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THE Spektator №1 October 2008

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

A very
p 16

Into the wild
The road to Naryn
Climb Chongkerchuck

. .
Tourist Map What’s On Restaurant Guide
2 Advertisement


Who we are
CAMP Alatoo is a non-profit and non-governmental organization
founded in 2005 promoting sustainable development in the mountain
regions of Kyrgyzstan. CAMP Alatoo is a successor organization of the
Central Asian Mountain Partnership (CAMP), a program financed
by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Jointly with
its partner organizations in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, CAMP Alatoo
forms part of the CAMP Network which employs about 25 people.

What we want
The overall goal is to contribute to the improvement of people’s livelihoods
in the mountain villages of Kyrgyzstan by encouraging a more
sustainable use of natural resources.

How we work
CAMP Alatoo pursues a trans-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder
approach based on local, regional and international partnerships
and experiences. CAMP Alatoo develops, adapts and implements
innovative, simple and effective technologies with an emphasis on
awareness raising and involvement by villagers, local institutions,
partner organizations and experts.

What we do
CAMP Alatoo supports the development of mountain villages by promoting
the sustainable use of natural resources through:
theoretical a • nd practical trainings
• institutional development of NGOs
• soil and water conservation technologies
• energy saving technologies
• participatory pasture management
• integrated local risk management
• small grants

Central Asian Mountain Partnership

N o n g ove r n m e n t a l o rg a n i z a t i o n s of Central Asian
for sustainable rural development Mountain Communities
The Spektator Magazine
Publisher: Tom Wellings

Staff writers: Alex Ward, Robert Marks,
Andreas Hedfors, Carl Whetham,
Anthony Butts, Asel Orozalieva


Out & About

Into the wild
A hapless Russo-British expedition into 4
deepest, darkest Altyn Arashan

Chongkerchuck gorge yourself

Rock climbing on your doorstep, plus 8
where to buy and rent gear

Secret Korean restaurant

We barge into a ‘locals-only’ restaurant 10
operating out of somebody’s front room

This Month
News and Views
Mutated TB, blackouts, cultural festivals
and a wrap of the month’s news

Introducing the super stove

How a local NGO is helping Kyrgyz vil-
lagers to make the most of their energy

A very Dungan wedding
We gatecrash a 130-year-old tradition in
Tokmok and hear the story of the Dungans
Tales from the road: Journey to Naryn
Ivar Dale travels to the highest, coldest
poorest part of Kyrgyzstan

Get Kymyz
The boozer’s guide to fermented horsemilk

The Guide
Restaurants, Bars, Clubs 27
Don’t get poisoned, use our restaurant
guide, plus all the best bars and clubs in

What’s On
The pick of the entertainment listings for

Don’t get lost...
Crosswords, Sudoku, and other things to
do over a coffee
On the Cover: Dungan Wedding by Andreas Hedfors


See the whole picture with the Spektator and
4 Out & About

the wild

Rotten pig fat, houses that run around LL THE BEST BRITISH expeditions seem al park, but altitude sickness had quickly kicked
on chicken legs, vodka at every turn, and to start off late, or under equipped, or our arses back down the mountain again. We
with a spectacular lack of planning decided that the beautiful 40km trek from the
drunken men with crossbows; even in and foresight. Look at the history. picturesque ‘Seven Bulls’ at the crumbling Soviet
the remotest mountain wilderness, Rus- Captain Scott, for example, decided spa at Jetti-Orguz, to the more rustic hot springs
sian influence in Kyrgyzstan is far from the best way to transport his provisions across in the mountains at Altyn-Arashan, via the high
dead. Follow Rob Marks and Pavel Kro- the frozen arctic wastes would be on fine Cornish altitude Ala-Kol lake, would be excellent acclima-
ponies, which promptly caught cold and died, tization. Most trekkers take around four or five
potkin on their hapless, Russo-British with Scott following a few agonizing weeks later. days to do the trek (although now we had less
expedition into deepest, darkest Altyn Similarly, Newby set off into the Hindu Kush to than three days’ worth of food).
Arashan make the first ascent of an unclimbed peak with I contemplated all this as we sat down to the
a sum total of one weekend of mountaineering obligatory kymyz outside the yurt of a grateful
experience in his team. As for the Scots, Mungo chap who we’d given a lift on our way to the start
Park, after many near of the trail. Beside us, the
misses that should “Can you sell us any food?” we enquired. matriarch of the house-
have taught him bet- He had none to spare, but there were hold, who spoke Russian
ter, ended his final trip however several cases of beer and vodka” with a perfect accent,
into the interior of Af- and who had travelled
rica by finally succumbing to a tribe of cannibals. the length and breadth of the Soviet Union, sat
And so, aware of this unhealthy tradition, it making smetana (sour cream) with a process of
came as no surprise to me to discover as I opened infinite slowness, while we struggled to com-
my rucksack at the start of the four day trek from municate with the Kyrgyz-speaking younger
Jetti-Orguz to Altyn-Arashan, which would take generations, who had clearly been holed up in
us over two 4000m passes, that I had left the the mountains for the last few years. Indeed,
greater portion of our food behind in our lodg- the times they are a-changing in Kyrgyzstan.
ings on Lake Issyk-Kul. Fortunately my own ra- Leaving our chocolate ration behind in
cial handicap was offset by the disgusting dietary thanks, we strolled our way through the idyllic
habits of my Russian companion, Pavel, who alpine scenery, interrupted only by the occa-
had procured from somewhere several hundred sional yurt. By the end of the day we had met
Far right Lake Ala-kol (R. Marks) grams of purest, raw pig fat and some onions. It up with some much better prepared Germans
seemed it was going to be a long trip. (who had in fact brought all their own food with
We had previously attempted to climb a route them from Germany), and some Swiss, whose
high above the Ak-Sai glacier in Ala Archa nation- train of porters (including a Kyrgyz, Uiger, Ka-

October 2008 The Spektator

Out & About 5

Above rationing out pig fat at the close of day one (P. Kropotkin)

lmyk and Dungan) were laden down with enough

supplies for a month. Sitting together round the
campfire that night we represented such a diverse
ethnic grab-bag as to make a Benetton advert
look like propaganda for the Third Reich. This was
however little comfort to me as I spent the night
shivering inside my 400 som sleeping bag I’d pur-
chased from Orto-Sai bazaar.
The next morning we picked our way up the
first pass (or pereval in Russian), which took
us up to a brittle Martian landscape just shy
of 4000m. All the way Pavel regaled me with
popular folk tales and songs about the brave,
clear eyed Russian soldiers bravely struggling
to take the pereval from the dastardly enemy.
Indeed, brutal fighting occurred over similar
terrain in the Second World War, as Russian
and German alpine troops, who had often even
trained together, replayed their war games over
the same mountains for real. At that moment
however, it seemed difficult enough for me to
trek over such windswept terrain, as I struggled
to gulp down the rarefied air and keep up with
my companion.
Gradually we descended into the lush green
of the Karakol valley, and were greeted by the
cheery sight of a hunter’s outpost – a couple of
canvas tents and a radio manned by a stoic and
sun-bronzed local. He strode out to meet us as
we approached.
“You should continue quickly,” he warned.
“The first snows are forecast soon, I’m leaving
myself in a day or two.” October 2008 The Spektator

6 Out & About

Above horses graze by a fork in the river (R. Marks)

“Can you sell us any food?” we enquired. He had and deflower beautiful maidens (are these sto-
none to spare, but there were however several ries really meant for children?). With a sigh of
cases of beer and vodka available at 100 som relief we left the woods behind and continued
a bottle. This was apparently, a place for real higher and higher towards the lake.
Russian men, who shot their own meat and As we threw ourselves over the second
Below aches and pains are merely a memory only descended to the camp to gulp down sev- pass we were sudden greeted by the infeasi-
after a dip in the thermal baths (R. Marks) eral litres of foul-tasting local firewater. They bly beautiful sight of Ala-Kol lake. This ice-cold
certainly seemed to know how to live in the high altitude lake is encircled by a wall of crag-
mountains a lot better than us amateurs. There gy peaks and fed by the glacier leading up to
was even an improvised sauna. At least we a series of snow capped mountains. It really
didn’t go to bed thirsty that night, and I cer- is the kind of thing you come to Kyrgyzstan to
tainly didn’t feel the cold. see. We chomped down the last of our remain-
We set off the next day ascending to the next ing pig fat to catapult us down the valley to
pass after which lay the real jewel of the trek – the waiting delights of Altyn-Arashan, only to
Ala-Kol lake. As we passed through the gloomy discover that it had gone rotten, treating us to
alpine forest Pavel again held forth on Russian bilious gasses bubbling up from our tortured
folklore and the inhabitants of a certain drem- digestive systems for the rest of the hike. But
ichi les (brooding forest) which form the basis the end was finally in view.
of traditional Russian fairytales. Baba Yaga, for We cast our skeletal frames into Altyn-Ar-
instance, is some kind of witch who, for reasons ashan just after nightfall. The settlement con-
best known to herself, lives in a house with sists of a collection of homesteads united by a
chicken’s feet (perhaps some tax dodge?), and series of bath houses filled with hot mineral wa-
eats small children. Kashei Besmertnyi is an ter direct from mountain springs. It is just the
evil wizard who lives in tall tower deep in the place to relax after a hard day in the hills. The
wood, and only ventures out in order to kidnap Russians in the bath house next to ours seemed

October 2008 The Spektator

Out & About 7

to agree, as they and their buxom companions Practical Information Bishkek: 107/4 Kievskaya, 3rd floor. Apparently it’s
swilled vodka and sang about the old times also available from the TIC in Karakol (see ‘Gear’).
into the early hours, emerging in the morning When to go
for some crossbow practice. A drunken Rus- Summer is the best time, as the passes are high Guides
sian armed with any kind of pointed weapon and can get clogged with very deep snow. It is If you want to arrange a guide or porters, there are
is a formidable thing to behold, so we decided best to check with the local guides in Karakol as plenty available in Karakol. Try Ecotrek (see ‘Gear’)
to make our excuses and head down the final to current conditions and weather reports before for a start.
fourteen kilometres back to civilization in the you start off.
jeep provided by the Yak Tours hostel in Altyn The route
Arashan. That journey in itself is a bit of an ad- Gear
The route varies from luscious alpine meadow to
venture, but why don’t you go and see for your- You will need warm clothes, a sleeping bag, tent,
grueling and rocky high altitude passes. Be pre-
self, I wouldn’t want to spoil all the surprises. sleeping mat and stove. Red Fox in Bishkek sells
pared. Clean water is plentiful in the form of the
Eventually we returned to attempt our climb good quality equipment: 65 Sovietskaya; Tel: (312)
delicious mountain streams, and there are a great
in Ala Archa, fully acclimatized. Naturally, it was 591755. A cheaper alternative is to check out the
number of fantastic camp sites. We did the trek in
another gloriously amateurish failure, but this hunting/fishing stalls in one of Bishkek’s bigger
two nights, but most people allow for four or five.
is perhaps one of the great attractions of Kyr- bazaars. In Karakol the Tourist Information Cen-
If you want to camp near the hunter’s outpost,
gyzstan. British layabouts, serious Swiss hikers, tre (TIC) rents sleeping bags, tents, rucksacks and
there is a small fee but vodka and beer is available.
local hunters, drunken Russian crossbowmen: sleeping mats: 130 Jusup Abdrakhamanov; Tel:
Carry out all your rubbish with you. Only make
all are free to practice whatever kind of sport (3922) 51356. Ecotrek also rents primus stoves
fires in areas already established for the purpose.
they want in their own way, protected by the and sells gas canisters: 112A Toktogul; Tel: (3922)
Accommodation in Altyn Arashan is plentiful; just
open freedom of the Kyrgyz mountains from 51115.
speak to anyone you see there about staying and
the restraint or dictates that you find in the hills using the hot baths. Transport down from Altyn
of Europe. So go out there and do something Maps Arashan can be organized from the Yak Tours hos-
– as the locals say, “In Kyrgyzstan all things are Get the ‘South East Issyk-Kul Lake Coast’ trekking tel there. You can either hitch to Jetti-Orguz or ar-
possible.” map. Available from the Cartography Agency in range transport in Karakol. October 2008 The Spektator

8 Out & About

“An obsession for the mentally deranged” is how one British colonel
described the passion for rock climbing at the time of the race for the
first ascent of the north face of the Eiger. This sentiment seemed to
be shared by the farmer that came up to me one sunny afternoon as I
secured my partner up the granite walls rising out of the fast flowing
waters of Chongkerchuk gorge.


HAT ARE YOU DOING?” he asked.
“Climbing,” I answered, surprised
that the rope and the impedimenta
draped over me hadn’t been a give-
“Yes, but why?” he asked incredulously.
“Because it’s there?” I wondered – a little dif-
ficult to translate perhaps. “For sport,” I replied,
“But what’s up there?” he rejoined, suspicious-
ly now.
“Nothing up there at all?”
“Yes, nothing.”
He backed off slowly, bidding me good day,
obviously deciding that we were best left to our
ridiculous pursuits.
Indeed, it is sometimes puzzling why anyone
would want to climb. Aside from all the usual ob-
jective dangers, not so long ago a group of Ameri-
can climbers were kidnapped by extremists in the
Karavshin region of Kyrgyzstan, and were being
slowly led across the border to their doom until
they managed to hurl their captors off the moun-
tainside. But now Kyrgyzstan is a more stable
place, and more tourist-oriented organizations are
helping both local people and visitors to realize
that there is something “up there”, and that you
don’t need to be a terrorist-slaying superman, or
mentally unbalanced to experience it.
One such organization is the Alpine Fund, a
Bishkek based charity which trains local youths
in mountain skills and helps them find positions
as guides for tourists, as well as providing edu-
cational support for disadvantaged youngsters.
I accompanied two of their guides with some
American tourists on a day trip to Chongker-
chuk gorge, a beautiful and secluded spot in the
mountains just half an hour’s drive from their of-
fices in Bishkek.
As we cooled off in the mountain stream the
guides quickly established safe ropes up some of
the more amenable routes on the 30m rock walls
and started to explain the simple skills the first-
time climbers would need to get to the top.

October 2008 The Spektator

Out & About 9
Before long any initial nervousness was forgotten
as the Americans soon found themselves work-
ing their way up the cracks, overhangs and faces
that tower over the non-climber, discovering a
whole new dimension of freedom and move-
ment, along with a few muscle groups never be-
fore suspected.
Soon the goal was reached and the climb-
ers abseiled triumphantly to the ground, having
achieved what seemed impossible only minutes
before. The samovar was then fired up and we ate
lunch, swapping stories and talking our muscles
bigger while feasting on good Tajik watermelon.
The more confident climbers began contem-
plating some of the more challenging routes,
while everyone began looking at the mountains
that surrounded them with a new sense of under-
standing and curiosity.
Before we could rope up again however, the
peace was shattered as a band of ragged and
heavily armed men burst down the gorge, wild
eyed, bearded and screaming bloody murder.
I wondered if we were perhaps the next group
of climbers to be kidnapped, and started assessing
the ground for a convenient precipice over which
to hurl our attackers. Fortunately it turned out
they were actually actors, here to film a documen-
tary on the kidnapping of a Japanese geologist in
the South of the country.
Yes indeed, climbing in Kyrgyzstan is a much
happier experience these days, but still just as re-
warding. So call up a guide, grab some ropes and
get out there – do something a little bit unusual
and you’ll get a lot more from Kyrgyzstan. As the
Americans said, they had a whole new apprecia-
tion for the famous mountains of Kyrgyzstan than
that framed for them in guidebooks or photo-

Practical Information

Chongkerchuk gorge is located a 30 minute
drive south of Bishkek, just off the village of Koi
Tash, in the hamlet of Tartyr. In Koi Tash there
are some kiosks and an excellent fish restaurant from Red Fox (65 Sovietskaya; Tel: (312) 591755) some dachas and winding through a farm. After 10
(which farms it’s own fish), as well as a modern and Lim Po Po (on Isanova street next to Beta minutes you will hit a better road. Turning right will
hotel, but there are no facilities in the gorge it- Stores). take you back to the centre of Koin Tash, turn left
self apart from long-drop toilets. and follow the road for 30 minutes through open
Guides country until you see the gorge in front of you, with
When to go The Alpine Fund, based in Bishkek, can provide full a red-roofed holiday home at it’s mouth.
You can be reasonably sure of good weather instruction, transportation and equipment hire By car – take the road to Koi Tash village. Once in
from April to September, but climbing is possi- services, for a reasonable price which goes towards the village turn right to cross the Ala Medin village.
ble earlier or later depending on the tempera- funding their development projects. A climbing You will come to a T-junction and should turn left,
ture. guide to the area is also available on their web- passing a theological college and mosque, and
site. Contact: Ahunbaeva 119A #502, Phone: (996- continue along this bad road until you sight the
Staying out 312) 47-16-35, Email: Website: gorge.
There is a big café/hotel complex in Koi Tash,
called ‘Dordoi’ – the huge red-roofed building You may also like to try
at the end of the village; or you could continue Getting there Hiking the length of the gorge is an interesting
down the road to the resort and hot springs at The Alpine Fund – the Alpine Fund will arrange and challenging hike which can be done in a
‘Toplie Kluchi’ to rest your aching bones. You transport for you, contact them by telephone or day. Follow the river until you emerge out of
can also camp for free in the gorge, but treat or via their website. the other end of the gorge and then ascend the
boil the water from the river, due to livestock. By marshrutka – from the roundabout at the east- slope to the right and follow the ridge back.
ern end of Achumbaeva, take one of the inexpen- Speak to the Alpine Fund about taking a trip
Gear sive taxis to Dordoi café in Koi Tash village. 100m to the Ak Sai glacier in ala Archa, site of the fam-
You can rent equipment (shoes, ropes, harnesses, before the huge modern red-roofed café take the eous peaks Korona and Free Korea. You could
quickdraws, belay devices) from the Alpine Fund dirt road to the right leading down to a bridge. also try peak Uchitel, which is a 4000+m peak
(see ‘Guides’ below). You can also buy most things Continue over the bridge and turn right, passing which requires no technical alpine skills. October 2008 The Spektator

10 Out & About
Top crunchy swegogybokym, quite a mouthfull
(All photos C. Whetham)



OUND ON THE CORNER of Scriabina and and served under a sumptuous sauce of finely
Zhukeeva Pudovkina, in a rather unassum- diced vegetables (150 som); Swegogybokym, a
ing suburban home (so unassuming, in dish of tender sliced beef and crunchy mixed
fact, that it took me a couple of attempts vegetables with bamboo shoots and black mush-
to find it – be warned, there are no signs), rooms, all braised in thick white stock with sesame
“Petel” restaurant is a veritable oasis of Korean cui- seeds (140 som); and the delicious Zachangmyun,
sine and courteousness. steamed home-made noodles topped with a rich,
Apparently the name means “God’s house” in meaty black bean sauce (120 som). The portions
Korean, which I avouch is quite a fitting appella- are generous, and all orders are served with com-
tion, as the very atmosphere of the place exudes plimentary dishes of wonderfully succulent Kim
humbleness and harmony. chi and spicy seaweed. Possibly equally important
After knocking at the entrance gate, we were as part of the dining experience (certainly for this
greeted by the proprietors with friendly smiles and diner) the food was served with a smile!
welcomed into the courtyard; the civility didn’t Other favourites on offer include Bibimbab 150,
stop there. Ushered into the tidy home-cum-res- Kim chi jigee 210, Tungte jigee 250 som.
taurant and asked to take our shoes off, we were Feeling stuffed after our feast, we were able to
then directed to a charming room with low tables take full advantage of the cushions and stretch out
and cushions on the floor. It is worth noting that on the floor to ease our distended bellies before
the entire restaurant is non-smoking, and there asking for the bill, which came to less than 500
are no alcoholic drinks served on the premises som for two people with large appetites.
(what would you expect, after all, in a restaurant Refrigerators in the entrance hall are stocked
with such a name). Unfortunately the menus are with various pastes, sauces and condiments of-
only in Korean, but the proprietress sat with us, fered for sale to those wishing to add a little Ko-
and employing a little patience and a mix of Eng- rean spice to their home cooking, and Kim chi can
lish and Russian we were able to establish what be purchased by the kilo (price varies according to
most of the dishes were. seasonal availability).
The food is reasonably priced, with soups and I believe that the decency of a restaurant can
main courses ranging from 100-250 som and 60 be measured by how clean the lavatories are, and
for a portion of plain steamed rice. There is a de- am pleased to impart that Petel passes the toilet
cent selection of pork, beef and chicken dishes as test with flying colours! All in all a very agreeable
well as fish and seafood; vegetarian food is avail- eatery to which I will most certainly return on a
able on request (there is no Kya, or dog, on the regular basis.
menu, so if that’s what you’re after this is not the
place for you). Petel restaurant, Zhukeeva Pudovkina 52,
For this review, we sampled three dishes: Map- tel 0543-922539. Open Monday - Saturday
atofu, tasty tofu and shredded pork fried together 11.00-21.00, closed all day Sundays.

October 2008 The Spektator

MK International offers:
• American Courses--English Language Courses
• Work & Travel Program
• Work & Study Program
• English Language Courses in the US, UK and Europe
• au-pair Program
• Preparation for any kind of Programs
Call in and see us at 12a Togolok Moldo!
E-mail: Office Tel: 61-41-96


We invite you to try our homemade Kyrgyz
specials in our newly opened family

Local specials to eat in or take away for less that

Gorky st. / Panfilova st.

Email: October 2008 The Spektator
12 This Month
Bishkek tops
list of mutated
BISHKEK, Sep 9 (The Spektator) - “It began as a
dry cough. Then I thinned off severely and sweated
whatever I did. I waited two weeks before I got x-
rayed,” said Anara, 23, a medical student until she
fell ill with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, MDR
TB, last spring.
Years of mistreating TB has given Bishkek the MDR TB-victim Karamat Mendybayeva from the village Jilaldy outside Osh has just received a shot from nurse Gulnara Jakbeko-
world’s largest known proportion of drug-resist- va. Until now, most patients like Mendybayeva go without treatment, and risk spreading the disease. Photo: Andreas Hedfors
ant strains of the ancient disease, according to pre-
“There is little awareness that this may be danger- The large first shipment of second-line drugs, paid
liminary and yet unpublished WHO data. Over 60
ous to society. It is an enormous problem,” said Do- for by agencies Global Fund and Unit Aid to cover
percent of those who developed TB in 2007 in the
minique Lafontaine, head of a Doctors Without Bor- 1,780 patients over five years, was expected to
Kyrgyz capital caught a strain which is immune to
ders TB mission in Bishkek. reach Bishkek in April or May.
at least one TB drug, levels unmatched in a recent
In the WHO study, some nine percent of the new “I am keeping my patients alive until the project
study that covered 77 countries.
cases were resistant also to at least one second-line can take over. Now everything is on the right track,”
“The situation is very bad. Migration makes it
drug, but no cases of XDR were reported. said Toktogonova.
complicated, people are treated for two months,
then break off. And they get worse,” said Yelena Pese-
na, a senior doctor at the Bishkek city TB centre.
But the blatant shortages in the Kyrgyz health
Kyrgyzstan in Brief
care system, where an experienced family doctor can
make around 3,200 som a month ($90), has meant Prosecutors demand release of Kyrgyz culture festival hits China
the mistreatments that create the drug-resistance
have been repeated again with the reserve drugs. former opposition editor BEIJING, Sep 18 (Xinhua News Agency) - A recep-
tion marking the opening of the Kyrgyz Cultural Fes-
“I am now in terror. I see how our doctors pre- BISHKEK, Sep 19 ( - Prosecutors or-
tival was held in Beijing on the 17th September. As
scribe medicine and create XDR,” said Atyrkul Tok- dered the immediate release of a former editor of
the opening show of the festival, Kyrgyz art groups
togonova, the national coordinator for the fight a Kyrgyz opposition newspaper who was jailed for
gave a performance at Beijing’s Tianqiao Theatre.
against MDR TB, speaking of the nearly incurable TB not paying court-ordered libel damages.
Addressing the reception, Kyrgyz Minister of
strain which is also immune to reserve drugs. Babyrbek Dzheenbekov was detained by police
Culture and Information Sultan Raev said the
During the last years, Toktogonova, 43, ex- earlier this month for not paying US$28,000 in li-
opening of the Kyrgyz Cultural Festival reflected
plained, she has received no budgeted medicines bel damages for an article that alleged President
on the friendship of the two states and the sound
whatsoever for the growing population of MDR TB Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s nephew had caused a fatal
developing momentum of bilateral relations.
patients. Therefore she has initiated hundreds of road accident.
Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2007 signed a joint
partial treatments, where patients were given only Bakiyev’s nephew, Akylbek Saliyev, has denied
declaration with his Kyrgyz counterpart Kurmanbek
half the drugs they needed, and only for 6 months any involvement in the crash last year.
Bakiyev, in which the two states vowed to hold cul-
instead of the 24 months the WHO guidelines talk
tural festivals in respective countries.
“I would very much like to treat all patients fully. KG slips in corruption index A Chinese Cultural Festival was held last year in
But as a human being, when they ask me to save BISHKEK, 24 Sep (The Spektator) - Data re-
their lives, what am I to do? I give what I have, for
if I don’t touch them at all, they die,” Toktogonova
leased by Transparency International on September
23 shows Kyrgyzstan has continued to slip down the
Kyrgyzstan and Armenia hit
said, indicating at her office door outside which a
few patients were standing hoping to be included
World Corruption Index. This year Kyrgyzstan was hardest by food, fuel price rises
ranked 166 out of 180 countries.
in treatment. BISHKEK (COMTEX) - Kyrgyzstan and Armenia are
The country has fallen from a semi-respectable 118th
Because of a lack of statistics as well as labora- on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UN
place in 2003 to a position level pegging with region-
tory resources, numbers are uncertain, but out of FAO) list of countries whose economies have been
al neighbours Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Kaza-
some 15,000 TB patients, approximately 3,500 are hit hardest by the global food and oil crisis, NEWS-
khstan moved up from the 150th place to 145th.
resistant to at least one anti-TB drug. Of these, only reported this week. UN FAO will provide
According to the index the least corrupt states were
154 are receiving quality second-line drugs, and an 48 countries that have struggled to cope with the
Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand; the most cor-
estimated few hundred are in the dangerous partial dramatic rise of food and fuel prices, including Kyr-
rupt were Iraq, Burma and Somalia.
therapies or self-medicating. gyzstan and Armenia, with US$21 million.
The National TB centre has in writing forbidden
all partial MDR TB treatment, but the centre director
Aftandil Alisherov confirms it carries out such treat-
Kyrgyz Glaciers melting away Bus falls of cliff killing four
ment. BISHKEK (IRIN) - The number of glaciers in Kyr- OSH, Sep 16 (RIA Novosti) - A bus slid over a cliff in
From a public health perspective, the forbid- gyzstan has dropped by 15 percent over the past Kyrgyzstan’s southern Osh province, killing four peo-
den therapies are catastrophic. Treatment with less 30 years because of climate change, say Kyrgyz en- ple and injuring 10, an interior ministry source said on
than at least four effective substances risks allowing vironmental experts. The rate of decline has accel- September 16. The accident occurred when the driver
those few bacteria which will always be resistant to erated dramatically in the last 30 years, they add. left the bus parked on a steep incline putting rocks un-
survive and become the dominant strain in a new The Spektator will be reporting in detail on Kyr- der the wheels to prevent the bus from moving. How-
population. gyzstan’s disappearing glaciers next month. ever, the driver’s actions failed to stop the vehicle.
October 2008 The Spektator
This Month 13
A cold winter
in Central Asia

WASHINGTON, Sep 25 (UPI) - When the Soviet

Union sundered apart seventeen years ago, fifteen
new nations emerged. The former Soviet republics
that are doing best are those that either have in-
tegrated with the European Union (Estonia, Latvia
and Lithuania) or have substantial hydrocarbon
reserves -- Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
Energy resources do not necessarily translate
into foreign currency reserves, however, most
notably in the case of Kazakhstan’s Central Asian
neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which, de-
spite being rich in hydropower potential, are fac-
ing a brutal winter of electricity cuts.
Communism left the 15 new nations’ econo-
mies warped, geared toward supplying the Soviet
centrally planned economy directed from Moscow Get used to the idea of a long, dark winter. Photo: Duncan Ferguson
instead of supplying regional needs. Since 1991 flow, about 110 cubic kilometres annually, to ir- last several years have released more water from
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan rigate Central Asia’s cotton fields, but as water their reservoirs during the winter to meet peak
and Uzbekistan have struggled to reform their withdrawal from the rivers eventually reached 85 demand, even though downstream Uzbekistan
economies to integrate into global markets. For percent of their annual flow, little subsequently requires a uniform supply of water to maintain its
Central Asia, Moscow’s directives meant agricul- reached the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth- crops. In Uzbekistan, the irregular water releases
tural production and, most importantly, cotton to largest inland sea with an area of 28,000 square have caused food prices to rise and some cotton
feed the massive textile establishments ringing miles. Beginning in the 1960s, the Aral began to farmers to go bankrupt, leading to rising regional
Moscow. Tajikistan had the additional misfortune shrink, and is now approximately 8,920 square tensions. For people in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,
of descending into a vicious civil war in 1992; by miles. having no hydrocarbon reserves, last winter was
the time it ended five years later, 50,000 were dead brutal, when despite the fact that Tajikistan in-
and the economy was left prostrate. “Tajik authorities are predicting creased water flows through its hydroelectric
As the successful cultivation of cotton requires 15-hour daily blackouts this winter to dams, people froze to death during the coldest
long periods free of frost, sunshine and moderate winter in 50 years.
rainfall, usually one to two feet per annum, the conserve energy, and the Kyrgyz gov- The crisis will escalate this winter in Kyrgyzstan
Soviet solution to Central Asia’s lack of precipita- ernment is contemplating 10-hour as well, as the Toktogul reservoir, the largest in
tion was to dig a vast network of irrigation canals, Central Asia, has a water level now of only 9.6 bil-
drawing most of their water from the Amu Darya lion cubic meters, 74 percent of what’s needed to
and Syr Darya rivers. generate electricity this winter. As discussions held
Consequently, the largest single regional unre- By the early 1980s the Soviet Union had be- Sept. 9-10 in the Kazakh city of Almaty between
solved post-Soviet issue concerning Central Asian come a major exporter of cotton, accounting for Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan over the
water is the equitable division of the waters of the more than 20 percent of global production. After equitable division of the Syr Darya’s water were
1,500-mile Amu Darya and the 1,380-mile Syr Dar- independence, however, Moscow’s subsidies dried unsuccessful, Bishkek now faces the possibility
ya, whose combined flow before massive Soviet up and the new nations’ interests swiftly began to of importing Uzbek natural gas and Kazakh elec-
agricultural projects were implemented equalled clash. The legacy of Soviet inefficiency combined tricity this winter at near market rates. Kyrgyzstan
that of the Nile. The two rivers together contain with a lack of investment steadily worsened the is unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing in either
more than 90 percent of Central Asia’s available problems, and today Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turk- country, as recent Kyrgyz legislation increasingly
water, and their headwaters are controlled by Kyr- menistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan occupy five of characterizes its water resources as a marketable
gyzstan and Tajikistan, the two poorest and most the top seven places in the world league table of commodity to sell downstream, a position strong-
mountainous “Stans.” While alpine Tajikistan culti- per capita water users. ly opposed by both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
vated small amounts of cotton, it was the down- For better or worse, Uzbekistan remains wed- For too long the West has been interested in
stream states of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and ded to its cotton crop. Uzbekistan is now the sec- Central Asia primarily for its energy and military
Kazakhstan that were responsible for the bulk of ond-largest exporter of cotton in the world and uses; it is now time to provide assistance to allow
Soviet cotton production. receives more than $1 billion annually from its ex- the economies there to diversify. Failure to act
Soviet water management was highly cen- port of around 800,000 tons. Unfortunately for Uz- could see the chaos still roiling Afghanistan spread
tralized, with Moscow ordering Kyrgyzstan and bekistan, the possibilities for diversifying its agrar- northward into a region committed to change but
Tajikistan to accumulate water in their reservoirs ian base are limited, as only 10 percent of its land is lacking the internal resources to accomplish it. Tajik
in winter to release downstream at the beginning suitable for cultivation, with cotton accounting for authorities are predicting 15-hour daily blackouts
of the cotton-farming season to Uzbekistan, Kaza- up to 40 percent of its agricultural production. The this winter to conserve energy, and the Kyrgyz
khstan and Turkmenistan, who in turn during the income from cotton remains vital to the country’s government is contemplating 10-hour blackouts.
winter would supply their upstream neighbours economy, representing around 60 percent of hard If the West does not want to increase its Interna-
with the fuel and natural gas needed for power currency export earnings. tional Security Assistance Force presence in Af-
generation. Which brings us back to the coming winter. ghanistan to deal with Tajik and Kyrgyz refugees,
During the 20th century, Soviet engineers di- While Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan rely on hydro- then it might consider advancing fuel subsidies to
verted almost all of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya power to generate electricity, both states for the assist the two nations as money well spent. October 2008 The Spektator
14 This Month



Westerners may grumble at the rising cost TOM WELLINGS bale walls are finished with wood and plaster

of filling up their gas tanks, but in rural Kyr- and provide effective insulation during cold
SCORCHING MIDSUMMER day is weather. It is clear that this is one village that is
gyzstan increasing fuel prices are leaving definitely not the best time of year enthusiastically going green.
some villagers to face bitter winters with- to imagine the hardships of Febru- Arstanbek is eager to tell us about the village’s
out enough fuel to heat their homes. Tom ary frosts. Nevertheless, we are off history, and how it is trying to survive in increas-
Wellings and Valeria Pototskaya travelled to meet Arstanbek, the head of a lo- ingly difficult conditions. During Soviet times, he
to Balaayilchy village, an hour’s drive from cal Self Governance body to get the lowdown says, coal was readily and cheaply available from
on a new type of stove that is keeping families Russia and Kazakhstan. The traditional type of
Bishkek, to learn more about an innovative warm through the winter and cutting coal use stove, which is used for cooking as well as warm-
new energy efficiency project run by local by over seventy-five percent. ing the house, required two and a half tons of fuel
NGO, CAMP Ala-too, that is already attract- Thirty minutes after leaving Bishkek’s subur- during one winter heating period. Matters of en-
ing enthusiasm from the locals. ban sprawl behind we exit the highway and turn ergy efficiency never crossed people’s minds as
south along a rough gravel road towards more they could stuff their fuel-devouring stoves full of
peaceful country. The backdrop of lofty snow cheap Soviet coal at minimal cost.
capped peaks offers something of a cooling Now times have changed but stove-technol-
distraction from the intense heat, although this ogy has yet to catch up. With coal costing 2000
year snow levels seem to be retreating up the som a ton (60USD), a typical monthly income for
mountains more quickly than usual. As we enter a village household, villagers are forced into for-
the foothills and approach the village we pass aging for locally available fuels - an unsustain-
fields of brilliant yellow sunflowers lolling in the able practice that has given rise to unforeseen
glare of the midday sun, soon to be harvested dangers. When trees and bushes are cut down
for their seeds and oil. Golden fields then give for firewood the land becomes more vulnerable
way to the first cottages, and finally the small to landslides, erosion and flooding, and when
village centre – a school, town hall, and an old dried animal dung is burned there is little left
rusting electrical substation that looks like its with which to fertilize the fields.
Left Jumabe and his super-stove (T.Wellings) taken a battering. The energy efficient stove project , Arstanbek
We pull up outside the town hall and find Ar- says, began last year and offers a sustainable
stanbek waiting for us. This ecologically friendly solution to the village’s energy problem. In the
public building also houses Arstanbek’s office. summer of 2007 a workshop was held by CAMP
Right Sunflower fields line the road to Balaay- The whole thing is made from hay, he says, Ala-too that demonstrated the advantages of
ilchy village(T.Wellings) showing us a cut out window in one of the walls installing ‘super stoves’ and effective insulation.
that gives a view of the internal construction. Following that, three villagers were taught how
Not quite as primitive as it may sound, the hay- to construct the new stoves and became quali-

October 2008 The Spektator

This Month 15

fied stove-makers. Finally, a micro credit agency As Kyrgyzstan rivals Great Britain for its tea are also often installed with a system of pipes
was set up with the support from the Mountain drinking, the appreciation awarded a stove ca- that channels heat throughout the house and
Villages Development and Partnership Founda- pable of producing a quick cuppa should not be recycles warmth from the fire instead of letting
tion (MVDPF). They provided 116,000 som as underestimated. it immediately escape through a chimney.
the initial capital (approximately 3400USD) that Jumabe says that before the insulation and Although Jumabe is obviously a happy cus-
enabled villagers to take out small loans at an stove were installed the temperature inside his tomer, Aslanbek tells us that scepticism ran high
attractive interest rate and put the new energy home during winter reached around 10-12’C, when CAMP Ala-too held the first stove work-
saving ideas into practice. In its first year, six but last winter it averaged 18’C. Instead of walk- shop in the village. I think the other villagers
families took out small loans of between eight ing around the house in hats and coats, he grins, thought I was attending just to fill my stomach
and fifteen thousand som to install super stoves we could laze about in our socks! The only dis- with the free food, he says with a smile. To coun-
or carry out insulation work. Tests conducted advantage of this was that we were inundated ter this uncertainty, after the first stoves were in-
last winter on these households showed that stalled villagers were invited to see the benefits
not only were the houses much warmer, but if “Instead of walking around the for themselves in demonstration houses such
a stove and insulation had been installed the as Jumabe’s. Evidently they were impressed as
amount of coal needed during the winter was house in hats and coats, he grins, we this year sixteen families have taken out loans
slashed from two and a half tons to just half a could laze about in our socks!” from the micro credit organization to fit their
ton. own houses out with super stoves and insula-
Arstanbek suggests we pay a visit to Jumabe tion measures. The idea has become so popular
to see one of the super stoves for ourselves. Ju- with guests who came to sit in the warmth of that there is now a small waiting list for credit. In
mabe, he says, was one of the pioneers of the our stove and enjoy hot tea! addition, four other households have forked out
energy efficiency project and has not only in- Still not finished with his one-man energy the full cost from their own pocket and installed
stalled a new super stove but also insulated the efficiency campaign, Jumabe plans to add the new stoves independently. This means that
walls and floor of his home. coup de grace by insulating the roof before the come the first snows of next winter, nearly fif-
When we knock at the door, Jumabe’s wife onset of next winter. teen percent of village households will be ben-
greets us and invites us inside. We are, it seems, On closer inspection the ‘super stoves’ do not efiting from super stoves. When credit is repaid,
the latest in a long line of curious visitors keen appear radically different from the traditional the fund will have swelled to allow even more
to inspect recent domestic improvements. Wok- variety. However, their deceptively simple ap- households to participate the following year.
en from a late morning snooze, Jumabe joins us pearance belies cutting edge stove-technology. Now it seems this village can look forward to
in the kitchen and is soon enthusiastically sing- Developed in Germany, the super stove is com- a safer, more prosperous and environmentally
ing the praises of his new appliance. pact in design and utilizes special heat retaining friendly future. CAMP Ala-too, however, will not be
The biggest advantage, he says, is that even bricks that continue to radiate heat twenty-four stopping here and is already taking its workshops
during the coldest weeks of winter the kettle hours after the fire has gone out. The stoves are to other villages in the region to ensure that more
can be brought to boil in ten minutes. With our optimally located on an inside wall and there- families can bask in the warm glow of energy ef-
old stove it took more than an hour. fore provide heat to more than one room, and ficiency, just like those in Balaayilchy. October 2008 The Spektator
16 Focus

Right Groom Ibrahim and Bride Zamira posing

with cousins and grandmother. (A. Hedfors)

The Dungans are a staunchly insular people who left China as refugees 130 years ago and
now live throughout much of northern Central Asia. Tom Wellings, who knows nothing
about the Dungans or their culture, attends a traditional wedding and tries not to offend


Dungan INVITE YOU TO SPEND with me my last few

moments as a boy!” announces Ibrahim with
He then stands still whilst his friends make final
adjustments to the two brightly coloured sashes

an ecstatic smile on his face. I have only just ar- he must wear over each shoulder, one red, one
rived and already I am beginning to doubt the green. “Nobody quite knows what they symbolize,”
wisdom of my trip here to Tokmok, a rather ob- Ibrahim says, “but in my family, the red one means
scure, little-visited town in Kyrgyzstan’s far north. ‘man’ and the green one means ‘woman’.” A small
Without time to object I am hustled into a room commotion then erupts when a girl points out that
and merge with a joyous throng of jostling Dun- he’s wearing the female sash over the male sash.
gans, all helping Ibrahim prepare for his big day. “That’s surely a bad sign,” she says. In this male
Taking the opportunity to practise his English, dominated society even the male sash must take
the groom tells me that he is twenty years old, has precedence, it seems. They are rearranged and the
had his head shaved especially for the occasion sniggering dies down after a few crude jokes.
and enjoys playing Counterstrike. To be honest, I Ibrahim has just enough time to adjust his fur
had hoped for something a little more traditional. box hat, button up his cream suit, and lace his new
As we chat, more bodies join the heaving mass black shoes before his driver summons him down-
of people and it’s hard to find a place to stand, I stairs. Now, properly dressed and adopting a con-
feel that I’m beginning to get in the way. Still reel- fident swagger, he leaves with a small entourage
Far right the two colourful sashes are prepre- ing from some undercooked mutton from another of close friends and relatives on the short journey
pared before Ibrahim leaves to pick up his bride Kyrgyz party I attended some weeks before, I sway to collect his bride from a neighbouring village
(A. Hedfors) and try not to vomit over the multitude of well- across the border in Kazakhstan.
wishers. Whilst he is gone, I wander downstairs to the
Friends and family, old and young, are either help- long benches laid out in the yard; all Dungan
ing the groom get ready, giving him advice on mar- homes should have a yard and garden for growing
ried life, cracking jokes or just pestering him with food, a throwback to when times were harder. The
questions. I ask about his bride. “I’ve never met her,” benches are full of old men running their fingers
Says Ibrahim, “but I’ve seen a photograph and even through their wispy beards, sipping black tea, talk-
managed to talk with her on the telephone once.” ing about the way things are.

October 2008 The Spektator

Focus 17

“Do you want to hear an ancient Dungan rid- gan to feel threatened. The Qings were perceived survived and now there are over sixty thousand
dle?” one white-beard asks. Not waiting for my an- to be anti-Muslim and corruption was rife. Many Dungans living in Kyrgyzstan alone.”
swer, he launches into his riddle with childish en- Muslim people, and even some Han Chinese, rose I ask him if he feels at home here, “Of course
thusiasm before I can escape. “Ten brothers went up in the western and central provinces. During we do. We’ve lived here for over a hundred years.
up a high mountain to do some urgent work. Eight the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there We’ve put down roots.” Rashid, a younger man in
were working and two were lazy. They screwed were ten rebellions against the emperor’s forces is mid-twenties interrupts, “We have two moth-
their brows into a frown, but they had joy in their and millions died on both sides. Eventually our erlands, China is our motherland, but Kyrgyzstan
hearts, and snowflakes fell before their eyes.” rebel soldiers were crushed and three groups of too is our home and I don’t want to leave. I was
Unaware of exactly how one should approach a Dungans fled China in the winter of 1877 to be- born and raised in this country and all my friends
Dungan riddle I stare intently at my teacup with come subjects of Imperial Russia. The journey was and family are here.”
my chin cradled thoughtfully upon one hand. “It’s Rashid, who speaks excellent English, tells me
a baldy scratching his head,” the riddle man ex- he has lived in Bishkek since his university days
claims. “He’s got a scabby itching skin disease!” a
“‘He’s got a scabby itching skin and now works for an NGO. He is well educated,
second riddler pipes up. I think for a moment and disease!’ a second riddler pipes up. has travelled widely, and seems more worldly
then feign understanding. These guys have been I think for a moment and then feign than many of the other guests. “Are arranged
drinking strong black tea since the break of morn- marriages like Ibrahim’s common?” I ask. “We
ing and it’s now nearly noon. understanding” are a tightly knit community,” he replies, “most
A more serious character asks me what I know families insist that their children, especially their
about the Dungan people, and I confess I know ab- daughters, marry other Dungans. I know of one
solutely nothing. His eyes light up as he senses an horrific, nobody knows how many died, but frozen family that disowned their daughter because she
opportunity to tell a tale. He carefully balances his corpses littered the road all the way to Kyrgyzstan. married a Kyrgyz guy. She may never be allowed
chopsticks on his bowl and takes a quick sip of tea. Only six thousand reached safety.” back to her family home again. For our survival,
“There is a legend,” he begins in a deep bass voice, Ismael takes a short break to slurp his tea people believe we have to act this way.”
“that we descend from a band of three thousand once again, pulls a flake of food from his mous- “As for this wedding,” says Rashid, “the bride’s
Arabian mercenaries who were invited to China tache, and then continues: “One band arrived in dress, the rituals and the traditions – they have
to act as bodyguards to the Emperor way back in Naryn [a town in central Kyrgyzstan], they were remained unchanged since the arrival of our peo-
the time of the Prophet Mohammed.” A little far- freezing, starving and had no money. The local ple here 130 years ago.”
fetched, I think to myself, but it sounds like the Kyrgyz were also suffering from the terrible win- It’s one o’clock in the afternoon. A small girl
beginning of a cracking story. “They were strong ter and therefore had little to give the refugees runs into the courtyard from the street.“They’re back,”
and brave and earned the respect of the Chinese who had turned up at their doors. However, they she calls, “they’re back!” The guests leap up and away
who became our brothers. For over one thousand did all that they could, and the following spring from their tea cups and bound towards the entrance
years we lived in peace alongside the Chinese – we the survivors were allocated land by the Impe- to the courtyard. The lead car, a Mercedes, is envel-
worked hard, we lived in small communities and rial Government, allowed to establish their own oped by the crowd. Everyone is itching to glimpse
farmed the land. However, when the Qing Dynasty villages and maintain their way of life. The early the bride, but it is the groom who gets out first. He
came to power in 1644 many Muslims in China be- days of these settlements were tough too, but we looks quite pleased with himself. October 2008 The Spektator

118 Focus

Right the bride has her lipstick touched up be-

fore the rest of the guests are allowed in to the
room (T. Wellings)

Below one of the riddle-tellers tucks in to his

bowl of cia teh, an oily dish of vegetables and
meat served with small steamed dumplings.
(T. Wellings)

The bride, a silk scarf over her face, gingerly steps nal picture. Everyone says ‘cheese’, except the bride
out of the car and is escorted through the crowd of course, and I promise to email the results as soon
and into the house. as I can.
“When will the ceremony take place,” I ask a Despite the chilly March weather, the party
guest in the yard. finishes outside. The men have been preparing
“The ceremony? That took place at the girl’s plov (a rice and meat dish) over a fire in a huge
house, there won’t be a ceremony here.” I can’t metal pot since the morning and it is ready to
help but let out a deflated sigh. “That was the serve. They peel back a piece of Hessian sacking
most important part of the day,” the guest contin- from the top of the pot and a cloud of steam es-
ues, “the Mullah comes, reads a few verses of the capes into the sky releasing an aroma of cumin
Koran, blesses the marriage, all that sort of stuff. and turmeric. The guests take their places at the
You should stick around though. The bride’s go- benches and the groom’s younger male relatives
ing to be presented to us so we can admire her.” set about serving. “Don’t they mind doing all the
This sounds more promising. work?” I ask Ibrahim.
We enter the house and trot up the stairs and “Of course they don’t,” he replies. “And when
onto the landing. People nudge me towards the they marry, their brothers and cousins will do the
room where the bride is sitting. “Look, she’s beau- same for them.” The boys walk up and down the
tiful!” they whisper. The next group of guests is aisles between the tables spooning out plov and
allowed to enter and I tag along. ensuring teacups are never empty. The table of rid-
The seventeen-year-old bride sits by the win- dlers is now engaged in intense conversation, their
dow with the early spring sunlight streaming onto booming voices reverberating around the yard, the
her face. To be honest, she looks a little down in children are playing to one side, and the women
the dumps. “Why isn’t she smiling?” I ask Rashid. are merrily cleaning the dishes in an outside kitch-
“It’s customary for the bride to remain impassive, en. Things seem very organized. I politely enquire
she shouldn’t smile - it shows she respects her old if there is any alcohol, but Rashid just tuts at me
family, now that she has been taken away from disapprovingly, “We are a Muslim people, you see.
them.” We admire her some more, and I, along We aren’t like the Russians.”
with every other guest, take photographs. The party is over and before I make my way
The wedding dress is quite a sight, looking back to Bishkek I ask Rashid about his plans for
somewhat like the aftermath of an explosion in the future.
a very colourful haberdashers shop. It’s part pink, “I will get married, but not like this. I don’t like
part blue, part yellow, black, green and red. There the attention.”
are intricately detailed seams, bold floral motifs, “But won’t your family be disappointed?” I ask.
and an elegant headdress crowned with a tiara of “Well, yes. I suppose they will be.” He pauses, “I am
deep pink flowers. Despite the somewhat raucous proud to be Dungan, I value our traditions and cus-
design, the different elements of the outfit some- toms, but for me, I prefer to watch rather than take
how manage to harmonise. part. Maybe I have been living in the city too long.”
After a while, I offer to take group photographs I tell Rashid the riddle about the baldy man
and the atmosphere lightens. The bride even with the itching scabby skin disease. He thinks
comes close to cracking a smile as one of the small hard, but he can’t get it. Maybe he has been out of
kids falls flat on his face when trying to get in the fi- village life too long.

October 2008 The Spektator

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e-mail: October 2008 The Spektator

120 Focus


to Naryn
Ask a Kyrgyz cab driver what the most IVAR DALE babbles happily away in Kyrgyz, while the woman

pressing issue in his country might be seems miles away, staring absent-mindedly out
EW PEOPLE ARE MORE welcoming to- at the passing Bishkek suburbs.
and he won’t bring up constitutional
wards strangers than the Central Asians. We cross the city limits and get into the country-
amendments. Nor will he start on the A wonderful way to make new acquaint- side. The houses turn markedly poorer.
level of religious freedoms or the lack of ances here is by travelling in long-distance Kyrgyzstan is a poor country to begin with, but
objective journalism. Easy to overlook, taxis, which means showing up at the our destination Naryn is worse off than all its other
yet so depressingly obvious, the answer market early in the morning, when drivers yell out regions. Around 37% of the population live under
is always one and the same - poverty. their intended destinations and passengers scurry conditions that the UN classify as “extreme poverty”,
for the best deals. After a round of good-hearted meaning that people are scraping by on less than
Ivar Dale writes about a trip he made to
haggling, you get one of the four seats in the car $2.50 a day. As one of only three countries outside
Naryn oblast in 2007, Kyrgyzstan’s high- and off you go. That is, as soon as the three other Africa, Kyrgyzstan was offered membership in the
est, coldest and poorest region. seats are filled up. Sometimes that process can take IMF and World Bank’s program for Heavily Indebted
as long as the trip itself. Today, however, I’m in luck Poor Countries (HIPC) in 2007 to try to deal with
- the car is full in thirty minutes and we get out of its enormous burden of debt. It refused. Many con-
the market and head east towards the regions bor- sidered it a matter of pride not to let others dictate
dering China. Our first stop - the town of Kochkor, how Kyrgyzstan should run its affairs, even if the
the high-altitude economic pits of Kyrgyzstan. latest statistics have them written off as one of the
world’s countries least likely to survive on its own.
What’s the frequency, Kurmanbek? During ousted president Akayev’s period, $1.8
The radio is playing Russian, Turkish and Kyrgyz billion was taken up in foreign loans, yet the pop-
pop music, a joyful female voice announcing the ulation wonders what could possibly have hap-
tunes. My travel companions are all Kyrgyz, but pened to all that money. A quick glance at the
as diverse as they come. The driver’s story is sadly country’s infrastructure will tell you it certainly
typical. A former teacher of chemistry, he left his hasn’t been spent on the common good. Part mis-
$40 a month university post for the more lucra- management, part corruption, according to Kyr-
tive position of cab driver in order to take care of gyzstan’s Minister of Finance – yet the fact remains
his family. Beside him in the passenger seat is an that the country is up to its ears in IOUs.
old man. Every so often he makes the driver stop The driver and the old man in the front are dis-
the car to help him pour another glass of vodka cussing their common economic hardships, while
from a bottle he keeps in a plastic bag. He is lame the young man beside me listens in. Pretty soon
on one side of his body, and downs the liquor in I’m asked for my own opinion on the wretched
large gulps with his one good hand. In the back, state of affairs, but conversation quickly turns to
a quiet, young man with a five year old boy on the topic of my unfamiliar accent instead. When
his lap is in the middle seat, and next to him sits I say I’m from Norway, the men start the usual
a pretty woman in her late thirties. The little boy listing of what they associate with that country.

October 2008 The Spektator

Focus 21
Right in danger of rolling away, Ak-Bata restau-
rant tube serves fish freshly caught from Lake

Skiers, ocean, oil, fish - and perhaps not quite been in my thoughts ever since then? You need Trembling earth
on target, really huge turtles. Only the thought- great words for that. Eleven years is a long time. The local café is bustling with lively conver-
ful woman in the back doesn’t care to join in. But as I’m 36 now. But I know I made a mistake. How dif- sation as shepherds and farmers in muddy
strange coincidences would have it, it’s not because ferent my life would have been if I had just married clothes gather over traditional Central Asian
the topic doesn’t interest her. I suddenly notice she him.” dishes like shorpo and lagman. It is the busiest
has turned in her seat, and is in fact staring at me. I try suggesting that Norway might not have place in town, and I’m just barely able to find
She leans over, behind the young man between us. been what she expected it to be. That maybe her a seat in a far corner, order tea and something
“Are you really from Norway?” she asks in a low decision was right, that perhaps the man would to eat. Five rough-looking bearded men in con-
voice, so the others won’t hear. I nod. She then tells have turned out to be different than she had servative Muslim dress are seated at the table
the driver to pull over, and politely asks the young hoped. next to mine. They look somewhat out of place
man and his son to change seats with her. She shakes her head and answers coldly, “It here. The locals are dressed differently, casu-
For the next three hours, while crossing the vast was a mistake.” ally, like most Central Asians. Remembering a
and dreamlike Kyrgyz highlands, she quietly tells Maybe you have to be from a place like Ko- recent news report, it dawns on me who the
me her story. chkor to truly understand. Many Westerners men might be, and just how they might have
would raise their powdered noses at the thought ended up here.
A drive down memory lane of marrying for economic reasons, swearing that’s As if Kochkor didn’t already have enough
“Eleven years ago, a Norwegian man came here. He something they would never do, no matter how problems for one little town, a few weeks be-
was building houses for poor people. I think maybe poor they were. But then, they didn’t grow up in fore it became the epicentre of an earthquake
he was a millionaire. We became friends. One day, Kochkor. There is a big difference between marry- that reached 5.4 on Richter’s scale. The trem-
he asked me how to write ‘I love you’ in Kyrgyz. I ing into wealth and marrying out of poverty. One bles that merely made the cutlery clatter in
showed him. The next day, he had written the words has much, and craves more. The other has noth- my Bishkek apartment brought considerable
in big letters and placed it in front of my house. I in- ing, but wants a little. Trying to change the odds damage to the ramshackle homes here. Along
troduced him to my parents, and to my sister. They for happiness handed to you by fate and global with the damages from the Batken earthquake
said he looked like a Russian, but the fact was that politics is the only thing you can do, if you believe two months before, estimates said $800,000
he didn’t even drink or smoke. He asked me to marry you are given but one chance at life. was needed to repair the damages. While Kyr-
him, and come with him to Norway. He showed me The woman still remembers the man’s full gyzstan’s parliamentarians announced they
pictures. It was beautiful. I thought for a long time, name. She even knows his date of birth. She writes would all donate one day’s salary to help those
but finally, I said no. You should have seen how tall it down on a piece of paper and hands it to me. It affected, the illegal Islamic movement Hizb-ut-
he was! I was just scared. And so I told him no. He really is a Norwegian name. She asks me if I could Tahrir made a curious announcement of their
asked again, many times. And in the end, he left. I try to find him for her. I say I will try, and put the own. Outlawed in a Supreme Court decision in
never saw him again. Now I think about that, and I note in my pocket as we roll down the main street 2003, their press release said the organization
feel so stupid.” in her small hometown. I don’t have the heart to was sending a construction team to Kochkor to
The woman is close to tears while relating this tell her the name is so common there must be repair houses for free. Apparently, parliamen-
story from years before. I feel bad for her. hundreds of Norwegians called just that. tarians and Islamists alike know that nothing
“I wish I could talk to him again. Just to explain. We say goodbye on the dusty street outside makes people more impressionable than grind-
But what words could I use to tell him that he has Kochkor market. ing poverty. October 2008 The Spektator

22 Focus
As I discreetly watch the men eat, I wonder if as he approaches. We shake hands. I explain that
they could be that very group of Hizb-ut-Tahrir I saw the cemetery from town, and decided to
members sent here to repair houses. They seem take a walk up here for a closer look. The man
have that same secretive air about them as mem- introduces himself as Mirzabek, and tells me he
bers of the organization I already met with in their lives here with his wife and their two children.
ideological southern stronghold, Osh. Then, I be- “People told me I shouldn’t build my house here
come aware that they are observing me too. In by the cemetery. They say it’s wrong. I told them,
fact, the entire café is. If anyone is out of place in if you’ve got money, go ahead and build where
Kochkor, it’s me. you want. I don’t have any money. So this is where
I turn to look at my hot soup instead. I will build.”
He speaks in a pleasant, unhurried manner,
Morning has broken taking his time, reflecting on his own words in
It’s 7am when I emerge bleary-eyed from a cold, a way that city people perhaps have no time for.
cold night at the Kochkor Hotel. At 60 Soms ($1.85) His manner of speaking seems almost to belong
a night it might be a bargain, but not even sleep- to a different era, far removed from my own.
ing fully dressed in a thick winter coat and covered “A lot of people went to Russia, and never re-
in blankets has kept the frost from getting into my turned. They just take off, saying they are going to
bones. Finding there is no running water, a visit to come back rich. Of course, they never do. I will tell
the rank outhouse is the only morning toilette to you a story. An old man lives down the road here;
be had. I feel tired and a bit out of place as I half- his son was always planning to go to Russia, even
consciously join another group of travelling Kyr- if his father said he shouldn’t. Eventually, he left.
gyz for the dramatic ascent across the 3100-me- And then, after a few years, we got the message
ter Dolon Pass, hardly making note of the three that the boy had died, in Moscow. When he got
elderly women chatting merrily away in the back. the sad news the father just said, let him be buried
But I wake up with a start as another coincidence there! He wouldn’t listen to me! And now see what
strikes. The driver turns on the radio to a voice happened! He chose Moscow, so let him be buried
speaking softly in Russian. For a moment, I think I in Moscow. Yes. That’s what he said.”
might be on hidden camera. He thinks for a moment. “Maybe people don’t
…and that of his contemporaries. One of the come back because they’re embarrassed. They
great masters of his time, an entire nation mourned don’t make it, then they start drinking, maybe.
his death on September 4th 1907. Dear listeners, we And then they just stay there, and you never see
give you Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s ‘Morn- them again. I don’t know. Myself, I’ve never been
ing Mood’. anywhere.”
I suppress a smile as the driver starts quietly Mirzabek’s son is smiling shyly, listening to
humming and turns the volume up. All five listen our conversation. I ask him what his name is, but
in silence as the awesome peaks loom higher still he doesn’t understand. After the break-up of the
above us, and the snake-like road takes us further Soviet Union, Naryn region is almost exclusively
into the mountains. Eventually the altitude turns inhabited by Kyrgyz, and children grow up not
the soothing melody from the radio into a hissed knowing Russian. The boy giggles at my strange
garble. questions and hides behind his father. Mirzabek
Here, three thousand meters above sea level, tussles his hair, then turns to me again.
any thought of economic trouble in the valleys “I want to ask you something. Once, a man from
below seems impossibly far away. Although they Germany came through here. On a motorcycle.
know every inch of this pass, the women in the It had broken down, and I helped him fix it. This
back stop talking, as if taking a break from real man said that in Germany, even the villages don’t
life. The scenery turns unearthly, at least to the have roads like ours. He said he’d never seen such
eyes of a city boy. There are no people, no socie- a terrible place in his life. He said he was happy
ty, no politics – and no economy. Only the steady he was leaving, and that God forbid anyone else
hum of the car’s engine. should have to live like us.”
We climb higher and higher through this silent He looks at me, and I dread the question I know
otherworldliness until we reach the high-water is coming. “Is that true?”
mark, and begin our steep descent back into re- I think of this smug German coming through
ality. Naryn on a shiny motorcycle on his way to Chi-
na, leaving his stupid comments for Mirzabek to
Easy rider ponder. The radio was probably playing Wagner
On a hillside outside the town of Naryn lies a when he rolled into town.
cemetery. Only, it’s not quite a regular cemetery “Well, you know, they have really nice roads in
- it’s rather a small village, clutching the moun- Germany.”
tainsides. The graves are small houses, divided Mirzabek smiles briefly, but we both know my
neatly by narrow streets. Many of them are beau- answer isn’t very convincing.
tifully decorated. Looking out over the poor liv- “I guess so. But still, that’s what he said, that
ing conditions in the town itself, one might won- German. Yup. That’s what he said.”
der where the logic lies buried. Poverty in life, He goes quiet, and warms his hands in the
Top lonely road towards the Dolon Pass extravagance in death. sleeves of his jacket while looking out over the
(3100m) Just beneath this peculiar village of the dead town below us. The sun is setting behind the
lies a simple house. You might miss it at first; the mountains, giving off a warm, orange glow that
Middle poverty in life, extravagance in death tombs are so much like real homes it blends in shimmers over the rooftops. Mirzabek nods his
among them. But like ghosts, a man and a small head at no one in particular, and sighs.
Bottom mother and daughter from a village boy emerge from the building, alive and well. “I don’t know. You have to live. You have to
just north of Naryn They walk towards me. build your house. That’s the way it is. That’s the
“Salam aleikum!” The man greets me heartily way life is.”

October 2008 The Spektator

Focus 23

If milk does a body good and booze does a km south of Bishkek (which, incidentally, is prob- Feeling like a favored steppe-child, you’ll crest
body better, then surely it is a wise drinker ably the only capital city in the world named after the horizon atop your steed, sitting skylit against
booze paraphernalia: a bishkek is the stick used to the vermilion of the setting sun, thirsty after a
indeed who combines the two.
stir the ripening milk; up to 3,000 stirs per day to long day’s ride. The woman of the yurt, an apple-
ensure evenness of fermentation). Nearly every car cheeked descendent of perhaps Genghis Khan
on the nearby highway stops at roadside stalls for himself, sees you and rushes forward through the

quick rounds and a pint or two to bring to parched waving grass, a bowl of kymyz in her upraised
FROM TATARSTAN TO Kyrgyzstan to Tuva, city-dwelling relatives. Here the elixir comes from hand. You sit upon your horse and drink deeply.
in what used to be the great thirsty inte-
jailoos to the east, where enterprising gentlemen You dismount, and the windblown, Fu Manchu-ed
rior of the Soviet Union, Central Asian no-
in 4-wheel-drives make patriarch, legs bowed
mads have the right idea: kymyz. Without
weekly stops at remote
question the world’s finest alcoholic dairy
“Be forewarned, you’ll have to to perpendicular from
yurts, filling 55-gallon years in the saddle,
product, kymyz is a toothsome brew of fermented drums with the fresh lay into vat of kymyz to get canned. comes to join you for
mare’s milk, and the intrepid inebriate who finds stuff. Even a strong batch tops out at less another cup. Even if
himself in these far reaches would be a fool not to But the best way to your Russian is rusty
embark on a kymyz-tasting tour. hit the horse-juice is on than 3% alcohol” and your Kyrgyz non-
The enterprising Russians long ago introduced a horse of your own. If existent, in this mo-
the tribes of Central Asia to the blinding blessings
you’re not feeling up to ment you understand
of vodka, and it’s never too early in the day to get
dropping a few hundred dollars on a mount at each other perfectly. With a wipe of the lips and a
nuked on the nectar of the potato in these parts. the cutthroat animal bazaars, local travel agents sigh of contentment, you speak the universal lan-
But in the face of this alcoholic imperialism, kymyz
can outfit you with a horse and guide for as little guage of alcohol appreciation fluently.
has maintained its hold on the boozer’s bowl in as $30 a day. Arrange your trip in Bishkek or in vil- Be forewarned, you’ll have to lay into vat of ky-
the nomad’s yurt (the traditional portable tent oflages closer to the action, like Kochkor, its main myz to get canned. Even a strong batch tops out
Central Asia). It’s not hard to see why. The stuff is
street lined with kymyz vendors, or Barskoon, on at less than 3% alcohol (though some groups, like
healthy, full of the same vitamins that allow foals
the south shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, one of the larg- the Tuvans of Russia and Mongolia, distill theirs
to gain up to four pounds a day, and was once est mountain lakes in the world and the quintes- into a stronger potion called araka). If, like the
used as medicine for tuberculosis patients. As farsential Soviet resort destination. With a little effort, locals, you’re low on aldehyde dehydrogenase 2,
as taste is concerned, though first experiences with
it’s no trouble at all to arrange a week-long tour your so-called “Asian flush” means you’re all set.
kymyz draw comparisons to sausagey milk or rot- into the hills, stopping each night at a different For the rest of us, not to worry, vodka runs 60
ten ranch dressing with just a slight hint of tinfoil,
yurt to stay with a different family of herders and cents a bottle.
the refreshing sour tang of a good vintage quicklysample the kymyz. Though recent efforts have been made to in-
becomes the perfect way to end a hot day. Or be-
gin it, if that’s your thing. And as it is the gravest of
insults not to invite passers-by into the family yurt
for a taste of the home-brew, you’ll find yourself a
connoisseur in no time.
Like a fine wine, a lip-smacking kymyz is the
product of both terroir and artisanship. Altitude
is key: the best kymyz comes from northern Kyr-
gyzstan’s jailoos, rich pastures 8,000 to 10,000 feet
above sea level, where herders spend the summer.
At lower elevations, the taste of the grass and the
mix of herbs and wild flowers in a mare’s diet pro-
duce a disappointing libation barely worthy of the
name, while higher elevations are just too cold.
Soil, geology, mesoclimate, and aspect undoubt-
edly play a part as well, though little systematic
work has been done on the matter. As for artisan-
ship, each family tweaks the simple recipe in its
own way, adding special herbs, barley germ, a lit-
tle cow’s milk, or sugar for the weak-kneed. Yeast
starters are jealously guarded and cultures kept
alive all year, and the special horse-leather sack in
which the drink is aged, the saba, is among a herd-
er’s most-prized possessions. Keep in mind that
the taste of a given batch changes as the drink
ages, starting out sweet and tangy and finishing
the season a riot of unholy gustatory explosions in
the sinuses.
Popular acclamation places the finest kymyz
in the Suusamyr Valley of Central Kyrgyzstan, 90 Above pass me another bowl-full sir! October 2008 The Spektator

24 Focus

The 2008/9 spektator

[ The Brief ] [ The prize ] [ Terms & Conditions ]

Young journalists are invited to 1st prize: the competition winner will re- - Participants must be over 16 years old
submit feature articles in English ceive $100 and have their winning arti- -Participants must not be native
of between 1000-2000 words to cle printed in the Spektator magazine. English speakers
the 2008/09 Spektator journalism -All entries must be submitted in
competition. The 2nd and 3rd best entries will also English
be printed in the magazine and the au- -Entries can be submitted by email
The articles can be focused on any thors will receive small cash prizes. only, All entries should be sent to
aspect of life in Central Asia including:
sport, music, youth culture, national -The closing date for submission is
traditions, social issues, etc. 01.01.2009
-Entries will be judged by the Editorial
team of the Spektator magazine

For further information please email:

October 2008 The Spektator


A Beatles themed bar in Bishkek

Sovietskaya/Gorky October 2008 The Spektator



THE GUIDE Bishkek life
Bars and
Ak-Bata (108, Ibraimova)

This place must serve up pretty authentic dishes

as it’s always full of Chinese playing mah-jong and
waving their chopsticks about. Smoky and stuffy,
There’s a fine line between ‘bar’ and ‘restaurant’ in but in a nice way. $
Bishkek. Places more suitable for drinking sessions
are highlighted orange. Goin (Jibek Jolu/Sovietskaya)
Although advertised as a 24-hour joint, Goin tends
to shut if business is slow. Nevertheless, find your
Price Guide (main course, garnish & drink) way to this little-known gem (upstairs past the
$ - Expect change from 150 som paintings of scantily clad ladies and on your right)
$$ - A little over 200 should do the trick and you’ll discover that the food is fantastic value
$$$ - Expect to pay in the region of 350 for money. Portions are often so large, doggy bags
$$$$ - A crisp 500 (or more) needed in this joint are in order. Interesting Chinese delicacies and
huge pots of tea aplenty. $
Peking Duck I & II
(Soviet/Druzhba & Chui/Tog. Mol.)
American Huge portions to feed even the biggest of glut-
tons. Those who don’t appreciate ‘professional’ Ka-
Cowboy (Toktogul/Orozbekova) raoke maestros should be on their guard during
Bishkek’s all-American restaurant-cum-dance club evenings. Dancing occasionally kicks off on more
has now gone a little more up-market, but wild raucous evenings. $$
nights are still to be had. Dig in to a kilo of chicken
wings and then hit the dance floor. $$$ Dungan
Hollywood (Druzhba/Sovietskaya) Luk-Fu (Orozbekova/Kievskaya)
As you would probably guess, decorated with In many Bishkek joints the lepyoshka is stale and
movie posters, photos of cinema icons and a the service makes you look for candid cameras. At
bunch of American kitsch. Hollywood is popular Luk-Fu, despite its stolovaya atmosphere, not so.
with a younger crowd and is usually packed from Add to that generous portions and cheap prices
mid-evening onwards. A fun place for a few drinks and the place is a pearl. One of few establishments
before heading off to the clubs. $$ offering satisfying vegetarian meals, such as the
tofu po-domashnemu. Watch out for slippery floors
Metro (133, Chui) and dodgy Karaoke in the evenings. $
In the impressive location of a former theatre, Met-
ro remains the première drinking hole for ex-pats. Hui Min (Ibraimova/Frunze - next to Beirut)
A high ceiling, a long bar and friendly staff compli- Don’t be put off by the slightly decrepit feel to this
ment a good Tex-Mex menu and a wide selection place, they serve up some damn fine Dungan eat-
of drinks. Metro is one of the best bets for catch- ing. Try the gan-fan (meat, peppers, spices, rice),
ing sporting events on TV, although thanks to the its big enough to keep you going all day and you’ll
hideously late kickoff times for Champions League get change from a ton. Also, ask for the special
football matches, don’t count on the staff waiting Dungan tea, it’s rather good. $
up unless it’s a big one. $$$

New York Pizza (177, Kievskaya)

Decorated with pictures of the Big Apple and serv- Mimino (27, Kievskaya)
ing a fine selection of steaks and other American- Re-opening soon we’re told, Mimino is nice, cosy and
themed dishes, NYP is sure to get New Yorkers serves up bowl-fulls of steaming, hearty Georgian fare
thinking of home. Also serves what many believe with pomegranate seeds a-plenty. We recommend
to be the best pizza in town. $$$ the Georgian cheese bread and anything that’s served
in a pot. Watch out for Uncle Joe at the door. $$$
Landau (Manas/Gorky)
Fancy something a little different? If you can tol- Steinbrau (5, Gerzena)
erate the arthritic service, Landau isn’t a bad spot Don your beer drinking trousers and head down to
for a pork steak or some other Armenian culinary Bishkek’s take on a Bavarian-style beer hall. They brew
goodies. Also, treat yourself to some decent Arme- their own stuff - such a relief from the insipid bilge
nian conjac whilst your here, you’ll never go near that’s normally sold as lager. Compliment your pint
Bishkek conjac again. Ever. $$$ with a plate of German sausage with sauerkraut. $$$ October 2008 The Spektator

28 Bars, Restaurants & Clubs
Time Out I (7a, Togolok Moldo)
International Fatboy’s (Chui/Tynastanova)
Civilised, friendly cafe bang in the middle of town The tea, served in an ornate tea pot with an elab-
No. 1 (Gorky/Sovietskaya) and a popular ex-pat meeting point. Sensible spot orate tea-cozy that could win prizes, goes a small
A Beatles themed bar to make Bishkek scousers feel for conversation, but if you’re alone there’s a mini- way to justifying the high prices of the food. But
at home. Huge screen outside for sporting events. library to peruse (although literary classics are thin only a small way. $$$
Shashlyk and cool beer. $$ on the ground). Check out the American pancakes
for breakfast, top marks. $$$ Time Out II (Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
2x2 (Isanova/Chui) Used to be our prime 5am post-party crash-pit.
Trendy drinking hole with a circular bar and friend- Like its sister bar though, the food often fails to
Four Seasons (116a, Tynystanova)
ly staff. A good place for knocking back a few pre- justify the high prices. Good summer garden with
One of the poshest places to eat out in Bishkek.
nightclub cocktails. Slouch into one of the comfy dodgy out-door pool table. $$$
Elegant, yet modern interior and polite service.
lounge seats and try to look cool. $$$
Great place to splash out on a special occasion or
just for the hell of it. $$$$ U Mazovaya (Behind ‘Zaks’ on Sovietskaya)
Avant Gard (127, Sovietskaya) Possibly Central Asia’s only rabbit themed restau-
We’re not so sure what’s so avant-garde about rant. Descend into this underground warren and
Avant-Gard. They put candles on the tables in the
evenings, but there is a distinct lack of Parisian Advertise with the Spektator tuck in. $$

0550 99 1945
Bohemians. Still, the food is fine and the relaxed Veranda (Gorky/Soviet. Vefa Centre roof )
ambience means AG is a good place for a conver- Wow, what a view. Eat rather decent international
sation, or a debate on existentialism. $$ cuisine whilst taking in a superb view of the moun-
Email: tains from the 4th floor terrace above the Vefa centre.
Boulevard (Erkindik/Kievskaya) Now the weather isn’t so bloody hot, this is a great
A small stylish restaurant, offering a refined atmo- place to spend a sunny afternoon. $$$$
sphere, delicious cakes and wi-fi internet. By Bishkek Live Bar (Kulatova)
standards, the service is usually excellent. $$$$ 24 hour sports bar with live music at weekends.
Plenty of leather couches provide the ideal place
Captain Nemo’s (14, Togolok Moldo) to sip cocktails whilst watching the Champions Italian
Small nautically themed restaurant with a selection league at 3 in the morning. $$ Adriatico (219, Chui)
of evocatively named dishes including ‘Fish from the Classy restaurant with it’s own Italian chef. Great
ship’s boy’ and ‘Tongue from the boatswain’s wife’. Lounge Bar (338a, Frunze)
pizza, improved service, and a fine selection of
Cosy wooden interior and porthole style windows One of our favourite places to drink in the Sum-
pasta dishes. $$$
create a hybrid underwater log cabin experience. mertime, when we can afford it. Outdoor balcony-
Spirits, cocktails and a good business lunch. $$$ cum-terrace high above the street with slouch- Cyclone (136, Chui)
couches and fine veiws of the circus - which you Smart Italian restaurant with plush interior, effi-
Coffee House (9, Manas) can sometimes smell in the summer. Nice. $$$ cient, polite serving staff and a warm atmosphere
Treat yourself to some of the finest coffee and to alleviate Bishkek’s winter chills. Pasta dishes
cakes Bishkek has to offer at the imaginatively Meri (33, Gorkova)
In the summer months, Meri has one of the prettiest stand out among a menu of traditional Italian fa-
named ‘Coffee House’, a cosy boutique café with a vourites. $$$
European flavour. Curl up and read a book, or just dining areas in Bishkek. International cuisine served 24
drop in for a caffeine hit and a chocolate fix. $$$ hours a day, more lively nights see jiving on the dance
floor to all your favourite Kyrgyz pop tunes. $$$ Dolce Vita (116a, Akhunbaeva)
Cosy Italian restaurant with smiling waitresses
Concord (Alatoo Square)
Navigator (103, Moskovskaya) serving excellent pizza. Also serves salads and Eu-
Waiting staff dressed as airline stewards and an in-
A pricey, but pleasant place to while away an af- ropean cuisine. Small terrace outside for summer-
terior featuring some aeronautical paraphernalia
ternoon. Sit in the bar area over a beer or lounge time dining. $$
attempt to lend a little glamour to this small diner
just off Ala-too Square. Good, cheap food and fur- in the airy non-smoking conservatory. Attentive
ther deals for lunch during midweek make this a service and a refreshing selection of salads, a good Japanese
popular spot during the daytime. $$ place for a light, healthy lunch when fat and grease
are getting you down. $$$ Aoyama (93, Toktogula)
Doka Pizza (97, Akhunbaeva)
Posh sushi place full of fat, suited-types talking
The ever-popular Doka Pizza, open non-stop, pro- Pit Stop (Toktogul/Orozbekova) in low voices. The foods good though - if you can
vides decent live music on most nights and a wid- Open 24-hours. Stands out for its rather expen- scrape together enough soms. $$$$
eranging menu. There’s a large eating area outside sive drinks. Now spring is here, it’s quite nice to
that’s open in the summer with a garden, stage sun yourself in the garden in the company of a big
and kids play area. Both Doka restaurants do a Michael Shumacher poster and some home-made Korean
good ‘beeznes lanch’ before 4pm. $$$ formula 1 decorations. Classy. $$$
Petel (Scrabina/Zhykeeva Pudovkin)
Doka Pizza (153, Kievskaya) Stary Edgar’s (15, Panfilova) See full review, page 9. $$
More sexed up than its Akhunbaeva sister bar, The concrete monstrosity of the Russian Theatre con-
there’s a strip bar downstairs, Doka Kievskaya is ceals one of Bishkek’s finest attempts at a cosy base-
often a post-party chillout venue for Bishkek’s Santa Maria (217, Chui)
ment bar. Friendly staff, a decent menu and a collection
young, rich kids. Enjoy the good food, the lively Plush Korean restaurant with two main dining
of old bits and bobs decorating the walls make Edgar’s
vibe, and the coquettish waitresses – just don’t rooms, function room and a casino out back. Usual
an attractive alternative to the city’s mainstream cafés.
break your beer glass, there’s a stiff fine. Also Eastern favourites, including Korean barbecue,
A blues band plays most nights and a pianist adds a
non-stop. $$$ plus an extensive European menu. $$$

romantic ambience on some Sunday evenings. $$$

Find the best bars in town with the Spektator and

October 2008 The Spektator

Bars, Restaurants & Clubs 29
Tete-a-tete (162, Ibraimova) Fire & Ice (Chui/Erkandik)
Another swish Korean joint offering more excit-
Turkish Tel. 625100
ing Korean barbecue action. A great beer garden Fire & Ice is a popular end-of-evening venue for
makes this place a summer standout. $$$ Carlson (166, Sovietskaya) the ex-pat who’s drunk everything. Dark and noisy,
Great outdoor eating area. We recommend the no airs or graces are needed here: order a double
tavuk sote (chicken, peppers, tomatoes) and a big
Lebanese lavash bread - a good feed. A good outdoor ter-
and hit the dance floor. Foreigners normally get in
for free, but the door policy often seems to rest on
race, but be prepared to be serenaded by god-aw- the whim of the arsey bouncers. (Entrance charge
Beirut (Ibraimova/Frunze) ful Karaoke style crooners. $$ [girls/boys] free/150 som midweek, 150/250 Fri/
Beirut always seems to be empty, but we like it.
Sat. ‘Foreigners’ usually free)
Gorge yourself on Lebanese favourites such as Ibrahim (Gorkova/Oshskaya)
falaffle, humus and grilled lamb. If the weather is Several dining rooms including private booths and Golden Bull (Chui/Togolok Moldo)
warm it’s fun to relax in Beirut’s outdoor terrace a covered outdoor terrace with an extravagant wa- Tel. 620131
area - next to the main road and intersected by an terfall fountain to help you keep cool while tuck- A Bishkek institution. Full of ex-pats and tourists
open drain. $$$ literally every night of the week. Long bar, friendly
ing into your kebabs in the summer. $$ staff, cheapish beer, everyone’s happy. (Entrance
charge [girls/boys] free/400 midweek, 150/400 Fri/
Regional/Central Asian Istanbul (48, Chui) Sat. ‘Foreigners’ free.)
Discretely tucked away on Chui Prospekt, Istanbul Ibiza (9, Kulatova)
Arabica (Sovietskaya/Kulatova) is a low key cafe offering tasty Turkish cuisine. Puff A cavernous space with a large dance floor. Danc-
Descend the steps into an aromatic cloud of hooka away on a hookah pipe or slurp lentil soup to your ers suspended on platforms 15 feet above the
smoke. The music’s normally reasonably decent heart’s content, all at a nice price. $$ floor, strobe lighting, smoke machines and bang-
chilled out sort of stuff, the food’s good, and the ing dance tunes. Bishkek’s attempt to create a lit-
waitresses smile. $$$ tle bit of the party island. Efforts to negotiate a
Konak (Sovietskaya/Gorkova)
Arzu-I (Togolok Moldo, next to the stadium) This Turkish joint used to be ‘Restaurant Camelot’ cheaper entrance fee are futile. (Entrance charge
Offers a hearty selection of Kyrgyz and European hence the incongruous suits of armour in the back 350-400 som)
dishes and a homely atmosphere. It’s probably a room, and the rather crappy castle facade. However, Retro Metro (24, Mira)
little too chilly for al fresco dining these days, but the food is often great, the salads are large and fresh,
there’s also a great outdoor terrace. $$ and the staff are always pleasant. Recommended! $$
Bright, happy, 80’s kitsch bar, the DJ spins his rec-
ords from inside the front of a VW camper van. One
Arzu-II (Sovietskaya/Lev Tolstoy bridge)
of the most popular places for post-2am partying.
Twenty-four hour joint that’s a godsend for those
(Entrance charge: 200/300 som midweek, 350/450
who get cravings for lagman or manty at four in
som Fri/Sat. Reservation price 200 som)
the morning. Sometimes smoking isn’t allowed,

sometimes it is, however the food and prices are
constantly pretty good. Comfy booth style seats
Live Music
to dig yourself into after a heavy night. $$ Jazz Club (173, Akhunbaeva)
A large open plan area with stage and dance floor.
There are some Bishkek old-hands who say that
Jalalabad (Togolok Moldo/Kievskaya) Midweek sees a variety of music, including piano
things aren’t what they used to be when it comes
Basically the cheapest food (that won’t give you gut and violin jazz, the weekend sees wilder bands and
to nightlife in Bishkek. They talk of legendary nights
rot) in the centre of town. While it should stand out dancing. Full menu, conference room and casino.
of carnage, vomit, and debauchery - delights that
for its fresh lagman, Jalalabad is sometimes over- (Music charge 100 som)
contemporary Bishkek struggles to offer.
looked. Probably at its best in summer, when the Not so, we say. Take your pick from the list below Promzona (16, Cholpon-Atinskaya)
shashlyk masters flanking the entrance offer their and we’re sure there’s still enough carnage, vomit
creations straight to guests sitting at Eastern-style and debauchery in town to keep everyone happy. Promzona’s far-flung location sadly means a taxi
tables – cross your legs and see how long you can ride or a long walk home are in order at the end
last before cramp sets in. $ of a night. Nevertheless, this trendy live music
Discoklubs venue has a lot going for it: good bands, an exten-
Jetigen (Gorky/Logvinenko)
sive menu, and a hip industrial interior featuring,
A new place offering European cuisine as well as Apple (28, Manas)
strangely, a wind tunnel fan, make this one of the
the usual local specials. Stands out for it’s deli- Fat, old, lecherous foreigners not welcome, this
best nights out in Bishkek. Tuesday is Jazz night.
cious lagman, fresh lepyoshka bread, and attentive place is for a younger cooler crowd. Multiple bars,
Rock or blues bands normally play at the week-
service. $ large dance floor, friendly atmosphere. Thursday
ends. (Music charge 150 som)
usually a big night. (Entrance charge 100-200
Smile (Chui/Sovietskaya) som) Tequila Blues (Turesbekova/Engels)
Despite the name, you’ll be lucky to see one on the
Arbat (9, Karl Marks) A possible misnomer, the tequila is just fine, but
waitresses face. Nevertheless, if it’s decent cheap
Tel. 512094; 512087 the blues is pretty much non-existent. Young
food you’re after, this isn’t a bad place to look. The
Popular with a slightly older Russian crowd. Strip Russian studenty types mosh away the nights to
eggs are just as good as those at Fatboys next door,
bar and restaurant in same building. rock bands in an atmospheric underground bun-
and half the price. Think about it. $
(Entrance charge 200/350 som midweek, 350/450 ker. Weekends are not for the fainthearted, or the
som Fri/Sat. Strip bar 700 som) claustrophobic. (Entrance charge 100-150 som)
Zeppelin (43, Chui)
City Club (85/1, Zhukeyeva-Pudovkina)
Russky Dvor (Kievskaya/Togolok Moldo) Zeppelin is in the same vein as Tequila Blues but
Tel. 511513; 510581
A Russian restaurant we haven’t eaten at yet. not quite so spit and sawdust. On the nights we’ve
So exclusive it makes the Spektator crowd feel like
Seems to be well-recommended. $$$ visited, there’s been a line up of young rock or punk
cheap scum bags, City Club is one of the posh-
bands strutting their stuff, heavier beats seem to
Taras Bulba (Manas/Jibek Jolu) est clubs in town. Get past the ‘face control’ (ugly
go down best with the young Russian crowd. Full
Now it’s not that we have anything against Rus- people beware) and spend your evening with gang-
restaurant menu.
sian or Ukrainian food, but we haven’t had time ster types, lecherous diplomats, Kazakh business-
(Entrance charge 100-150 som)
to check this Ukrainian place out either - although men and a posse of young rich kids who all seem
the word is that it’s well worth stopping by for a to have studied in London... (Entrance charge: girls Live music also common at Doka Pizza Akhun-
borsht po-ukrainski. 200/boys 300, Fri/Sat girls 300/boys 500 bayeva and Stary Edgar (see ‘bars/restaurants’) October 2008 The Spektator

30 What’s On

Entertainment Directory
The Abdylas Maldybaev Opera and Ballet Theatre
Thursday, Oct 2 Sunday, Oct 12 Abdyrahmanova, 167
Battle Kings of Da Floor A Festival of Cats Tel: 661548; Tickets 50-300 som
International breakdancing dance off If ultimate fighting is not your scene, you could do The theatre has resident opera and ballet compa-
Havikoro, the pride of Houston, Texas (we assume), worse than head along to the eagerly anticipated nies with occasional guest companies. The season
take on Wake Up, Bishkek’s own breakdancing Bishkek Cat-Lovers’ Festival. Feline fun is sure to usually runs from autumn to spring but there are
gang, in a grudge-match clash of breakdancing await you there. often performances at other times of the year as
titans Russian Drama Theatre, 09:00 well.
Apple Club, Evening till late Tickets: TBA
Tickets cost 200-300 som The Kyrgyz Drama Theatre
Tel. 21 97 52 Panfilov, 273 (behind the Government House)
22-25 October Tel: 665802, 216958
Hollywood Party Hours: 8:00-20:00 in summer
Golden bull Hollywood themed night-out Chingiz Aitmatov Exhibition
Tickets 20-200 som
Smart dress code, red carpet treatment.. The late, great Kyrgyz writer is honoured in an ex-
The resident company performs a range of local
Golden Bull, 22.00 hibition run by the Kyrgyz-Japanese Human De-
and international plays – performances are in
Tickets cost 500-700 som velopment Centre. The exhibition will take place in
Kyrgyz or Russian.
Tel. 62 01 31 the History Museum on Ala-too square.
History Museum, Ala-too square
Russian Drama Theatre
Tickets: TBA
Saturday, Oct 4 Tel. 62 60 97
Tynystanova, 122 (Situated in Oak Park)
Tel.: 662032, 621571
Ultimate Fighting Hours: Mon-Sun, 10:00-18:00
Ormon-Hana International Semi-finals
The best ultimate fighters from Uzbekistan, Kyr-
28-30 October Tickets 30-100 som
A range of local and international plays in Russian.
gyzstan and Kazakhstan will be knocking seven A Musical Tale for Kids
bells out of each other for one night only, right The Mermaid The Puppet Theatre
here in Bishkek. If your kids are into mermaids and other such sea- Sovietskaya/Michurina
Almatinska, 304 creatures, this could be the place to dump them. Performances on Sundays at 11:00am.
2 programs: 13:00 - 16:00 and 19:00 - 23:00 Opera-Ballet, performances at 11:00
Tickets cost 500 som Tickets: TBA Kyrgyz State Philharmonic
Tel. 0312 284403; Mob. 0773 032873 Chui Prospect, 253
Tel: 212262, 212235
Hours: 17:00-19:00 in summer
Sunday, Oct 5 Thursday, Oct 30 Tickets: 70-100 som (sometimes much more for
Battle Kings of Da Floor Halloween Party special performances)
International breakdancing dance off As we are still not sure if this is a fancy dress affair, There are two concert halls featuring classical,
Havikoro, the pride of Houston, Texas, take on Wake it would probably be prudent to check nearer the traditional Kyrgyz, and pop concerts and a variety
Up, Bishkek’s own breakdancing gang in a dance time with the organizers before turning up as the of shows.
off grudge-match rematch. only idiot in a full-body pumpkin suit.
Dvorets Sporta, 19.00 City Club, Evening till late The Conservatory
Tickets cost 200-300 som Tickets: TBA Jantosheva, 115
Tel. 62 51 77 Tel. 51 15 13; 51 05 81 Tel: 479542
Concerts by students and professors.

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October 2008 The Spektator

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32 Weekend
crossword quick quiz
Hint: All the answers involve colours

1. What is the world’s most poison- &

ous snake?
2. Which computer beat chess
grandmaster Gary Kasparov in
3. What colour is an aircraft’s black
4. What is the only country to have
a flag of a single colour? Which col-
our is it?
5. Who were the first winners of the
The End
6. What was the name of the Are you a Bishkek driver?
Beatles album featuring ‘Back in
1. You see an elderly babushka stranded in the middle of
the USSR’?
one of Bishkek’s faded, grubby zebra crossings between
two lines of fast moving traffic. What do you do?

A. Pull to a halt a safe distance before the crossing

White Album
place, smile warmly and signal for her to cross at
5 — Green Bay Packers; 6 — The
Blue; 3 — Orange; 4 — Libya, green;
her leisure. You feel warm and fuzzy inside at your
Answers: 1 Black Mamba; 2 — Deep
gesture of goodwill.
B. Increase your speed from maim to kill, honk your
Note: Answers to all puzzles will appear online or in the next edition of the Spektator.
horn several times before you reach the crosswalk and
Sudoku several times more once you’ve passed to ram home
the point that she was a contemptible idiot for not
1 Convivial - party (6) MEDIUM using the underpass two kilometres down the street.
4 Sledge-pulling dog (5)
C. Honk your horn, then adjust your driving
7 Large sturgeon, source of ... (6)
trajectory 10 degrees so as to catch her with the
8 ... prized delicacy (6)
left corner of your bull bars, sending her flailing
9 Heel - catalogue (4)
body into the oncoming traffic.
10 Flowers of iris family (8)
12 Information on procreation (5,2,4)
2. You’ve had 16 large lagers and a shot of Bishkek cognac.
17 Established model - flag (8)
You need to drive home from your local alehouse but the
crossword clues

19 Be without (4)
marshrutkas have stopped running. What do you do?
20 Not clear (6)
21 Entirely empty space (6)
A. Concede to yourself that you are experiencing a
22 Appellation (5)
level of intoxication incompatible with driving home,
23 Sculpture of person or animal (6)
hail a taxi and politely negotiate a fair price home.
Down B. Struggle with the lock of your car in the dark,
1 Lawman (7) collapse in a heap into the car seat perplexed that
2 Corrosive (7) somebody has stolen your steering wheel, realize
3 Inability to feel pain (9) your error, climb over the seats into the front of the
4 Gave ear to (5) car, start the engine at the third attempt and drive
5 Profitable by-product (4-3) VERY HARD home along the back streets to avoid the police.
6 West Indian gangster (6) C. Pick up a couple of dark beers from the kiosk over
11 Written declaration or oath (9) the road, get in your car and drive aggressively into
13 Unyielding (7) a tree at a speed fast enough to result in a collision
14 Under the counter (7) loud enough to wake up the neighbourhood.
15 Leave out (7)
16 Protective accompaniment (6) 3. One morning as you are about to start your drive
18 Drench with water (5) to work, you come across a neighbour attempting to
drive the opposite way down your driveway into the
brainteasers courtyard of your block of flats. What do you do?

Take the letters ‘ERGRO’. Put three letters in A. Wave at your neighbour, reverse calmly into a
front of it, and the same three letters behind to convenient space five metres back down the driveway
form a common English word. and insist your good neighbour has the right of way.
B. Stare at your neighbour in a minatory fashion
through your cracked windshield as a clear signal
What number gives the same result when it is there isn’t a chance in hell that you’ll back down in this
added to 1.5 as when it is multiplied by 1.5? macho battle of wills. After an obvious impasse has
been reached, try to blow your adversary backwards
Mostly Cs –You are probably a taxi driver and out of the way by the power ofyour loud horn.
C. Slam your handbrake on, fling your door open,
the city’s more refined motorists
Which of the following words is the odd one Mostly Bs – Congratulations, you are one of
or you’ll be eaten alive get out of your car, tell your neighbour to get the
out? Mostly As – Stick to using the marshrutkas hell out of your way or you’ll rip his damn arm off,
IBIS IBEX ORYX SIKA ZEBU ANSWERS: Are you a Bishkek driver? ram it into his fuel tank and set fire to it.
— See left column for driving test results

October 2008 The Spektator