festival I woke up to a At the festival, Sary held court. The other
the white-beard. snowy surprise. The ground and the hills that hunters gathered around him, holding out their
I paused and spoke with Abay for a few mo- had stood barren and brown the day before now birds for appraisal. No matter how old or expe-
ments, and from that brief exchange came a shone brilliant white. Abay was worried that the rienced, they waited their turn to hear the mas-
series of revelations. I had told him I wanted to snow might cancel the eagle festival, but I was en- ter’s assessment. With barely a glance he could
write a book about Kyrgyz eagle hunting, but we joying the scenery so much that it hardly mattered discern the age, health, and type of the eagle.
decided it would be impractical to write a prim- to me. I wandered around the orchard, enrapt. He would point to spots on their tail feathers

November 2010 The Spektator

Focus 21

and tell them they were eating too much liver, dragon’s ear in a chest for years, but gave it to an- Above Flying an eagle - more fun than flying
or count the bumps on their claws to determine other family to use as a good luck charm during a a kite
their age. Abay and I followed him around with pregnancy. They are still seeking its return. I told
our recorder. Afterwards I bought him lagman Abay dragons didn’t exist. He just shrugged. Left Rating hawks and their owners is just
for lunch, and at intervals he would depart with Sary’s stories slowly dried up and the room fell one of a number of ceremonial functions that
his smoking buddy Abay, the young man and quiet. When the food came, I hardly felt like eating. Sary’s local renown bestows upon him
the sage, sharing a vice. It didn’t help that the beshbarkmak was nearly in-
In one rather informal event, Sary stood on
stage and took turns rating the hunters’ cos-
tumes, equipment, and bird management skills.
edible. Maybe my teeth aren’t sharp enough, but I
chewed the same piece of fat for five minutes be-
fore surreptitiously spitting it out and hiding it in
How to Catch an Eagle
In another event, the hunters scaled a hill over- the bowl of broth that was provided with my meal. Would you like your very own berkut? There are
looking the valley and threw their birds one- It was nearly all fat, and the meaty parts were dry several methods you can use to snag your un-
by-one into the air. Down below a horseman and flavourless. My face and hands were covered suspecting bird of prey.
galloped with a dead fox dragging behind. The in grease. I felt uncomfortable. There were subtle Cliff jumping: Not for the faint of heart.
eagles spied their prey instantly, flying at it with cues to pass things to elders and eat the meat a Find your nearest cliff-side aerie, and strap a
impressive force. If I had ever harboured any certain way, all of which I missed. Some of the oth- rope around your waist. Your friends lower you
doubt over the predatory powers of these birds, er guests looked at me with obvious displeasure. down to the nest, where you grab a young ea-
then they had already been dispelled graphi- Later, I offended even more. When we were glet and stuff it in a bag. Meanwhile, your bud-
cally by an incident earlier on in the day. One of getting ready to depart for Bishkek, I gave Sary a dies shoot off blanks to scare away the mama
the birds had been left without a leash and had gift which I had brought all the way from Califor- eagle whose baby you’re stealing so heartlessly.
sprung on Shamil’s falcon, perched nearby. The nia with a hunter in mind, a felt banner with the Pigeon baiting: Catch a pigeon. Tie it up.
bird’s bones were crushed; it’s head hung limp. University of California seal. I knew they liked wall Around it, prop up a net on some poles. Leave
The boy took the bird in his hands and ran off, hangings, and I thought they’d be impressed by it’s the pigeon some water, and come back twice
crying. Onlookers recorded the tragedy with academic eminence. Sary didn’t even smile. Walk- a day. Hopefully an eagle will fly by, see your
camera phones. ing to the car, Abay wasn’t happy either. “Dennis, prize, and get tangled in your trap. You’re more
After the festivities, we stopped in at Al- I have to be honest, he was very angry. You gave likely to catch a falcon, but hey, those are pretty
maz‘s house. We had been invited to a feast, but him a flag? He expected more.” Now I was angry cool too.
the eating didn’t come until later, much later. too. “Well what does he want from me? I already Chase it down: Apparently this works,
For hours we sat on the floor, all eyes on Sary. paid his family more than they make in a month! but nobody we know has ever tried it. Get on
I counted eighteen people in the room, all fac- I’m writing his fricking life story! Why does every- a horse, and find an eagle who has just had
ing the old man, the ak sakal, the white beard. thing here come down to what will the rich Ameri- lunch. It should be totally stuffed, fat and lazy.
He told a story about how his father fought can give me?” Chase it. According to those in the know, the
with Przhevalsky, a commander in the Russian We piled into the car. The optimism of the eagle will eventually get tired, lay on its back,
Imperial army. Przhevalsky gave him some sort previous night had evaporated. Me and the old and stick its talons out at you. Try not to freak
of sedative to calm his nerves and then he shot man were at loggerheads again, and our related out, and lash it with a piece of soft felt. Now you
a dragon. Sary claimed his family had kept the projects were hanging in the balance. have your very own eagle. Congratulations! November 2010 The Spektator


Bishkek life
Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui) International
With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way
and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you 12 Chimneys (TeplIkluchy village)

restaurants are getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own
personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select
Wooden cabin located by a rushing stream thirty min-
utes out of town. The overpriced food is more than
compensated for by the chilled atmosphere and wild
There’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and ‘restaurant’ in a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies to throw in.
surroundings. Hotel accommodation also available.
Bishkek. Places more suitable for drinking sessions Beware, the ‘spicy’ sauce, although delicious, may
leave delicate stomachs in some distress several Head south on Almatinskaya and keep going. $$$$
are marked with a star *
hours later - consider the ‘not-spicy’ sauce as a suit-
Price Guide (main course and a garnish) able alternative $$ Bacardi* (Togolok Moldo 17/1)
$ - Expect change from 150 som Elite lounge bar affair with separate rooms for din-
$$ - A little over 250 should do the trick Frunze ing, dancing and whiling the night away smoking
$$$ - Expect to pay in the region of 350 (Chui/Pravda) hukkah pipes. Urban grooves played at a reason-
$$$$ - A crisp 500 (or more) needed in this joint Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out able volume and a full menu that includes a range
this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch of tasty platters. $$$$
American and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in
terms of scope, but if you’re feeling bewildered, Barcode* (Toktogul/Sovietskaya, inside ‘Moto’)
Cowboy* (Toktogul/Orozbekova) just point to something tasty-looking on a neigh- A hip, clean interior, fast wi-fi and an affordable
Bishkek’s all-American restaurant-cum-dance bouring table like we did. $$ business lunch have made Barcode something of
club has now gone a little more up-market, but a hotspot since it opened in early 2010. The place
Peking Duck I & II comes to life at night when 3 DJs compete for your
wild nights are still to be had. Dig in to a kilo of
(Soviet/Druzhba & Chui/Tog. Mol.) affections with an array of banging tunes. $$
chicken wings and then hit the dance floor. $$$
Huge portions to feed even the biggest of glut-
tons and an English language menu that provides Blonder Pub* (Pravda/Kulatova)
plenty of amusing translations. $$ Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try
As you would probably guess, decorated with
out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent blues
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a Shaolin (Zhibek Zholu/Prospect Mir)
every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu- This tidy looking restaurant sticks out for its sheer
and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter
lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed range of oriental dishes and its large, round tables
we recommend ‘Irish Red’. $$$$
from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few that make it ideal for extended gatherings. $$
drinks before heading off to the clubs. $$ Buddha Bar (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva)
New York Pizza (177, Kievskaya)
Dungan Buddha bar offers a taste of the East inside a tastefully
constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and
Decorated with pictures of the Big Apple and Hui Min (Relocated to the Hotel Dostuk) for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make
serving a fine selection of steaks and other A former favourite, we have been told that Hui Min an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$$
American-themed dishes, NYP is sure to get New has now relocated to the Hotel Dostuk. Apparently
Yorkers thinking of home. For home delivery the menu has been revamped and the prices in- Captain Nemo’s (14, Togolok Moldo)
ring (0312) 909909. $$$ creased. The Spektator will be checking it out soon. Small nautically themed restaurant with a selection
We hope they still serve the special Dungan tea, as of evocatively named dishes including ‘Fish from the
Obama (Erkindik/Toktogul) ship’s boy’ and ‘Tongue from the boatswain’s wife’.
The owners claim that the inspiration for the title it’s rather good. Cosy wooden interior and porthole style windows
came from the first letters in each of their sur- create an underwater log cabin experience. Spirits,
names - pull the other one guys, the bloke is all Georgian cocktails and a good business lunch. $$$
over the walls. The pizza, like the presidency, has Mimino (27, Kievskaya)
Ceska* (115, Alamatinskaya)
certainly been over-hyped, but the chicken plat- Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of steam-
Cousin to Blonder Pub, this Bros Co. ‘theme bar’ is
ter and the cheese burgers are a treat. Big por- ing, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate seeds
a-plenty. We recommend the kjadjapuri, khinkali and worth checking out for its fantastic tiramisu cake
tions. $$$ alone. Every third beer is free but don’t get too ex-
anything that’s served in a pot. Watch out for Uncle Joe
at the door. $$$$ cited - they come in 0.4l glasses. $$$
Armenian German Coffee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova)
Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and
Landau (Manas/Gorky) cakes Bishkek has to offer at the imaginatively
Fancy something a little different? If you can tol- Steinbrau* (5, Gerzena)
named ‘Coffee House’, a cosy boutique café with a
erate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot Don your beer drinking trousers and head down
European flavour. Curl up and read a book, or just
for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They
drop in for a caffeine hit and a chocolate fix. $$$
goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme- brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid
nian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your Cosmo Bar* (Sovietska/Moskovskaya)
Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$$ pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut. Board the sweet smelling elevator, ascend to the
$$$ top-floor Cosmo Bar and splash the cash with your
fellow free-spending cosmonauts. Elegant interior,
Chinese Uighur plush sofas, fancy drinks and pretty waitresses.
Huzzah! $$$$
Ak-Bata (108, Ibraimova) Karavan (Almatinkskoya/Chui) Crostini (191, Abdrahmanova)
This place must serve up pretty authentic dishes Excellent little stolvya (canteen) full of the timeless Situated inside the Hyatt, this is a joint to be re-
as it’s always full of Chinese playing mah-jong and regional favourites. Being an Uighur restaurant its gero served for a business lunch or marriage proposal
waving their chopsticks about. Smoky and stuffy, lagman or lagman pa Uighurski particularly stand out. only. Chef Taner Erdemir serves up mouth-water-
but in a nice way. $ No smoking, sit, eat and leave. $ ing international cusine, but at a price. $$$$$

November 2010 The Spektator

Bars, Restaurants & Clubs 23
Dillinger* (Gorky/Tynystanova) Navigator (103, Moskovskaya) Cyclone (136, Chui)
Glamorous VIP complex including a restaurant, bar A pricy, but pleasant place to while away an after- Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient,
and casino. A decedantly decorated and perculiarly noon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge in the polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to al-
endearing homage to the notorious bank robber - airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive service leviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out
we’re sure he would appreciate it. $$$$ among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$
and a refreshing selection of salads, a good place
Fatboy’s* (Chui/Tynystanova) for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease are Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
Civilized, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town and getting you down. $$$$ Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serv-
a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot for con- ing excellent pizza. Also serves salads and European
versation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini-library to pe- Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panfilova) cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime din-
ruse (although literary classics are thin on the ground). The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con- ing. $$
Check out the American pancakes for breakfast, top ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base-
marks. $$$ ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection Japanese
of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova) an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés.
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El- A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro- Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking
mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$ suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals.
place to splash out on a special occasion or just for
the hell of it. $$$$ The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape to-
U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya) gether enough soms. $$$$
Foyer (27, Erkindik ) Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restaurant.
Watari (Shevchenko, Frunze)
Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening cock- Descend into this underground warren and tuck in. A small Japanese-owned restaurant that serves su-
tail or check your inbox with a cup of coffee. Free Also check out the fairy-light adorned flagship sister- shi as well as dishes with a more indian flavour. The
Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$$ rabbit-restaurant in Asenbai micro region. $$$
refined atmosphere makes it ideal for a business
meeting or just a sophisticated night out $$$
Griffon (Microregion 7) Vavilon (Microregion 7)
A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting Finely presented dishes, reasonably priced beer (60
central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the som) genuinely friendly and attentive service and live Korean
waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch of music from 8-ish on most evenings. Definitely worth
chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase. $$$ Petel (52, Zhykeeva Pudovkin)
the trek out to the suburbs ( tell your taxi driver to turn
Operating in the back room of a Korean family’s
left at the yuzhniy vorota and head towards Asenbai house, this is Korean style home-cooking at its most
Jam* (179, Toktogula)
An underground oasis of cool. Jam is a cafe with a for about 1.5km) $$$ personal. Closed on Sunday. Ring: 0543 922539 $$
full menu, kalians (shisha pipes) and a lounge bar Vis-a-Vis (26, Logvinenko)
atmosphere, open till 3am . $$$$ Look for the yellow awning between Kiev and Chui. Santa Maria (217, Chui)
This place is a new honey pot for ex pats. Steak is Plush Korean restaurant offering Eastern favourites,
Jumanji (Behind the circus) including exciting Korean barbecues where you get
always advisable when eating at an appendix to a
It’s strange. This place is decorated with fake jungle to cook your own dinner, plus an extensive Euro-
foliage and is based on a crap kids’ film yet still sort butcher’s, and the sirloin here is exceptional. Also, en-
pean menu. $$$
of works. You also get to roll a pair of Jumanji dice joy English breakfasts, chips that aren’t cold and local
before you order for the chance to win a special se- dark ale Chuiski on tap. Recommended! $$$
cret prize - we like this. $$$
Beirut (Shevchenko/Frunze)
Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda)
Indian Now in a new location, Beirut continues to serve en-
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at The Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt) ticing Lebanese goodies including falaffle, humus,
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian and tasty little meat pie things. $$$
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the food make this place a real treat. On midweek days
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$$ there are also several excellent business lunch deals
offering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for Moldovan
Lounge Bar* (338a, Frunze) 250-350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator fa-
One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer- vourite! $$$$ Moldova Restaurant (Kievskaya/Turusbekova)
time, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-cum- If it’s been a while since you last went out for a
terrace high above the street with slouch-couches Italian Moldovan, this wooden paneled, sturdy-tabled ea-
and fine views of the circus - which you can some- tery may be the answer to your prayers. Also, the
times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$ Adriatico (219, Chui) Moldovan Embassy is next door should you care
Reportedly suffering following the departure of to learn more about the world’s favourite budget-
Metro* (133, Chui) its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told wine exporting country. $$$
In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro that the soup is still excellent. $$$$
remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. A Regional/Central Asian
high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli- Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection Adriatico’s former Italian chef, Walter, has moved Arabica* (Mederova/Tynastanova)
of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch- homes and is now serving a practically identical range This formerly sophisticated laid back shisha pipe)
ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the of dishes at this spot just behind October cinema. bar has moved to a new location and, by the looks
hideously late kickoff times for Champions League Enjoy the best pizza in town, gnocci and other typi- of the bath in the toilets, may still be under devel-
football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting up cal Italian numbers, tasty business lunches from 200 opment. Three floors, VIP rooms, kaliyans aplenty.
unless it’s a big one. $$$ soms. $$$$ $$$

Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and November 2010 The Spektator

24 Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Arzu-II (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira) Apple (28, Manas)
Twenty-four hour joint that’s a godsend for those Recently opened, Zaporyzhia is a cossack fla- Fat, old, lecherous foreigners not welcome, this
who get cravings for lagman or manti at four in voured restauraunt in a varnish-scented log cab- place is for a younger cooler crowd. Multiple bars,
the morning. Sometimes smoking isn’t allowed, in. Hearty rustic dishes and a homely atmosphere. large dance floor, friendly atmosphere. Thursday
sometimes it is, however the food and prices are The medovukha is recommended! $$$ usually a big night. (Entrance charge 100-300 som)
constantly pretty good. Comfy booth style seats to
dig yourself into after a heavy night. $$ Turkish Arbat (9, Karl Marks)
Ajar (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula) Tel. 512094; 512087
Arzu-I (Togolok Moldo, next to the stadium) Smart ‘elite’ club popular with a slightly older
Offers a hearty selection of Kyrgyz and European Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact crowd. Strip bar and restaurant in same building.
dishes and a homely atmosphere. There’s also a ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is (Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450
great outdoor terrace and national favorouit Arpa limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’ and som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som)
on draught. $$ something cheap and tasty will arrive. $
City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina)
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Carlson (166, Sovietskaya) Tel. 511513; 510581
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range A good outdoor terrace and some hearty food, but So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like
of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an the Karaoke style crooners who provide evening cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the posh-
impressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football entertainment are an acquired taste. $$ est clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly
nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $ people beware) and spend your evening with gang-
Huzur (Kievskaya/Togoluk Moldo,)
Faiza (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira) Convivial proprietor Ali claims to have Steven Ger- ster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh business-
Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub rard’s 2005 Champion’s League winning Liverpool men and a posse of young rich kids who all seem to
in town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good shirt. If you don’t believe that, belive in free lipyosh- have studied in London. (Entrance charge: girls 200/
that they have often run out by supper-time. Save ka and good, affordable Turkish cuisine. $$ boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500
an appetite and go early. $$ Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo)
Konak (Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
Forel (Vorentsovka village) This Turkish joint used to be ‘Restaurant Camelot’ Tel. 620131
Twenty minutes outside of Bishkek, Forel is a fish- hence the incongruous suits of armour in the back A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists liter-
based ‘relaxation centre’ set amongst babbling room, and the rather crappy castle facade. However, ally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly staff,
streams and offering fine veiws of the mountains. Fish the food is often great, the salads are large and fresh, cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance charge
your own trout out of a pool and have it deep fat fried and the staff are always pleasant. Recommended! [girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/Sat. ‘For-
for your pleasure. Only salads, bread, tea and juice are (And now open 24 hours a day) $$ eigners’ free.)
sold on site but you are welcome to bring any booze
Retro Metro (24, Mira)
or garnish you desire, it’s also possible to rent a BBQ.
To get there take a taxi to Vorentsovka village and, if

Bright, happy, 80’s kitsch bar, the DJ spins his rec-
your taxi driver doesn’t know the exact location, ask a
ords from inside the front of a VW camper van. One
friendly villager. Trout is 800som/kilo $$$
of the most popular places for post-2am partying.
Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya) (Entrance charge: 200/300 som midweek, 350/450
Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut There are some Bishkek old-hands who say that som Fri/Sat. Reserve for 200 som)
rot) in the centre of town. While it should stand out things aren’t what they used to be when it comes to
for its fresh lagman, Jalalabad is sometimes over- nightlife in Bishkek. They talk of legendary nights of Live Music
looked. Probably at its best in summer, when the carnage, vomit, and debauchery - delights that con-
shashlyk masters flanking the entrance offer their temporary Bishkek struggles to offer. Promzona (16, Cholpon-Atinskaya)
creations straight to guests sitting at Eastern-style Not so, we say. Take your pick from the list below and
tables – cross your legs and see how long you can we’re sure there’s still enough carnage, vomit and Promzona’s far-flung location sadly means a taxi
last before cramp sets in. $ debauchery in town to keep everyone happy. ride or a long walk home are in order at the end
of a night. Nevertheless, this trendy live music
venue has a lot going for it: good bands, an exten-
Advertise with sive menu, and a hip industrial interior featuring,

the Spektator
Heaven (Frunze/Pravda - in the Hotel Dostuk) strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the
As Heaven is found inside a hotel it is surprisingly best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night.
unseedy. In fact it stands out for being a bastion of Rock or blues bands normally play at the week-
Rates from 2000 som per page. the well-dressed (if one is generous). Turn up in tatty ends. (Music charge 200-350 som)
jeans and a t-shirt and you may feel a little out of Tequila Blues (Turesbekova/Engels)
place; then again, you may not give a shit. Tables by A possible misnomer, the tequila is just fine but the dancefloor cost 1000 som but include drinks up the blues is non-existent. Russian studenty types
to this value. (Entrance charge 200-400 som) mosh away the nights to Rock bands in an at-
mospheric underground bunker. (Music charge
Russian/Ukrainian Fire & Ice (Tynystanova/Erkindik) 150 som)
A slightly grittier version of Golden Bull. Again, for-
Pirogoff-Vodkin (Kievskaya/Togolok Moldo) eigners can often get in for free. Popular throughout Sweet Sixties (Molodaya Gvardia/Kievskaya)
Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century the week. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free) Live cover bands most nights. Full menu, popular
atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your with a younger crowd. $$
tea in a giant samovar. $$$ Gvozd (Western side of the Philharmonia)
Foreigners for free, urban grooves and acceptable Zeppelin (43, Chui)
Khutoryanka (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge)
prices at the bar. ‘Gvozd’ means ‘nail’ in Russian, but Zeppelin is in the same vein as the old Tequila
Unassuming, to put it mildly, on the outside, this
you’ve probably got a better chance at the Golden Blues but not quite so spit and sawdust. On the
place is a revelation on the inside. Delicious food,
Bull. Its almost like the crowd from Pharaoh have mi- nights we’ve visited, there’s been a line up of young
reasonable service, Ukrainian brass band music
grated. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free) rock or punk bands strutting their stuff, heavier
on the cd player. We love it! $$$
beats seem to go down best with the young Rus-
Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya) Platinum (East side of the Philharmonia) sian crowd. Full restaurant menu.
Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in (Entrance charge 100-150 som)
Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the Take a seat at the snazzy 360 degree bar and do bat-
potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups tle with some of Kyrgyzstan’s most convivial ‘elite’ for Live music also common at Stary Edgar’s, Beatles
and fresh salads. $$$ gold-digging temptresses. (Entrance charge 400- Bar, Foyer and Blonder Pub (see ‘restaurants’)

November 2010 The Spektator

Map 25
vardia a Gvardia
Mol o d aya G Moloday

Jo lu

Lva Tolstogo

1 2 13
23 ve.
Manas a
Manas a4 5


Manas a



6 11

T. Abdymom
Isanova 8 Koenkozo
Isanova 7
12 Dvorets
9 10

unov stadium
Togolok M

Michael Frunze

k Jo

k o 14


Lva Tolstog

Orozbeko a


18 a
17 Erkind



19 21
l Frunze

a ova
Fatianov Tynystan

Tynystan 20 AYA



SOVETSK aeva 24
A. Usenb







va November 2010 The Spektator

26 What’s On
Pumpkin Mania TUK Dates for Nov-Dec Entertainment Directory
Until 30th November 20th and 21st November The Puppet Theatre
Cafe Tyubiteyka, 31 Turusbekova/Moscow Hike to Suysamyr valley paragliding base. Sovietskaya/Michurina
A fest for the pumpkin fanatic and a perfect Overnight cross country ski and snowshoe trip to Performances on Sundays at 11:00am.
way to see out the fall. Up to 20 separate dishes Suysamir-Too valley. Transport and organization
of this lesser-eaten autumn vegetable will be (including consultation and guide) per head is Russian Drama Theatre
available at an appealing little cafe up the road 650 som (550 som for TUK members. Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park)
from Metro. Tel.: 662032, 621571
20th November
Grand Candy Conspiracy White water rafting in Chui/Issyk Kul region
Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00
Tickets 30-100 som
21st November Day trip to Ala Archa gorge. Hike to the Ak Say Local and international plays in Russian.
Children’s game, Raritet, Pushkin 78 waterfall and visit the International Memorial to
We’re not really sure what this is but it sounds Kyrgyz Alpinists. Walk near Mt. Korona. Different
The Conservatory
like a cracking idea in a city that is short of levels of complexity from absolute beginners to
Jantosheva, 115
them. Turn up at Raritet book shop near the Ala- the medium intensity. Distance: 12 km. Transport
Tel: 479542
Too square at 11.00am to find out. and organization per head is 220 som (200 som
Concerts by students and professors.
for TUK members).
November Dates
27th November Kyrgyz State Philharmonic
Until 31st November
Trekking in Takir Tor gorge (snowshoe trip) Chui Prospect, 253
Art Exhibition, Semen Chuikov Museum
Display of Vladimir Butorin’s paintings in the Se- One day trip to the Takir Tor gorge. Hiking to Tel: 212262, 212235
men Chuikov house/museum. The exhibition is in the marine lake. Non categorical trip – different Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer
honour of the 108th anniversary of Semen Chuik- levels of complexity from absolute beginners to Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for
ov’s birth. The late Chuikov was a popular painter medium intensity. Distance: 18 km. Transport and special performances)
in Kyrgyzstan during the Soviet period. organization is 210 som (180 som for TUK mem- There are two concert halls featuring classical,
bers). traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety
26-27th November of shows.
Zepellin is on fire! Zeppelin Club, 43, Chui 28th November
Several (relatively) high profile bands will hit the Hiking around Issyk Ata gorge Opera Ballet Theatre
stage at Zeppelin club. Emil Munbaev and Danil One day trip to Issyk-Ata gorge. Trek along the Sovietskaya/Abdymununova
Surov of Metric Trap fame will be playing, as will left bank of Issyk Ata river to Botvеу mt (4008 m.). Tel: 66 15 48
a band named in honour of director and sexual Open air picnic. Return back along the right bank Hours: 17:00-19:00
deviant Roman Polanski. Call 0312 365 849 for of the river via a local waterfall. Different levels of Tickets: 150-600 som
details. complexity from absolute beginners to medium Tickets for performances sell out very quickly and
intensity. Distance: 14 km. Transport and organi- it is necessary to book a seat in advance.
27th-28th November zation is 210 som per head (180 som for TUK
Swimming gala, Dolphin swimming pool members).
Athletes from both Bishkek and Kara-Balta will be
competing in this high stakes splash down. 150 5th December Live updates
will compete in total. Trekking around Sokuluk gorge
For more listings visit To find out where One day trip to the Sokuluk gorge. Hike to lo- For all the Bishkek opera, ballet and concert listings,
places are visit cal waterfall and picnic in the open air. See Peak check our frequently updated What’s On listings at:
Shpil. Return to Bishkek. Different levels of com-
Into December plexity – from absolute beginners to medium
11th December End of the Year Awards
Secrets of Christmas 11th December
Classical Concert Ski Season begins at base Too-Ashuy For our December issue the Spektator plans to run a short,
Philharmonia 6.30 pm 750 soms (transport, instructor) not including two page piece highlighting the man/woman of the year
American Roger Macmerrin arrives in town equipment hire. Visit our office to book. in Kyrgyz political life and also the villain of the year. We
with a choir from Kiev for what promises to be encourage you to participate in this exercise by sending
the cultural highlight of the festive season. An Groups meet the Thursday before the weekend of your votes to If you want to
excellent production guaranteed to get you in departure. Call (0312) 906 115 or email us at trek@ expand the theme, send us your bar/restaurant/anything Website: of the year accompanied by a review (approx 800 words)
the yuletide mood.

Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek, Chui av. 4A, Office A4
Tel.: +996 (312) 90 61 15, 90 61 39

Map: Location guide 7. Beta Stores Supermarket 14. New York Pizza 21. Stary Edgars
1. Tequila Blues 8. Derevyashka 15. Cowboy 22. TSUM Department Store
2. Metro Bar (American Pub) 9. Cyclone 16. National Museum 23. Jam
3. Watari 10. Coffee House (II) 17. Navigator 24. Mimino
4. Zaporyzhian Nights 11. Adriatico 18. Sky Bar 25. Arabica
5. Coffe House (I) 12. Santa Maria 19. Foyer 26. Konak
6. 2x2 Bar 13. Faiza 20. Fatboy’s 27. VEFA shopping Centre

November 2010 The Spektator