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S p e k tator №13 November 2010 Your monthly guide to what’s happening in



November 2010

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

Eagle Eyes Plus: Journeys in the Forbidden Range The State of Kyrgyz Asylums and much
Journeys in the
Forbidden Range
The State of
Kyrgyz Asylums
and much more!

Tourist Map


What’s On


Restaurant Guide


The Spektator Magazine

Founder: Tom Wellings

Managing Editor: Chris Rickleton (

Staff writers: Dennis Keen (den-, Robert Marks (robertmarks@thespektator., Natalya Wells, Evan Harris, Patrick Barrow, Pavel Kropotkin Anthony Butts (anthonybutts@,

Guest Contributor: Alice Janvrin

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Want to contribute as a freelance writer? Please contact: This Month News and Views 4 The

This Month

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.

Sticking to your Own


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

Out & About

Residents at the World’s End


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 fundamentalists.

preserved for the sport’s most ambitious fundamentalists. Focus White Walled Worlds Alice Janvrin visits


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


Eagle Eyes

Falconry in Kyrgyzstan has been given a 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.



revival of one of the country’s timeless traditions. 14 16 The Guide Restaurants, Bars, Clubs All

The Guide

Restaurants, Bars, Clubs

All the best bars and clubs in town.

City Map

Don’t get lost.

What’s On

The pick of the entertainment listings.




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

22 2 5 26 ON THE COVER: ‘Feeding Time’ (Dennis Keen) The Spektator Magazine is available

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.

CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society. S p e k tator The
CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society. S p e k tator The


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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 ID documents during the landmark first session in Bishkek. Saparbaev, however, argues that his politi- cal credentials outweigh the rest. He is already

a six-year member of Ata-Meken, the party led

by Omurbek Tekebaev that is seen as the critical

force behind Kyrgyzstan’s shift to a parliamen- tary democracy. In that time, he spent three years heading the party’s youth wing, spearheading efforts to make Ata-Meken the first political party in

Central Asia to join the Socialist International,

a worldwide grouping of social-democratic, so-

cialist, and labor parties. “Sometimes they listen to me,” he says of his party elders, smiling.

Taking On Bakiev

During that time, Saparbaev was also active in youth movements that successfully fought an attempt by Felix Kulov, then the country’s new prime minister, to add Kyrgyzstan to the list of countries seeking debt relief from the Interna- tional Monetary Fund and World Bank. Such a move, Saparbaev believed, had been devastating for other impoverished countries and would have spelled certain doom for Kyr- gyzstan, which was just emerging from the 2005 Tulip Revolution and the rise of President Kur- manbek Bakiev and his allies like Kulov. “We had a new government that, in trying to get into this program, was trying to rid it- self of its responsibilities,” he said. “I mean, why wouldn’t you try to fix it yourself first? And then,

why wouldn’t you try to fix it yourself first? And then, if it’s impossible, maybe you

if it’s impossible, maybe you could do this. But not right at that moment, right after the revolu- tion. Kulov didn’t even try; he just tried to get rid of all his problems. This is how our social activi- ties started. This is how we started fighting the Bakiev regime.” His activism grew even more determined following his country’s 2007 parliamentary elections, when claims of massive vote rigging prompted Saparbaev and thousands of student activists to stage regular public protests under the slogan “I don’t believe.” Saparbaev was ultimately thrown in jail, albeit briefly, for his opposition activities - a chapter he calls “more fun than dangerous.” But the adventure cemented his opposition to the Bakiev regime and his fidelity to Ata-Meken, in- dependent Kyrgyzstan’s oldest major political party and the only group that he says puts ideol- ogy before clan loyalty.

Representing Kyrgyzstan

Saparbaev, who grew up the youngest of two sons in a small village outside Bishkek, had no automatic entree into the world of Kyrgyz poli- tics. At a time when his fellow high-school stu- dents were obsessing over “business and mon- ey,” he became a self-taught political thinker, devouring Machiavelli and Henry Kissinger at his local library, before moving to the capital to study political science. From there, he spent a formative year at Minnesota State University-Mankato, where he volunteered with the Democratic Party and found himself serving as an impromptu instruc-

tor on Kyrgyz issues when the Tulip Revolution suddenly catapulted his country into U.S. me- dia headlines. Now, he likes to think, there are

a lot of people in south-central Minnesota who

know more than the average American about Kyrgyzstan. Since returning home, Saparbaev says he’s had several opportunities to leave his country for good. But the young lawmaker, who is mar- ried with a 4-month-old daughter, says he’s de- termined to stay in Kyrgyzstan and fight for the nascent parliamentary system, created in the wake of the country’s latest political overhaul, the April revolt that ousted Bakiev. “It’s my ambition to create a real political system,” he says. “A system that doesn’t depend on only one leader.” Speaking just minutes after today’s first par- liament session, Saparbaev admitted to feeling slightly overwhelmed by what he called the “gi- gantic responsibility” of tackling the economic and political challenges ahead - including the very basic task of keeping Kyrgyzstan’s new par- liamentary democracy on track despite massive resistance from fellow parliamentary parties,

like Ata-Jurt and Ar-Namys, that favor a return to

a presidential system. “It’s a big moment. It’s not getting the man-

date I’m excited about. I’m excited by what’s go- ing to happen in there,” he said. “We have Ata-Ju- rt ex-Bakiev people. How are we going to work with them? The nature of parliament is to find

a compromise, and I’m just so interested to find

out how we’re going to compromise with these guys that we were fighting against. We’ll see.”

November 2010 The Spektator

This Month


Felix Kulov: A trip to Moscow doesn’t mean a meeting in the Kremlin


BISHKEK, November 12 (

Though he was no friend of the former regime, veteran politician Felix Kulov has also been critical of Kyrgyzstan’s interim government since it seized power in April. The chairman and face of the Ar- Namys (Dignity) party, Kulov ran for parliament on

a law and order platform and criticized the new

constitution approved in June, saying the country needs a strong, centralized leadership. When Kulov, 62, flew to Moscow shortly after the polls, the trip prompted widespread specula- tion the Kremlin had selected him as its favorite for prime minister, a position he held after 2005’s so-called Tulip Revolution and one that has been strengthened by the new constitution. Yet as parties close to the interim government discuss forming a ruling coalition, the charismatic Kulov – a former KGB officer, interior minister and Bishkek mayor – now looks set to lead the country’s opposition. Kulov spoke with EurasiaNet’s David Trilling and Natasha Yefimov in his Bishkek office on November 12. This interview has been edited for length.

EurasiaNet: Yesterday, President Roza Otunbayeva appointed the Social Democratic Party (SDPK), headed by Almazbek Atambayev, to form a majority coalition. Most likely, that will leave you in a minor- ity. Do you think she is right to appoint what was formerly her own party – a party that came in sec- ond in the October 10 polls – as the coalition leader?

Kulov: The proposal that she give first dibs in form- ing the government [to SDPK] came from me per- sonally – primarily to uphold the authority of our president. She’s in a tough situation, where she has to choose from among several factions, whom to appoint, and so for her not to experience difficulties, I proposed that she nominate her allies. However, we cannot say with 100 percent cer- tainty that Mr. Atambayev will be able to form the [ruling] coalition. Because creating a coalition is al- ways a complicated, painful process when positions and platforms have to be sorted out and aligned.

EurasiaNet: Could you say specifically what might be standing in his way?

Kulov: There are always personal reasons. When the question of who gets what position crops up, it’s not always possible to reach agreement. You know that

a minimum of three factions must make up the coa-

lition and each faction stakes its own claims, has its

own desires. It’s hard enough to do with two; with three it’s even harder. So will they manage to reach an agreement within the two-week time frame? It’s not 100 percent certain.

EurasiaNet: Last week, the Pentagon announced it will continue to use the same controversial compa- ny to supply fuel to US troops at the Manas Transit Center despite an ongoing Kyrgyz government in-

vestigation into possible improper business practic-

es concerning fuel operations there. How does this

bode for the future relationship between Bishkek and Washington? And what do you see as the ideal


Kulov: There’s been a lot of scandal surrounding

the fuel supplies. And I believe this has damaged the United States’ reputation in the eyes of the Kyr- gyz public. Everyone’s heard about the size of bribes for high-placed officials from the families of the two [former] presidents, but at the same time everyone sees that the US administration is trying to hush this whole thing up.


award? And if so, who should get it instead?

Kulov: We know that certain political forces have a vested interest in continuing the [fuel-supply] arrangements that existed before in order to have money that will then be used for political battles against their political opponents. Anyone deeply involved in these arrangements will defend them by any means necessary in order to avoid crimi- nal prosecution. This will be a hotbed of political instability. So I believe there should be maximum transparency and public hearings, which result in concrete conclusions about who should handle these supplies. But without official results of investi- gations into corruption under the two former presi- dents, it’s impossible to say that the [fuel-supply] arrangements will be clean. Since there have been no official investigation results yet, and since this [new contract] is being done without public hearings, I think the govern- ment will have to challenge it. At any rate, in parlia- ment, the issue will definitely be raised.





EurasiaNet: Many have suggested that Moscow would like to see the Manas base closed. Is Moscow worried about an American presence in the region and would it really want to close the Manas base, when it’s used for fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, a threat to Russia?

Kulov: I’ve met with representatives of various [Rus- sian] security-related bodies – in the past, as prime minister, and as head of the party – and I’ve never heard anyone say outright that the base should be closed. Moreover, Russia has allowed transit of car- go to our base. Personally, I believe the status of the base should be more transparent than it is today. Take, for example, the Russian base in Kant, which simultaneously fulfills the function of defending our airspace: Every plane that lands at that base and takes off from there is met and accompanied by our border guards and customs officers. What gets brought to or taken out from the American base we don’t know. Kyrgyzstan has no customs or bor- der officials there. So various rumors crop up, from al-Qaeda prisoners being brought there to drug smuggling – in short, all sorts of rumors that we can neither deny nor confirm. The Americans, naturally, don’t pay much attention to Kyrgyz press reports.

EurasiaNet: Kyrgyzstan voted for a parliamentary system in June’s referendum. You say you want to return to a presidential system. However, the past two presidents turned into greedy tyrants. Why do you think a third time could be any different?

Kulov: We support a presidential-parliamentary sys- tem of government. Our aim is not to give the presi- dent absolute power; our aim is that the president have rights equal to his duties, including responsi- bility for security in the country. Put it this way: To-

day, we have a weak president, a strong prime min- ister and government, and a strong parliament. We want there to be a strong president, strong prime minister and strong parliament. We don’t want to grant the president enormous powers. The only additional powers we want to give the president are determining domestic and foreign policy; that he be accountable for ensuring the country’s secu- rity; and also create an independent judiciary. And [he should] not interfere in the government’s work on the economy. The president’s powers would be enhanced just a bit, while the former presidents weren’t accountable for anything and at the same time had unlimited power. Of course, we don’t want authorities like that.

EurasiaNet: You campaigned on a law and order platform. Has the trial of the Alfa troops accused of unlawfully killing protesters during the April 7 upris- ing hurt the morale of the security forces? And has low morale affected their functioning during this year’s instability?

Kulov: To some extent, it has. […] The most fright- ening thing is that the people [of Kyrgyzstan] no longer fear anything or anyone, not the law, not an- ything. They believe mob rule now ranks supreme. That’s the most frightening thing – for the state, for democracy.

EurasiaNet: What role has Moscow played in the coalition building in Kyrgyzstan?

Kulov: Absolutely none. And Moscow can’t facili- tate this process in any way. It’s unrealistic. In terms of Moscow’s influence, I think its role in this gets greatly exaggerated. How can Moscow determine or make peace between people with rocky personal relationships? If someone’s been insulted by some- one else, is Moscow really going to say, “But you’ve got to form a coalition with him”? It’s unrealistic for Moscow to influence anything. We know each other better than any advice Moscow can give.

EurasiaNet: You said you went to Moscow for per- sonal reasons after the elections, but it’s no secret you have met with very highly placed officials in the past. Did you have a chance to meet with them again? If so, what did you discuss? How did you and two other party leaders -- Respublika’s Omurbek Babanov and top vote-getter Ata-Jurt’s Myktybek Abdyldayev -- end up on the same flight?

Kulov: I’ve really got nothing to hide. It was a per- sonal trip, to see my friend who was recovering from an operation. A trip to Moscow doesn’t necessarily mean a meeting in the Kremlin. […] Someone else was on that flight with me. I don’t remember who. Oh yes! It was Mr. Abdyldayev. He was going to visit his spouse’s relatives. They live in Moscow. His wife is Russian. And the reason we all flew at the same time is very simple: Up until then, we had all been busy. Once the election campaign ended, we got some free time. That’s it. Unfortunately, there’s no other way except through Moscow. I always raise this is- sue! We need direct flights to Europe. Talking about investment when investors from Europe can’t fly here is nonsensical. Now I’m going to Kiev through Almaty and I’ll be returning through Moscow. And then eve- ryone will ask,“What were you doing in Moscow?”

November 2010 The Spektator


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- able in the city.” With the help of her children, who do not at- tend school because as a migrant she does not have the necessary documents to register them in Bishkek, Isabekova says she can bring in more than 500 soms (USD 11) a day. She sells plastic bottles for 30 tiyin to middlemen who resell them for 50 tiyin (one US cent) to vendors who wash and fill them with homemade dairy products and condiments. Kemal, 43, and his wife Nurgul, 40, both of whom refused to provide a surname, have resided at the dump’s nearby novostroiki – new settlements – since migrating to Bishkek eight years ago. Kemal says his seven children live with their grandparents at home in Osh Province, where they go to school. “They don’t need to know how their parents earn a living,” he said. Nevertheless, the couple admitted there are advantages to working at the dump. As she sort- ed through a bag of “perfectly good” discarded clothes, Nurgul said she used to work at a sausage factory but quit because scavenging for recyclables 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 February, there’s no snow on the ground here.” This phenomenon concerns ecologists. Dmitri Vytoshkin, a program coordinator at BIOM, a lo- cal environmental non-profit, explained why the dump “smokes” even in deep winter. The fumes“are the result of a chemical reaction. The sun heats the mass of waste up, and the layers of plastic and glass prevent that heat from escap- ing. Without any oxygen, the waste beneath the surface neither burns [fully] nor decomposes, but smolders all year round,”he said. Vytoshkin estimat- ed that temperatures at the bottom of the rubbish mounds were between 60-70 degrees centigrade.

The problem is festering.

According to Gulnara Ibraeva, an expert from the Social Technologies Agency, a Bishkek-based NGO researching social and gender issues, the dump has expanded from 10 hectares to over 25 hectares over the last eight years, and is now encroaching on the city limits. “The site has grown out of control. As many as 500 people work there now. Munici-

of control. As many as 500 people work there now. Munici- Above A lorry brings fresh

Above A lorry brings fresh pickings to the municipal dump (David Trilling for

pal authorities arrive periodically with heavy-duty packing machines to try and consolidate the waste, but young men working at the dump chase them away. Even the police are afraid of them,” Ibraeva told Many trash sorters have organized themselves into militant brigades in order to defend territory and economic interests. Explaining why a pitchfork- wielding man chased two corre- spondents from the site, Kemal said; “People don’t want their relatives to know that they work here. It can be seen as a disgrace. Perhaps he thinks you want to show Kyrgyz people in a bad light.” Environmentalists are eager to find a solution, but realize they may have to choose between the lesser of two evils. In the last five years, Italian and Japanese investors have made separate offers to build a waste-incineration plant. The government announced at one point that both bids were suc- cessful, but so far there has been no more move- ment toward construction of such a plant. More

recently, a domestic initiative to solve the problem by the end of 2010 has been delayed by ongoing political uncertainty. Vytoshkin is one of many observers who feel the dump is an environmental time bomb. “Natu- rally, waste incineration factories [produce] their own negative environmental consequences; any plant would have to be in compliance with interna- tional standards,” he said. “But the alternative – no system of waste management at all – is worse. Here, livestock carcasses are dumped in the same place as household waste. No one knows what diseases these animals might have.” While efforts to take decisive action have lost political momentum, Nurgul and her husband re- main firmly opposed to any plans that might insti- tutionalize waste management in the city. “What we do here might be dirty, but it is honest,” she said. “Why does the government want to prevent me from making a living? I don’t interfere with them, why should they interfere with us?”

Mayor of Kyrgyz City Criticizes Home Reconstruction Plan

OSH, November 4 (RFE/RL)

The controversial mayor of the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, says homes damaged or destroyed in interethnic clashes in mid-June are being rebuilt without his consent, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reports. Myrzakmatov told journalists on November 4 that the majority of the Osh city homes dam- aged in June are situated in “complicated” areas from a seismological point of view. He said he and his associates have been raising that issue since construction of the new houses started, but “no one took those concerns into consideration.” Myrzakmatov added that some areas in- habited mainly by ethnic Uzbeks have been re- constructed in the same way they were before the riots during which they were burned down. “Nobody burnt each of the houses in the Uzbek districts, they were just built in such a way that if one of the houses is set on fire all the other houses [nearby] will catch fire easily, and

some of the new houses are being built in the same way,” he said. Myrzakmatov added that all Osh residents whose new homes are not ready by winter will be given shelter in local sanatoriums and hotels. Myrzakmatov is considered controversial due to his connections with ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who appointed him to his post, and his severe criticism of interim govern- ment officials in Bishkek. The interim government tried to remove him as mayor earlier this summer, but after pro- tests by locals, he remained in office. He took an extended vacation and was not seen at his office for several weeks after an August meeting with President Roza Otunbaeva in Bishkek. Osh was shaken by deadly clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in mid-June. More than 400 people died and hundreds were in- jured in the fighting in Osh and the neighboring Jalal-Abad region.

November 2010 The Spektator

Visa Services Weekend Excursions Hospitality Maps and Postcards Accommodation Transport Nomadic Life Tours Torugart Pass

Visa Services




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Transport Nomadic Life Tours Torugart Pass Crossing 28 T. Moldo St, Bishkek Phone: +996 312 622381
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Transport Nomadic Life Tours Torugart Pass Crossing 28 T. Moldo St, Bishkek Phone: +996 312 622381
28 T. Moldo St, Bishkek Phone: +996 312 622381
28 T. Moldo St, Bishkek
Phone: +996 312 622381

This Month






H AVING ATTENDED a series of protests held by the nationalist political party ‘Butun Kyrgyzstan’ (One Kyrgyzstan), I was alerted to the striking results of ‘sticking to your own’. Missing out on

entry into parliament by a whisker, Butun’s sup- porters were in restive mood, yet I found myself less concerned by this than by the evidently detri- mental effects of generations of inbreeding. Kyrgyzstan is a small country (population un- der 5,000,000), of which the titular nationality, the Kyrgyz, comprise roughly 70%. That 70%, in turn, is riven by internal divisions predicated on politics, regional kinship patterns and some of the most daunting, isolating mountain passes in the world. Naturally, as a nomadic people who gradually drifted South from the Yenisei in southern Siberia, the Kyrgyz have their own rich genetic heritage. Due to patterns of conquest and confluence, a DNA sample of the average Kyrgyz a hundred years ago may well have revealed notable reces- sive genes belonging to groups such as the Chu- vash and the Uighurs, as well as a dominant Mon- gol base attributable to names that time forgot; Naimans, Khitans and Keraits, amongst hundreds of other more or less distinct groups. Nevertheless, research in Albania has shown that in small countries subject to significant tribal and geographical divisions (Albania’s predomi- nant division is also North/South), the result of a transition from nomadic to sedentary patterns of existence ultimately results in one thing: Gene pool stagnation. This can manifest itself in physical character- istics; eyes of unusual colour (an almost luminous shade of green is typical amongst inbred people), misshapen ears, stunted growth, or behavioural defects and dangerously below average Intelli- gent Quotients (IQs). In the Soviet period, the institution of the kolkhoz (collective farm) actually helped cement certain endogamous trends, as did the enforced absence of pre-Soviet traditions such as bride- knapping. Despite the ideological emphasis on a ’union of peoples’, cross-cultural marriages were relatively rare in most parts of Soviet Central Asia,

were relatively rare in most parts of Soviet Central Asia, Above ”If your surname is ‘Butun’

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

a non-tendency that independence and nascent

nationalism have since strengthened. In the ancient and medieval world, of course, gene pool stagnation was much more of a prob-

lem than it is today. It affected not only poor villag- ers, whose lack of socioeconomic and actual mo- bility denied them the opportunity to breed with people beyond their own tightly-knit communi- ties, but monarchs, who actively chose inbreed- ing as a means of conserving their accumulated wealth rather than squandering it on ‘outsiders‘. Over time, these tightly concentric patterns of reproduction displayed negative consequences. Royal families, like those of their ordinary subjects, produced an alarming number of simpletons. This in turn had damning implications for social and material progress - an inbred nation produces little

in the way of inventors, philosophers and entre-

preneurs. The medieval period as a whole was one

of long, fruitless grind.

In those darker times, genetic overhaul was eventually ensured by war. War, with its twin atroc-

ities of rape and population displacement helped break up ’genetic communities’ and introduce ran- dom patterns into stagnant pools. Nowadays, that

function is provided in a more benign and civilized fashion by the ‘scattergun effect’ of the city. Writing in 1992 for his classic travelogue ‘The Lost Heart of Asia’, Colin Thubron noted: ‘A rural in- vasion of Kirghiz was infiltrating the suburbs and crowding the shops [of Bishkek]…some of them looked like pantomime peasants…But within a generation they could refine to a tenuous urban- ity, and these other Kirghiz too were all about, run- ning small businesses in the liberalised economy, ’

percolating the civil service Cities provide rural migrants not only with an opportunity to earn more money than they could do in their home villages, but also a more socially and genetically competitive environment that of- fers a chance of producing stronger offspring. In Kyrgyzstan, only Bishkek and possibly Osh con- tain populations large enough and cosmopolitan enough to produce a genuine scattergun effect. Certainly, for instance, families with one par- ent from southern Kyrgyzstan and another parent

from northern Kyrgyzstan are more likely to have

formed in Bishkek than anywhere else. In a city of

a million, cultural pressures on young men and

women to marry into a certain kinship group meet

a powerful counter in terms of the sheer range of

different potential reproductive partners in the vi- cinity. Towns such as Talas and Naryn, by contrast, are better understood as large villages whose lack of economic opportunity results in almost no inward migration and thus no disruption of intra-commu- nity breeding patterns. The startling outcome of

this could be seen on April 7th and 8th, when ‘the country visited the city’; the biological advantages of urban life, as well as the socioeconomic ones, cruelly displayed. As the ethnic group which controls the levers

of power in domestic society, there are few imme-

diate incentives for Kyrgyz to‘marry out‘. Moreover,

kinship groups or ‘clans’ are powerful associations which can make the distance between an unem- ployed peasant in the country and an influential

political figure in the city relatively small. Yet in the long term, ‘sticking to your own’, at least in the in the narrowest sense, has damaging consequences. Conversely, inter-ethnic unions often result in off- spring that are more than the sum of their parts. One need only look at the example of the United States of America, a ‘migrant hybrid’ with a near- absent ‘native’ population, to see that successful, prosperous societies are often those that are sexu- ally as well as politically more inclusive. Still, Kyrgyz folks are happy enough to ac- knowledge and mock their own reproductive nepotism. One local anecdote a Bishkek friend told me runs thus: The farmer father of a young man has told him that the time has come for him to get married. “What about Gulnara?” the father asks hopefully. “She is strong and able - she will milk well.” But the young man refuses the sugges- tion. “Or Aizat, perhaps? She is very pretty.” But the young man says he finds Aizat boring. “You know, papa,”he says, “there is a boy in the next village, his ”

him off abruptly, disgusted. “Son, how can you

even think of that? Sergei is Russian!”

But the young man’s father cuts

name is Sergei

Sergei is Russian!” But the young man’s father cuts name is Sergei November 2010 The Spektator

November 2010 The Spektator


Out & About

Residents at the World’s End
Residents at the World’s End


Climber and journalist Jamie Maddison set out to document the audacious attempt of

a mountaineering team to ‘christen’ one of

the peaks in the little-climbed Djangart re- gion of the Tien-Shan. The following is his account of how three of his companions braved a challenging ascent to the top of

a mountain now known as Peak Howard- Bury (4766m).

Above Base camp in the Djangart valley is stunningly beautiful, but frightfully boring after a time (both photos Jamie Maddison)

Right Climbers Mathew Traver (UK) Dan Clarke (US) and Mike Royer (US) returned from the end of the world victorious

A MYRIAD OF STONES slip away un- der foot. Up above, the track, broken and washed out, winds its way around more sets of switchbacks, fading out of sight behind yet another rise in the

still distant huddle. The wind is bitter, and tears mercilessly through a thin T-shirt, my sole layer of protection thrown on carelessly earlier in the day when the weather was perfect, and the distance to the valley’s pass a mere happy guess. Now the sun is setting, dragging the temperature down with it. The trail has turned out to be much longer and steeper than expected, and, at four thousand metres and completely unacclimatized, I struggle deeply for breath. Looking back down the sweep- ing moraine lined on either side by sheets of once dazzling white snow, now slowly turning grey in the dim evening light, the blurred image of my climbing partner, Dan, can just be made out lying on a rock several hundred meters away; he’s ob- viously in a similar state, completely and utterly exhausted. I had flown into Bishkek a week earlier to re- port upon a joint Anglo-American mountaineering expedition aiming to climb several new peaks in a remote area of the Tien Shan called the Djangart. The Djangart, part of the Kokshaal-Too (literally the ‘Forbidden Range’; an area of mountains that was a closed military zone until the late 1990s), forms part of the ridge line along Kyrgyzstan’s southern border with China. The area had received little previous at- tention, with less than three visits ever being made to the region by mountaineers. Although slightly lower in elevation than its popular neighbour, the Western Kokshaal-Too, the Djangart still boasts more than a dozen mountains over 5,000 metres, a significant height for any aspiring alpinist to tackle. At the time, all but one of these peaks remained un- climbed, something that the team hoped to rectify with their own visit to the region.

The journey out was harsh. Confined to a Rus- sian ex-military truck which, by the look of it had probably seen action in Afghanistan, we quickly became bored with the absolute lack of things to do. Watching the ever-changing scenery was our hobby, trying to avoid receiving a concussion every time the truck catapulted us airborne as it passed over a bump in the road. Time dragged on despairingly slowly. Upon reaching camp on the first night Matthew Traver and myself, repulsed by the further effort erecting a tent would exact, simply dragged our sleeping bags underneath the truck and spent the night there; stars peep- ing through the gaps in the engine overhead, ac- companied later by the gentle drip of fine early morning rain as we slept. The scenery altered from the deep blues of Lake Issyk Kul, to the luscious green alpine val- leys around Barskoon and later, the dried, dead steppe of the Kara-Say area. The roads deteriorat- ed the further east we went and Sasha, our driver, was constantly forced to divert in and around the glacial torrents, which poured off the sides of the encasing mountains. It was with much relief, and severely bruised bones that we approached the final checkpoint, military camp Ak-Shyyrak. This last outpost of humanity, situated firmly in the restricted zone between China and Kyrgyzstan’s high Tien-Shan border, was once a sizeable Soviet mining town. Now, since the closure of the mines, less than twenty families remain; keeping lone- some vigil over the few comings and goings that this area of the border receives. Permits in order, we were allowed to proceed, up the Kaichi valley and to the end of the first phase of our laborious journey. Tomorrow we would head up, over the pass and finally into the Djangart. Back on my feet, I stumble onward. After what seems like a never-ending passage of time, the top of the pass finally comes into view. It really is

November 2010 The Spektator

Out & About

Out & About 11 a depressing place; a barren wasteland, populat- ed by a scattering of

a depressing place; a barren wasteland, populat-

ed by a scattering of abandoned concrete pipes,

remnants of a long obsolete mining exploration. The wind picks up, whittling its way over this gap

in the mountains. Shivering violently, I dive into a

tube, jamming my rucksack into one end in a vain attempt to block out the frightening cold. Sitting,

huddled in a ball inside this little concrete coffin; I do nothing but wait for my climbing partner Dan. After an age, he finally appears, not, it has to be said, in the best of states, hyperventilating from too rapid a rise after too

little acclimatisation. Enough’s enough, and we beat a hasty retreat down the other side of the pass into this new valley, the Djangart, spread out before us,

beautifully bathed in the golden glow of a dying sun. The day lasts more than a hundred years, as the famous Kyrgyz author Chinghiz Aitmatov so eloquently put it. Nearly a week later and I’d come to well and truly know the meaning of that

phrase. Sitting alone in a sodden tent in the mid- dle of the rain swept unknown, devoid of all but

a single book. Time stretched out, lengthening to ridiculous and previously unfathomable propor-

tions. And yet, whilst I sat and railed against the slow passage of days, they were advancing in- credibly swiftly for climbers Mathew Traver (UK) Dan Clarke (US) and Mike Royer (US) who, high up in the valley above me, were preparing to make their first attempt at one of the surround- ing unclimbed peaks. A rocky pyramid of a moun- tain, they later found out (having lost their topo- graphical maps at the time) that this was Pt 4766,

a prominent peak sitting at one of the central

dividing points for the Djangartynbashi glacier.

The initial start, although technically easy, was nevertheless a frustrating chore due to deep snow and unhelpful weather conditions. Matt was to take the lead in this and made steady progress over the first two hundred metres, up gradually increasing snow slopes. As the ground behind them began to drop away, so the diffi- culties faced by the team began to increase. “By now, snow was tumbling off the higher slopes;

never enough to take you down but enough to keep you on your toes,” Mike was to tell me later. “Sloughing snow is actu-

ally a welcome sign, as it means it isn’t accumulat- ing to unload as a larger, potentially lethal ava- lanche later.” The onslaught of steeper sections forced

the group to take out their second rope to begin belayed climbing. On easy ground a team of mountaineers can often get away with ascending on a single line, tied on to each person. As the group climbs, pieces of protection are placed between them. In the event of a fall that protection stops the moun- taineers from sliding off the face of the mountain, and then the world itself. The technique is called simulclimbing, and is by far the fastest means of ascent, albeit less equipment-heavy and thus riskier than other techniques. If, however, the ascent becomes too severe, then a second rope must be used; one climber leading upward on both ropes whilst the other belays him from an anchored position. Lead climbing, as this second technique is known, is a safer, but much slower form of upward progression. It was at this point, grey-white slopes spreading gently away to the glacier far beneath them, and ex- panses of steeper, just off-vertical ice towering

“Sloughing snow is actually

a welcome sign, as it means it

isn’t accumulating to unload as

larger, potentially lethal ava- lanche later” Mike Royer


larger, potentially lethal ava- lanche later” Mike Royer a Doing the Djangart Firstly, trips such as
larger, potentially lethal ava- lanche later” Mike Royer a Doing the Djangart Firstly, trips such as




Firstly, trips such as this are not for the weekend adventurer. They can take hundreds of hours’ worth of preparation and organisa- tion, and can cost thousands of dollars in ex- penditure. If however, you are really dedicated to exploring areas such as the Djangart (and have the mountaineering proficiency to do so safely) then your first step should be to touch base with an organiser. Our expedition used the company ITMC Tien-Shan (http://www. and they were nothing short of fantastic; providing us with transport, communications equipment, accommodation in Bishkek and dollops of advice. Such compa- nies can help plan an expedition around your given ideas, time constraints and budget. Once the structure of the trip is arranged you can get down to the task of organising small details, such as procuring food and equipment. The bazaars are an excellent place to stock up on cheap provisions for the expedition, just remember to buy a modest amount of vodka and cigarettes to ease cross- ings though the border permit checkpoints. If in need of more specialized equipment, mountaineering shops such as Red Fox (So- vietskaya/Kulatova) usually have enough to meet the needs of most mountaineers. Lastly, if you want a bit of extra help around base camp, then you might wish to consider hiring someone . Taking on local interns from the Alpine Fund charity (http://www.alpine- is not only cheaper than the guides provided by the logistics companies, it is also a great way of helping out Kyrgyzstan’s under- privileged and orphaned youths.

November 2010 The Spektator


Out & About

12 Out & About Above Peak Howard-Bury, an eminent, yet previously unclimbed peak in the Djangart

Above Peak Howard-Bury, an eminent, yet previously unclimbed peak in the Djangart section of the Tien-Shan range (all photos Mike Royer)

Centre Matt Traver plots a lonely path in the couloir. Speed is synonymous with safety in the mountains, but too quick an ascent can lead to poor acclimatisation and exhaustion

Right Snow drifts off the mountain face on the ascent to Peak Howard-Bury

off the mountain face on the ascent to Peak Howard-Bury high above, that the group began

high above, that the group began to lead climb. “Dan led the first pitch, but didn’t get very far be- fore the green rope ran out,” Mike recounts. “We thought it seemed a bit odd, but maybe the scale of the face screwed with our perception of dis- tance, a common issue on exposed mountains. Often two half ropes aren’t exactly the same length as well, so with little concern I just ran off to the next belay.” But as Matt took his turn for the lead after, Dan realised something was quite wrong indeed: “I was re-stacking the ropes so Matt could have an easier belay, but all of a sud- den I got to the end of the green rope. There was masses of other rope, but none of the green; it must have been perhaps as much as twenty me- tres short.” In the mountains speed is tantamount to safety; the less time one spends on the face, the less likely avalanches, rock fall, falling ice or lethal storms are to hit you. The rope, which the group later deduced was probably cut by the lo- cal horseman seeking a thicker cord for lashing our equipment to their horses on the journey over the pass, was now roughly a third as short. This meant that in their current style of ascent they would only be able climb two thirds as far on each pitch, increasing time spent on the mountain to dangerous proportions. Mike then suggested the much riskier option of all three si- mulclimbing over the now difficult ground using only the one rope. Devoid of any other options they had no choice but to employ this risky style. On the trio progressed, a single slender thread now tracing between them as they tack- led the ever more challenging obstacles that lay in front. Then, as the sun was setting, the ridge line that marked the end of difficulties and the path to the summit, finally came into view. “Eager to finish, I placed my last screw and yelled down that I was going to gun it for the ridge,” Mike re- members. “But, after Matt expressed his concern,

Mike re- members. “But, after Matt expressed his concern, I relented and traversed to the other

I relented and traversed to the other side of the couloir (mountain gulley). I threw in a sketchy nut, pounded in a marginal piton (metal spike), and shoved my shoulder into a corner of the wall that arched over the couloir.” Mike then belayed Matt and Dan up to that frigid stance. That one last difficulty surmounted, nothing remained but the trio’s final rush for the summit, witnessed only by the masses of storm clouds that had begun to gather overhead. Mike was the first to reach the top: “Suddenly I was there; scrambling over the final few metres, I just threw my arms up and let up a shout.” Relieved and quite exhausted, he proceeded to belay Matt and Dan up to the summit. The storm crashed around the peak, but they had done it! The mountain, formally Pik 4766 (designated according to its elevation above sea level) became Peak Howard- Bury, named after an early British explorer who had visited the region in 1913. It was the second mountain in the entire area to be climbed - the first being Peak Letaveta (5280m) summited in 2008 by a Russian expedition - and the first peak to be summited by Western mountaineers in the region. At an alpine grade of Difficile +, the seven hundred metre line ranks as hard as many of the super classic routes of the European Alps. Back in the lonely rain-swept valley, I was to wait another full day before the battered three made their return to base camp. They collapsed into the main tent, exhausted, sunburnt and stink- ing to high heaven. Yet, their smiles blunted any concerns of mine over their physical well-being; they joked freely about the adventures just ex- perienced, content that all their efforts, planning and hard graft had finally come to fruition. Over the next two weeks the team was to climb a fur- ther two new mountains in this area of unknown beauty and intrigue. Heading home early, I left these pioneers planning their next and final sum-

mit, happy in life, residents at the world’s end.

and final sum- mit, happy in life, residents at the world’s end. November 2010 The Spektator

November 2010 The Spektator






Western perceptions of Soviet mental health institutions arrived through the filter of terrifying accounts provided by literary dissidents and Gorbachev- era rights activists. Alice Janvrin, who visited several psychiatric hospitals in Kyrgyzstan, found that conditions are slowly improving, but that much work still remains to be done.

Above The linoleum floor of a newly renovat- ed ward gleams for the cameras (all photos Alice Janvrin)

Above Right Patients at one of Kyrgyzstan’s largest psychiatric facilities enjoy an amble in the sun

For donations, please contact Mental Health and So- ciety at

contact Mental Health and So- ciety at ALICE JANVRIN I MAGINE YOURSELF expatriated to Bishkek


I MAGINE YOURSELF expatriated to Bishkek after the violence you have witnessed in your native city of Osh or Jalalabad. It is not surpris- ing that you are anxious. This anxiety may in- crease as time goes on; you relive your experi-

ences over and over again and avoid any situation which may remind you of your trauma. You have got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which eventu- ally prevents you from leading a normal life, going to work, providing for your family, paying rent, and even undertaking the most basic activities such as washing or any sort of social interaction. Eventually your neighbours find out about your condition but instead of sympathising, they discuss you behind your back and criticise and avoid your family. The plight of mental health in Kyrgyzstan is not an easy one to bear. Once you develop a mental dis- order, the options are limited. The first point of call might be the Neuropsychiatric Dispensary, situated in the heart of Bishkek. Once you walk through the large doors up the stairs, a commission made up of different doctors decides your fate. If you need rest and medical attention, you will be allowed to attend the day clinic on a first floor ward. The rooms there are bright and clean, the lino- leum on the floor has been refurbished recently, and there are plants and quiet rooms for you to sleep in and doctors and nurses to attend to your needs. However, if your case is more severe, you might be sent to a closed ward to spend an average of forty- five days. These wards consist of large rooms on the ground floor, with bars at the windows and a lonely line of beds as the sole furnishings. The conditions for men seem worse than those for women; no mat- tresses on the bed, a thin eiderdown, a television which blares neglected and dozens of men, young and old, suffering from schizophrenia, dementia and various types of depressions skulking around looking bedraggled and gloomy, shorn of activity

and purpose.

In contrast, the closed wards for women appear

better off; real mattresses on beds, a piano where manic women play hyperactive tunes and evidence of art therapy: sculptures made of beads, sewing and knitting. Patients in these wards are allowed outside to walk around a fenced off area in the hospital’s grounds, but are otherwise kept indoors where family members are allowed to visit twice

a day. The stigma attached to having a mentally ill

relative is a hard burden to bear and it is reported that families often refuse to pick up the patients

once their treatment in the hospital is over. If this

is the case, patients can be sent to institutions, or

“neurological asylums”. These asylums are situated behind high walls, secluded from the outside world. The reason for this isolation dates back to Soviet times, when, in re- sponse to an international outcry against the Soviet Union’s many political prisoners, the regime certi- fied many such prisoners “insane” and transferred them from the gulag to mental asylums. Many investigations, notably over the course of research for the report on ‘The Budget of Men- tal Healthcare’ by Bishkek-based non-profit Men- tal Health and Society, have exposed the far from pretty conditions in such institutions. Living in of- ten decrepit conditions, patients barely get access to medical help, despite the fact that they are the most susceptible to physical diseases and death via tuberculosis, epilepsy or worsening “diarrhoea“. Institutions are frequently understaffed, doctors are often elderly, and nurses work 24 hour shifts and oversee too many patients for it to be humanly possible to do an adequate job; furthermore, they are untrained in psychiatric medicine, and, having been exposed only to out-dated modes of practise, they provide care that ignores the legal, social and medical rights of their patients. Reports of patient- beating are not rare occurrences. Social workers

educated in the Humanities University of Bishkek

November 2010 The Spektator


Focus 17 are proficient in theoretical knowledge, but have no practical experience. When we visited, conditions

are proficient in theoretical knowledge, but have no practical experience. When we visited, conditions in Iskra Institution proved a positive surprise; yet the general absence of patients and the fact that we were only shown the recently renovated wards begs the question: What are the other wards like? Corruption in this sector is rife since the posi- tion of director in psychiatric hospitals is generally sought for its monetary rewards and accompany- ing political influence. Horror stories appear alarm- ingly regularly, such as one concerning a former director who embezzled the food money and fed his patients cattle feed. When exposed through a press conference set up by human rights activists, he accused the activists of stealing the food in order to incriminate him. The government gave the Askri Institution, situated near Tok-Mok, five million Kyrgyz soms for refurbishment in 2006 – to this day, there is no evidence of any improvement. Reports of patients used as slaves in both hospitals and institutions are not irregular, for example one hospital set up a ‘Labor Therapy Workshop‘, using funds from the food budget in order to make bread. This bread was then sold, the profit from which disappeared down the black hole of healthcare corruption. Whenever capital is invested, institution officials tend to put it towards repair work (often using patients as free labour) rather than medicine. Families are often re- quired to provide giant bribes to secure adequate conditions for their relatives. However, as bleak as the picture appears, it is improving. Human rights activists and NGOs are ap- pealing to the government to improve the system. Article 38 of the 1999 Psychiatric Care Law, requires the government to provide a service overseeing the protection of human rights in the healthcare sector. Although such a specific service was never set up, ten years of harsh battle by human rights activists, amongst whom the bulldozing Burul Makenbaeva,

leader of Mental Health and Society, resulted in the creation of the Ombudsmen of the Kyrgyz Republic in October 2009. This organisation was installed all over the country to oversee the protection of hu- man rights and provide advocacy and legal repre- sentation for clients in the education, penal, legal and medical sectors. The Ombudsmen has a clear presence in the Neuropsychiatric Dispensary of Bishkek: members of staff visit each ward every week, and know in- dividual patients personally. There are letter boxes fixed to the wall of wards where patients can post anonymous requests or criticisms of the care they receive – it was reported that recently the posts

‘Horror stories appear alarm- ingly regularly, such as one con- cerning a former director who embezzled the food money and fed his patients cattle feed’

were mostly thank you letters. This organisation also successfully fired a doctor who hit a patient in Iskra Institution, near Tok-Mok, and another patient there reported that “beatings were less frequent” since new management came into place in Febru- ary. By law, directors of all institutions and hospitals are obliged to work with this human rights organi- sation. Other NGOs, local and international, are present throughout the country to help people affected by mental health. For instance, homes for disabled children such as the German Nadezhda (Hope) centre, are an alternative to children’s in- stitutions and provide a family atmosphere where children are cared for and may have access to edu- cation. However, such homes are often expensive

and do not provide a solution for the majority of disabled children who end up in institutions where their physical disabilities often become psychiatric as a result of neglect. Mental Health and Society set up the first outpatient mental health clinic in Kyrgyzstan. It welcomes around forty clients suffering mainly from schizophrenia but also various types of de- pression and other mental health disorders. Pro- viding a warm and welcoming environment, this centre is a source of support and therapy without stigmatisation. It offers different types of reha- bilitation activities, from individual therapy to family therapy, group art therapy and education sessions. Many success stories come out of this centre, for instance one lady, who once suffered from severe bipolar disorder, attended the centre for two years. Today, she speaks good English, writes poetry, draws and has held down a job for the last six months. She defies social stigma by proving that, despite a mental disorder, she can function successfully in the working world of Bishkek. Ti- legen, now an assistant at the centre, is another positive result for this programme. Once suffering from schizophrenia, he now provides essential help to clients by manning the office and finding jobs for patients who are well enough to work. Reform in the Kyrgyz mental health system must start at governmental level – yet jumping through the corruption hoops is no easy busi- ness. It remains uncertain whether or not recent political changes in the country will provide a government more responsive than those which preceded it. Nevertheless, following a catalogue of politically turbulent events that climaxed with the June events in southern Kyrgyzstan, psycho- logical health and mental healthcare in the coun- try should be high on the new administration’s

list of priorities.

be high on the new administration’s list of priorities. w w w . t h e

November 2010 The Spektator





Fulbright scholar Dennis Keen came to Kyrgyzstan in search of eagles. Find- ing that the nation’s age-old tradition of hunting with birds of prey was well on the mend, the main catalyst and obsta- cle in his research revealed itself as be- ing one and the same; the High Priest of Falconry in Kyrgyzstan, an uncompro- mising sage named Sary.

Top Falcons are the most common hunting birds. Eagles are harder to come by and harder to tame (all photos Dennis Keen)

Right Nothing beats watching the eagles on a Saturday afternoon



T HE DRIVE to Issyk Kul is supposed to be scenic, but the cliffs, rivers and moun- tain passes had all been blotted out by a whirring white void. My translator Abay told me “S pervym snegom!”, the Russian

congratulation on the first snow of the year. We were headed to the sleepy side of the lake - the southern side - where a little town called Bokon- baevo had emerged as the centre of Kyrgyz fal- conry. There would be a hunting festival in the hills above the town that weekend and a small hunting museum hid in its dusty streets. All of this was the result of one man, a man with a plan; a man named Almaz Akunov. Almaz met us in the centre of town and drove us to a homestay that he had arranged. When I met him the previous weekend he had been cold and dismissive, unsure of my inten- tions and disappointed that the “Request for Financial Aid” he had sent me last fall had been met with months of no reply. Now that we were in his hometown, and it was clear we were there for research, he brightened up considerably. Driving his jeep over potholes and into river- beds, Almaz took us up into the mountains and told us of his vision. Ten years ago, he said, fal- conry in Kyrgyzstan had been in a sorry state. Though the tradition of hunting with eagles had been a part of Kyrgyz culture for centuries, it had dwindled to a solitary pursuit enjoyed by only a handful of hunters. What if we could take this lonely hobby of a man, his bird and the mountains, and make it into a public spectacle? There could be competitions with judges and

point systems, held in the open for all to see. A few years ago Almaz organized his first hunting festival, and started a new hunting tradition that would draw dozens of interested people from all over Kyrgyzstan, and even an American boy from across the sea. With the sun long gone and the chill of the night setting in, we arrived at our home for the night. It was a house of adobe that had appeared unannounced out of the darkness, and I had lost all sense of where we were. The mystery of the place was deepened by its legendary caretaker, the master to Almaz’s apprentice. His name was Sary, and he was 81 years old. He first learned to hunt under Stalin in 1943. He was the high priest of Kyrgyz eagle hunting, a living encyclopedia of the traditional knowledge that had been hand- ed down through his family for generations. Now he was living in the mountains with his grandson, himself a master hunter. They invited us in. We would be their honoured guests. His family was gathered around a low table, anxious to meet this strange man from a distant land. A Russian movie was playing on the television, and in the corner a falcon was perched over a can- vas, covered in shit. It eyed me nervously and flew towards the door, flailing against the leash that tied it to the ground. With the nonchalance borne from sixty eight years of taming raptors, Sary waited for the bird to calm down and gently stroked its head. It closed its eyes slowly, comically relaxed. His fam- ily set the table with bread and jam, and the family matron, his grandson’s wife, pushed a bowl my way. “Chai eech,”she said – drink tea.

November 2010 The Spektator


Focus 19 After the customary bread and apples, Sary asked us if we had any questions

After the customary bread and apples, Sary asked us if we had any questions for him. I took out my recorder and he opened up his mind. It was astounding. He told us about the dangers of catching eagles from cliffs, how to tell a good falcon by the blue on its beak, how to catch pigeons in the night and set them in traps for raptors. He showed us an instrument he had made himself for grabbing the snagged bird. He had learned to make it from his grandfather, who was born in the 19th century. He unloaded these insights as if in a reflex, the mere surface of a vast, deep lake of information I would have the fortune of skimming. Friday morning, I woke up to Abay gently nudging my shoulder, grinning madly. “Dennis, look!” He held his sheets balled up in his fist, and something was inside, scratching. I was semi- conscious. This might not be happening. Abay flicked the lump of sheets at the end of his hand and, sure enough, something inside rustled about. “I woke up and felt something tickling my shoulder, so I grabbed it. Look!” He opened up the sheets and out poked a little mouse head, whiskers twitching. “Falcon food!” We bundled up and went out into the morn- ing to show Sary our find. He smiled and untied his bird. Kneeling on the ground, Abay kept the mouse in his handkerchief, and Sary unhooded the falcon. Abay opened the cloth and the crit- ter darted out. With a quick flap of its wings the falcon was on the chase. Both animals moved so fast I wasn’t sure what had happened. I looked in its talons and saw that they were empty. The

mouse must have crawled to temporary safety under the house. After a little breakfast (bread and tea again), Sary had to head to a celebration, or toi, in an- other town on the lake. A relative was getting circumcised, and as the eldest member of the family his presence was requisite. Without our subject to interrogate, Abay and I went for a walk down the road. Shepherds waved us on our way to Issyk Kul’s teal swell, and then we were

‘Sary claimed his family had kept the dragon’s ear in a chest for years, but gave it to another fam- ily to use as a good luck charm during a pregnancy. They are still seeking its return’

in no man’s land, a desert buffer before the lake. Abay told me to taste the air. It felt familiar. Here we were in the middle of Asia, and we had come across a saline sea. A tree stood starkly against the sky, and rain clouds drifted towards us from the other side of the lake. On the way back, I sang softly to myself as Abay smoked a cigarette. A flock of sparrows swarmed a bush, and I made a film of it with my camera. A man was watching his sheep in the field adjacent, and called out to ask what I was doing. “Just filming the birds,” Abay answered

for me. The shepherd shook his head, amused. Behind us rumbled a tractor, and as we stepped out of the way, Abay looked at me and shouted “Country taxi!” Before I really understood what that meant, he hopped on the back and dragged me in after him. We hitched a ride all the way back to Sary’s. Three boys were crammed behind the wheel, and they looked at us from the rear window, laughing. Back at Sary’s ranch, grandson Rustam tied up a donkey and retrieved a felt bag from a shed. He was headed up into the hills to check some traps he had set, and asked if we’d like to join him. We stumbled up rocks to a ridge overlook- ing the house, where a strangely serene-seem- ing pigeon had been tied up as bait. Around him they had perched four sticks from which

a homemade net, or tor had been strung. They

hoped that a fly-by raptor would see the bird and carelessly get snagged in the surrounding strings as it dove down to catch its dinner. It seemed an improbable hypothesis, but they had apparently already caught countless birds this way. On this occasion, they lacked for luck and the sacrificial bird remained unscathed. Look- ing across a gorge with his binoculars, Rustam announced that the other traps he had set in the surrounding hills were just as falconless. We

headed back, defeated.

As the sun was setting, a car careened into the courtyard, and out came a group of very inebri- ated men. Sary was among them, buoyed by drink and his role as an overseer of ceremonies. Once

in the main room of the house he plopped

of ceremonies. Once in the main room of the house he plopped w w w .

November 2010 The Spektator



20 Focus down in the corner and stroked his beard glee- fully. Sary’s son came in

down in the corner and stroked his beard glee- fully. Sary’s son came in too, and decided to tell us everything we already knew about falconry. He wasn’t a hunter himself, and Sary told him to shut up. Old men here are called ak sakals, or white beards, and their authority is absolute. Sary’s son stumbled out of the room. I figured our chances for collecting more material that evening had vanished, but our hunter insisted he was up for it, so after eating more plov we headed to a quiet room in the other building to ask our questions. Abay conducted the interview in Kyrgyz, and I sat nodding encouragement at moments that seemed appropriate. Soon, though, it seemed Sary was growing combative, and Abay rubbed his temples in frustration. I didn’t really know what was going on, because the back- and-forth continued without translation. After a while, my assistant explained. Sary had worked with other Westerners before, and he wasn’t sure he could trust us. It seemed that they had come and picked his brain and left with their pickings, never to return. It bothered him that he was such a source of knowledge, but all the knowledge he dished out left the country in the researcher’s notebook. The Kyrgyz people don’t even know about this tradition, he said, and you plan to take everything you learn from me and bring it to California? I felt ashamed, scolded by the white-beard. I paused and spoke with Abay for a few mo- ments, and from that brief exchange came a series of revelations. I had told him I wanted to write a book about Kyrgyz eagle hunting, but we decided it would be impractical to write a prim-

er on a Kyrgyz tradition in a language most Kyr- gyz couldn’t even understand. What if we could instead publish a book of Sary’s knowledge in his own language? What if we could take every- thing he had learned from oral tradition, passed down from his father and generations before, and make it available to anybody who was in- terested? Sary liked the idea of his name in print, his sagely reputation enshrined. He told us he feared he would die soon, and felt like he need- ed to leave something of himself behind. To- gether we could write his story, and Abay could help put it all together in Kyrgyz. I was thrilled

‘The bird’s bones were crushed; it’s head hung limp. The boy took the bird in his hands and ran off, crying. Onlookers recorded the tragedy with camera phones’

at the prospect of this new project. Then Sary said he would be honoured if I would be his first Western apprentice, so he could pass the tradi- tion on across nations. A delirious handshake spanned oceans and continents. Everything was coming together. The morning of the festival I woke up to a snowy surprise. The ground and the hills that had stood barren and brown the day before now shone brilliant white. Abay was worried that the snow might cancel the eagle festival, but I was en- joying the scenery so much that it hardly mattered to me. I wandered around the orchard, enrapt.

One of Sary’s great-grandsons, Shamil, ap- peared from nowhere with a dead pheasant and

a rabbit in hand, a smirk of pride on his face to

match. It was breakfast time for his hawk. Tying

a rope to the pheasant’s legs, Shamil threw it on

the ground and stood at a distance. Sary stood across the yard with the hawk, and when he un- hooded it, his grandson pulled the rope and the lifeless carcass sprung across the yard. Seeing it’s bright colours move through the snow, the hawk pounced. Next it was the rabbit’s turn, and it’s head was soon on the snow, severed. Sary

picked up the rabbit’s foot and fed it to his bird like a drumstick. Before heading off for the big event, we went back into the hills with Rustam to check the pigeon traps. There was no good news. One pigeon had been mauled through the net by a fox, and the other was simply gone. We did come across a half-dead rabbit snagged in

a metal trap, one of a handful that Rustam had

set earlier in the week. He took a proud photo and shoved it in his canvas bag. As we walked from trap to trap, he would point out various

tracks in the snow. That one’s a rabbit, that one’s

a fox, that’s from this morning, that’s from last

night. He had memorized the exact location of the traps, even though they were hidden under the snow. At the festival, Sary held court. The other hunters gathered around him, holding out their birds for appraisal. No matter how old or expe- rienced, they waited their turn to hear the mas- ter’s assessment. With barely a glance he could discern the age, health, and type of the eagle. He would point to spots on their tail feathers

November 2010 The Spektator


Focus 21 and tell them they were eating too much liver, or count the bumps on

and tell them they were eating too much liver, or count the bumps on their claws to determine their age. Abay and I followed him around with our recorder. Afterwards I bought him lagman for lunch, and at intervals he would depart with his smoking buddy Abay, the young man and the sage, sharing a vice. In one rather informal event, Sary stood on stage and took turns rating the hunters’ cos- tumes, equipment, and bird management skills. In another event, the hunters scaled a hill over- looking the valley and threw their birds one- by-one into the air. Down below a horseman galloped with a dead fox dragging behind. The eagles spied their prey instantly, flying at it with impressive force. If I had ever harboured any doubt over the predatory powers of these birds, then they had already been dispelled graphi- cally by an incident earlier on in the day. One of the birds had been left without a leash and had sprung on Shamil’s falcon, perched nearby. The bird’s bones were crushed; it’s head hung limp. The boy took the bird in his hands and ran off, crying. Onlookers recorded the tragedy with camera phones. After the festivities, we stopped in at Al- maz‘s house. We had been invited to a feast, but the eating didn’t come until later, much later. For hours we sat on the floor, all eyes on Sary. I counted eighteen people in the room, all fac- ing the old man, the ak sakal, the white beard. He told a story about how his father fought with Przhevalsky, a commander in the Russian Imperial army. Przhevalsky gave him some sort of sedative to calm his nerves and then he shot a dragon. Sary claimed his family had kept the

dragon’s ear in a chest for years, but gave it to an- other family to use as a good luck charm during a pregnancy. They are still seeking its return. I told Abay dragons didn’t exist. He just shrugged. Sary’s stories slowly dried up and the room fell quiet. When the food came, I hardly felt like eating. It didn’t help that the beshbarkmak was nearly in- 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 the bowl of broth that was provided with my meal. It was nearly all fat, and the meaty parts were dry and flavourless. My face and hands were covered in grease. I felt uncomfortable. There were subtle cues to pass things to elders and eat the meat a certain way, all of which I missed. Some of the oth- er guests looked at me with obvious displeasure. Later, I offended even more. When we were getting ready to depart for Bishkek, I gave Sary a gift which I had brought all the way from Califor- nia with a hunter in mind, a felt banner with the University of California seal. I knew they liked wall hangings, and I thought they’d be impressed by it’s academic eminence. Sary didn’t even smile. Walk- ing to the car, Abay wasn’t happy either. “Dennis, I have to be honest, he was very angry. You gave him a flag? He expected more.” Now I was angry too. “Well what does he want from me? I already paid his family more than they make in a month! I’m writing his fricking life story! Why does every- thing here come down to what will the rich Ameri- can give me?” We piled into the car. The optimism of the previous night had evaporated. Me and the old man were at loggerheads again, and our related

projects were hanging in the balance.

again, and our related projects were hanging in the balance. Above Flying an eagle - more

Above Flying an eagle - more fun than flying a kite

Left Rating hawks and their owners is just one of a number of ceremonial functions that Sary’s local renown bestows upon him

How Catch Eagle



Would you like your very own berkut? There are several methods you can use to snag your un- suspecting bird of prey. Cliff jumping: Not for the faint of heart. Find your nearest cliff-side aerie, and strap a rope around your waist. Your friends lower you

down to the nest, where you grab a young ea- glet and stuff it in a bag. Meanwhile, your bud- dies shoot off blanks to scare away the mama eagle whose baby you’re stealing so heartlessly. Pigeon baiting: Catch a pigeon. Tie it up. Around it, prop up a net on some poles. Leave the pigeon some water, and come back twice

a day. Hopefully an eagle will fly by, see your

prize, and get tangled in your trap. You’re more

likely to catch a falcon, but hey, those are pretty cool too. Chase it down: Apparently this works, but nobody we know has ever tried it. Get on

a horse, and find an eagle who has just had

lunch. It should be totally stuffed, fat and lazy. Chase it. According to those in the know, the eagle will eventually get tired, lay on its back, and stick its talons out at you. Try not to freak out, and lash it with a piece of soft felt. Now you

have your very own eagle. Congratulations!

November 2010 The Spektator


Bishkek life




There’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and ‘restaurant’ in Bishkek. Places more suitable for drinking sessions are marked with a star *

Price Guide (main course and a garnish) $ - Expect change from 150 som $$ - A little over 250 should do the trick $$$ - Expect to pay in the region of 350 $$$$ - A crisp 500 (or more) needed in this joint


Cowboy* (Toktogul/Orozbekova) Bishkek’s all-American restaurant-cum-dance club has now gone a little more up-market, but wild nights are still to be had. Dig in to a kilo of chicken wings and then hit the dance floor. $$$

Hollywood*(Druzhba/Sovietskaya) As you would probably guess, decorated with movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu- lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few drinks before heading off to the clubs. $$

New York Pizza (177, Kievskaya) Decorated with pictures of the Big Apple and serving a fine selection of steaks and other American-themed dishes, NYP is sure to get New Yorkers thinking of home. For home delivery ring (0312) 909909. $$$

Obama (Erkindik/Toktogul)

The owners claim that the inspiration for the title came from the first letters in each of their sur- names - pull the other one guys, the bloke is all over the walls. The pizza, like the presidency, has certainly been over-hyped, but the chicken plat- ter and the cheese burgers are a treat. Big por- tions. $$$


Landau (Manas/Gorky) Fancy something a little different? If you can tol- erate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme- nian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$$


Ak-Bata (108, Ibraimova) This place must serve up pretty authentic dishes as it’s always full of Chinese playing mah-jong and waving their chopsticks about. Smoky and stuffy, but in a nice way. $

Chuchuara Hoga (117, Chui)

With this Chinese restaurant, a little out of the way and rarely visited by tourists, you really feel you are getting the real deal. Request a хого (your own personal Chinese boiling-pot) and randomly select

a variety of unusual Chinese delicacies to throw in.

Beware, the‘spicy’sauce, although delicious, may leave delicate stomachs in some distress several hours later - consider the ‘not-spicy’ sauce as a suit- able alternative $$

Frunze (Chui/Pravda) Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in terms of scope, but if you’re feeling bewildered, just point to something tasty-looking on a neigh- bouring table like we did. $$

Peking Duck I & II (Soviet/Druzhba & Chui/Tog. Mol.) Huge portions to feed even the biggest of glut- tons and an English language menu that provides plenty of amusing translations. $$

Shaolin (Zhibek Zholu/Prospect Mir) This tidy looking restaurant sticks out for its sheer range of oriental dishes and its large, round tables that make it ideal for extended gatherings. $$


Hui Min (Relocated to the Hotel Dostuk)

A former favourite, we have been told that Hui Min

has now relocated to the Hotel Dostuk. Apparently the menu has been revamped and the prices in- creased. The Spektator will be checking it out soon.

We hope they still serve the special Dungan tea, as it’s rather good.


Mimino (27, Kievskaya)

Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of steam- ing, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate seeds a-plenty. We recommend the kjadjapuri, khinkali and anything that’s served in a pot. Watch out for Uncle Joe

at the door. $$$$


Steinbrau* (5, Gerzena) Don your beer drinking trousers and head down to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut. $$$


Karavan (Almatinkskoya/Chui) Excellent little stolvya (canteen) full of the timeless regional favourites. Being an Uighur restaurant its gero lagman or lagman pa Uighurski particularly stand out. No smoking, sit, eat and leave. $


12 Chimneys (TeplIkluchy village) 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 surroundings. Hotel accommodation also available. Head south on Almatinskaya and keep going. $$$$

Bacardi* (Togolok Moldo 17/1) Elite lounge bar affair with separate rooms for din- ing, dancing and whiling the night away smoking hukkah pipes. Urban grooves played at a reason- able volume and a full menu that includes a range

of tasty platters. $$$$

Barcode* (Toktogul/Sovietskaya, inside ‘Moto’)

A hip, clean interior, fast wi-fi and an affordable

business lunch have made Barcode something of a hotspot since it opened in early 2010. The place comes to life at night when 3 DJs compete for your affections with an array of banging tunes. $$

Blonder Pub* (Pravda/Kulatova) Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent blues every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter we recommend ‘Irish Red’. $$$$

Buddha Bar (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva) Buddha bar offers a taste of the East inside a tastefully constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$$

Captain Nemo’s (14, Togolok Moldo) Small nautically themed restaurant with a selection of evocatively named dishes including‘Fish from the ship’s boy’ and ‘Tongue from the boatswain’s wife’. Cosy wooden interior and porthole style windows create an underwater log cabin experience. Spirits, cocktails and a good business lunch. $$$

Ceska* (115, Alamatinskaya) Cousin to Blonder Pub, this Bros Co. ‘theme bar’ is worth checking out for its fantastic tiramisu cake alone. Every third beer is free but don’t get too ex- cited - they come in 0.4l glasses. $$$

Coffee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova) Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and cakes Bishkek has to offer at the imaginatively named ‘Coffee House’, a cosy boutique café with a European flavour. Curl up and read a book, or just drop in for a caffeine hit and a chocolate fix. $$$

Cosmo Bar* (Sovietska/Moskovskaya) Board the sweet smelling elevator, ascend to the top-floor Cosmo Bar and splash the cash with your fellow free-spending cosmonauts. Elegant interior, plush sofas, fancy drinks and pretty waitresses. Huzzah! $$$$ Crostini (191, Abdrahmanova) Situated inside the Hyatt, this is a joint to be re- served for a business lunch or marriage proposal only. Chef Taner Erdemir serves up mouth-water- ing international cusine, but at a price. $$$$$

November 2010 The Spektator

Bars, Restaurants & Clubs


Dillinger* (Gorky/Tynystanova) Glamorous VIP complex including a restaurant, bar and casino. A decedantly decorated and perculiarly endearing homage to the notorious bank robber - we’re sure he would appreciate it. $$$$

Fatboy’s* (Chui/Tynystanova) Civilized, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town and

a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot for con-

versation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini-library to pe- ruse (although literary classics are thin on the ground). Check out the American pancakes for breakfast, top

marks. $$$

Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova) One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El- egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great place to splash out on a special occasion or just for the hell of it. $$$$

Foyer (27, Erkindik ) Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening cock- tail or check your inbox with a cup of coffee. Free Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$$

Griffon (Microregion 7)

A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting

central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase. $$$

Jam* (179, Toktogula) An underground oasis of cool. Jam is a cafe with a full menu, kalians (shisha pipes) and a lounge bar atmosphere, open till 3am . $$$$

Jumanji (Behind the circus) It’s strange. This place is decorated with fake jungle foliage and is based on a crap kids’ film yet still sort of works. You also get to roll a pair of Jumanji dice before you order for the chance to win a special se- cret prize - we like this. $$$

Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda) Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the Champions league at three in the morning. $$$$

Lounge Bar* (338a, Frunze) One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer- time, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-cum- terrace high above the street with slouch-couches and fine views of the circus - which you can some- times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$

Metro* (133, Chui) In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. A high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli- ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch- ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the hideously late kickoff times for Champions League football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting up unless it’s a big one. $$$

Navigator (103, Moskovskaya) A pricy, but pleasant place to while away an after- noon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge in the airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive service and a refreshing selection of salads, a good place for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease are getting you down. $$$$

Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panfilova)

The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con- ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base-

ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection

of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s

an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés.

A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro-

mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$

U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya) Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restaurant. Descend into this underground warren and tuck in. Also check out the fairy-light adorned flagship sister- rabbit-restaurant in Asenbai micro region. $$$

Vavilon (Microregion 7) Finely presented dishes, reasonably priced beer (60 som) genuinely friendly and attentive service and live music from 8-ish on most evenings. Definitely worth the trek out to the suburbs ( tell your taxi driver to turn left at the yuzhniy vorota and head towards Asenbai for about 1.5km) $$$

Vis-a-Vis (26, Logvinenko) Look for the yellow awning between Kiev and Chui. This place is a new honey pot for ex pats. Steak is always advisable when eating at an appendix to a butcher’s, and the sirloin here is exceptional. Also, en- joy English breakfasts, chips that aren’t cold and local dark ale Chuiski on tap. Recommended! $$$


The Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt) A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian food make this place a real treat. On midweek days there are also several excellent business lunch deals offering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for 250-350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator fa- vourite! $$$$


Adriatico (219, Chui) Reportedly suffering following the departure of its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told that the soup is still excellent. $$$$

Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev) Adriatico’s former Italian chef, Walter, has moved homes and is now serving a practically identical range of dishes at this spot just behind October cinema. Enjoy the best pizza in town, gnocci and other typi- cal Italian numbers, tasty business lunches from 200 soms. $$$$

Cyclone (136, Chui) Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient, polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to al- leviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$

Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva) Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serv- ing excellent pizza. Also serves salads and European cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime din- ing. $$


Aoyama (93, Toktogula) Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals. The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape to- gether enough soms. $$$$

Watari (Shevchenko, Frunze)

A small Japanese-owned restaurant that serves su-

shi as well as dishes with a more indian flavour. The

refined atmosphere makes it ideal for a business meeting or just a sophisticated night out $$$


Petel (52, Zhykeeva Pudovkin) Operating in the back room of a Korean family’s house, this is Korean style home-cooking at its most personal. Closed on Sunday. Ring: 0543 922539 $$

Santa Maria (217, Chui) Plush Korean restaurant offering Eastern favourites, including exciting Korean barbecues where you get to cook your own dinner, plus an extensive Euro- pean menu. $$$


Beirut (Shevchenko/Frunze) Now in a new location, Beirut continues to serve en- ticing Lebanese goodies including falaffle, humus, and tasty little meat pie things. $$$


Moldova Restaurant (Kievskaya/Turusbekova)

If it’s been a while since you last went out for a

Moldovan, this wooden paneled, sturdy-tabled ea- tery may be the answer to your prayers. Also, the Moldovan Embassy is next door should you care to learn more about the world’s favourite budget- wine exporting country. $$$

Regional/Central Asian

Arabica* (Mederova/Tynastanova)

This formerly sophisticated laid back shisha pipe) bar has moved to a new location and, by the looks

of the bath in the toilets, may still be under devel-

opment. Three floors, VIP rooms, kaliyans aplenty.




Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and
Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and

Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and

bars in town with the Spektator and w w w . t h e s

November 2010 The Spektator


Bars, Restaurants & Clubs

Arzu-II (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) Twenty-four hour joint that’s a godsend for those who get cravings for lagman or manti at four in the morning. Sometimes smoking isn’t allowed, sometimes it is, however the food and prices are constantly pretty good. Comfy booth style seats to dig yourself into after a heavy night. $$

Arzu-I (Togolok Moldo, next to the stadium) Offers a hearty selection of Kyrgyz and European dishes and a homely atmosphere. There’s also a great outdoor terrace and national favorouit Arpa on draught. $$

Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an impressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $

Faiza (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira) Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub in town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good that they have often run out by supper-time. Save an appetite and go early. $$

Forel (Vorentsovka village) Twenty minutes outside of Bishkek, Forel is a fish- based ‘relaxation centre’ set amongst babbling streams and offering fine veiws of the mountains. Fish your own trout out of a pool and have it deep fat fried for your pleasure. Only salads, bread, tea and juice are sold on site but you are welcome to bring any booze or garnish you desire, it’s also possible to rent a BBQ. To get there take a taxi to Vorentsovka village and, if your taxi driver doesn’t know the exact location, ask a friendly villager. Trout is 800som/kilo $$$

Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya) Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut rot) in the centre of town. While it should stand out for its fresh lagman, Jalalabad is sometimes over- looked. Probably at its best in summer, when the shashlyk masters flanking the entrance offer their creations straight to guests sitting at Eastern-style tables – cross your legs and see how long you can last before cramp sets in. $

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Rates from 2000 som per page.



Pirogoff-Vodkin (Kievskaya/Togolok Moldo) Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your tea in a giant samovar. $$$

Khutoryanka (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) Unassuming, to put it mildly, on the outside, this place is a revelation on the inside. Delicious food, reasonable service, Ukrainian brass band music on the cd player. We love it! $$$

Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya) Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups and fresh salads. $$$

Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira) Recently opened, Zaporyzhia is a cossack fla- voured restauraunt in a varnish-scented log cab- in. Hearty rustic dishes and a homely atmosphere. The medovukha is recommended! $$$


Ajar (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula) Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’ and something cheap and tasty will arrive. $

Carlson (166, Sovietskaya)

A good outdoor terrace and some hearty food, but

the Karaoke style crooners who provide evening

entertainment are an acquired taste. $$

Huzur (Kievskaya/Togoluk Moldo,) Convivial proprietor Ali claims to have Steven Ger- rard’s 2005 Champion’s League winning Liverpool shirt. If you don’t believe that, belive in free lipyosh- ka and good, affordable Turkish cuisine. $$

Konak (Sovietskaya/Gorkova) This Turkish joint used to be ‘Restaurant Camelot’ hence the incongruous suits of armour in the back room, and the rather crappy castle facade. However, the food is often great, the salads are large and fresh, and the staff are always pleasant. Recommended! (And now open 24 hours a day) $$



There are some Bishkek old-hands who say that

things aren’t what they used to be when it comes to nightlife in Bishkek. They talk of legendary nights of carnage, vomit, and debauchery - delights that con- temporary Bishkek struggles to offer.

Not so, we say. Take your pick from the list below and we’re sure there’s still enough carnage, vomit and debauchery in town to keep everyone happy.


Heaven (Frunze/Pravda - in the Hotel Dostuk) As Heaven is found inside a hotel it is surprisingly unseedy. In fact it stands out for being a bastion of

the well-dressed (if one is generous). Turn up in tatty jeans and a t-shirt and you may feel a little out of place; then again, you may not give a shit. Tables by the dancefloor cost 1000 som but include drinks up

to this value. (Entrance charge 200-400 som)

Fire & Ice (Tynystanova/Erkindik)

A slightly grittier version of Golden Bull. Again, for-

eigners can often get in for free. Popular throughout

the week. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free)

Gvozd (Western side of the Philharmonia) Foreigners for free, urban grooves and acceptable prices at the bar. ‘Gvozd’ means ‘nail’ in Russian, but you’ve probably got a better chance at the Golden Bull. Its almost like the crowd from Pharaoh have mi-

grated. (Entrance ‘foreigners’


Platinum (East side of the Philharmonia)

Take a seat at the snazzy 360 degree bar and do bat- tle with some of Kyrgyzstan’s most convivial ‘elite’ for

(Entrance charge 400-

gold-digging temptresses.

Apple (28, Manas) Fat, old, lecherous foreigners not welcome, this place is for a younger cooler crowd. Multiple bars, large dance floor, friendly atmosphere. Thursday usually a big night. (Entrance charge 100-300 som)

Arbat (9, Karl Marks) Tel. 512094; 512087 Smart ‘elite’ club popular with a slightly older crowd. Strip bar and restaurant in same building. (Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450 som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som)

City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina) Tel. 511513; 510581 So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the posh- est clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly people beware) and spend your evening with gang- ster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh business- men and a posse of young rich kids who all seem to have studied in London. (Entrance charge: girls 200/ boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500

Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo) Tel. 620131 A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists liter- ally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly staff, cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance charge [girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/Sat. ‘For- eigners’ free.)

Retro Metro (24, Mira) Bright, happy, 80’s kitsch bar, the DJ spins his rec- ords from inside the front of a VW camper van. One

of the most popular places for post-2am partying.

(Entrance charge: 200/300 som midweek, 350/450 som Fri/Sat. Reserve for 200 som)

Live Music

Promzona (16, Cholpon-Atinskaya) Promzona’s far-flung location sadly means a taxi 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- sive menu, and a hip industrial interior featuring, strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night. Rock or blues bands normally play at the week- ends. (Music charge 200-350 som)

Tequila Blues (Turesbekova/Engels)

A possible misnomer, the tequila is just fine but

the blues is non-existent. Russian studenty types mosh away the nights to Rock bands in an at-

mospheric underground bunker. (Music charge 150 som)

Sweet Sixties (Molodaya Gvardia/Kievskaya) Live cover bands most nights. Full menu, popular with a younger crowd. $$

Zeppelin (43, Chui) Zeppelin is in the same vein as the old Tequila Blues but not quite so spit and sawdust. On the nights we’ve visited, there’s been a line up of young rock or punk bands strutting their stuff, heavier beats seem to go down best with the young Rus- sian crowd. Full restaurant menu. (Entrance charge 100-150 som)

Live music also common at Stary Edgar’s, Beatles Bar, Foyer and Blonder Pub (see ‘restaurants’)

November 2010 The Spektator



Molodaya Gvardia

Molodaya Gvardia

Jibek Jolu







Manas ave.



Manas ave.

Manas ave.




T. Abdymomunov






Togolok Moldo


Michael Frunze










Lva Tolstogo








Michael Frunze












A. Usenbaeva

Toktogula Moskov

Lva Tolstogo







Nor th










6 11



















November 2010 The Spektator


What’s On

Pumpkin Mania

Until 30th November Cafe Tyubiteyka, 31 Turusbekova/Moscow

A fest for the pumpkin fanatic and a perfect

way to see out the fall. Up to 20 separate dishes

of this lesser-eaten autumn vegetable will be

available at an appealing little cafe up the road from Metro.

Grand Candy Conspiracy

21st November Children’s game, Raritet, Pushkin 78 We’re not really sure what this is but it sounds like a cracking idea in a city that is short of them. Turn up at Raritet book shop near the Ala- Too square at 11.00am to find out.

November Dates

Until 31st November Art Exhibition, Semen Chuikov Museum

Display of Vladimir Butorin’s paintings in the Se- men Chuikov house/museum. The exhibition is in honour of the 108th anniversary of Semen Chuik- ov’s birth. The late Chuikov was a popular painter

in Kyrgyzstan during the Soviet period.

26-27th November Zepellin is on fire! Zeppelin Club, 43, Chui

Several (relatively) high profile bands will hit the stage at Zeppelin club. Emil Munbaev and Danil Surov of Metric Trap fame will be playing, as will

a band named in honour of director and sexual

deviant Roman Polanski. Call 0312 365 849 for details.

27th-28th November Swimming gala, Dolphin swimming pool Athletes from both Bishkek and Kara-Balta will be competing in this high stakes splash down. 150 will compete in total. For more listings visit To find out where places are visit

Into December

11th December Secrets of Christmas Classical Concert Philharmonia 6.30 pm American Roger Macmerrin arrives in town with a choir from Kiev for what promises to be the cultural highlight of the festive season. An excellent production guaranteed to get you in the yuletide mood.

TUK Dates for Nov-Dec

20th and 21st November Hike to Suysamyr valley paragliding base. Overnight cross country ski and snowshoe trip to Suysamir-Too valley. Transport and organization (including consultation and guide) per head is 650 som (550 som for TUK members.

20th November White water rafting in Chui/Issyk Kul region Day trip to Ala Archa gorge. Hike to the Ak Say waterfall and visit the International Memorial to Kyrgyz Alpinists. Walk near Mt. Korona. Different levels of complexity from absolute beginners to the medium intensity. Distance: 12 km. Transport and organization per head is 220 som (200 som for TUK members).

27th November Trekking in Takir Tor gorge (snowshoe trip) One day trip to the Takir Tor gorge. Hiking to the marine lake. Non categorical trip – different levels of complexity from absolute beginners to medium intensity. Distance: 18 km. Transport and organization is 210 som (180 som for TUK mem- bers).

28th November Hiking around Issyk Ata gorge One day trip to Issyk-Ata gorge. Trek along the left bank of Issyk Ata river to Botvеу mt (4008 m.). Open air picnic. Return back along the right bank of the river via a local waterfall. Different levels of complexity from absolute beginners to medium intensity. Distance: 14 km. Transport and organi- zation is 210 som per head (180 som for TUK members).

5th December Trekking around Sokuluk gorge One day trip to the Sokuluk gorge. Hike to lo- cal waterfall and picnic in the open air. See Peak Shpil. Return to Bishkek. Different levels of com- plexity – from absolute beginners to medium intensity.

11th December Ski Season begins at base Too-Ashuy 750 soms (transport, instructor) not including equipment hire. Visit our office to book.

Groups meet the Thursday before the weekend of departure. Call (0312) 906 115 or email us at trek@ Website:

Entertainment Directory

The Puppet Theatre Sovietskaya/Michurina Performances on Sundays at 11:00am.

Russian Drama Theatre Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park) Tel.: 662032, 621571 Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00 Tickets 30-100 som Local and international plays in Russian.

The Conservatory Jantosheva, 115 Tel: 479542 Concerts by students and professors.

Kyrgyz State Philharmonic Chui Prospect, 253 Tel: 212262, 212235 Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for special performances) There are two concert halls featuring classical, traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety of shows.

Opera Ballet Theatre Sovietskaya/Abdymununova Tel: 66 15 48 Hours: 17:00-19:00 Tickets: 150-600 som Tickets for performances sell out very quickly and it is necessary to book a seat in advance.

Live updates

For all the Bishkek opera, ballet and concert listings, check our frequently updated What’s On listings at:

End of the Year Awards

For our December issue the Spektator plans to run a short, two page piece highlighting the man/woman of the year in Kyrgyz political life and also the villain of the year. We encourage you to participate in this exercise by sending your votes to If you want to expand the theme, send us your bar/restaurant/anything of the year accompanied by a review (approx 800 words)

Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek, Chui av. 4A, Office A4 Tel.: +996 (312)

Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan

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

av. 4A, Office A4 Tel.: +996 (312) 90 61 15, 90 61 39 e-mail:, website:
av. 4A, Office A4 Tel.: +996 (312) 90 61 15, 90 61 39 e-mail:, website:
Map: Location guide 7. Beta Stores Supermarket 14. New York Pizza 21. Stary Edgars 1.
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

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