You are on page 1of 28

THE Spektator №15 February 2011

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

Love &in Plov
Arslanbob
and other stories you’ve never heard of.....

. .
Tourist Map What’s On Restaurant Guide
Focus

ContentsThe Spektator Magazine
Komuz and Creation
What gives a komuz its unique timbre?
Instrument maker Turat Akunov spills the
beans to Dennis Keen.
16

The Hunter with a Paintbrush
Founder: Tom Wellings
In Kyrgyzstan, incidents that appear to be 18
separate are always inter-connected, and
every path leads unfailingly back to the
Managing Editor: Chris Rickleton nation’s enigmatic hero and father, the
(editor@thespektator.co.uk) ancestor to end all ancestors, Manas.

Book Review: Akmatov’s Arhat
20
Staff writers: Robert Marks (rmarks@ Holly Myers reviews Kazat Akmatov’s
thespektator.co.uk), Dennis Keen best-selling, ego-bashing fantasy Arhat.
(denniskeen@thespektator.co.uk), This Month
Holly Myers, Evan Harris,
Patrick Barrow, Pavel Kropotkin News and Views
What’s in a name? Quite a lot it seems,
4
Anthony Butts (anthonybutts@
particularly if you’re an uulu or a kyzy. In
thespektator.co.uk), Sergey Vysotsky other news, Kazakhstan’s perma-President
Nazarbaev shocks the world by reveal-
ing he is running in the next election and
Guest Contributor: Elise Laker Kyrgz MPs debate Islamic issues.

Design: Aleka Claire Out & About
New Year in Valentin’s Valley 8
Advertising Manager: Irina Kasymova Valentin Derevyanko last appeared in our
(email: advertise@thespektator.co.uk) sixth issue. On the eve of 2011 we found
him in rude health and still building baths.

Love & Plov in Arslanbob
In this month’s main feature Elise Laker
10
journeys to the predominantly Uzbek
village of Arslanbob to witness a wedding
packed with plov, music and homespun
philosophies.

The Guide
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs
All the best bars and clubs in town.
22

www.thespektator.co.uk
City Map
Don’t get lost.
25
Want to contribute as a freelance
writer? Please contact:
What’s On
The pick of the entertainment listings.
26
editor@thespektator.co.uk
ON THE COVER: A tipsy three-man band sound the start
of a wedding in Arslanbob (Dan Pousette)
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-

Spektator
nist (Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.
THE

.co.uk
The Spektator is now online at www.thespektator.co.uk
4 This Month
Kyrgyzstan’s Name Game: Love Thy Neighbor, Ivan the Rich
ALINA DALBAEVA

BISHKEK, January 19 (EurasiaNet.org) “Lately, many people do it for Russia, because cept all kinds of names – Chinese and others.
Like most former Soviet republics, Kyrgyzstan they have problems with kyzy and uulu names These are our traditional names. I don’t know why
spent its post-independence years hunting for a there. Russian authorities demand it [the change] they wouldn’t accept them,” she says.
national identity separate from the one forced on to register in schools and universities and more,” Despite the fear of problems abroad, for
it by Moscow, and that search included the resur- Abulmajin Akmashaev, head of Kyrgyzstan’s De- some, the traditional names are a badge of pride.
gence of some very un-Slavic-sounding names. partment of Citizenship and Passport Control, “I have heard about the trend, but I decided
But today, with hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz told EurasiaNet.org. not to change my name. The kyzy suffix means
depending on ties with Russia as their key source Ainura Busurmankulova, head of the pass- more than just a name. For me it means sup-
of income, bread-and-butter worries are trump- port control office of Pervomaisky District in porting and carrying my national and cultural
ing ideology. So it’s out with the “uulus” and in Bishkek, stresses that the choice is voluntary. heritage. I wouldn’t want to change my name to
with the “-ovs.” “Nobody makes our citizens change their last something Russian sounding,” 20-year-old Jibek
After independence in 1991, many Kyrgyz be- names from uulu or kyzy to the -ov/-ova endings,” Nurdin kyzy told EurasiaNet.org.
gan dropping Russian suffixes like “-ov/-ova” from she says. “In the 1990’s people were told to take Nurdin kyzy believes corrupt officials at
their last names. Under then-President Askar new uulu and kyzy names, but now people are home may be encouraging the rumors about
Akayev, nationalists saw the Kyrgyz suffixes “kyzy” changing their names voluntarily because many trouble abroad simply to seek profit: “I have been
and “uulu” (“daughter of” and “son of”) as impor- parents are afraid to send their kids to school or abroad and I have never had problems with my
tant identity markers and began urging people to work in Russia.” name. But when I was getting my passport, they
to add them to a father’s first name, altogether Busurmankulova says that if Russian offi- asked whether I would like to change my name to
dropping last names in the Western sense. At cials are practicing such discrimination, they are the old style. So many people are changing their
times, hospital staff did not give parents a choice, breaking their own laws, but admits the migrants names now. But I think for them [the passport of-
writing the new, aggrandized patronymics onto from Kyrgyzstan have little recourse. “They don’t ficials] it is just another way of making money. It’s
birth certificates. have the right to reject our names. Here we ac- profitable to spread this kind of rumor.”
Now, in a sign of Kyrgyzstan’s enduring de-
pendence on its former imperial overlord, the
trend is in reverse. Many Kyrgyz are succumbing Kyrgyzstan in brief
to widespread rumor that they will face trouble
with the names when they travel abroad, espe-
cially to Russia; they are re-adding the Russian
suffixes for themselves and their children. For ex-
Protesters demand release of National Bank of Kyrgyzstan
ample, Ayana Bazarkulova, 15, was, until recently, ex-president’s nephew to tighten legislation
Ayana Gumon kyzy.
“We changed our daughter’s name from hav- JALAL-ABAD, February 2 (RFE/RL) - Some 30 BISHKEK, February 4 (24.kg) – The National
ing a kyzy ending to Bazarkulova, because I have people in the southern Kyrgyz city of Jalal-Abad Bank of Kyrgyzstan intends to tighten banking
heard that some problems might occur when are demanding the immediate release of Sanjar legislation due to problems at AsiaUniversal-
she leaves the country,” Ayana’s mother Zahida Bakiev, the jailed nephew of ousted President Bank, the chairperson of the board of directors
tells EurasiaNet.org. “Also, I never really liked that Kurmanbek Bakiev, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service re- for the National Bank, Baktygul Zheenbaeva,
kyzy and uulu thing because when my daughter told journalists at a press-conference.
ports. The protesters gathered in the city’s Erkin
was born in 1995 nobody asked when they were According to Zheenbaeva, the situation sur-
Too (Free Mountains) Square to protest the Feb-
giving out birth certificates. When I received her rounding AsiaUniversalBank revealed mistakes
ruary 1 court rejection of Sanjar Bakiev’s appeal in the work of the system and major problems
certificate, she already had a kyzy name on it. No-
against the 10-year sentence given to him in regarding legislation. “We’ve been working since
body had asked me.”
connection with deadly unrest in southern Kyr- autumn on legislation and regulatory legal acts
Today, fervent pro-Kyrgyz sentiment persists
in local politics, with the most vocally nationalist gyzstan last year. revision. In 2011 we will demand additional rigid
of the country’s parties scoring the most seats in Sanjar Bakiev pleaded guilty to involvement in requirements from commercial bank owners, as
last fall’s parliamentary election. But Russia, with riots in Jalal-Abad in May. He was sentenced on they are responsible to their clients. They will
its regional economic-powerhouse status, is no November 2 to 10 years in jail but appealed the work transparently and honestly,” said Zheen-
longer the butt of bad feeling. That mantle has sentence. baeva.
passed to other “others,” from Uzbeks and Ameri-
cans to independent-minded Muslims. And with
so many Kyrgyz dependent on migration to Rus-
HR activists praise parliament Kyrgyz Hockey stars skate to
sia for work, a “Kyrgyz” last name, consisting of tour plans fake gold
two words with the second always in lowercase,
is seen as a bureaucratic liability. BISHKEK, February 4 (centralasianewswire) – ASTANA, February 4 (Kloop.info) – Kyrgyzstan’s
“I changed my name from Begayim Kubany- Kyrgyz Parliament Speaker Akhmatbek Keldibe- national ice hockey team claimed an ‘honorary
chbek kyzy to Begayim Kubanychbekova about kov’s plan to let university undergraduates and gold’ medal at the Asian Winter Games in Kaza-
two years ago. My relatives told me that I would schoolchildren tour parliament on Saturdays has khstan, after topping their round robin with a
have problems with my name abroad. I changed earned praise from the Council of Human Rights game to spare. The tournament was divided into
my kyzy name to avoid potential problems in Defenders of Kyrgyzstan (SPK). Tours of parlia- a Premier League and an ‘honorary’ First Division,
the future,” Kubanychbekova, 19, says. “For me it with the Kyrgyz side competing in the latter.
ment will attract youth to the cause of establish-
doesn’t make a difference. For me it’s just a name.” Their gold will not count towards the final stand-
ing and developing democracy and provide for
The change is registered at a local passport ings at the tournament held in Astana and Al-
office, where officials confirm the trend is sparked a transparent, responsible parliament, the SPK maty, but the team return home proudly after
by fear of Russian authorities. Officials estimate said in a statement on February 3. Kyrgyz univer- some bruising victories against sides such as
that in Bishkek alone approximately 1,000 people sities and schools already operate simulated par- Mongolia, Bahrain and Kuwait. The highlight of
-- half men and half women -- are changing their liaments to help students and children to learn their tour was a 23-2 pummelling of Malaysia,
names back to the Russian form each year. more about governance, the body noted. the second favourites in the honorary group.

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
6 This Month
Prayer Row Pits Civil Society against Parliament
CHRIS RICKLETON

BISHKEK, February 2 (EurasiaNet.org) ing of each other’s positions.” that collective patience with the new parliament is
A seemingly innocuous suggestion to allocate time “When debates like these become polarized, already wearing thin. She contended that that the
and space for Kyrgyz MPs to observe Islam’s tradi- there are consequences for society,” Malikov con- debate over parliamentary prayer has fostered an
tional Friday prayers has produced a furor with im- tinued. “Of course, our state is secular. But our poli- impression that MPs have already lost touch with the
plications for mosque-state separation. Opponents ticians have to understand that secularism doesn’t day-to-day concerns of their constituents.
say the measure threatens to erode the concept of mean control of religious feeling. … Considering “When these MPs were out campaigning they
secularism enshrined in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution. recent events, it is essential that religion and gov- spoke of completely different things: lowering pov-
The origin of the debate goes back to a late De- ernment enter into a more mature dialogue with a erty, improving quality of life and so on. Now they are
cember parliamentary session, when Vice Speaker better understanding of each other’s common and in the parliament we see that they are mainly con-
Asylbek Jeenbekov of the governing Social Demo- separate concerns. Unfortunately, we don’t appear cerned with using public money to create places for
cratic Party called the need to address prayer in par- ready for this.” their own personal salvation. Once again, the country
liament “long overdue.” Support for the initiative cut Aitbaeva of the Bishkek Women’s Center claims lives one life, and parliament lives another,” she said.
across party lines. In addition to Jeenbekov, several
prominent members of the opposition Ar-Namys
Party spoke in favor of providing an extended break Early Kazakh Election Set For April Amid Opposition Criticism
for worship on Friday, not only for deputies, but for
ALMATY, February 4 (RFE/RL) - Kazakh President call for a joint candidate, several opposition groups
all state employees. Some also expressed a desire to
Nursultan Nazarbaev has called an early presiden- said they will put forward their own candidates for
set up a prayer room in the parliament building.
tial election for April 3, in a decision criticized by the election. The co-chairman of Azat, Bulat Abilov,
A recent series of events that security officials
some opposition parties, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service told RFE/RL that his party on February 3 decided to
characterize as acts of terror has helped sharpen the
reports. nominate him, with a final decision due to be made
discourse about faith and state. And while some MPs
The announcement came in the state-run at the party’s congress scheduled for February 11.
have been quick to endorse the new administra-
media, which carried Nazarbaev’s decree on the Another opposition politician, Zhasaral
tion’s combative rhetoric vis-à-vis “militants,” others,
election date. The decree was made public after Quanyshalin, today confirmed to RFE/RL he
activists complain, are trying to curry favor among
Nazarbaev this week rejected a proposed referen- would run in the upcoming vote. But Quanysha-
disaffected Muslims.
dum that might have extended his rule until 2020 lin, a former parliament deputy and longtime crit-
Dmitri Kabak, head of Open Viewpoint, a hu-
and instead called for early elections, nearly two ic of Nazarbaev, added that he might face some
man rights organization that monitors constitu-
years before his current term ends. legal obstacles, in the form of two pending libel
tional compliance, is one of many activists who have
That move was welcomed by the United cases against him over an article he wrote more
been critical of a perceived opportunism among
States and the Organization for Security and Co- than four years ago that was critical of Nazarbaev.
some parliamentarians. “We consider that this piety
operation in Europe. But in a joint statement on He described the cases as politically motivated,
is an example of politicians using religious feelings
February 4, the Communist Party and nonregis- saying they were filed immediately after he an-
among the population to improve their own image
tered opposition Algha (Forward) party criticized nounced in November his intention to run in the
-- it’s an exercise in PR,” Kabak told EurasiaNet.org.
the decision to hold the election so soon. presidential election initially scheduled for 2012.
“Our position is that religion is a personal free-
At the same time, the two parties also called Another figure who announced his candida-
dom that all have a right to exercise,” Kabak added.
on the opposition Azat (Free) National Social cy today is Khasen Qozhakhmet, a Soviet-era dis-
“The state, however, serves the interests of society,
Democratic party and a number of nongovern- sident and one of the leaders of the Zheltoqsan
and must remain neutral before all religions. This
mental organizations to agree on a joint opposi- (December) movement, named for the December
is a status that is imposed by the constitution and
tion presidential candidate. “Although it is abso- 1986 uprising in then Soviet Kazakhstan.
should not be ignored.”
lutely clear that there will be no possibility for any Qozhakhmet told RFE/RL that if the elections
Worship is a “private matter” and should stay
candidate other than Nursultan Nazarbaev to win are truly fair, Nazarbaev will get at most 25 percent
that way, argued Gulnara Aitbaeva, head of the
in the early elections since no opposition candi- of the vote. Presidential adviser Ermukhamed
Bishkek Women’s Center, an organization that moni-
date is able to get prepared for the elections in Ertisbaev said on February 4 that opposition
tors a broad range of citizens’ rights. “Some people
just two months,” a single opposition candidate groups in the country have no chance to win in
in the country want to change that. But I don’t think
“might become a political figure around whom the April vote. The Chairman of the Central Elec-
the people, or even the majority of [MPs] support
the most thinking and active part of society could tion Commission (OSK), Quandyq Turghanqulov,
this initiative.”
get consolidated,” the statement says. announced that candidates’ registration would
Others point with some concern to Islam’s in-
The statement also says that if the opposition begin February 5 and run through February 20.
creasingly public role in society. Irina Karamushkina,
does not agree on a single candidate, the early elec- Nazarbaev, 70, has ruled Kazakhstan since
an MP from the Social Democratic faction who op-
tions should be fully ignored and boycotted by the before it gained independence from the Soviet
poses the idea of a state-sanctioned break for Friday
entire opposition and its supporters. Despite the Union in 1991.
prayers, likes to quote a statistic that alarms secular-
ists: The number of mosques in the country (roughly
2,000) is close to approaching the number of schools Kyrgyzstan Amends Laws To Prevent Hajj Corruption
(2,191).
Amid this rapid expansion of public places of BISHKEK, February 5 (RFE/RL) - The Kyrgyz par- “illegal involvement in the selection of pilgrims
worship, many analysts fear that a mishandling of liament has adopted amendments to its law on among Kyrgyz Muslims and the organization of
the government’s relationship with Islam could have religions that prevent government officials from their trip to Mecca.”
negative implications for society. Kadyr Malikov, being involved in the preparations for the annual Nurdinov said corruption in the hajj organiza-
head of the prominent, Bishkek-based think-tank, hajj in Saudi Arabia after reports of corruption, tion was used by some officials for “making illegal
Religion, Law and Politics, which tracks issues re- RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reports. money.”
lated to faith and extremism, argues that the prayer Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a parliament deputy Government officials received a quota of hajj
debate has the potential to exacerbate divisions in who initiated the amendments, said in parliament invitations from Saudi Arabia that they were to
Kyrgyzstan. on February 4 that the changes would “stop cor- distribute to Muslims wanting to make the pil-
“What we are seeing here is two groups talking ruption in Kyrgyzstan surrounding the hajj pilgrim- grimage to Mecca.
past each other,” he told EurasiaNet.org. “More often age.” Last month, the chairman of the Congress Kyrgyz officials have been accused of selling
than not, discussion of these issues takes the form of of Muslims in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, Bakyt the invitations for large sums of money or giving
accusation-trading. The sides have little understand- Nurdinov, accused the Kyrgyz government of them to friends and relatives.

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
8 Out & About

NewinYear
Valentin’s Valley

CHRIS RICKLETON

T
After our traditional January no-show, HE YEAR INCOMING, by the Chinese way around the village using a custom-built sleigh,
the Spektator is back on Kyrgyzstan’s well- understanding, would be the Year of had begun New Year celebrations early the night
the Rabbit, and all around us hare tracks before. After a drunken argument with his brother,
beaten and less well-beaten tracks to give
pocked the virgin snow in premature Mirbek, his sleigh had skidded off into the distance,
you all the places to go and things to do in anticipation. Their reign, a traveller re- not to be seen since. He was probably asleep under
2011. Starting with a jaunt to Valentin Der- minded us, would not be announced until later on a bush somewhere, Valentin surmised.
evyanko’s madhouse in Altyn Arashan, this in February. For the rest of us though, a ragtag band As we crawled over the final pass separating
issue sees us travel to a wedding in Arslan- of Karakol locals, visitors from Bishkek, Ural Russians us from Altyn Arashan, one of Kyrgyzstan’s famous
bob, visit the workshop of a master komuz- and Japanese volunteers, the eve of 2011 had ar- postcard images greeted us. The valley we were
rived, and it had brought us to Altyn Arashan, 2,700 entering sloped steeply down towards a series of
maker and engage in a discussion about
metres above sea level and a six-hour walk from the huts on the margins of a boiling river. Its walls were
the meaning of Manas’ moustache. It only administrative capital of the Issyk-Kul region. thick with dark firs as far as the eye could see, and
gets stranger, folks... We had been lucky enough to do two-thirds the evening sun blasted a strip of light across its
of the climb in wily old Yak Tours owner Valentin southern ridge. The scenery in this part of the world
Derevyanko’s 1980 UAZ Soviet jeep, its tyres rigged had given Issyk Kul oblast’s largest town, formerly
with metal chains for traction. Driver Nikolai, who known as Prezhvalsk, its post-Soviet name. Karakol:
bore more than a passing resemblance to an extra ‘the black hand’; the black valley.
from Doctor Zhivago, gripped the wheel through At the hut we were met by a pack of moun-
the sleeves of his trench coat and talked strategy tain dogs, in whose direction we threw some stale
with Valentin over mounds and frozen rivulets. bread. “Don’t give them that, they’ll never eat the
“Right, get out now,” Derevyanko announced snow,” joked Valentin. Food was not in abundance,
suddenly. “It is too dangerous - we’ve got too much he explained, but we would have enough to eat. “I
weight.” We piled out the car. In his company for a tell my guests that we don’t run a five star service,
couple of hours at most, we had already grown ac- we run a five million star service,” he continued. “At
customed to our host’s penchant for the unexpect- night, you’ll see what I mean!”
ed. On the drive out of Karakol, he had announced The six ‘o’ clock borsch was certainly basic, and
his need for a “camouflage” as we approached a wanting for one or two of its traditional ingredients
police checkpoint on the fringes of town. Promptly (like, say, beetroot), but after a two hour hike it
stripping down to his t-shirt and leggings, Valentin tasted delicious all the same. Tea was poured with a
proceeded to pull on a bright red Ded Maroz kaf- drop of Arashan, a fiery regional spirit which served
tan, complete with a voluminous fake white beard. to warm up the soul in sub-zero temperatures.
Then, as we got within range of the police post, he The delegation from Yekaterinburg meanwhile,
encouraged Nikolai to stamp down hard on the ac- marvelled at the novelty of drinking from a bowl.
celerator while he waved madly out of the window “How Eastern!” they exclaimed in delight. The Ka-
from the passenger’s seat at a confounded com- rakol Russians, scrawnier and long-accustomed to
mandant. the hardships of living at the outer limits of the Old
We made several stops, for bread and for hon- Empire, nodded meekly. It was a phrase that we
ey, at ramshackle cottages that might have been were to hear several times over the course of the
plucked from a book of Russian fairy tales. Here and celebrations.
there Valentine would chain smoke and fraternize After a few hours of warming through, toast-
with the locals, wishing them ‘s nastupayishim’, the ing chestnuts over Valentin’s fire, the games be-
standard Russian greeting before a holiday. Return- gan. With the help of a few bottles of Kyrgyzstan
ing from one household, Valentin shook his head cognac we played the sticker challenge, whereby
in dismay. This goat-rearing family’s son, Talant, had each contestant has a famous identity attached to
gone missing. Talant, who had no legs and made his their forehead, whose name they must guess us-
February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Out & About 9

ing questions that demand either a “Da” or “Nyet” Sutra. They were housed in a small museum adjoin- saying a few words about it, but not cursing it, as
response. “Was I dead?” – “Da,” they replied excit- ing the complex of bath houses. Now Valentin was that would bring a cloud over the next one.
edly. “Was I a woman” – “Da!” “Was I from Europe?” working his own way into local mythology. Further After clinking bowls at the decisive moment,
– “Da!” “France?”- “Da!” squeaked the assembled along the river’s course he had constructed a series we went out into the midnight snow to set off fire-
in crescendo. “Coco Chanel then, “ I said, putting of open air stone baths, one of which, shaped like works. Valentin was as good as his word - the sky
the sticker down on the table in a blasé gesture a heart, he had dedicated to his wife, Galina: “The was alight with countless balls of burning gas - we
of confidence. I had won my first ever game of Bath of Love”. Did she appreciate the gesture? “She saw the Plough and Orion’s Belt constellations in
sticker challenge in a foreign language. Everyone loves her yaks more than she loves me,” he replied at least five separate places. But we had overdone
applauded in muted disappointment, for the prize sombrely. These unwieldy domestic pets had ar- the toasts, and although we were fit enough to see
was a much sought after foot-long salami. rived their way via one of the early writers of the in the Yekaterinburg New Year (one hour after Kyr-
We proceeded to knock back toasts in that nox- Lonely Planet guides, who had fallen in love with gyzstan’s New Year) and almost the Moscow New
ious, never-ending Russian sequence, while one one and bought it from a shepherd. Now they had Year (two hours after Yekaterinburg’s), alcotude
of the Yekaterinburg lot tried and failed to guess eighteen of the horned creatures and caring for levels got the better of us during a dash up to the
the identity on his head. “Am I Kyrgyz?” – “Yes!” we them took up much of the couple’s time and mon- bedroom to feast on our foot-long salami. Still,
chorused. “Then how am I supposed to know?” he ey. “My wife’s crazy,” he concluded, “but she loves Ded Maroz Valentin and his band of helpers had
fumed indignantly. “Don’t you watch the news? You animals, so what can you do?” brought the curtain down admirably on a year one
caused a revolution!” prompted a Karakol local. “I’d of them referred to euphemistically as “eventful”.
heard something,” he replied. ‘The hills around us were al- Eventful it was: S’NOVIM GODOM!
They had flown down to snowboard at Central
Asia’s premier ski base near Karakol –“In Yekater- ready studded with legend. Bud-
inburg we’ve got snow to eternity, but no moun-
tains” - and didn’t have much of an image of the
dhist stones had been found in
Above Images from Altyn Arashan including
country they had arrived in. For this new, younger the vicinity, carved with Sanskrit Valentin and Galina’s ‘bath of love’ and an-
generation of Russians, the Soviet Union was a other bath built into a rock face. For more info
dead concept. The knowledge that the former re-
verse and images supposedly on how to visit Valentin (left), call him up on
publics once had of each other had dissolved, and condemning the practice of the 0777119251 or email yaktours@infotel.kg (all
stereotypes were the only residue that remained. photos H. Firouzeh)
“Do you drink champagne out of bowls too?” one Karma Sutra’
asked curiously.
At dusk we availed ourselves of the thermal Hot spring dipping proved the perfect way
baths that have made Valentin’s favourite spot in to heat up ahead of the countdown to 2011. Al-
the world a haven for visitors over the last fifteen though the Japanese contingent lost all sense of
years. Different mineral-rich baths had different time, spending five hours in the baths and arriving
qualities, Valentin explained. One treated eczema, back to the hut two hours after midnight, the rest
another, female infertility. Really? of the crew was happy to hit up the New Year in a
“Once a woman that came here brought along state of relative cleanliness with a spoonful of Ol-
another, who couldn’t conceive. A few months lat- ivier salad (the former Soviet Union’s festive favour-
er, the woman’s friend got pregnant,” Valentin said. ite), some cold fat jelly stuff and the consistently
“Of course it is not official, and it won’t be until we undrinkable Sovietskoye champagne – from a bowl.
get more positive results, but it is a rather exciting The immersion in radon, iron and sulphur had left
development.” an aura of warmth around our skin, and when this
Altyn Arashan
The hills around us were already studded with latent heat eventually dissipated there was always
legend. Buddhist stones had been found in the vi- more cognac.
cinity, carved with Sanskrit verse and images sup- Russian tradition requires that you “see off” the
posedly condemning the practice of the Karma old year before you “meet” the new. This involves
www.thespektator.co.uk February 2011 The Spektator
10 Out & About

Love
Plov
and

in
Arslanbob
ELISE LAKER

I
‘Koshkelibsiz mexmonla,’ (‘welcome guests’ T’S ONLY EIGHT ‘O’ CLOCK and already the from a burning branch of a special tree called arch-
in Uzbek) to Almaz and Gulsever’s wed- cook has prepared twenty-five kilograms of er. I was to discover later why the plov was so fine,
Urgench’s finest plov, the most popular dish in when a man proclaimed that “a sure sign of good
ding day in Arslanbob, Jalal-Abad province.
Central Asia. It is made from carrot, (yellow or plov is that as you eat it the oil drips down your
Unable to refuse such a unique invitation, orange depending on sweetness preference), wrist.” He grinned manically and indicated an oily
Elise Laker made the long-haul road trip to mutton, onion, a gallon of oil, plus salt and pepper left arm as he proclaimed this.
Kyrgyzstan’s rural south, encountering wa- to taste. The cook tells me you can add raisins to The men queued to wash their hands before
terfalls, walnuts, a people inseparable from your plov too, and duly points to the succulent little leaving and some women arrived, bearing gifts
their traditions and belief-stretching quan- black dots enmeshed in the rice. Quite refreshing to wrapped in the traditional Uzbek atlas-patterned
hear, I may add, if you’ve been living up till now on fabrics. They were the groom’s mother’s friends.
tities of the region’s favourite oily rice and
a diet of boiled mutton, fat and the occasional bowl They placed scarves on her head and shook her
meat staple, plov. of greasy, tasteless plov. Carried away in my excite- hand in jubilation before entering the house for
ment, I ask if you can add red peppers too. But he women. I’m told that for the occasion of a traditional
looks concerned. I recall my Kyrgyz teacher, a young, Islamic wedding, the men and the women are sepa-
modern woman, who told me how she once tried to rated, and that different rooms and even houses are
experiment with her plov by lacing it with peppers. provided for the two sexes. I ask eagerly where the
She related that it was quite tasty, but that the friend bride-to-be is, but I’m told she is at her house, where
for whom she was making it didn’t take kindly to her she will wait for the big moment when Almaz the
meddling in the old traditional ways. “The ingredi- groom arrives to take her. So I headed over there
ents are rice, carrot, onion and oil,” she said, pound- where I found a similar scene to that at the groom’s
ing her fist on the table in mock imitation. house, but this time with the friends of the bride’s
Above The bride may seem a tad distraught, “I’m preparing this plov for hademe, over there’s family offering their blessings.
but she’s loving it all really (all photos Daniel some soup simmering,” the cook, Hashim, nodded The wedding musicians were chattering away
Pousette) his head in the direction of another stove. I glanced and I was intrigued by a long wooden horn at-
over, observing the oily pot, wondering nervously tached to one of them. “It’s called a karnei,” a striking
Opposite A solemn Almaz (centre) sits at the how many bowls of the broth I would have to drink man in a big fur hat said to me, “I’ll start playing it to
ceremonial table with his equally solemn out of sheer politeness over the course of the day. sound the arrival of the groom, and they’ll play the
companions. The carpet behind them reads The hademe or opening ceremony usually be- drums,” he added, looking to his two colleagues. “It’s
‘welcome dear guests’ gins at nine o’ clock, and features plenty of wise- our tradition because everyone in the village must
looking Uzbek men, sporting dopurs (Uzbek scull know that there is a wedding party.” A distinct smell
Far Right These young girls are left guessing caps), who enter the premises of the groom’s par- of vodka had entered the air, and yet this wedding,
as to goings-on outside - males and females ents’ house to meet and greet his relatives. The pur- I reminded myself, was an Islamic wedding. Ban-
are separated at traditional Uzbek weddings pose of this tradition is to bless the house where ishing the very notion, I requested some tea from
he and his bride will take up residence after their a slightly chipped teapot, and it revealed itself as
Next Page Weddings provide photogenic marriage. Following several plates of plov, which I’m containing not tea, but rather the vodka I had previ-
elders with an excellent opportunity to have ensured is of the finest quality, the Morning Prayer is ously smelt. “It’s true that at an Uzbek wedding, one
a natter and plan future weddings said and the house is blessed by wafting the smoke should not drink alcohol but see how we conceal it!

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Out & About 11

It’s ok if no one finds out, as long as we keep it out horn sounded for the second time, the entourage
of sight,” one of the drummers cannily reassures me. departed just as dramatically as they had arrived,
My arm twisted, I drink to a toast. They proceed to now with their bellies full.
talk about their wedding days and how it was differ- The bride, I’m notified, is soon to make her first
ent ‘back then.’‘Back then,’ I learn, refers to the Soviet appearance. She’ll be covered by a long veil and
time, when Central Asia was just a strange appendix taken to the house where her husband-to-be has
to the USSR, and when people knew of a greater just finished stuffing himself. To the unknowing
freedom, unburdened by the weight of centuries- onlooker it might appear that the bride is in some
old tradition. This was the dubious age when vodka distress, for her crying is quite intense. A young girl,
and beer were introduced to Central Asian society, who has decided to be my friend for the day, takes
something they have been trying to recover from my arm and tells me that it is the tradition for the girl
ever since as alcoholism retains an insidious grip to look upset: “She is sad, because it is the end of her
over the villages across the area. “My wedding childhood innocence, but happy because Almaz is
was definitely different. a good man. If she cries
I remember all the men it means her marriage
were drunk, people even ‘I’m told that for the occasion of a will be a happy one,”
fought one another!” traditional Islamic wedding, the men she says, smiling an in-
the same drummer ex- nocent smile.
claimed, “but it’s better and the women are separated, and As the bride en-
when people don’t drink, that different rooms and even hous- tered the room, you
it’s respectful to our re- wouldn’t have realised
ligion, people don’t act es are provided for the two sexes’ there had just been
wild,” he continued, half- a feast fit for a king.
happy, half-remorseful and of course, half-cut. Everything had been swiftly cleared away to make
Around midday, one of the musicians sounded space for her. A coin was tossed to symbolise wealth
the very horn we had been speaking about ear- and luck, and a prayer was uttered as the girl contin-
lier and the groom and his entourage appeared, ued to weep, her sister dutifully fanning her veil in
marching gallantly to a room inside the house of order to comfort her.
the bride’s family, where a feast awaited them. The As if the importance of plov in traditional Uzbek
room was adorned with the bride’s presents, con- culture hadn’t already been underlined by the prep-
sisting of garishly bright flowery dresses and head aration for hademe and the greasy-armed man, the
scarves which had been hung up on the walls. There meal once again took centre stage as part of a time-
was an entire cooked sheep in the centre of the less wedding tradition called yhlandi. In order to en-
room, strategically surrounded by breads and deli- sure the bride always has enough food to feed her
cious jams, which the groom and his close friends family, a ritual is carried out with three basic kitchen
ate before the bride arrived to be blessed. Such a ingredients: flour, butter and the ubiquitous plov.
feast is known in Uzbek as kiarnakavor. When the In this ritual, the groom and bride’s relatives

www.thespektator.co.uk February 2011 The Spektator
12 Out & About

Warriorsand
are obligated to rub these things into the hands of en, before abruptly leaving her in wait once more.

Walnuts
the bride. As they do so, the male relatives make He and his two best men took to their seats at the
wishes for the bride and pile spoonfuls of the plov special wedding table, marked by a large carpet,
onto her palms, whilst the women ensure these erected on the wall, with the words ‘welcome dear
Aside from plov-gobbling Uzbeks and the wishes will come true by pouring more plov and oil guests’ printed on its front. The pastel-coloured
best CBT office in Kyrgyzstan, Arslanbob is fa- onto her hands minutes later. After that, the cap- gates were flung open, and the party opened up
mous for being the home of the country’s first tive audience must once more summon the ap- to everyone in the village. Friends of Almaz and
known export to Europe: the walnut. A legend petite to eat from the communal bowl. Although Gulsever, mainly men and children, made speech-
goes that Alexander the Great, forger of one of I’m sure yhlandi is what broke my plov endurance es to wish the couple happiness and prosperity
the largest empires in world history, returned and wracked me with stomach cramps during the before embarking on a dance involving a lot of os-
home from his Persian campaign with a sack night, I like to think that the newlyweds will have tentatious movements and flamboyant shakes of
of Arslanbob’s finest. Whilst various sources full cupboards as a result of the exercise. Once the the hands and wrists. During the dance routines,
attribute the origin of the nuts to the Middle ritual reaches its conclusion, the bride is escorted people gave money, which was exchanged with
East, the ‘bob has over 11,000 hectares and back to her room where she will wait; contemplat- the groom and his best men for five som notes,
1500 tonnes-per-year’s worth of evidence to ing her fate for another few hours until partner- subsequently thrown onto the table. Women gave
support its ancient claim; the alpine forest for-life Almaz comes bounding in to collect her. At belts called charsi (made from brightly coloured
that overlooks the town is the largest single this particular wedding, the bride will not sit at the scarves) to men who tied them round their waists
natural source of walnuts on the Earth’s sur- table with her husband during the evening cele- to symbolise strength. Women, should they ven-
face, a source which supplied the Trans-Oxa- brations, because both families are very traditional ture to dance, were reinforced with even more
nian region before the Silk Road even existed. and believe the bride should not be seen at all. head scarves. Almaz and his friends looked on,
The nut season, which runs from late Sep- Whilst we waited, a soup was served followed awaiting more money to exchange, far from ju-
tember to mid-October, marks the best time to by plov, and perhaps predictably, more plov. The bilant, remaining serious-looking throughout the
visit Arslanbob, as whole families of registered dulcet tones of the wedding singer made for an night.
walnut gatherers amble around the woods, apt soundtrack to the setting of the sun, and eve- The ultimate dances were the preserve of this
collecting nuts and offering handfuls of hospi- ryone waited patiently for the finale to the day. small group, and they stayed straight-faced even
tality to grateful tourists. Nevertheless, in view Hashim, the cook who drew a line at peppers, whilst moving furiously to the music. I couldn’t
of the fact that Arslanbob is a poor town, and had apparently now generated over a hundred help but remember Toktopulat’s words and I ques-
walnut-poaching a state offence, ensure that kilograms of rice, and a quietly spoken man called tioned if Almaz was actually happy with his par-
you pay a fair price for larger quantities of the Toktopulat decided to tell me over the latest batch ents’ choice. So I asked him: “I’m looking forward
forest produce. of plov and a bowl of tea about a Ukrainian woman to my married life, yes,” the groom mused, “It was
The other eleven months of the year of- he had loved and lost ‘back then’, during the So- either this or my other plan...”
fer separate but nevertheless attractive tour- viet period. They were from different cultures, he “Your other plan?” I asked, confused. “Yes my
ism opportunities. The mountains ringing the admitted sadly, it could never have worked out be- other plan,” he pondered a little. “To go to Eu-
forest are a popular destination for skiers in tween them. I asked him about Almaz’s marriage, rope…” The dream seemed suddenly distant, like
winter, while spring ushers in bright blue skies and he replied that the situation was different. “Al- that of a different person. He assured me, however,
and no shortage of inspiration for the flora maz’s parents have arranged this wedding. There that he was content because his parents are happy,
and fauna fanatic. In summer, the settlement’s is no love now, but maybe in the future,” he mulled and that I was to understand that his village had
altitude provides welcome relief from the pensively, sipping his tea. very strong traditions and values which he was
scorching heat of the Fergana Valley below, as Suddenly some wonderfully loud and fast mu- obliged to uphold. He returned to dance one last
well as a chance to pit your wits against chess- sic started with an array of key changes and the straight-faced dance before the music faded and
playing locals in the town square. Seats in a groom came to seize his bride. Her hand in his, Al- the gates closed, almost silently, for him and his
shared taxi from Jalal-Abad to Arslanbob cost maz lead the young woman through the crowd to bride Gulsever to begin their married life together.
less than $10. For CBT office, tel: 0773342476. yet another room where they had their photo tak- Hamma zor - may it be long and prosperous!

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
16 Focus

Komuz Creation and
DENNIS KEEN

O
Turn on any state television channel in VER THE RADIO came a tune I knew, belies the incredible range of sounds that virtuo-
Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan and you are played on the komuz. It was a Kirghiz so komuz players, or komuzchus, can wrangle out
likely to stumble on scenes of bearded song which always made me think of a of their instruments. It’s voice is clear and sincere,
men jamming away in the steppes and lonely horseman riding through the twi- and any description of its song tends toward nos-
the jailoos. But what is that curious lit steppe. He has a long journey before talgia. You read a lot of quotes like Aitmatov’s, of
stringed instrument they are so fiercely him, the steppe is vast, he can think at leisure and shepherd’s strums soaring over the open steppe.
strumming? It is, in fact, the mother of softly sing a song, sing on what is in his heart. A man When I heard it, I somehow longed for this past
all stringed instruments, the seed that has many things to think over when he is alone, that I never knew. I needed to learn more about it,
spawned Jimi Hendrix, the great and when the only sound in the stillness about him is and perhaps learn to play the instrument myself.
glorious komuz.......... the rhythmic thud of his horse’s hoofs. The strings Sadly, I couldn’t hear any komuz tunes this
of the komuz rang gently, like water rippling over time because all the resident komuzchus were
smooth, clean stones. The komuz sang of the sun on vacation. Besides the anonymous piano play-
setting behind the hills, of the cool blueness sweep- ers behind closed doors, we were the only ones
ing stealthily over the ground, and of the worm- here, and we walked through this Soviet palace
wood and yellow feather grass stirring and sway- to music that felt sadly abandoned. The feeling
ing, shedding their pollen on the sun-baked road. only intensified when Turat took us downstairs,
The steppe would listen to the rider and sing with into the dark dungeon of the philharmonic. Our
him…” – Chingiz Aitmatov, writing in Тополек voices echoed in a hall filled with wood. The logs
Мой в Kрасной Kосынке. were waiting to be komuzes, but they would be-
Voices rang out from one room. A piano tin- come tables and chairs instead. The instrument
kled in another. I was navigating the corridors of workshop down here had been abandoned by
the Kyrgyz National Philharmonic, following the the previous director of the philharmonic, and
meekest Kyrgyz man I had ever met. After spend- now a lonely old man made furniture with the
ing time with eagle hunters who collect videos of komuz-carvers. We saw wood-bending machines
dog fights, I was genuinely relieved to meet Tu- and a device used to make chopo choors, a kind of
ratbek. His moustache and artist’s beret set him Kyrgyz ocarina. Turat had invented the contrap-
apart from the more thuggish types with whom tion himself, but now it sat unused, covered in
I’ve been cavorting. His demeanor, too, was re- powdered clay.
freshing – a caring sensitivity that immediately Up at ground level, we walked through a
put me at ease. My friend Mark Humphrey had lobby watched over by framed heads, portraits
given me his number, and he had generously of- of komuz players past. Turat pointed to one, Atai
fered to give me a tour of the ‘philharmonia’ and Ogonbaev, and told me about how he once had a
Above The komuz in a rudimentary phase of his musical instrument workshop. contest with a Kazakh musician where he played
its manufacture (all photos Dennis Keen) Turat was a master woodcarver, and from his komuz with his feet. Next he played it with a
boiled blocks of Batken apricot he created beau- knife, but the Kazakh player couldn’t keep up. He
Above Right Snapshots from Turat Akunov’s tiful specimens of the iconic Kyrgyz lute, the sliced his strings. Turat smiled, as if his story spoke
workshop. The central image is Akunov as a komuz. It has three strings made of sheep gut and volumes. Don’t try to outplay a Kyrgyz. You will
young man a neck without frets, but its seeming simplicity end up a broken man, with broken strings.
February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Focus 17

Outside it was softly raining, and we jumped about how to make a komuz. I fancied most his out a chart of stringed instruments. The violin, the
in a taxi to Turat’s. On the ride over, I was regaled stories of ‘the old days.’ Back then, they would lyra, the harp, you name it – all bastard stepchil-
with the story of Kambar Khan, the father of the make each komuz from only one piece of wood. dren of the komuz dreamed up by the ancients.
komuz. Old Kambar was inspired by a mountain The strings were made of sheep intestines, dried All this talk of gut harvests, shit soaking, and
goat, impaled on a tree, its intestines humming in the sun. “I’ll share a secret with you,” Turat said.
national pride had made us thirsty, so we headed
softly in the wind. From those guts the Khan made “If you slaughter the sheep in the spring, it will across the courtyard to Turat’s household proper,
the very first komuz strings. It was certainly a viv- be thinner and have less fat. Perfect conditions where we sat on cushions and drank tea. His musi-
id creation myth. I had heard it before, but read for gut harvesting,” he told me with a wink. I felt cian friend came for a visit, and from an unseen
that it was a monkey whose insides had turned privileged knowing that spring strings are the room Turat found the one instrument on the
musical. This new version seemed to correct the finest. In the old days, they would also take their property that wasn’t in disrepair. It was a kyl kyak,
discrepancy, as there have surely never been any finally-carved komuz and bury it in animal shit. strung with horse hair and played between the
monkeys in Kyrgyzstan. Yet Turat, despite being They’d keep it there for a year, to toughen the knees with a bow, the original cello, of course. It
more sympathetic to the goat intestine school of wood. I thought that the ritual must have made was small, though, like a violin, and the musician
thought, insisted otherwise. In the epics of old, he for a nasty-smelling komuz, but it appeared not to pretended it was one, tucking it under his chin
said, Kyrgyzstan was filled with lions, tigers, and have bothered anyone. They do, after all, use shit and playing it like a fiddle. It was Turat’s first kyak,
rhinos. Monkeys were certainly possible. Kyrgyz for firewood. he protested, so the sound was not perfect, but I
are ever-boastful, and my translator Ertabyldy was happy to find what I came for – music, in Kyr-
was not to be outdone. All people in the world, he ‘Turat was a master wood- gyzstan, played amongst friends.
said, are from Kyrgyzstan. The Italians are actually
Kyrgyz who took lepyoshkas and made them into
carver, and from boiled blocks of bringAsmy we left, I told Turat that next time I would
guitar and play him some folk music
pizza. And the Native Americans are Kyrgyz too. Batken apricot he created beauti- from America. Most people are amused to hear
They have the same eyes, he said. that such a thing exists, but he seemed genuinely
On the east side of town, we wove around ful specimens of the iconic Kyrgyz excited. He would make me a komuz, he said, and
puddles and arrived at a gate, where a little girl lute, the komuz’ then I could play folk music from both our coun-
smiled and beckoned us in. “My daughter,” Turat tries. Under his moustache flashed a smile, and I
said. He was a loving father, kissing her gently on As romantic as the old days were, Turat didn’t felt good to be amongst my own, the music-mak-
the head. She marched forward and showed us to quite miss the komuzes of yore. They were built ers of the world.
his workshop, a small space brimming with wood. for playing in the confines of a yurt, but now they
The walls were coated in instruments, komuzes, rang out to concert halls; thus, the instrument was
rebabs, and violins. I lusted after the twelve-string forced to evolve. So the komuz grew thicker, its Want your own Kyrgyz music-maker? Turat
guitar I spied in the corner, but he said I couldn’t concavity deeper, the strings secured with pegs Akunov can fashion you any folk instrument
play it. He didn’t make these instruments, he was and not leather. Every komuz I make, Turat said, is you like, from a komuz to a kyl kyak. Heck, he’s
just repairing them. The guitar was cracked, and a quest for the ideal. For inspiration, he looked not studied violin-making in Switzerland so he can
disembodied komuz parts were strewn through- to humming goat guts but to guitars, role mod-
sort you out with one of those too. Expect beau-
out the room. Water, water everywhere, and nary els for the komuz of the future. Yet while admit-
tiful craftmanship at reasonable prices. Repairs
a drop to drink. ting the acoustic inferiority of this national icon,
I sat down and talked with him for an hour he was also insisted on its divine status. From the and workshop tours are also in order. Call him at
or more, asking him everything I could think of komuz came everything, he showed me, taking (0312) 461 968, or write to tjakunoff@mail.ru
www.thespektator.co.uk February 2011 The Spektator
18 Focus

Hunter
The

with a
Paintbrush
DENNIS KEEN

F
In the second of two articles focusing on OR TWO MONTHS, Mairamkul As- some Kyrgyz scholars about my eagle hunting
Kyrgyzstan’s creative and talented indi- analiev was a mystery to me. I had come research. There is one man, she said, who knows
viduals, Dennis Keen follows the unlike- across his work through simple seren- a lot about these ancient traditions. You should
ly trail from a pirated disc to the master dipity, on a pirated CD of Kyrgyz folk meet him. His name is Mairamkul. “Mairamkul
artist responsible for designing Bishkek’s music I had bought at a bazaar. Sifting Asanaliev?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied, “Do you
city seal, discovering a few new things through its contents on my computer, I found know him?”
about Kyrgyz national hero Manas in the more than just the music I had bought it for. For “Meet me by the eternal flame,” he told my
process. sure, there were komuz tunes aplenty, but hid- translator Abay when we called. A few days later
den amongst the mp3s was a strange hodgep- we found him there at the war memorial, short
odge of Kyrgyz cultural ephemera – nationalist and dressed in a shabby suit, topped with a
music videos, Arabic calligraphy, seventy-year- felt Kyrgyz kalpak embroidered with runes. He
old recordings of Kyrgyz bards reciting ancient had the shyness of an artist, with none of the
sagas. I dug through the folders, surprised and boisterous bragosity that I had encountered
intrigued. Hidden in the depths of this two-dol- in other men in these parts. Walking to a Chi-
lar disc was the most striking Kyrgyz art I had nese restaurant, he asked us if we recognized
ever seen. Lions fused into crocodiles with arms him. We had met this mystery man before, ap-
studded with emblems, and fine lines formed parently, at an eagle hunting festival in Talas,
abstract patterns within eagle heads. Primitive without even knowing it. It turns out that the
imagery was entwined with psychedelia, my- hunter and the artist were one and the same.
thology mixed with surreal abstraction. It all He was actually the leader of a hunting federa-
seemed to sing with hidden meaning, but I had tion in Kyrgyzstan. My interests had come full
no idea what that meaning was. One picture circle. Perfect.
was a scanned poster, faded and scrawled over, As I filled up his teacup in the back room of
and on it the artist had revealed his name in ru- the Chinese place, Mairamkul gave me a book
nic font: Asanaliev Mairamkul Musabai uulu. of his art. I stared at the designs, trying to de-
For weeks after, I searched for more. English- cipher them. Around the book’s frame was a
language googles gave me nothing, but some trail of symbols, and the artist pointed at them
Russian-language searches told me that this and spoke. “Holy letters,” he said. One by one, he
Mairamkul was a famous Kyrgyz designer. He picked apart the runes, letting me in on their
had created the flag of Bishkek and its city seal, secret meanings. “See this one here? This is the
an abstracted snow leopard hunched beneath earth and this is the heavens. This line between
Right Dragons are a dominant feature in a castle. The emblem was everywhere, from them? It is the connection between men and
Mairakmul Asanaliev’s artistry (all images news stands to cop cars, but it was presented gods.” He had found the lines and spirals in old
used with the permission of M. Asanaliev) with anonymity. You would never know who books, and each one had a story. I tried to ask
had created it. But now I knew, and the mystery who made them, when they were used, but the
Opposite Page Asanaliev’s world: a fantastic grew. Then, just as accidentally as I had found specifics didn’t seem important to him. They
mix of ancient warriors, mythical animals and the art, I stumbled on the artist. I was speaking were just a part of a hazy Kyrgyz past, the realm
Soviet-era conspiracy theories with a colleague when she suggested I speak to of his ancestors, when men blended into myth

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Focus 19
and all was sacred. “Nowadays, people talk and fore the coming of the Soviets, though, the dogs
talk but say nothing. Everything is senseless. were even more plentiful, more pure, more glo-
But back then,” he said, “everything had mean- rious. They could catch a snow leopard, people
ing.” said. But the Soviets wanted to eliminate them.
He pointed to a drawing of his to ex- The secret service had a list of dog-owners,
plain. A man sat in meditation, flanked by and they went town-to-town, tracking them
lions and dragons. Behind him loomed an down. They would tell them that their dogs
eagle, and on its feathers were forty sym- were sick, and they would give them injec-
bols, every one a tribal marker. The man tions. The needles were full of water. The
was Manas, a Kyrgyz hero who was said dogs all died.
to have united these forty tribes and led I listened to these stories with incredu-
them into the golden age of the Kyrgyz lity. What was I to believe? It seemed like
people. In Kyrgyzstan, he is ubiquitous – seventy years of Sovietification had left the
his statues grace the squares and his name Kyrgyz people so bereft of any authentic
is on the airport, the streets and the stores. understanding of themselves that they had
“He is like a god,” said Mairamkul. Pointing to crafted fantasy worlds for themselves, convinc-
the hero’s face, he traced his finger along the ing themselves of their own glory and victimiza-
curves of his moustache. “See how it’s curled up tion, where Kyrgyz defeated Greeks and the KGB
at the end? Back then, this meant something. If killed their dogs. I was reminded of a friend of

they called them Cyclops. I tilted my eyebrows
in disbelief, but Mairamkul kept going. The man
and the horse seemed to be one, he said, and
they called this beast a Minotaur. The stories
were mixed up, the truths were jumbled, but
the Kyrgyz were at the centre of it all.
Most of these tales are gone now, he said,
lost to the ages. The Kyrgyz were a rich peo-
ple, blessed by the wisdom of their forefathers.
When the Russians came, it was all destroyed.
They wanted to take from us what defined us,
Mairamkul told me, what made us special. So
they found the people who knew the most
about these things and they killed them. “I met
one old man,” he said, “named Hussein Karasol-
tov. He had no teeth. The Soviets had ripped
them all out and then thrown him in jail. When
I talked to him, he laughed. He laughed at the
wonder of still being alive. Everybody else was
killed.” According to Mairamkul, the plot was
far-reaching. “If you even said the word Manas,
wrote the word Manas, you were not safe.”
The stories of persecution piled up beside
the mythology. Even dogs were exterminated.
Mairamkul looked sad as he told about the
taigans, a Kyrgyz breed that would accompany
falconers on their hunts. He had some of these
dogs himself at home – most hunters did. Be-

your moustache curved up, it meant you were Mairamkul’s I had met in Talas, who told me that
strong, and your health would not leave you. If the Kyrgyz people had invented the fork. For
it drooped down, you were weak. Your health these scholars, nothing was worth fact-check-
was not good, and soon, maybe you would die.” ing. Everything was possible, because the Kyr-
He stared at me earnestly. Everything had gyz nation was all and everything.
meaning, he repeated. Even the direction of As we were leaving the restaurant,
the handlebars on your ‘tache. Mairamkul signed his book for me, writing
The mythology was endless. Stories my name in his very own font. He had taken
built upon stories, and what seemed su- runes and shaped them into Cyrillic, turn-
perflous to me was deadly serious to the ing them and twisting them, old symbols
artist. He pointed to a spiraling rune and coming alive again as they turned into the
leapt into another tale. When they went sounds of my name. Were these shapes re-
into battle, Kyrgyz warriors used to put ally Kyrgyz? I didn’t know. Did the man on
this on the forehead, he said, painted in red. the cover ever really exist, and did the shape
They wore all black, and rode dark horses. of his moustache really have some sort of cov-
When they were fighting the Greeks, the enemy ert meaning? It didn’t matter. To Mairamkul, it all
saw them only as shadows, and the spirals be- meant something, and to me, it was all beautiful.
came red eyes. Once defeated, they went back Whether by fact or fiction, the hunter’s art was
to Greece and spoke of one-eyed monsters, and inspired, and truth had nothing to do with it.

www.thespektator.co.uk February 2011 The Spektator
20 Focus

Book Review:
Akmatov’s
Arhat
HOLLY MYERS

D
O YOU THINK that a little man, a bu- his ego on another planet. Today, humanity is enly translates this title as “Queen of Hearts.”)
reaucrat without much in the way of changing everything, effecting the cosmos all The Committee of 300 plays a strange role in the
brains or spirit can turn a whole capital around, but it cannot change its ego in any way. novel’s plot, as Mani Yaso warns world leaders of
city upside down?” “Of course not.” “But Egoism may be found in an individual, collective, the Committee’s secret plans to corrupt human
why not? He just might do it.” “I say he group, or national government. Take, for an ex- morality, by putting narcotics in school cafeteria
can’t! Not if he’s a timid mouse.” “Then listen... It ample, the threat of environmental catastrophe, food and legalizing same-sex marriages, and even-
seems that in this world anything is possible.” which is in such a critical position today. The In- tually turning the populations of China and India
So begins Kazat Akmatov’s novel, an adven- ternational Organization of Kyoto, calling for the into cyborg robots. These strange arguments are
turous bildungsroman that blends philosophy, prevention of the “greenhouse effect,” an ecologi- abandoned, however, in the novel’s conclusion.
religious treatises, socio-political critique, science cal disaster, has not been able to get Russia and Toward the end of the novel, Professor Robert
fiction, and magical realism with traditions of folk the USA, two of the strongest world powers, to Langdon, Dan Brown’s fictional character from The
history and oral storytelling. sign this agreement. Thus, two enormous gov- Da Vinci Code, makes a harried appearance, defend-
The novel follows the life of Adilet, an unusu- ernments, which are threatening nature more ing himself against attacks of “sowing discord in the
al Kyrgyz boy who chases the squeaking sound of than anyone, do not want to sign the agreement souls of Christians around the world.” First, he ar-
swing sets in his sleep as he searches for a gravita- – this is the strength of a government’s egoism. gues: “The protests aren’t about me! I’m a character
tional corridor to the planet Sirius, the star under And there are many such examples in life, when in a novel!” But then he impresses Mani Yaso with
which he was born. His parents named him Adil- different types of egoism dominate... Of course, speeches about the power of Truth, demanding: “Is
et, meaning “Justice”, in memory of the injustice everyone should have a healthy sense of self, but it righteous to deny a fact centuries later and issue
dealt to him on the first day after his birth, when excessive egoism is certainly bad and can lead to an absurd statement that it never happened?” The
government officials took away the glorious title dire consequences at the global level. These and question frightens Mani Yaso, as it forces him to face
of “one millionth resident in Bishkek” because his other problems are raised in my novel.” the fact that he may have once again lost his way
parents lived in the poor part of town. Nine-year- In juxtaposition to the novel’s topical themes, by trying to change the world according to his own
old Adilet, whose eccentricities and strong sense the element of ‘magical realism’ may present the will, when speaking to world leaders about the ac-
of justice prevent him attending regular schools, greatest challenge to Western readers of Arhat. tivities of the Committee of 300. Abandoning that
leaves his home and family to study in a Tibetan More often trained in the convention of Realist lit- direction, he sets himself on an ever more fantasti-
Buddhist temple, where he hopes to find answers erature, and farther removed from a cultural back- cal course, and the novel ends on a tenuous note
to the questions that have been troubling him. drop of mythology, Western readers may be more of hope for humanity’s salvation from the effects of
At the temple, he is renamed Mani Yaso, de- likely to expect a reliable narrator to create and ex- egoism.
termined to be a reincarnation of the famous saint plain the text’s reality using the accepted natural or
Milarepa, and taught several different Buddhist physical laws. In magical realism, however, an osten-

About the Book
arts – both meditative and magical – on his way to sibly reliable narrator creates the sensation of real-
attaining arhat, a very high stage in Tibetan Bud- ity, perhaps one that is familiar in many ways, which
dhism, in which the foes of affliction are destroyed. suddenly, without warning or excuse, behaves un-
Now a young man, and already a renowned lama, expectedly, defying these natural or physical laws.
Mani Yaso embarks on a difficult journey, where After Mani Yaso has grown up and begun Since its publication in 2007, Arhat and its au-
he must learn to judge what is right and what is traveling around the world, the mishmash of real thor have received a number of prizes and
wrong, battling the dangerous egoism in himself and fantastic becomes all the more pronounced awards, including the Kyrgyz State Toktogul
and others. When Kazat Akmatov had just finished with the addition of extraterrestrial tribes and Prize (2009), the National Bestseller of the
writing Arhat, he spoke to a Kabar correspondent outlandish conspiracies. The infamous Count Year (2008), the gold medal Lomonosov Prize
about this theme of egoism in the novel: of St. Germain, here a supposed reincarnation (2007), and the international Ruhaniat prize
“The boy went to a Tibetan temple to study, of Nostradamus, becomes one of Mani Yaso’s (2007). The English version, translated by Eliza-
creating his own mantra of the occult and a meth- friends; he claims that no one wrote about him beth Adams, can be purchased for 370 soms
od to change the selfish human consciousness. better than Aleksander Pushkin in the novella, from Raritet book stores in Bishkek. At 495
But it turns out that a person can only change Queen of Spades. (The English version mistak- pages long, it is worth every som.

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
THE GUIDE
22

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

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

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Bars, Restaurants & Clubs 23
Dillinger* (Gorky/Tynystanova) Navigator (103, Moskovskaya) Cyclone (136, Chui)
Glamorous VIP complex including a restaurant, bar A pricy, but pleasant place to while away an after- Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient,
and casino. A decedantly decorated and perculiarly noon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge in the polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to al-
endearing homage to the notorious bank robber - airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive service leviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out
we’re sure he would appreciate it. $$$$ among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$
and a refreshing selection of salads, a good place
Fatboy’s* (Chui/Tynystanova) for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease are Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
Civilized, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town and getting you down. $$$$ Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serv-
a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot for con- ing excellent pizza. Also serves salads and European
versation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini-library to pe- Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panfilova) cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime din-
ruse (although literary classics are thin on the ground). The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con- ing. $$
Check out the American pancakes for breakfast, top ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base-
marks. $$$ ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection Japanese
of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova) an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés.
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El- A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro- Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking
mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$ suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals.
place to splash out on a special occasion or just for
the hell of it. $$$$ The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape to-
U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya) gether enough soms. $$$$
Foyer (27, Erkindik ) Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restaurant.
Watari (Shevchenko, Frunze)
Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening cock- Descend into this underground warren and tuck in. A small Japanese-owned restaurant that serves su-
tail or check your inbox with a cup of coffee. Free Also check out the fairy-light adorned flagship sister- shi as well as dishes with a more indian flavour. The
Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$$ rabbit-restaurant in Asenbai micro region. $$$
refined atmosphere makes it ideal for a business
meeting or just a sophisticated night out $$$
Griffon (Microregion 7) Vavilon (Microregion 7)
A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting Finely presented dishes, reasonably priced beer (60
central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the som) genuinely friendly and attentive service and live Korean
waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch of music from 8-ish on most evenings. Definitely worth
chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase. $$$ Petel (52, Zhykeeva Pudovkin)
the trek out to the suburbs ( tell your taxi driver to turn
Operating in the back room of a Korean family’s
left at the yuzhniy vorota and head towards Asenbai house, this is Korean style home-cooking at its most
Jam* (179, Toktogula)
An underground oasis of cool. Jam is a cafe with a for about 1.5km) $$$ personal. Closed on Sunday. Ring: 0543 922539 $$
full menu, kalians (shisha pipes) and a lounge bar Vis-a-Vis (26, Logvinenko)
atmosphere, open till 3am . $$$$ Soon to be renamed “The Queen’s Head”, This place is Santa Maria (217, Chui)
a new honey pot for ex pats. Steak is always advisable Plush Korean restaurant offering Eastern favourites,
Jumanji (Behind the circus) including exciting Korean barbecues where you get
when eating at an appendix to a butcher’s, and the sir-
It’s strange. This place is decorated with fake jungle to cook your own dinner, plus an extensive Euro-
foliage and is based on a crap kids’ film yet still sort loin here is exceptional. Also, enjoy English breakfasts,
pean menu. $$$
of works. You also get to roll a pair of Jumanji dice chips that aren’t cold and local dark ale Chuiski on tap.
Recommended! $$$
before you order for the chance to win a special se- Lebanese
cret prize - we like this. $$$
Beirut (Shevchenko/Frunze)
Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda)
Indian Now in a new location, Beirut continues to serve en-
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at The Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt) ticing Lebanese goodies including falaffle, humus,
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian and tasty little meat pie things. $$$
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the food make this place a real treat. On midweek days
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$$ there are also several excellent business lunch deals
offering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for Moldovan
Lounge Bar* (338a, Frunze) 250-350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator fa-
One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer- vourite! $$$$ Moldova Restaurant (Kievskaya/Turusbekova)
time, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-cum- If it’s been a while since you last went out for a
terrace high above the street with slouch-couches Italian Moldovan, this wooden paneled, sturdy-tabled ea-
and fine views of the circus - which you can some- tery may be the answer to your prayers. Also, the
times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$ Adriatico (219, Chui) Moldovan Embassy is next door should you care
Reportedly suffering following the departure of to learn more about the world’s favourite budget-
Metro* (133, Chui) its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told wine exporting country. $$$
In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro that the soup is still excellent. $$$$
remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. A Regional/Central Asian
high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli- Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection Adriatico’s former Italian chef, Walter, has moved Arabica* (Mederova/Tynastanova)
of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch- homes and is now serving a practically identical range This formerly sophisticated laid back shisha pipe)
ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the of dishes at this spot just behind October cinema. bar has moved to a new location and, by the looks
hideously late kickoff times for Champions League Enjoy the best pizza in town, gnocci and other typi- of the bath in the toilets, may still be under devel-
football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting up cal Italian numbers, tasty business lunches from 200 opment. Three floors, VIP rooms, kaliyans aplenty.
unless it’s a big one. $$$ soms. $$$$ $$$

Spektator
THE

.co.uk
Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and thespektator.co.uk

www.thespektator.co.uk February 2011 The Spektator
24 Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Arzu-II (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) Zaporyzhia (9, Prospect Mira) Apple (28, Manas)
Twenty-four hour joint that’s a godsend for those Recently opened, Zaporyzhia is a cossack fla- Fat, old, lecherous foreigners not welcome, this
who get cravings for lagman or manti at four in voured restauraunt in a varnish-scented log cab- place is for a younger cooler crowd. Multiple bars,
the morning. Sometimes smoking isn’t allowed, in. Hearty rustic dishes and a homely atmosphere. large dance floor, friendly atmosphere. Thursday
sometimes it is, however the food and prices are The medovukha is recommended! $$$ usually a big night. (Entrance charge 100-300 som)
constantly pretty good. Comfy booth style seats to
dig yourself into after a heavy night. $$ Turkish Arbat (9, Karl Marks)
Ajar (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula) Tel. 512094; 512087
Arzu-I (Togolok Moldo, next to the stadium) Smart ‘elite’ club popular with a slightly older
Offers a hearty selection of Kyrgyz and European Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact crowd. Strip bar and restaurant in same building.
dishes and a homely atmosphere. There’s also a ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is (Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450
great outdoor terrace and national favorouit Arpa limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’ and som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som)
on draught. $$ something cheap and tasty will arrive. $
City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina)
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Carlson (166, Sovietskaya) Tel. 511513; 510581
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range A good outdoor terrace and some hearty food, but So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like
of Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an the Karaoke style crooners who provide evening cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the posh-
impressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football entertainment are an acquired taste. $$ est clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly
nights, when the locals are rather rowdy. $ people beware) and spend your evening with gang-
Huzur (Kievskaya/Togoluk Moldo,)
Faiza (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira) Convivial proprietor Ali claims to have Steven Ger- ster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh business-
Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub rard’s 2005 Champion’s League winning Liverpool men and a posse of young rich kids who all seem to
in town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good shirt. If you don’t believe that, belive in free lipyosh- have studied in London. (Entrance charge: girls 200/
that they have often run out by supper-time. Save ka and good, affordable Turkish cuisine. $$ boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500
an appetite and go early. $$ Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo)
Konak (Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
Forel (Vorentsovka village) This Turkish joint used to be ‘Restaurant Camelot’ Tel. 620131
Twenty minutes outside of Bishkek, Forel is a fish- hence the incongruous suits of armour in the back A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists liter-
based ‘relaxation centre’ set amongst babbling room, and the rather crappy castle facade. However, ally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly staff,
streams and offering fine veiws of the mountains. Fish the food is often great, the salads are large and fresh, cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance charge
your own trout out of a pool and have it deep fat fried and the staff are always pleasant. Recommended! [girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/Sat. ‘For-
for your pleasure. Only salads, bread, tea and juice are (And now open 24 hours a day) $$ eigners’ free.)
sold on site but you are welcome to bring any booze
Retro Metro (24, Mira)
or garnish you desire, it’s also possible to rent a BBQ.
To get there take a taxi to Vorentsovka village and, if Night www.retrometro.kg

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

the Spektator
strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the
As Heaven is found inside a hotel it is surprisingly best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night.
unseedy. In fact it stands out for being a bastion of Rock or blues bands normally play at the week-
Rates from 2000 som per page. the well-dressed (if one is generous). Turn up in tatty ends. (Music charge 200-350 som)
jeans and a t-shirt and you may feel a little out of
Email: place; then again, you may not give a shit. Tables by Tequila Blues (Turesbekova/Engels)
advertise@thespektator.co.uk the dancefloor cost 1000 som but include drinks up A possible misnomer, the tequila is just fine but
to this value. (Entrance charge 200-400 som) the blues is non-existent. Russian studenty types
mosh away the nights to Rock bands in an at-
Fire & Ice (Tynystanova/Erkindik) mospheric underground bunker. (Music charge
Russian/Ukrainian A slightly grittier version of Golden Bull. Again, for- 150 som)
Pirogoff-Vodkin (Kievskaya/Togolok Moldo) eigners can often get in for free. Popular throughout
Sweet Sixties (Molodaya Gvardia/Kievskaya)
Classy restaurant with a turn of the 20th century the week. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free)
Live cover bands most nights. Full menu, popular
atmosphere serving Russian specialities. Have your with a younger crowd. $$
Gvozd (Western side of the Philharmonia)
tea in a giant samovar. $$$
Foreigners for free, urban grooves and acceptable
Zeppelin (43, Chui)
Khutoryanka (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge) prices at the bar. ‘Gvozd’ means ‘nail’ in Russian, but
Zeppelin is in the same vein as the old Tequila
Unassuming, to put it mildly, on the outside, this you’ve probably got a better chance at the Golden
Blues but not quite so spit and sawdust. On the
place is a revelation on the inside. Delicious food, Bull. Its almost like the crowd from Pharaoh have mi-
nights we’ve visited, there’s been a line up of young
reasonable service, Ukrainian brass band music grated. (Entrance ‘foreigners’ free)
rock or punk bands strutting their stuff, heavier
on the cd player. We love it! $$$
Platinum (East side of the Philharmonia) beats seem to go down best with the young Rus-
Taras Bulba (Near the Yuzhniy Vorota on Sovietskaya) sian crowd. Full restaurant menu.
Like all the Ukrainian restaurants we’ve tried in Take a seat at the snazzy 360 degree bar and do (Entrance charge 100-150 som)
Bishkek, Taras Bulba serves great food. We liked the battle with some of Kyrgyzstan’s most convivial
potato pancakes with caviar, the delicious soups ‘elite’ for gold-digging temptresses. (Entrance Live music also common at Stary Edgar’s, Beatles
and fresh salads. $$$ charge 400-500 som) Bar, Foyer and Blonder Pub (see ‘restaurants’)

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk
Map 25
a
Gvardia a Gvardi
Mo l o d aya Moloday

Jibek
Jo lu
Kievskaya
THE MOUNTAINS

Chui
Engelsa
Lva Tolstogo

3

Toktogula
1 2 13
23 ve.
Manas a
ve.
Manas a4 5

Ryskulova

Jumabe
ve.
Manas a

Kievskaya
Moskovskaya

Isanova

k
T. Abdymom
Isanova
6 11 8 va
7 Koenkozo
Isanova
12 Dvorets
Sporta
9 10

unov stadium
oldo
Togolok M

Jibe
Michael Frunze
Spartak

k Jo
Chui
Toktogula

k o 14
Logvinen
Moskovskaya

va
Orozbeko
15

Juma

Baeto
16
Lva Tolstog

va
Orozbeko a
Razzakov
Bokonbaeva

bek

va
18 a
Razzakov
Erkind
Abdym

17
Erkindik
Tugolbay

Michae
omuno
o

19 21
l Frunze

a ova
Fatianov Tynystan
va

ova
Tynystan 20 AYA
SOVETSK
AYA
Circus

26 27 SOVETSK
Chui

AYA
Kievskaya

SOVETSK aeva 24
22
Shopoko
va
A. Usenb
Toktogula
Lva

25 va
Shopoko
Pravda
a
Elebaev
Tol

Pravda
s

lya
Gogo
tog

Ogonbae
Moskov
o

North
Bokonb

lya
Gogo
va

www.thespektator.co.uk February 2011 The Spektator
26 What’s On
Valentine’s Day Dates TUK Dates for February Entertainment Directory
February 12th February 11th-13th The Puppet Theatre
‘F**k Valentine’s Day’ at Metro Bar Trip to Semenovka Village (Issyk Kul) Sovietskaya/Michurina
Some angry Russian youths are planning a Snowshoes trip to the TUK tourist base in Se- Performances on Sundays at 11:00am.
night of heavy metal bedlam in revolt against menovka village. Trekking around the Ak-Say
this bourgeoise Western holiday. Free Henna gorge. Transport and accomodation (includ- Russian Drama Theatre
tattoos, starts at 8.30pm. ing consultation and guide) for a group of 15 Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park)
is about 2220 som per person (1770 som for Tel.: 662032, 621571
February 14th members). Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00
‘Day for Lovers’ at Promzona Tickets 30-100 som
Promzona, way out in the ‘burbs, but always February 12th Local and international plays in Russian.
worth the trek, is planning a special night of Second Annual Ski Festival
music and love. Entrance: 350 soms. The second charity festival ‘Kyrgyzstan coun- The Conservatory
try of Alpine ski’ will take place at the ski base Jantosheva, 115
February 14th Toguz-Bulak. The festival program includes, Tel: 479542
‘Eastern Love’ at Marrakesh Lounge Bar music, downhill skiing, a meal, 50% discount Concerts by students and professors.
Dubiously titled, but we’ve heard good things on ski equipment and the opportunity for a
about this spot, located out on 32, Akhunbaeva snowshoes trip. Call TUK for details. Kyrgyz State Philharmonic
street. If you make this evening, feel free to send
Chui Prospect, 253
a review to editor@thespektator.co.uk. February 13th
Tel: 212262, 212235
Day trip to the Sokuluk gorge
Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer
Miss Kyrgyzstan Final Hike to a local waterfall and return to Bishkek.
Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for
Suitable for all ages and abilities. Transport
February 18th and organization (including consultation and special performances)
Talent Show Final at Russian Drama Theatre guide) for a group of 15 is 270 som (for TUK There are two concert halls featuring classical,
Even if you think you live with her, this has members – 250 som). traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety
to be worth a watch. Ring organizer Nittu of shows.
(0555695331) for details and tickets. February 18th-20th
Alpine ski at the Karakol ski base Opera Ballet Theatre
Three days skiing at Karakol ski base. Sovietskaya/Abdymununova
Culture Dates Transport and organization per person for a Tel: 66 15 48
group of 15 is about 1300 som (for TUK mem- Hours: 17:00-19:00
February 18th-19th bers – 1200 som). Tickets: 150-600 som
Moscow Ballet comes to town Tickets for performances sell out very quickly and
The Moscow ballet will be performing at the February 19th-20th it is necessary to book a seat in advance.
Opera Ballet Theatre in what looks to be the Alpine ski at the Orlovka ski base
cultural highlight of the month. Tickets can be Day trip. Transport and organization fares
purchased over the counter at the OBT. Their including consultation and guide are: For a
are two performances: ‘Mystery: Ode to Joy’ set group of 15 tourists - 350 som (base fare), 430 Live updates
to a Beethoven score and ‘Confessions of Love’ som (TUK).
to music by Tchaikovsky. For all the Bishkek opera, ballet and concert listings,
Sovietskaya/Abdymununova February 20th check our frequently updated What’s On listings at:
Tel: 66 15 48 Day trip to the Alamedin gorge www.thespektator.co.uk
Hike in the panorama of the “Black Finger” and
February 25th-March 1st “Aman Too” peaks. Hike to local waterfall and
Fashion week and textiles exhibition picnic in the open air. Visit hot springs. Suit- Spektral Travel
Legprom (light industry enterprises) are pro- able for all ages and abilities. Distance: 12km.
moting the brand ‘Made in the Kyrgyz Repub- Price of transport from 240 soms -310 soms de- Spring is threatening to come early this year, which
lic’ at this week-long event. Events will include pending on numbers. means a trip to the slopes may be in order while there is
catwalks, presentations by senior designers still good snow. Karakol’s ski base is receiving rave reviews
and ‘fashion competitions’. There will also be Attention: Groups must be formed and meet and we can thoroughly recommend Amir guesthouse to
the non-budget traveller heading out in this direction.
the opportunity for tourists to buy clothes. on the Thursday prior to the day of departure,
Breakfast here is superb and the on-site Russian banya is a
Mederova, 44 (Near Golden Dragon Casino) between 14.00 and 19.00 pm. TUK can also pro-
revelation. Phone (0392251315) for more details.
Tel:54-92-29, website: www.legprom.kg. vide equipment for hire at competitive rates.

Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek, Chui av. 4A, Office A4
Tel.: +996 (312) 90 61 15, 90 61 39
e-mail: trek@elcat.kg,
website: www.trek-kyrgyzstan.com, www.tuk.kg

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

February 2011 The Spektator www.thespektator.co.uk