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THE Spektator №16 March 2011

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

years on

Silk Road

An Ode to
It’s Not
Travels in

. .
Tourist Map What’s On Restaurant Guide

ContentsThe Spektator Magazine

It’s not Hollywood
A brief, entertaining look at the archives
belonging to the state film production
company. Guided tours are available.

Founder: Tom Wellings

Seven Years on the Silk Road
Christopher Aslan Alexander endured
ups and downs as manager of a silk
Managing Editor: Chris Rickleton carpet weaving cooperative in Khiva,
( Uzbekistan. This month Spektator founder
Tom Wellings gets the scoop on his book
A Carpet Ride to Khiva, as well as the
author’s impressions of the Uzbek state
Staff writers: Robert Marks (rmarks@ and the stereotype sneakiness of Khiva’s, Dennis Keen timeless rivals, the Bukharans.
(, This Month
Holly Myers, Evan Harris,
Patrick Barrow, Pavel Kropotkin News and Views
Trolleybuses, nuclear radiation and canine
Anthony Butts (anthonybutts@
assassinations - all legacies of the Soviet, Sergey Vysotsky Union. Still, at least in those days a wheel
of lepyoshka was affordable. We round up
the month’s news for our readers.
Guest Contributor: Vladimir Petrov

Design: Aleka Claire Out & About

Advertising Manager: Irina Kasymova

The Land Time Forgot
The Spektator’s partners in crime the
(email: Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan bomb off to
southern Kazakhstan for a whistlestop tour
of the country’s distant past, discovering
unspoilt gems along the dusty, arid steppe.

Ode to Manas
In Kyrgyzstan the national hero Manas
pops up in the most unexpected places.
Dennis Keen reports on an afternoon of
ethnographic-architectural weirdness.

The Guide
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs
All the best bars and clubs in town.
City Map
Don’t get lost. 25
What’s On
Want to contribute as a freelance
The pick of the entertainment listings. 26
writer? Please contact:
ON THE COVER: A silk carpet pattern employing the
colours traditional to Uzbek handicrafts (C.A. Alexander)
The Spektator Magazine is available at locations throughout Bishkek, including: (Travel Agencies) Adventure Seller, Ak-Sai Travel, Carlson Wagonlit, Celestial Mountains, Ecotour, Glavtour,Kyrgyz Concept,
Kyrgyz Travel, Muza, NoviNomad (Bars & Restaurants) Cowboy, Hollywood, Metro, New York Pizza, No1, 2x2, Boulevard, Coffeehouse, Doka, Fatboy’s, Four Seasons, Live Bar, Lounge Bar,
Meri, Navigator, Stary Edgar’s Veranda, Adriatico, Cyclone, Dolce Vita, Santa Maria, Golden Bull (Casinos) Europa, Golden Dragon, XO (Hotels) Dostuk, Hyatt, Golden Dragon, Holiday, Alpi-

nist (Embassies and Organisations) The UN building, The American base, The German Embassy, The Dutch Consulate, CAMP Ala-too, NCCR, The Bishkek Opera & Ballet Society.
The Spektator is now online at
4 This Month
In Bishkek, the Mayor’s Office is Still Shooting Dogs
BISHKEK, March 8 (
An online petition against the plans of Bishkek au-
thorities to shoot up to 10,000 stray dogs won sup-
port from over 1,000 people in over 50 countries
around the world on the first morning of its exist-
ence. The Kyrgyz authorities challenged petitioners
to feed the animals themselves.
The organizer of the campaign, American
organization, headed the petition ad-
dressed to President of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otun-
“There are many programs, spay neuter pro-
grams and building shelters for the dogs,” Care2.
com wrote in the petition.
Referring to a representative of the Mayor’s Of-
fice, the organization said that “a team of 10 shoot-
ers” are engaged in the canine assassinations morn-
ing and night.
“Please let President Roza Otunbayeva of Kyr-
gyzstan know that this action of shooting 10,000
dogs is barbaric and there are other ways to prevent
small hours of the morning in the presence of repre- One is the World Veterinary Service (WVS), a UK
the massive killings,” write the campaign organizers.
sentatives of the Municipal Territorial Council (MTC). based charity that has reached out to retired Ser-
At the end of the morning on which the pe-
Azamat Bayymbekov, an official at the Lenin bian dancing bears and Egypt’s post-revolutionary
tition went online, February 20th almost 1,000
District branch of the MTU, says shooting occurs strays in recent times. Having made contact with
people had already signed the petition, with Kyr-
weekly, on Wednesdays. “Upon request, the staff concerned citizens earlier in the month, WVS is now
gyzstani citizens beginning to put their names to
shoot about three or four dogs in one day,” Bayym- seeking a local coordinator to establish a channel
the document by noon. A little more than a quarter
bekov told of communication between themselves and the
of the first thousand signatories were U.S. residents.
A bone of hope? Mayor’s office.
In second place with just under 10 per cent
were dog-lovers from South America’s most popu- Since’s petition was launched, other
lous country, Brazil. The top five by country also in- western NGOs have been contacted by locals in ef- To make a donation to WVS, or read more about the
forts to lobby Bishkek over the dog shootings. work they do, visit
cluded residents of Portugal, the UK and Germany.
In total, residents from over 50 countries, including
some as distant from Kyrgyzstan as Uruguay, Co-
lombia and New Zealand, signed the petition. Kyrgyzstan in brief
Some signatories left comments: “Stop the
madness!” says Rita Schulz of New York, “So much
suffering, so much senseless stupid violence.”
Kyrgyzstan ranks 79th in Envi- Obama and Otunbayeva talk
Julie O’Donnell from Australia made an ap- ronmental Performance Index Transit Center
peal to the humanity of the Kyrgyz President. “Dear BISHKEK – March 10 ( - According to an WASHINGTON DC - March 9 ( – Presi-
Madam President Otunbayeva!” she writes. “Please Environmental Performance Index (EPI), com- dents of the United States and Kyrgyzstan held
consider what you’re doing and look for possible piled by researchers from Yale and Columbia an unscheduled meeting on March 7 during
humane alternatives.” universities, Kyrgyzstan ranked 79th place, Rosa Otunbayeva’s trip to Washington. Obama
Reaction of the authorities ahead of all its Central Asian neighbours. Among said that the process of buying fuel for the tran-
A spokesperson of the President of Kyrgyzstan, the CIS countries, Belarus proved itself the most sit center will be “more transparent” in the future.
Almazbek Dzhumabaev, declined to make official environmentally sound in 53rd place, while Turk- The U.S. president additionally promised to
comment on the issue. He did, however, suggest menistan had the poorest showing -157th. “maximize the benefits to the Kyrgyz people” of
that petitioners feed the dogs themselves. Iceland, Switzerland, and Costa Rica topped the transit center.
“Let these people feed them,” he told a journal- the ranking, while Mauritania, Central African The two leaders also discussed the develop-
ist from Republic and Sierra Leone appeared near the ment of democracy in the country.
According to the department for pest control bottom. The EPI ranks 163 countries on 25 per- During the talks at the White House, Presi-
under the Mayor’s Office, ‘Tazalyk’, killing dogs is the formance indicators tracked across ten policy dent Obama stated the U.S. commitment to sup-
sad but inevitable result of a lack of funds for the categories covering both environmental public porting Kyrgyzstan in strengthening its demo-
construction and maintenance of dog kennels. health and ecosystem vitality. cratic transition.
Deputy chief of Tazalyk, Pavel Klimenko, said at
a press conference on February 15, that to capture
Kyrgyz Rights Activist Award- Kyrgyzstan’s football team
and maintain strays would cost an estimated 15 mil- ed Czech Human Rights Prize won’t be at London 2012
lion som. In the case of finding such funds, Tazalyk PRAGUE - March 9 (RFE/RL) - A prominent Uzbek BISHKEK March 10 ( – Kyrgyzstan’s Ol-
promises “measures”. rights activist jailed for life over last year’s deadly ympic football team played out a 0-0 draw with Iran
“Do not make barbarians of us,” pleaded Kli- violence in southern Kyrgyzstan has been awarded in the second leg of the first round of qualifying for
menko. “In accordance with the analysis, the dogs a Czech human rights prize. the summer Olympics in 2012.
[have litters] of four puppies. This year we plan a dif- Azimjan Askarov earned the 2011 Homo Homini As a consequence of the first leg in Tehran,
ferent approach and ask the owners not to dispose prize, awarded by Prague-based NGO, People In Need where Iran defeated the Central Asian side by a
of the puppies, or just to call us and we will try to (PIN). PIN leader Simon Panek said he had shown “un- score of 0:1, the country will not compete in the
make arrangements for them.” usual personal courage” in fighting for human rights football category in London.
Shooting on Wednesdays in extremely difficult conditions. Askarov’s son, Sher- The only goal over the two ties was scored in
The shooting of stray dogs is carried out by 10 gun- zod, received the award for his father at the opening the 33rd minute of the game in Tehran with a pre-
men, and hunting takes place after dusk and in the of the One World film festival in Prague. cise free-kick from dead-ball king Bakhtiar Rahmani.

March 2011 The Spektator

This Month 5
Kyrgyzstan’s Trolleybuses: Out with the Old, in with the New

BISHKEK, March 8 (Spektator)

It may not buy you a decent premiership football-
er these days, but for those interested in what 15
million euros fetches in the market for antiquated
public transport, they need look no further than
Bishkek for the answer: 200 trolleybuses.
These magnificent, silent vessels that cruise
across the capital like battered galleons breast-
ing concrete seas are to be upgraded, the press
service for the Mayor’s Office confirms.
The latest renewal of the fleet was paid for with
a fat grant from the European Bank for Reconstruc-
tion and Development (EBRD), and EU taxpayers
will be happy to know that their contributions are
ensuring a continuing peace of mind in Kyrgyzstan’s
largest city.
“I like to sit on a trolleybus, just to think,” says
Guliya, a university student who migrated to
Bishkek from Batken oblast two years ago. “The
noise and pace of Bishkek life is difficult for some-
Above The M2B-82 in front of the newly built Opera and Ballet Theatre circa 1950s (A.Sydykov)
one who comes from a village. Twenty minutes on a
trolleybus is enough time for me to clear my head.” Yet for some, the leisure gained is nothing likely to resemble the sort imported by the Kyrgyz
Indeed, the trolleybus is muted in its majesty, more than a lag too long, and at one point, it was government from Belarus last year. Although not
its happy hum barely audible to many of the pen- assumed that trolleybuses would be discarded in noticeably speedier, these space age-seeming pro-
sioners who ride it contentedly, watching the world post-Soviet Central Asia’s race to modernize. totypes are less wobbly than their forefathers, with
jog past its tin-rimmed windows as it crawls from Instead, the opposite is happening. Just as the trade-off of sounding out an irritating beep at
A to B, oblivious to the hustle and hurry afflicting Bishkek’s zero-emission contingent grows, with every stop.
other forms of transport. new routes slated to sleep-drive passengers be- Such vehicles will likely be operational by the
“Trolleybuses are romantic,” argues Bakit, a low- tween the city and the suburbs, the same process “fourth quarter of 2011”, according to the head of
ranking bureaucrat in the Ministry for Emergency is at work 300 km north in the glitzy Kazakh me- municipal trolleybus management, Gennady Melit-
Situations. “I met my wife on one. In marshrutkas tropolis of Almaty. sky. But what then of the older models?
there is so much aggression – people pushing and There too, along the smoothly tarmacked “Decommissioned vehicles will be dismantled
shoving each other. On the trolleys you actually roads that oil built, in the shadow of shiny skyscrap- into parts, which will then be used as spare parts,
have time to start a conversation with someone.” ers and billboards honouring the ‘Leader of the and the remainder sold for scrap metal,” Melitsky
And you can bet you’ll have time to finish it too. Nation’, a form of transport considered obsolete in said.
The Spektator recently took the liberty of timing a much of the Western world is expanding its writ, To quote the ancient Greek Heraclitus - who
trolleybus run from Sovietskaya street to the city’s once more with the help of the EBRD. never experienced the joys of riding a ZiU-9: “The
western Osh bazaar. The journey took 13 minutes However, Bishkek’s incoming fleet may leave only constant is change”.
and 53 seconds, compared to 9 minutes and 35 admirers of the old MTB-82, ZiU-5 and ZiU-9 Soviet-
seconds in a mini-van driven by a white-knuckled era models rather disappointed. Indeed, the new Cholpon Nurlanova of contributed to this
maniac. trolleybuses currently being tendered for are more report

Kyrgyz MPs divided over the question of which revolution to celebrate

BISHKEK, March 10 (Kloop. info)
At a recent session of the Jogorku Kenesh, Social coup] did not yield any results.” try itself, “must prove” that April 7 was a day of
Democrat (SPDK) MP Gulnara Zhamgyrchieva “After the March revolution, Bakiev was national revolution.
raised the issue of transferring the day of the brought to power, but he did not meet every- “It is not advisable to declare April 7 as a
people’s revolution from March 24 to April 7. Of one’s expectations. Now [is the time] for the holiday. Not enough time [has passed]. When
the MPs assembled, several opposed the idea. rebirth of the system. Parliament is working for we begin to truly live and to raise the country’s
According to Zhamgyrchieva, the 2010 the people and our work is more transparent,” economy, then people will call the day a day of
coup saw rebels “knowingly and confidently” go Ermatov told The holiday was original- revolution,” said Djumalieva.
against the government of President Kurman- ly introduced by President Kurmanbek Bakiev in The MP added that if the government pass-
bek Bakiev. The MP added that in contrast to
early 2006. According to a representative from es a proposal regarding April 7, then March 24
this spontaneous uprising, the events of March
Ata-Meken, Ravshanbek Sabirov, there should “should be repealed” as a holiday. “You need to
2005, when the opposition led by Bakiev over-
threw first president Askar Akayev, represented be holidays on both March 24 and April 7. work more, rather than celebrate,” she lectured
a “capture” of power by opposition politicians. “I think that both events should be cel- her colleagues. The biggest opposition towards
In favour of the suggestion to relocate the ebrated as days of national revolution and the the celebration of April 7 as a holiday came from
“people’s revolution” holiday was fellow SPDK celebration of these days should be very careful, the ranks of opposition party, Ar-Namys. MP An-
MP Egemberdi Ermatov, although he stated that since they were accompanied by so many vic- war Artykov is against all celebrations of “revolu-
the events of March 2005 could also “be consid- tims,” said Sabirov. tionary” events in the country.
ered a revolution.” Ermatov said he supported Elmira Djumalieva, an MP from the Respub- “How can you celebrate the bloodshed
a change in the calendar “because [the 2005 lika party, believes that the history of the coun- that claimed so many victims?” Artykov asked. March 2011 The Spektator

6 This Month
Kadji-Sai Uranium Tailings are a Serious Environmental Threat

KADJI SAI, March 14 (Spektator) - Uranium tail-

ings at the disused Kadji-Sai mine in the Issyk-Kul
region of Kyrgyzstan represent a real threat to in-
habitants of the region, environmental activists say.
In order to protect the population, activists have
placed warning signs, indicating “a zone of high ra-
diation” around the perimeter of the Kadji-Sai site.
“The tailings at Kadji Sai are the most problem-
atic [environmental] object in the Issyk-Kul region,”
Banuri Abdieva, coordinator of the Issyk-Kul Oblast
Environment Project told the Spektator on March 5.
According to Abdieva, in order to protect lo-
cal residents and tourists near the hazardous zone,
activists have installed three 2.5 x 4 m metal panels
with the inscription “Warning! Zone of increased ra-
diation”. MPs and the local village council provided
funds for the panels.
Abdieva added that it is necessary to convey
to all citizens of Kyrgyzstan their responsibility to
ensure environmental security in the country. Issyk-
Kul region should be protected in order that our
Above The Kadji-Sai tailings are being brought to public attention (Sergey Vysotsky)
children and grandchildren may enjoy the gifts of
its nature, she said. Kyrgyzstan began in the mid-1940s continuing un- Of particular concern is the fact that the disused
During the Soviet era the village of Kadji-Sai til 1968. As a result of the exploitation of uranium Kadji-Sai mine is vulnerable to erosion, flooding and
was home to uranium and thorium mining facili- deposits, septic tanks and tailings with a high con- mudslides, which lead to the ‘seep’ of radioactive
ties which provided the raw materials to the Union’s tent of uranium, thorium and other radioactive ele- materials into Lake Issyk-Kul from the site. Kadji-Sai
nuclear power plants. Development of uranium in ments have remained in the village. is located on the lake’s southern shore.

Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek Food Prices Soaring, Discontent Brews

BISHKEK, March 3 ( prices for petroleum products have decreased, the how many companies and firms are supplying flour,
With the approach of spring, Kyrgyzstan’s traditional prices for foodstuffs should decrease at least a little oil, sugar, how many companies are intermediaries,”
season for airing public grievances, food prices are bit,” Jeenbekov told, referring to the he said. The system, “serves corruption.”
skyrocketing. Many now fear that rapid inflation recent decrease in gasoline prices in Kyrgyzstan af- Meanwhile, bakers say they are operating at
could spark fresh instability and street protests. ter the Kremlin lifted a tariff on petroleum products a loss because they are forced to sell through mid-
While some officials want to impose price controls, bound for Kyrgyzstan. Since the removal of tariff, dlemen that, they assert, the government is afraid
economists warn that such action could foster prices have continued to rise. to touch. On February 22, Akbar Atakeev, chairman
shortages. Outside government, economists are aghast at of the Kyrgyz Bakers’ Union called on the State An-
Though caused by factors beyond Bishkek’s the idea of fixing prices. Keeping prices artificially timonopoly Agency to help bakers set up shops to
control, such as a drought in Russia, a leading wheat low will cause international suppliers to seek mar- distribute the bread directly to consumers. “We work
supplier, and a bad harvest in Kyrgyzstan last year kets elsewhere, leading to a decrease in imports, hard, but we are now at a loss without any help from
brought on by political and social instability, the rise shortages, and even hoarding, all of which will government,” he said. “How long can we suffer?”
in prices is presenting a formidable challenge for drive prices up further, they warn. Similar moves in Jeenbekov from the Antimonopoly Agency
Kyrgyzstan’s shaky coalition government. The price neighboring Tajikistan, where Dushanbe police are says these tough times require radical measures
of wheat has jumped 54 percent since last June, patrolling markets to enforce bread prices, will not to ensure the supply of food, most of which is pro-
according to the World Bank. The United Nations have the desired effect, economists there fear. cured abroad. In 2010, Kyrgyzstan produced half
Food and Agriculture Organization has identified Azamat Akeleev, director of Promotank HQA, as much wheat as it did the previous year, he said,
Kyrgyzstan as one of the countries most burdened a market-research outfit in Bishkek, believes the citing political instability as the root cause of the
by the price hikes. Antimonopoly Agency is hampered by the opaque decline. He suggested Kyrgyz officials should work
As an emergency measure, on February 17, economy. The government must improve its under- with their counterparts in Kazakhstan to fix prices
Deputy Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov sent a bill standing of markets in order to take action to break on Kazakhstani imports bilaterally, rather than let-
to parliament asking legislators to remove import the influence of cartels, involving suppliers, distribu- ting individual traders or the market decide.
duties on essentials such as meat, oil, flour, sugar tors and retailers, Akeleev said. At the same time, he While parliament tries to decide what to do, pric-
and rice, but MPs have not yet debated the meas- acknowledged that government intervention could es continue to soar. On February 24, local news agen-
ure. The State Antimonopoly Agency wants to take easily cross a line, harming the public interest. “They cies reported that the price of bread had shot up 10
efforts further, controlling prices on essential food- [officials] should carry out their direct responsibili- percent in a single day. In Osh, the epicenter of ethnic
stuffs, as well as on cement, coal, some medicines ties using better analysis and market intelligence,” violence last summer, Mayor Melisbek Myrzakmatov
and petroleum products. he said. “There is no legal basis for controlling gro- warned on March 2 of increasing “public discontent”
Controls are necessary, argues the head of the cery prices in the market. In my opinion, any regula- due to break prices, Interfax reported.
State Antimonopoly Agency, Baburbek Jeenbekov, tion of prices will bring us shortages.” “The economic situation is very hard; social
to battle collusion between importers and wholesal- Seventy percent of Kyrgyzstan’s economy tension is very strong. The government must take
ers. Price manipulation, Jeenbekov suggested, was operates in the shadows, estimates economist Ai- urgent measures to reduce tension in the society”
one of the factors that are driving up consumer costs. ylchy Sarybaev of the Kyrgyz National University in -- Temir Sariyev, the interim government’s former
Under current legislation, “the only thing we Bishkek. “Kyrgyzstan’s market is wild, without regu- finance minister, told -- “even if it is
can do is speak to wholesalers and suppliers and lations. The government doesn’t have any instru- necessary to distribute bread free of charge to some
kindly ask them not to raise prices. Ideally, since ments for this, doesn’t even have information about poor families.”
March 2011 The Spektator
8 Out & About

The Land

Those intrepid ramblers the Trekking Un- HE HISTORY OF the Central Asian re- arrived in Taraz by nightfall.
ion of Kyrgyzstan never miss an oppor- gion is a shattered mosaic. While some What a shame that much of this medieval city
of its shards are painted and glazed, is submerged under modern roads and Soviet-
tunity for an adventure. This time round
preserved for all eternity, others have era architecture! As Kazakhstan’s development
their destination is southern Kazakhstan, a decayed and crumbled into steppe and proceeds apace, there is little in the exterior of
long expanse of barren steppe and desert desert, never to be unearthed again. The histori- contemporary Taraz to hint at the splendour of
interrupted only by the odd town, some an-traveller ponders these lost fragments with a its middle ages’ namesake. The city baths, in the
Bactrian camels and a series of preeminent mixture of melancholy and excitement. He fills suburbs of the present-day settlement, are the
mausoleums. their voids with his own imagination, places him- most accessible remnant of the town’s former
self in the court of bygone despots, anticipates glory. The baths have been restored in the typi-
the rhythm of caravans laden with riches, and cal adobe style and are thus as close as possible
summons the terrific din of advancing armies. to the original in terms of composition. The fact
This exercise in fantasy brings him no closer to that they no longer operate is of incredible pity,
the truth, naturally. But the mesmerizing inter- as the dusty, arid climes of southern Kazakhstan
section of what is known and what is not, solid leave the traveller’s body in dire need of a long,
fact and shameless legend, lures him back to the soapy wash. The entrance fee here was nominal,
space where the mosaic began, to contemplate the experience itself unmemorable.
its half-spoken message once more.
The face that built a mausoleum
“Better to see once than hear a hundred times” Twenty kilometres west of Taraz, is a much more
The idea to visit the region of southern Kaza- evocative monument to the city’s past. Near the
khstan was more or less spontaneous. My friend village of the same name, the Aisha-Bibi mauso-
Above While empires have risen and fallen, and colleague, archaeologist Dmitry Lujansiy, leum is a true treasure of the region, the construc-
Bactrian camels remain an eternal feature of had worked on digs in the region, and his exper- tion of which is shrouded in myth and mystery.
the steppe lands in southern Kazakhstan (all tise and companionship were to prove uniquely The facades on both the Aisha-Bibi and the Babaji
photos Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan) valuable in an itinerary that took in the Hodja Khatun are magnificent, but whereas the Babaji
Ahmed Yasawi mausoleum near Turkestan, Arys- Khatun is a “from scratch” restoration, the Aisha-
Above Right Sauran’s walls, in the process of tan-Bab’s tomb by the ruins of Otrar, the mausole- Bibi was restored gradually using a mixture of old
reconstruction, are a magnificent if somewhat ums of Aisha-Bibi and Babaji Khatun, the Sauran and new materials, at times encased in glass in or-
ghostly reminder of the city’s glorious past archaeological complex and Taraz, the country’s der to protect the monument from the elements.
sixth largest city. Dubbed “the pearl at the rim of love” by local
Far Right With nomad warriors no longer Taraz, the former ‘city of merchants’, would be residents, the Aisha-Bibi is the more eye-catching
roaming southern Kazakhstan, the Karakurt our first stop. But before we arrived there we took of the two mausoleums and holds the greater ap-
spider is now one of the steppe’s most lethal a brief detour to a batch of petroglyph-bearing peal to a wandering romantic. “Autumn Clouds ...
predators rocks in the foothills of the Kyrgyz Alatau moun- the earth is beautiful” muses ornate Kufic script
tain range. Imprinted on these time-worn sur- engraved on a patterned column of the famous
Next Page The Hodja Ahmed Yasawi towers faces we found scenes of life scrawled by nomads mausoleum. The offering is an anonymous one
above all other structures along the road to that ran across the great steppe, hunted wild ani- - the sage or poet to whom this pretty thought
Turkestan. It is one of several mausoleums to mals and raised their hands in religious supplica- once belonged has dissolved into the annals of
get the pulse racing on a trip to the region tion to the sun. After a saunter and a picnic, we history - but the legend that stands behind the
March 2011 The Spektator
Out & About 9

mausoleum itself appears to have found a perma- us more than this was the sense of isolation - the countless tribes that spanned the breath of Rus-
nent place in local oratory. ceaseless wail of the wind was all that pierced the sia’s underbelly, from the shores of the Caspian
Reputedly, the governor of Taraz, then a 12th silence of the place. Tube translates from Turkic to the Gobi desert. Indeed, the name of this Silk
century Karakhanid town stirring on the Silk Road, languages as ‘hill’, and although Otrar stands at Road town came to be associated with peoples
had a great love for a young woman named Aisha. an elevation of only 20 metres, the sheer flatness that would never see its limits. The word encap-
However, when he asked for this young beauty’s of the surrounding terrain means that the town sulated the spirit of Occidentalism, and spoke of
hand in marriage, her stepfather rejected his pro- would have been visible for miles, a lighthouse a land with unknown borders and an unrivalled
posal, as Aisha’s lineage, supposedly derived from in the sand calling out to the weary traveller. To- capacity for mystique and legend.
the Prophet Muhammed, demanded a better day, the idea of Otrar as an oasis town is heavily The city itself, on the fringes of the Kyzyl-
marital union than one with a mere Karakhanid ironic - there is certainly no store of water here. Kum desert, served as the capital of the Kazakh
apparatchik. But the governor was handsome, If you are travelling the 150km from Shymkent, khanate (1456-1847) for some time, and wit-
and Aisha, in her pure way, rather fancied him. be sure that 1) you are in a reliable vehicle that nessed a battle that appears to have determined
Cunningly, Aisha convinced her stepfather and won’t break down, 2) you have sufficient supplies the settlement patterns of two of Central Asia’s
other relevant elders that she should have leave of bottled water, and 3) you have clothes to cover major peoples. In 1470, under the command of
of her household as she intended to lead a small your whole body, as the dust storms here are violent steppe-child Janybek Khan, Kazakh forces
military expedition against the Karakhanids’ mor- more vicious than they are back in Taraz. drove their Uzbek rivals, led by Muhammad Shay-
tal enemies, the shamanistic Kara-Khitans. Yet in On the way out of this discarded settle- bani, south towards the citadels of Samarkand
truth, she was bound for Taraz. Unfortunately, and Bukhara. Although the Khan and his succes-
Aisha never made it to the city of merchants. She ‘Unfortunately, Aisha never made sors made frequent attempts on these prestig-
died of snakebite at the Assa River, a day’s horse ious settlements and others in the Fergana Val-
ride from her lover’s waiting arms.
it to the city of merchants. She died ley, the Kazakh khanate, as Imperial Russia found
Since then, millions of people have visited of snakebite at the Assa River, a it, occupied roughly the same space as modern-
the site; pilgrims, tourists and ordinary townsfolk. day Kazakhstan.
At the time of our trip, which coincided with the day’s horse ride from her lover’s For us however, Turkestan was primarily of
celebration of the Muslim holiday Orozo-Ait, the waiting arms’ interest not as the site of major battles, but as
two mausoleums thronged with well-wishers, the home of Hodja Ahmed Yasawi’s mausoleum.
some prying at inscriptions on the joints of the ment, cotton fields blurred past the windows of This great Sufi scholar, arguably the first of Turkic
Aisha Bibi’s arcs, which tell of the unfathomable our jeep. The crop was everywhere – swelling in descent to earn recognition from the broader Is-
beauty of this tragic Sufi heroine. the ground, floating in the air. It had sucked the lamic ummah, was born in 1103 in Sayram, not
Speeding on to Shimkent, we spent a night in region dry and parched the steppe. By the time far from Shimkent. The sage lived most of his
a town famous for its local brothels and beer, sam- we got to the edges of Turkestan, we fully under- life in Lasi (now Turkestan), however, where he
pling neither - there was too little time to spare. stood the land’s thirst, and were glad of a glass preached, taught, and, at the age of 63, retreated
Ahead of us was the discarded oasis town of Otrar, of liquid. into subterranean meditation for the remainder
and beyond that, the promise of Turkestan. of his life. His modest tomb had already attracted
Turkestan visitors from lands west of the Caspian before a
Otrar Surely in Central Asia you will not find a soul who certain Timur the Lame (or Tamerlane, in Western
The remnants of the medieval city of Otrar-Tube hasn’t heard of the word ‘Turkestan’. Its very utter- parlance) decided to supersize the monument al-
stand stark and stumpy amidst a vast expanse of ance struck fear into the heart of Soviet authori- most a century-and-a-half later. Unfortunately, he
steppe land. Trapped between layers of dried clay, ties. Turkestan: the land of the Turks - a generic didn’t live long enough to ensure that the mauso-
we knew, were untold stories. Yet what overcame denomination that had the potential to unify the leum received the sort of decoration that March 2011 The Spektator
10 Out & About

A Moment in History
dazzles visitors to cities on Uzbekistan’s half of broken minarets. But with poverty here as ex-
the Silk Road. In fact, the mausoleum remains treme as anywhere else in Kazakhstan, preserv-
austere and terracotta-coloured in it ‘s grandeur, ing the monuments of past cultures was always
In 1218, two great overlords eyeballed each lacking any sort of facade at all. going to be a struggle. Now these fragments can
other across the vast steppe, each with a brew- Other than his resting place, Hodja Ahmed Ya- most probably be found in local homes; building
ing sense of the inevitable. Temujin, or Genghis sawi was survived by the Yasawi Sufi order, an an- materials drafted in for the construction of new
Khan, had united the Mongol tribes and was busy thology of poetry and the essay ‘Hikmat’, or ‘on wis- dwellings not far from the site. Needless to say,
ravaging northern China. Sultan Muhammad, the dom’, still debated by Islamic scholars today. the country’s government has done its utmost to
Khwarazm Shah, had carved out an empire that Yasawi was unusual in that his spiritual men- play down the bad news!
encompassed modern-day Iran, Afghanistan and tor and tutor was female, an old woman mystic At one time, Sauran was the largest city in
the bulk of Central Asia. Repeated news of the called Arystan-Baba. Her mausoleum, probably the region, a hub of economic and political life
emergent Mongol threat displeased him greatly. more similar to the sage’s own original resting lodged in the upper half of the Syr Darya valley.
Diplomatic correspondence between the place, lies further back on the road to Otrar and is It avoided the fate of its neighbour, Otrar (see
two rulers, though at first cordial, bristled with well worth a quick visit if you have time. A legend text box), by opening its giant gates to Ghengis
tension. In a dispatch proposing the establish- goes that Arystan-Baba was the recipient of the Khan’s Mongol army in 1217. Great chunks of
ment of trade between their respective territo- amanat prayer beads of the Prophet Muhammad, these gates have been preserved. But the city fell
ries, Temujin wrote: ‘I am master of the lands of a parting souvenir when the founder of the Is- into disuse during the 18th century, and life here
the rising sun while you rule those of the setting lamic religion was close to death’s door, aged 63. is minimal now. Aside from a dedicated team of
sun. Let us conclude a firm treaty of friendship This rendering would have meant that Baba was archaeologists, digging and chipping away, try-
and peace.’ But the presumptive sign-off to the really getting on by the time she began tutoring ing to restore Sauran to its former glory, the only
message, ‘You are the favourite of all my sons’, Yasawi (Muhammad died in 632 A.D), yet these inhabitants of this place are the wild Bactrian
reportedly enraged the Sultan for its cheeky sug- are the details that such legends thrive on – or camels, who roam the fortress perimeter and lick
gestion of suzerainty. simply ignore. reconstructed walls.
Later in the following year, a Mongol trade To see these ancient sites is to drift in the
delegation arrived in the Khwarazmian city of Into the desert, on towards Sauran hazy zone between myth and historical fact – in
Otrar. The town’s governor, Inal-Khan, possibly
Sauran lies 40 km north-west of Turkestan and its short, a privilege. Our only regret at the end of
acting under orders from Sultan Muhammad
cotton rich hinterland. Walking in the midst of its our journey was that it was not feasible to reach
himself, massacred the delegation as “spies”. The
medieval walls you have a lesser sense of steppe the shores of the famous Syr Darya River, whose
consequences of his action were catastrophic.
and a greater sense of desert. It is no exaggera- waters irrigated a land that fed nearly half of Asia,
Back in Mongolia Temujin ascended a hill
tion to say that these are the most spectacular and sustained generation after generation along
and prostrated himself under the heavens for
several days, seeking strength to enact venge- and best preserved medieval ruins in Kazakhstan. the Old Silk Road. Such a visit would have been a
ance. A year later, after a five month siege, Otrar Sauran is not just a settlement, but an entire ar- perfect way to complete our travels in the land
was placed well and truly under the Mongol heel. chaeological complex incorporating specifically that time forgot. Alas, the demands of everyday
From the top of a minaret Temujin told the faith- localized archaeological monuments of different life refused us this luxury.
ful Muslim townsfolk that he was “God’s punish- eras, which allow for the re-emergence of a medi-
ment for their sins.” Inal-Khan was captured, and eval town right before your eyes.
had molten silver poured into his ears and eyes. Not long ago, according to the testimony For more pictures, visit the Turkestan Album at
After years of haunting the desert Genghis Khan of photographs taken by Russian scientists and To check out Trekking Union dates for
had turned west. He would not be turned back. surveyors, the complex featured two partially March and April turn to ‘Whats On’ (p26).

March 2011 The Spektator

12 Out & About



The Manas Village may not be listed in INETEEN NINETY-FIVE was a magi- it as a shrine to Manas; others, a crumbling tourist
your Lonely Planet guide of places to cal year in Kyrgyzstan. UNESCO offi- trap. The most attention it ever got was in that one
see in Bishkek, but it is a wonderfully cially declared it “The Year of Manas,” beautiful year, when schoolchildren came to dance
abstract place to have a picnic, or even the national epic (longer than the in its courtyards and Manaschi were brought in by
a wedding. Following the end of Manas- Iliad and the Odyssey combined!) the busload to tell their tales to the press and first
mania in the mid-90s, the village fell into that tells of its eponymous hero and President Askar Akaev, who had invested a signifi-
sharp decline, and is now regarded as his efforts to unite the forty Kyrgyz cant amount of political capital in the Manas leg-
something of an oddity on the capital’s tribes. The ability to tell this tale is a gift said to be end. When the flurry of fun was over, the place was
outskirts. Stuck for other things to do, bestowed upon the teller from above. The men left to rot, almost forgotten.
Dennis Keen jumped on a southbound who recite it, the Manaschi, are able to ‘rap’ thou- I wanted to see what remained. I wanted to
marshrutka to see the madness with his sands of lines from memory, or divine inspiration. know if Manas would approve of His Village. I want-
own eyes. The epic is a bedrock of Kyrgyz culture. It is an an- ed to know what a Historical-Ethnographic Com-
cient document, an encyclopedia, they say, of the plex was, at any rate. So I traveled there one windy
Kyrgyz way of life, the center of the Kyrgyz soul. afternoon, on a marshrutka headed for the moun-
So when a world body took the center of their tains. Before the road climbed up into the foothills,
soul and granted it international recognition, the strange structures emerged out of the windows. A
Kyrgyz went nuts. Manas classes became required concrete tower had risen up out of nowhere; and
in school, statues of the horseback hero went up colorful sculptures hid behind trees. This must be it,
everywhere, and in Talas, the warrior’s apparent we thought, and asked the driver to stop.
birthplace, a grand complex was built near his A row of colorful flags fluttered in the breeze.
mausoleum and the party of the millennium was Stone arches stood in a line, topped with stylized
planned. The world’s first three-story yurt was helmets, the headgear of the warriors of Manas.
thrown up in haste, and leaders from all over the A red placard declared this the “Historian-Ethno-
world were invited. Bill Clinton was rumored to graphic Manastyn Aiyly.” Perhaps inscrutable signs
have RSVP’d, but never showed up. In the end, were put up to add to the mystery. There was a
hundreds of dancers reenacted the epic in front ticket window, where they asked for a fifty-som ad-
of thousands of people, and for one day, Talas felt mission fee – not much more than a dollar. We chat-
like the center of Kyrgyzstan; Kyrgyzstan, like the ted up the woman behind the glass. She looked
center of the world. bored. There was nobody here – there rarely was.
The capital city didn’t miss out on all the My friend, Peri, was ashamed to be with an Ameri-
fun, though. Fifteen minutes south of Bishkek, can and told her I was from Denmark. We told her
squeezed between the foothills of the Ala-Too we were getting married – the only visitors these
mountains and the suburbs of the nouveau days are wedding parties – and we exchanged our
riche, something called Manas Village was built, winter coats as a vow. The cashier was called Nar-
financed by a government happy to spend their giza. She smiled easily. “Do you want to get married
soms in devotion to a glorious past. In the densely with us?” we asked her. She said she was already
formal style of the Soviet era, it was officially la- engaged.
beled a “Historical-Ethnographic Complex.” What Manas Village was not a village at all, we saw
it really was remained a mystery. Some perceived upon our entrance, but a menagerie of function-
March 2011 The Spektator
Out & About 13

less concrete forms, abstract symbols ripped from dle yurt was a kitchen of sorts, with a big kazan, a Far Left The view from Manas’ tower, taking
the life of Manas. “See that?” Nargiza said, pointing kind of Central Asian wok. The yurt on the left was in elite suburbia, peri-urban decay and the
to a stampede of acutely-angled sculptures across the men’s yurt, so I told Peri and our guide to scram. wonderful Tien- Shan mountains (all photos
the courtyard. “Those are Manas’ horses.” At the en- They went over to the women’s yurt, the one on the Dennis Keen)
trance was a metallic raptor atop a giant column; right, where there was a curtain for hiding a bride-
“That’s Manas’ bird.” You could climb some stairs to-be. My winter coat-wearing wife stuck her head Above Tetris-like monuments of devotion to
to a top of a wall, but once up there was nothing out from behind it and looked cute, and for a mo- the enigmatic founder of the Kyrgyz nation,
to do. The wall was capped by pink cones, topped ment I wished for a real wedding. Manas
with tassels – these were hats that had belonged Outside, Nargiza pointed to the big tower
to Manas’ wives. The whole park was nothing more that we had seen from the street. Manas’ warriors
than Manas’ possessions, transformed into ab- would use this, she said, to survey the surrounding
stracted monuments. There was actually nothing countryside. I wanted to say that nomads probably
to do – you could climb some stairs to the top of didn’t have concrete towers but I kept smart-ass
the ‘horses’, or climb some more stairs to touch the comments at bay. She had a key to the tower, too,
‘hats’, but then what? More inspiring, I guess, if you and let us climb up to see the view. On one side, the

Reaching Manas
thought of it as an art installation you could move mountains stood tall and magnanimous, and on
around in. the other suburbia stretched to the horizon. Down
In pictures I had seen, the place was lifeless below us, the concrete playground lay barren like
gray, the simple sum of its concrete. In August, ap- a ghost town. The wind atop the tower was fierce, On a warm day with a bottle of cool beer and
parently, it had received a facelift, and now it was and we went down to fill its void. some cured fish, we think Manas Village is
psychedelic rainbow coloured. But even with an There wasn’t much more to see, so we thanked worth a punt. If you agree with us, the follow-
injection of colour, the Village felt sad. The point- our guide and went. The place left me feeling cold. ing modes of public transport will help you
less plazas seemed even more pointless without To others, though, Manas Village resonated with get off near the stairway to nowhere in par-
people to fill them, and the rusting Soviet hotel meaning. Manas was a source of pride for the Kyr- ticular.
that stood next door made the whole scene seem gyz, a hero from a bygone time. His kind had been Bus No.8 chugs south along Sovietskaya,
like it was stuck in a bygone era - a 1990’s relic resurrected elsewhere: Genghis Khan loomed over
while marshrutkas 298 (stops at Kievskaya/
hauled indifferently into the 21st century. everything in Mongolia; Tamerlane, another Mon-
Manas), 265 (from Osh bazaar) and 365 (Mo-
Despite our drab surroundings, we tried to gol, was the Uzbeks’ version. In an uncertain world,
scovskaya-Manas) also lead to the rusty gates
make the most of good company. Nargiza asked these heroes reminded people that at one point,
of the national hero’s Bishkek residency.
me about Copenhagen, as I pointed to different they were great. For some this place was a gift giv-
icons and asked “What’s that?” en to the Kyrgyz people, an assurance of their place Had your fill of brutalist architecture for
The one sign of life was a group of trees spread in history. It was a shrine to the past, and the glories the day? Further along the same drag, a more
throughout the main courtyard. They were coated that lay ahead. In an article I read online, one bride conventional way of having fun can be ob-
in giant red buds. Nargiza told us they were vin- at Manas Village explained why she came. If we served at Flamingo Park. Here there is a small
egar trees. Did Manas like vinegar? I asked. No, she come, she said, “the spirit of our ancestors, and the lake to ride motorized boats in (think dodg-
said, they just look nice. At the top of some bright spirit of the great Manas, will be supporting us in ems in water), a hall of horrors, which isn’t par-
red stairs, covered in slowly melting slush, were our future life. May the spirits of the past protect us,” ticularly horrific, and a ride called ‘Terroriser’,
three big yurts - sections of Manas’ palace. Nargiza she continued, “and may the glory of those times which is. Ensure you are sufficiently fortified
had secured the key and she let us inside. The mid- leak into the future.” for all of the above experiences. March 2011 The Spektator
16 Focus

It’s not

Ever heard of Kyrgyzfilm? Thought not. OMEHOW IT WAS COLDER inside the “We project them on a screen and then film it with
The national film industry of Kyrgyzstan building then it was outside. The hall- a digital video camera.” Incredible. The official state
has fallen on hard times, being reduced ways were painted a kind of psych-ward filmmakers of the Kyrgyz Republic were ‘remaking’
to a skeleton staff of one and desperate- blue, adding to the general chilliness. The their own works like a teenager at the back of a
ly low-rent recording techniques just to whole place felt dark and empty like a cinema, capturing it on his iPhone. There was no
make ends meet. This month we go and cave. At the end of the corridor was a solitary of- other way to survive, though. Working two posi-
bother them in their archives. fice, and inside, a sad-faced Russian woman wear- tions at the studio, she made less than a hundred
ing a crimson coat with faux fur around her neck, dollars a month.
sat surrounded by potted cacti and assorted suc- Downstairs, Sveta showed us around the ar-
culants. She took a few discs out of her drawer and chive itself. It was even colder than the halls above.
pushed them my way: “Three hundred som each.” This was intentional, she told us, to preserve the
Movie titles were scribbled on top in sharpie. “Will films. The reels were stacked to the ceiling, row af-
you need a receipt?” she asked. I don’t know, I said,ter row. Before me lay national treasures - dozens
I guess so. “Well in that case, it will be more…” of cinematic classics based on Chingiz Aitmatov’s
We were in the crumbling shell of the Soviet stories. Sharing the shelf space were hundreds of
film industry, and the sole archivist of Kyrgyzfilm propaganda films, touting diplomatic visits or re-
was selling me copies of her own studio’s mov- cently constructed HEP dams. Decades of filmmak-
ies. When the USSR was still standing, every re- ing had been reduced to forgotten racks of reels in
public had its own well-funded cinematic factory a locked-up corner of a crumbling building. I felt
– Uzbekfilm, Tajikfilm, Kazakhfilm. The empire col- ashamed that I could breeze in and buy these up
lapsed, but the state-funded studios remained, for my personal collection, while locals could never
limping along into a new age. The money from dream of such a shopping trip. One of the perks
Moscow dried up, and now the operation was run- of the socialist system was that art was subsidized.
ning along on whatever funds the latest govern- Now, it was simply unaffordable. Sveta closed the
ment could slip their way. That wasn’t much – the room up and sealed it with a key, as I skulked away
country was poor, and so was the state. So they into the day, weighed down by my bounty.
kept their pockets lined with “special orders” like At home, I found that the DVDs wouldn’t
mine. I was happy to help. play on my computer as I had hoped, so I went
The archivist was named Sveta, and she had to a friend’s house and made her watch them
been working at Kyrgyzfilm for more than forty with me on a Chinese DVD player. I had ordered
years. “It was a good job,” she said, in the glory a few films the week before for my research; short
days. Seven people worked the archives back then, movies about eagle hunting. Soviet synthesizers
cleaning and cataloging the films, watching them played over idyllic landscapes and shots of soar-
daily to check for damage. Now she watched them ing birds. One film was in Kyrgyz, but the plotline
alone. With independence, her co-workers got was easy enough to follow. A nomad lets his ea-
sloughed off until she was the only one left. Her gle go when he and his family are moving camp,
office was the only one remaining in this shiver- and travels on to a fresher pasture. Soon, however,
ing building – others were padlocked and empty the swift tide of development arrives and he finds
or full of old film equipment, rusting towards ob- his bird stuffed and mounted on a trailer, a trophy
livion. There were six hundred films in the archive, for the Russians. He looks like he’s going to cry. I
but only Sveta left to care for them. don’t understand his curses, but I feel his pain. The
She showed me a list of every animated film researcher and the nomad share a moment - the
ever made in Kyrgyzstan. I ordered all twenty six magic of cinema, bridging cultures.
for ten dollars. “They won’t be ready for a week,”
she warned me – they were still stuck on the reels. If you like, I can even order you some copies of
I asked her how they were converted to DVDs. I your own. The films need company, and the archive
imagined a film-scanning device, spitting out discs needs money. What do you say? Send me an email:
for a demanding public. That wasn’t quite right.
March 2011 The Spektator
18 Focus


years on C
HRISTOPHER ASLAN ALEXANDER and natural dye-making. I really didn’t know what
moved to Khiva in 1999 to write a I was doing at the start, but got on with it anyway.
guide book. After falling in love with
the town, he ended up staying, help- So you didn’t have any previous experience
ing to establish and run a project to of carpets?
revive the ancient art of silk carpet Well, I grew up in Turkey and Lebanon, so I al-
Silk Road
weaving. He recently sat down with the Spekta- ways had an appreciation for the carpets and
tor for a chat about his life and adventures on kilims in our house. We never had fitted carpets
the Great Silk Road. anywhere until we moved back to the UK. I had
no experience or even understanding of actual
So, Chris, first of all we’ll get the plug out of carpet weaving before I went to Khiva except for
the way! Your book came out last year, it’s a a rug-making kit I was given for Christmas which
The Spektator talks to Christopher Aslan thoroughly enjoyable read, and I assume it is involves tying knots onto a readymade grid with
Alexander about his new book charting available in all good book shops? the help of a hook. I found the whole thing a bit
the highs and lows of running a commu- Yes, it’s called A Carpet Ride To Khiva and the pa- fiddly and managed once – while trying to force
nity based development project in Khiva, perback came out last summer. It’s available on the hook through a hole in the grid – to thrust and I advise all your readers to go the hook up my nose. I tried to yank it out, but
a majestic walled city in the middle of the out and buy it! it embedded itself inside my nostril. Very painful
Uzbek desert. and I don’t think I ever actually finished the rug.
Apart from offering a portrait of Khiva and
a fascinating insight into the silk trade, the So I assume you left most of the practical
Above right Detail from a 15th century Timu- book is also a very personal tale, charting the tasks to your teams of weavers?
rid era illuminated manuscript depicting ups and downs of an eventful seven years. Absolutely. I did sit down at a loom once, while
Shah Rukh sitting on an ornate carpet. Such You originally went out there to write a guide we were selling carpets at a large event in
illustrations are drawn with incredible detail book, but ended up running a carpet weav- Tashkent, and learnt how to make the knots.
and without a receding perspective allowing ing workshop. How did that happen? It’s pretty fiddly and I managed one knot for
the carpet design to be copied and woven Yes, I went to work on a guidebook that the every ten done by my patient teachers! My job
back to life (all photos Chris Alexander) Mayor of Khiva hoped would increase tourism. was management, and we ended up employing
I loved my job, but my colleagues were all do- around seventy weavers, dyers and embroider-
Above left The finished article, or what Shah ing much more helpful things, such as mobility ers in the two workshops, making us the largest
Rukh’s carpet would look like without him training for the blind and inclusive education private employers in Khiva.
sitting on it for children with disabilities. I started working
with kilim-makers in my spare time as more of The distinguishing feature of carpets made
Opposite page, clockwise from top left De- a hobby than a project and things grew from in your workshop was the traditional weav-
tail from a suzani; a team of weavers by their there. UNESCO contacted me and asked me if I’d ing methods and the use of natural dyes.
loom; madder root, one of the many sources work with them, setting up a school for reviving What elevates a carpet made in such a fash-
of natural dyes; stitching a suzani 15th century carpet designs, silk carpet weaving ion over a modern synthetic carpet?

March 2011 The Spektator

Focus 19

The first distinguishing feature is the price! carpet designs from the Timurid period found need. Selling directly to customers is the fairest
Hand-made carpets cost a lot more, because only in illuminated manuscripts of the time. The form of fair trade as there are no middle-men or
of the labour and artisanship that goes into tramp of generations of feet, along with moths shipping fees.
each one. Handmade carpets look more alive and damp meant that intact Timurid carpets
because they aren’t as clinically perfect as fac- haven’t survived. However, each miniature in Without giving too much away about the
tory carpets. They’re a work of art rather than a the illuminated manuscripts we studied is paint- book, you ran into a bit of bother with the au-
product. Natural dyes, particularly with silk car- ed in incredible detail and with no receding per- thorities. What has happened to the carpet
pets, make a huge difference to the look of the spective. This means that, as long as there aren’t workshop since you were deported in 2006?
carpet. Silk carpets all have a natural luminos- too many people sitting on the carpet, we have From day one, I told the weavers and dyers that
ity but with naturally-dyed silk, there are subtle everything we need to copy the design and my aim was to make the workshop able to run
variations in the colours of each knot, creating weave it into life once more. without me. A lot of secular NGOs pay large,
an effect known as abrash. After working with I also wanted us to create designs that were Western salaries, and ‘project dump’ in the name
naturally-dyed carpets for a while, I’d see one unique to Khiva, so we began using designs of empowerment, rather than gradually and in-
that was synthetically dyed, and it would look a found in tiles and carved wooden doors from crementally hand over to local partners. In my
bit like a photograph with too few pixels, miss- the madrassahs, mausoleums, mosques and case, I would have been happy to handover the
ing shade and depth. palaces in Khiva, and turned them into carpets. workshop when I did, had I been given three
The results were often pretty spectacular. months’ notice that I was about to be deported.
What can you tell us about the history of car- The workshops are still going and are still the
pet weaving in Khiva? How long does it take to weave a typical rug? largest private employers. They aren’t run ex-
Pre-Soviet carpets produced in Khiva were This depends on the size, the complexity of the actly as I’d like, but that’s okay. I’m really proud
largely Turkmen in design and colouring, and design and the skill of the weavers. A two by of Madrim (the local manager) and his team and
Khiva didn’t have a particularly unique design three meter rug would take three experienced was thrilled to hear recently that he’s found an
of colour palette. During Soviet times, carpet- weavers six months to complete. Afghan trader who will bring natural dyes to
making was discouraged because you need Uzbekistan as the Uzbek government no longer
someone poor enough to weave the carpet and What advice would you offer a prospective allows Uzbeks into Afghanistan.
someone rich enough to buy it which didn’t sit rug-buyer?
well with socialism. The only carpets produced The best way to buy a Khiva rug is to go to visit One of the most striking elements of the
in Khiva before I started the workshop were sim- Khiva and buy one. Because they’re silk, they pack book is the strong friendships you enjoyed
ple, garish car seat warmers and portrait-carpets down pretty well and most sizes can fit easily into with local Khivans such as Madrim, have you
of dead relatives. a suitcase. We weave the year of production into been able to keep in touch with your adop-
each carpet in case unscrupulous airport officials tive family, friends and colleagues during
You say in the book that only scraps of origi- try to claim you’re exporting an antique! your exile?
nal carpets from the hey-day of weaving Yep, my Uzbek little brother is now able to email
have survived to the present, how did you Can we order online? which is great. We’ll be Facebook friends and
go about recreating and reinterpreting tradi- This is a common question and the answer is tweeting before I know it. I call up my Uzbek
tional designs for your carpets? ‘no’. There are enough tourists visiting Khiva and family on special occasions like New Year and
Our focus was initially on reviving 15th century walking away with carpets to mean there’s no Navruz, and still phone Madrim regularly. March 2011 The Spektator

20 Focus

It was hard living in neighbouring Tajikistan in re- wily. Until I spent some time in Bukhara and when the judge could survey their land. If it was
cent years and knowing that Uzbekistan was so found that this stereotype happens to have a lot found to be irrigated, they would be executed for
close but that I wouldn’t be given a visa, and that of truth to it! The workshop in Bukhara closed as stealing water. That night, they prayed to Allah
my Uzbek friends would never get Tajik visas due the family who edged out the other masters and for mercy and he sent an enormous storm which
to sour relations between the two countries. ran it as a family business discovered that run- caused the dam to burst, destroying the beg’s
ning hotels was easier money. crops and covering all evidence of the brother’s
I presume that leading this sort of develop- exploits. With no evidence against them, they
ment project is both deeply rewarding and Did you feel yourself slipping into city rivalry were free to go and that’s why they’re saints.
intensely frustrating. What did you learn yourself?
from your experiences? Living in Khiva for seven years, I’m sure I picked On a side note, you named your pet parrot
Yes, there are a few things I’m pretty opinionated up some of the local prejudices. I also ended up after Fredrick Burnaby, the British explorer
about in the area of artisan projects. One, is that with a strong Khiva accent, and was definitely who was one of the first Westerners to enter
in order to start a workshop, you need experi- looked down on in the big cities as sounding Khiva - I assume he is a hero of yours?!
ence of language and culture, because produc- too rural. We both went to the same school, although in
ing nice things is the easy bit; creating sustain- different centuries, so I used to cycle in late, along
able and fair wage systems, plurality of power, Khiva has a fascinating and rather gruesome Burnaby Road, with no idea who Burnaby was. Of
checks and balances, employment procedures, history, what is your favourite Khivan tale? course, I read his book A Ride to Khiva in prepa-
etc., is the hard part; the default of most work- Wow, there are so many and they’re all amaz- ration for my own journey to Khiva, and enjoyed
shops is nepotism, declining product standards ing! There’s one story, which isn’t my favourite his gung-ho approach but found myself wincing
and exploitation of women or the young. but helped me understand people’s world view on more than one occasion at his innate sense of
I get really annoyed when I see ‘pity buys’. better. Whilst I come from a guilt-based culture, British superiority. I met one of his offspring in
You know: “Buy this piece of tat because it’s (I did something wrong so now I feel bad about Khiva, determined to follow in his grandfather’s
made by a poor person”. I believe in paying de- it) Khivans are from a shame-based culture (I got footsteps, albeit as part of a coach party.
cent salaries, but they must be linked to prod- caught doing something wrong so now I feel
uct quality parameters and the products must shame, but if I hadn’t been caught then it would Do you think you will ever be able to return
be high quality, competitively priced and with have been okay) and this story helped me under- to Uzbekistan under the current regime?
an understanding of who the market is. I’ve stand that difference: I’ve heard that five years after most NGOs were
seen a few handicraft centres where they’re af- The Three Saints Mausoleum is tucked be- kicked out, people who were previously black-
fronted that tourists won’t buy their traditional hind the Khan’s Stone Palace in the old city of listed are now getting tourist visas to go back,
products, without asking themselves if these Khiva and is a holy site where supplicants come so I might try that, but sadly, I suspect that my
traditional products are items that tourists want to pray. Here’s how the three brothers became book may have earned me another five years on
or need. No one says you have to market to for- saints: The three brothers watched as the sun the black-list.
eigners, but if you do, then produce something wilted their crops. There had been no rain and
they want to buy. their crops would soon wither leaving them with Do you see Uzbekistan changing over the
no choice but to sell their land to the rich beg next ten years?
In the book you describe the competition (baron) who refused them access to his irrigation With all that’s happened in North Africa in recent
between the Bukharan and Khivan carpet canal in order to buy their land cheap. times, including authoritarian places like Egypt,
projects and the underhand tactics em- That night, in desperation, the brothers dug with a well-established secret police, there’s
ployed by some of the Bukharans. What hap- a sluice in the dam and watered their fields, re- always glimmers of hope that change might
pened to the rival Bukharan workshop? pairing the dam to cover their tracks. The beg’s come. Who knows how things will turn out? I’ve
I was affronted at the regionalism in Uzbekistan henchman, spying the revived fields, had the not been in the country for five years, so I don’t
and the notion that Bukharans were cheats and brothers hauled into jail until the following day really feel qualified to make predictions.

March 2011 The Spektator

Focus 21

After working so hard for so long to help the ably could have put up a fight and got the Em- Opposite page A finished carpet displayed
local community, do you feel any bitterness bassy involved, but was pretty relieved to be by two of its weavers, and to the left, the ce-
towards the Uzbek authorities for the way moved on as I’d never felt the same connection ramic tiles that inspired the design
you were treated? as I’d had in Khiva.
Any bitterness I feel is more directed towards Above Skeins of naturally dyed silk thrown
the way the authorities treat their own people. How are you occupying yourself at the mo- against the brickwork of the workshop court-
I wasn’t tortured, I had somewhere else to go, ment? yard and left to dry
and opportunities to get on with life without Soon after I returned to the UK from Khorog,
being constantly exploited. ethnic violence broke out in southern Kyr- Above left The weaving workshop, situated un-

Know your
gyzstan. I ended up leading a rapid response der the domes and minarets of Khiva’s old town
You worked on a similar carpet project in Af- team of assorted Uzbek speakers. We were
ghanistan in the mid 2000s, what are the key given training in basic trauma counselling skills
challenges in setting up such projects over and spent most of our time sitting with people

Central Asian Textiles!

there and what successes can be achieved? and letting them weep and tell their stories. At
I just visited two textile projects in Afghanistan as first I was sceptical of the need for tissues and
a consultant, and was struck by the primary chal- shoulders to cry on when people really needed
lenge of security. I always felt safe walking around their houses and lives rebuilt. However, when a
Silk carpets The best time to buy carpets from
Uzbekistan and knew that Uzbeks treat guests whole community is traumatised, it often takes
the workshop in Khiva is March and April before
with great respect. In Afghanistan, Westerners are outsiders to really listen. It was harrowing to
the tourist hordes descend. Artisans have had all
often seen as intruders, and one of the American hear tales of loss, torture and ethnic hatred on a
winter to build up stock, so you tend to get bet-
women who I worked with in Kandahar was ab- daily basis, but also a tremendous privilege.
ter prices and more variety. Expect to pay in the
ducted with her driver. No one knows if she’s dead During my time in South Kyrgyzstan I went
region of $700 for a good silk carpet.
or a forced-wife held in captivity somewhere. to Arslanbob for a break and fell in love with this
little village nestled in the mountains, beside Kilim A flat woven floor covering which, unlike a
What have you been up to since leaving Uz- the world’s largest natural walnut forest. It was carpet, has no knotted pile.
bekistan? what I’d hoped Khorog would be like but wasn’t. Suzani Literally means needlework in Tajik
After Khiva I spent three years living in Khorog, the I talked with some of the village elders and they and describes the embroidered tapestries of
capital of the semi-autonomous Pamiri region. I invited me to come back, so I hope to start a Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan.
started two projects. One was writing a text-book wood-carving workshop there this spring.
and script for Shugni, the oral language spoken Shyrdak A stitched, and often colourful hand-
there. The other, was working with Kyrgyz yak Are you learning Kyrgyz? made felt floor- or wall-covering, most common-
herders in the High Pamirs, teaching them how to I’ve found that Kyrgyz in north Kyrgyzstan com- ly produced by Kyrgyz and Kazakhs. For more
comb their yaks with combs we had made locally, pliment me on my excellent Kyrgyz, whilst Kyr- info see the Spektator’s shyrdak buying guide
in order to harvest yak-down, which is currently gyz in the south get annoyed and want to know in Issue two (
thrown away, but is similar to Cashmere in quality. why I’m speaking Uzbek. The dialect in Khiva has html).
lots of the same words as Kyrgyz and the two For more information about Chris’s book and
And I hear that you were also kicked out of languages are so similar anyway, that it seems a the Khiva carpet workshop visit: www.acar-
Tajikistan. Is this your usual exit strategy? shame not to learn Kyrgyz properly, so I hope to
I was up in the High Pamirs distributing yak- spend a few months living with a Kyrgyz family
For more information about buying a jumper
combs and got a call informing me that I’d been to learn their language better. I think I’m more
made from yak down visit:
accused of being a Swiss spy, amongst other worried about how they’ll host a vegetarian
things, and that I had thirty days to leave. I prob- than an Uzbek-speaker! March 2011 The Spektator


Bishkek life
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-
$$$$ - A crisp 500 (or more) needed in this joint Free semechki is one of many reasons to check out able volume and a full menu that includes a range
this lively hangout, rammed with Chinese at lunch of tasty platters. $$$$
and dinner time. The menu is encyclopediac in
American/Mexican terms of scope, but if you’re feeling bewildered, Barcode* (Toktogul/Sovietskaya, inside ‘Moto’)
Hollywood*(Druzhba/Sovietskaya) just point to something tasty-looking on a neigh- A hip, clean interior, fast wi-fi and an affordable
As you would probably guess, decorated with bouring table like we did. $$ business lunch have made Barcode something of
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a a hotspot since it opened in early 2010. The place
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popu- Peking Duck I & II comes to life at night when 3 DJs compete for your
lar with a younger crowd and is usually packed (Soviet/Druzhba & Chui/Tog. Mol.) affections with an array of banging tunes. $$
from mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few Huge portions to feed even the biggest of glut-
drinks before heading off to the clubs. $$ tons and an English language menu that provides Blonder Pub* (Pravda/Kulatova)
plenty of amusing translations. $$ Blonder Pub is the new brewery-restaurant to try
Metro* (133, Chui) out. Cavernous yet cosy inside, there’s decent blues
In the impressive location of a former theatre, Metro Shaolin (Zhibek Zholu/Prospect Mir) every night, live Premiership Football, Eurogrub
remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. A This tidy looking restaurant sticks out for its sheer and a good selection of ales. In regard to the latter
high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli- range of oriental dishes and its large, round tables we recommend ‘Irish Red’. $$$$
ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection that make it ideal for extended gatherings. $$
of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch- Buddha Bar (Sovietskaya/Akhunbayeva)
ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the Dungan Buddha bar offers a taste of the East inside a tastefully
hideously late kickoff times for Champions League constructed zen log cabin. The sushi is excellent, and
Hui Min (Relocated to the Hotel Dostuk) for those on a budget, the stir-fry noodle dishes make
football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting up
A former favourite, we have been told that Hui Min an excellent lunch. Recommended! $$$$
unless it’s a big one. $$$
has now relocated to the Hotel Dostuk. Apparently
Mexican Canteena (Chui 158, near Beta Stores) the menu has been revamped and the prices in- Captain Nemo’s (14, Togolok Moldo)
At its best in the summer as sombrero classics ser- creased. The Spektator will be checking it out soon. Small nautically themed restaurant with a selection
enade pedestrians down Chui and a mixed crowd We hope they still serve the special Dungan tea, as of evocatively named dishes including ‘Fish from the
sits on the porch washing down tacos with strong it’s rather good. ship’s boy’ and ‘Tongue from the boatswain’s wife’.
marguirita. Burritos and fajitas are mouth-watering Cosy wooden interior and porthole style windows
here, and long-haired gringo types will be glad to create an underwater log cabin experience. Spirits,
have their beer served with a lemon, not a straw. Georgian cocktails and a good business lunch. $$$
$$$ Mimino (27, Kievskaya)
Mimino is nice, cosy and serves up bowl-fulls of steam- Ceska* (115, Alamatinskaya)
New York Pizza (177, Kievskaya) Cousin to Blonder Pub, this Bros Co. ‘theme bar’ is
ing, hearty Georgian fare with pomegranate seeds
Decorated with pictures of the Big Apple and worth checking out for its fantastic tiramisu cake
a-plenty. We recommend the kjadjapuri, khinkali and
serving a fine selection of steaks and other alone. Every third beer is free but don’t get too ex-
anything that’s served in a pot. Watch out for Uncle Joe
American-themed dishes, NYP is sure to get cited - they come in 0.4l glasses. $$$
at the door. $$$$
New Yorkers thinking of home. For home deliv-
Coffee House (9, Manas & Togolok Moldo/Ryskulova)
ery ring (0312) 909909. $$$ German Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and cakes
Armenian Steinbrau* (5, Gerzena) Bishkek has to offer at one of three ‘Coffee Houses’;
Don your beer drinking trousers and head down cosy boutique cafés with a European flavour. Curl
Landau (Manas/Gorky) to Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They up and read a book, or just drop in for a caffeine hit
Fancy something a little different? If you can tol- brew their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid and a chocolate fix. $$$
erate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot bilge that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your
for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary Cosmo Bar* (Sovietska/Moskovskaya)
pint with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut.
goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme- Board the sweet smelling elevator, ascend to the
nian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near top-floor Cosmo Bar and splash the cash with your
Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$$ fellow free-spending cosmonauts. Elegant interior,
Vienna (Moscow/Soviet)
plush sofas, fancy drinks and pretty waitresses.
Actually an Austrian, but subsumed into our German
Chinese section in the name of Anschluss. Vena is a cracking lit-
Huzzah! $$$$
Ak-Bata (108, Ibraimova) tle place to people-watch over some great European Crostini (191, Abdrahmanova)
This place must serve up pretty authentic dishes dishes and a glass of fine Austrian wine. If you didn’t Situated inside the Hyatt, this is a joint to be re-
as it’s always full of Chinese playing mah-jong and know Austria had fine wines, you can check into the served for a business lunch or marriage proposal
waving their chopsticks about. Smoky and stuffy, adjoining shop to begin your viticultural education. only. Chef Taner Erdemir serves up mouth-water-
but in a nice way. $ Vienna is spelled ВЕНА in Russian. Free Wi-Fi. $$$ ing international cusine, but at a price. $$$$$

March 2011 The Spektator

Bars, Restaurants & Clubs 23
Dillinger* (Gorky/Tynystanova) Stary Edgar’s* (15, Panfilova) Bella Italia (Kievskaya/K.Akiev)
Glamorous VIP complex including a restaurant, bar The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con- Adriatico’s former Italian chef, Walter, has moved
and casino. A decedantly decorated and perculiar- ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base- homes and is now serving a practically identical
ly endearing homage to the notorious bank robber ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection range of dishes at this spot just behind October cin-
- we’re sure he would appreciate it. $$$$ of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s ema. Enjoy the best pizza in town, gnocci and other
an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés. typical Italian numbers, tasty business lunches from
Fatboy’s* (Chui/Tynystanova) 200 soms. $$$$
Civilized, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a ro-
and a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot mantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$ Cyclone (136, Chui)
for conversation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini- Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, efficient,
library to peruse (although literary classics are thin Pinta Pub* (133, Chui) polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere to al-
on the ground). Check out the American pancakes Brought to you by the same folks that own the best leviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes stand out
for breakfast, top marks. $$$ draught beer shops in the city, Pinta Pub is a bright among a menu of traditional Italian favourites. $$$
green signed lighthouse for the Spektator on a hot
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova) day. A good range of well-kept ales on tap, in terms Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek. El- of food, complement a nice ‘Greek’ salad with any of Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses serv-
egant, yet modern interior and polite service. Great the dishes from the pork page on the menu, all of ing excellent pizza. Also serves salads and European
place to splash out on a special occasion or just for which are excellent. Recommended! $$$ cuisine. Small terrace outside for summertime din-
the hell of it. $$$$ ing. $$
U Mazaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya)
Foyer (27, Erkindik ) Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restaurant. Japanese
Foyer is an excellent place to enjoy an evening Descend into this underground warren and tuck in. Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
cocktail or check your inbox with a cup of coffee. Also check out the fairy-light adorned flagship sister- Elegant sushi joint frequented by serious looking
Free Wi-Fi, good deserts and blues on Tuesdays. $$$ rabbit-restaurant in Asenbai micro region. $$$ suited-types concluding their latest dodgy deals.
The food’s excellent though - if you can scrape to-
Griffon (Microregion 7) Vavilon (Microregion 7) gether enough soms. $$$$
A cosy log-cabin affair with a large meat-roasting Finely presented dishes, reasonably priced beer (60
central fireplace. On one disturbing occasion the som) genuinely friendly and attentive service and live Fusion (Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
waiting staff were about as plesant as a bunch
music from 8-ish on most evenings. Definitely worth Takeout is free on orders over 450 soms (0312 510
of chavs, but hopefully that was a passing phase.
the trek out to the suburbs ( tell your taxi driver to turn 707). Teriaki chicken, Miso soup, sushi rolls and pork
Minibuses 195 and 110 take you right past it as you
left at the yuzhniy vorota and head towards Asenbai in ginger sauce are all well worth a phone call. $$$
head out to the mountains. $$$
for about 1.5km) $$$
Jam* (179, Toktogula)
Vis-a-Vis (26, Logvinenko)
An underground oasis of cool. Jam is a cafe with a Santa Maria (217, Chui)
Soon to be renamed “The Queen’s Head”, This place is
full menu, kalians (shisha pipes) and a lounge bar Plush Korean restaurant offering Eastern favourites,
atmosphere, open till 3am . $$$$ a new honey pot for ex pats. Steak is always advisable including exciting Korean barbecues where you get
when eating at an appendix to a butcher’s, and the sir- to cook your own dinner, plus an extensive Euro-
Jumanji (Behind the circus) loin here is exceptional. Also, enjoy English breakfasts, pean menu. $$$
It’s strange. This place is decorated with fake jungle chips that aren’t cold and local dark ale Chuiski on tap.
foliage and is based on a crap kids’ film yet still sort Recommended! $$$
of works. You also get to roll a pair of Jumanji dice
before you order for the chance to win a special se- Beirut (Shevchenko/Frunze)
cret prize - we like this. $$$ Indian Now in a new location, Beirut continues to serve en-
The Host (Sovietskaya, opposite the Hyatt) ticing Lebanese goodies including falaffle, humus,
Live Bar* (Kulatova/Pravda) A varied and interesting menu including fine Indian and tasty little meat pie things. $$$
Twenty-four hour sports bar with live music at food make this place a real treat. On midweek days
weekends. Plenty of leather couches provide the there are also several excellent business lunch deals
ideal place to sip cocktails whilst watching the offering a soup, salad, main course and dessert for Moldovan
Champions league at three in the morning. $$$$ 250-350 som. A real stand out and a Spektator fa-
vourite! $$$$ Moldova Restaurant (Kievskaya/Turusbekova)
Lounge Bar* (338a, Frunze) If it’s been a while since you last went out for a
One of our favourite places to drink in the Summer- Moldovan, this wooden paneled, sturdy-tabled ea-
Indian Village (Vefa Centre, Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
time, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-cum- tery may be the answer to your prayers. Also, the
It’s on the third floor (if you count ground floor as
terrace high above the street with slouch-couches Moldovan Embassy is next door should you care
the first). A cheaper version of The Host, if you can
and fine views of the circus - which you can some- to learn more about the world’s favourite budget-
bear the fake-fontaine, soul sucking environs of this
times smell in hot weather. Nice. $$$ Turkish-built mall. The vegetable biryani is good for wine exporting country. $$$
days when you are feeling off meat, while the milky
Navigator (103, Moskovskaya)
chai tea is authentic, if a little sweet. $$ Regional/Central Asian
A pricy, but pleasant place to while away an after-
noon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge in the Italian Arabica* (Mederova/Tynastanova)
This formerly sophisticated laid back shisha pipe)
airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive service
and a refreshing selection of salads, a good place Adriatico (219, Chui) bar has moved to a new location and, by the looks
for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease are Reportedly suffering following the departure of of the bath in the toilets, may still be under devel-
its Italian chef, Walter, although we have been told opment. Three floors, VIP rooms, kaliyans aplenty.
getting you down. $$$$
that the soup is still excellent. $$$$ $$$

Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and March 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)
Carlson (166, Sovietskaya) 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 A good outdoor terrace and some hearty food, but
crowd. Strip bar and restaurant in same building.
dishes and a homely atmosphere. There’s also a the Karaoke style crooners who provide evening (Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450
great outdoor terrace and national favorouit Arpa entertainment are an acquired taste. $$ som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som)
on draught. $$ Huzur (Kievskaya/Togoluk Moldo,)
Convivial proprietor Ali claims to have Steven Ger- City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina)
Derevyashka* (Ryskulova, behind Dvorets Sporta) Tel. 511513; 510581
Atmospheric drinking cabin that serves a range of rard’s 2005 Champion’s League winning Liverpool So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like
Central Asian and Russian cuisine, as well as an im- shirt. If you don’t believe that, belive in free lepyosh- cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the posh-
pressive array of pivo. Well worth it on football nights, ka and good, affordable Turkish cuisine. $$ est clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly
when the locals are rather rowdy. $ Konak (Sovietskaya/Gorkova) people beware) and spend your evening with gang-
Faiza I (Jibek Jolu/Prospect Mira) This Turkish joint used to be ‘Restaurant Camelot’ ster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh business-
Possibly the best place to munch traditional grub in hence the incongruous suits of armour in the back men and a posse of young rich kids who all seem to
town. Their fried pelmeni and manti are so good that room, and the rather crappy castle facade. However, have studied in London. (Entrance charge: girls 200/
they have often run out by supper-time. Save an the food is often great, the salads are large and fresh, boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500
appetite and go early. $ and the staff are always pleasant. Recommended!
(And now open 24 hours a day) $$ Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo)
Faiza II (Mederova/Tynystanova) Tel. 620131
Slightly more upmarket than the original - attractive Ojak (On Erkindik between Moskovskaya, Toktogula) A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists liter-
Central Asian ceramic works adorn the walls - but the Technically an ‘Azerbaijanian’, but don’t let this fact ally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly staff,
menu is identical. Better positioned for those that live ruin the best value kebabs in town. The menu is cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance charge
south of the Lev Tolstoy bridge. $ limited and if your Russian is too, just say ‘kebab’ and [girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/Sat. ‘For-
something cheap and tasty will arrive. $ eigners’ free.)
Forel (Vorentsovka village)
Twenty minutes outside of Bishkek, Forel is a fish- Retro Metro (24, Mira)
based ‘relaxation centre’ set amongst babbling Night

streams and offering fine veiws of the mountains. Fish Bright, happy, 80’s kitsch bar, the DJ spins his rec-
your own trout out of a pool and have it deep fat fried ords from inside the front of a VW camper van. One
for your pleasure. Only salads, bread, tea and juice are of the most popular places for post-2am partying.
sold on site but you are welcome to bring any booze (Entrance charge: 200/300 som midweek, 350/450
or garnish you desire, it’s also possible to rent a BBQ. There are some Bishkek old-hands who say that som Fri/Sat. Reserve for 200 som)
To get there take a taxi to Vorentsovka village and, if things aren’t what they used to be when it comes to
your taxi driver doesn’t know the exact location, ask a nightlife in Bishkek. They talk of legendary nights of Live Music
friendly villager. Trout is 800som/kilo $$$ carnage, vomit, and debauchery - delights that con-
temporary Bishkek struggles to offer. Promzona (16, Cholpon-Atinskaya)
Karavan (Almatinkskoya/Chui) Not so, we say. Take your pick from the list below and
Excellent little stolyva (canteen) full of the timeless we’re sure there’s still enough carnage, vomit and Promzona’s far-flung location sadly means a taxi
regional favourites. Being an Uighur restaurant its gero debauchery in town to keep everyone happy. ride or a long walk home are in order at the end
lagman or lagman pa Uighurski particularly stand out. of a night. Nevertheless, this trendy live music
No smoking, sit, eat and leave. $ Diskoklubs venue has a lot going for it: good bands, an exten-
sive menu, and a hip industrial interior featuring,
Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya) Heaven (Frunze/Pravda - in the Hotel Dostuk) strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the
Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut As Heaven is found inside a hotel it is surprisingly best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night.
rot) in the centre of town. While it should stand out for unseedy. In fact it stands out for being a bastion of Rock or blues bands normally play at the week-
its fresh lagman, Jalalabad is sometimes overlooked. the well-dressed (if one is generous). Turn up in tatty ends. (Music charge 200-350 som)
Probably at its best in summer, when the shashlyk jeans and a t-shirt and you may feel a little out of
masters flanking the entrance offer their creations place; then again, you may not give a shit. Tables by Esco-bar (Gorkova, 200 m East of Tash Rabat)
straight to guests sitting at Eastern-style tables – cross the dancefloor cost 1000 som but include drinks up Named after the infamous Colombian cocaine
your legs and see how long before cramp sets in. $ to this value. (Entrance charge 200-400 som) baron, staff are unlikely to bash a line out for you
on arrival. What you will get is decent tunes most
Fire & Ice (Tynystanova/Erkindik) nights in a ‘pre-party’ spot brought to you by the
Russian/Ukrainian A slightly grittier version of Golden Bull. Again, for- creators of the Vefa centre’s Veranda. $$$
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 (Bokonbaeva/Isanova) 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’)

March 2011 The Spektator

Map 25
vardia a Gvardia
Mol o d aya G Moloday


Lva Tolstogo

23 ve.
Manas a
Manas a


ve. 4 5
Manas a



T. Abdymom
Isanova 11 8 Koenkozo
12 Dvorets
9 10

unov stadium
Togolok M

Michael Frunze

k Jo


k o



Lva Tolstog

Orozbeko a
18 Razzakov


17Razza Erkind




l Frunze

a ova
Fatianov Tynystan

ova 20
27 AYA



aeva Shopoko
A. Usenb


Elebaev 26





va March 2011 The Spektator

26 What’s On
Until March 31 TUK Dates for April Entertainment Directory
An exhibition of the works of Georg Kolotov April1st-4th The Puppet Theatre
Museum of Fine Arts (G.Aitieva) Hike Alamedin Gorge – Alyn-Tor Stream Sovietskaya/Michurina
A Bishkek-based photography exhibition Three day trip to Alamedin gorge. Hike in the pan- Performances on Sundays at 11:00am.
entitled “My Americans”. Kolotov has won both orama of the Black Finger and Aman Too Peaks.
Kyrgyz and international photographic awards. Hike to local waterfall, two days sleeping in a tent. Russian Drama Theatre
The exhibition was created with support from Trip for all ages and abilities. Distance about 20 Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park)
the U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan. In it the author km. Transport and organization incl. consultation Tel.: 662032, 621571
shows America the way he saw it himself. and guide for a group of 15 costs 550s om (TUK Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00
“Discreet, modest and neat, the daily life,” writes members 450 som). Tickets 30-100 som
painter and art critic Gamal Bokonbaev, in his Local and international plays in Russian.
review of “My Americans”. 4th April
Sokuluk Gorge hiking expedition
The Conservatory
Entertainment Auditions One day trip to the Sokuluk gorge (Belagoka). Vis-
Jantosheva, 115
GoodZone, 31, Turusbekova it local waterfall. Return to Bishkek same day. Trip
Tel: 479542
if you sing, dance, play a musical instrument, for all ages and abilities.Transport and organiza-
Concerts by students and professors.
or you’re an artist of an original genre! Head on tion incl. consultation and guide for a group of 15
down to GoodZone. This is the hip new enter- costs 350 som (TUK members 250 som).
Kyrgyz State Philharmonic
tainment centre stirring in the grave of the old
9th April Chui Prospect, 253
Tequila Blues venue.
Paintballing Tel: 212262, 212235
Tel: 31 75 75
Adrenaline-pumping game of paintball just out- Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer
Into April side the city near airport Manas. Cost: 480 som Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for
(TUK members 250 som). Transport for a group of special performances)
16 people is 200 som (TUK members 250 som). There are two concert halls featuring classical,
April 1
April Fool’s Day, Cafe Kazankok, Tolstoy 103 traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety
All are invited to attend a merry evening in the 10th April of shows.
company of KVN live comedy team 312. Enjoy Trek from Chongerchuk gorge to Birbulak
practical jokes, gifts and prizes. Come and have One day trip from Chongerchuk gorge to Birbulak Opera Ballet Theatre
fun! gorge over a 2400m pass. Transport and organi- Sovietskaya/Abdymununova
Tel: 41 61 61, zation incl. consultation and a guide for a group Tel: 66 15 48
of 15 costs 250 som (TUK members 220 som). Hours: 17:00-19:00
April 1 and 2 Tickets: 150-600 som
15th-17th April Tickets for performances sell out very quickly and
‘The Return’ at Bacardi Bar, 31 Togolok Moldo
Issyk-Ata gorge trip it is necessary to book a seat in advance.
Of what exactly, we don’t know. Hopefully not
Three days trek to Issyk-Ata gorge. Distance
Bacardi’s infamous ex-owner. Parties here are
about 20 km. Transport and organization incl.
usually pretty fly. 300 soms on the door. The
consultation and a guide for a group of 15 costs
party will get underway after 10pm.
550 som (TUK members 480 som). Live updates
Until April 3 For all the Bishkek opera, ballet and concert listings,
17th April
“I Won”, Museum of Modern Art check our frequently updated What’s On listings at:
Rock climbing at the Chongerchuk Gorge
An art exhibition dedicated to tuberculosis
Day trip to the Alamedin gorge. Walk in the pan-
sufferers at the Museum of modern art opposite
orama of the Black Finger and Aman-Too Peaks.
the Opera Ballet theatre. Entrance is 50 soms
Hike to local waterfall and open air picnic. Visit
and proceeds are shared between the museum
and organizations working with sufferers of the
local spring.Trip for walkers of all ages and abili- Spektral Travel
ties.Distance 12 km. Transport and organization
incl. consultation and guide for a group of 15 Weather-wise, you never know what you’re going to get
costs 280 som (TUK members 220 som). in a Kyrgyzstani April. For this reason, a trip to everyone’s
April 5-10 Fashion Week favourite lake is premature. Still, if you’ve got the Bishkek
Russian Drama Theatre blues you can boost your mood and local economies
Groups meet the Thursday before the weekend
A repeat of last year’s event, which got mixed by taking a minibus out to one of the small towns in the
of departure. Call (0312) 906 115 or email us at
reviews. Nevertheless, an interesting option and Web site: http://www.trek-kyr- surrounding Chui region. We recommend the provincial
you can catch it all week. brewery towns Byelovodskoye and Kant.

Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek, Chui av. 4A, Office A4
Tel.: +996 (312) 90 61 15, 90 61 39
Map: Location guide 7. Beta Stores Supermarket 14. New York Pizza 21. Stary Edgars
1. Bella Italia 8. Derevyashka 15. Pinta Pub 22. TSUM Department Store
2. Metro Bar (American Pub) 9. Cyclone 16. National Museum 23. Jam
3. Mexican Canteena 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. Blonder Pub
6. Vis-a-Vis 13. Faiza 20. Fatboy’s 27. VEFA shopping Centre

March 2011 The Spektator

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