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Life as a Nomad: A Day In Kyrgyz Ata

January 4, 2018

 

Nomadic.

 

If you talk about the people of Kyrgyzstan, this would probably be one of the most accurate short description that you could give them. The Kyrgyz people are believed to be descendants of ancient nomadic Turkic tribes, originally living in the Siberian region dating back to the eighth century. Many of which still continue to live this ancient and simple way of life.

 

Since the beginning of our trip, we have caught glimpses into their nomadic life and culture as we travelled across the country. It was evident from what we saw that their culture has been greatly shaped by their nomadic heritage. Even though we had the chance to experience some of this heritage, we never truly had the opportunity to spend an entire day living the lifestyle. Our schedule was extremely tight and we were required to immediately be back on the road. Sadly, this meant we were not fully able to immerse ourselves with how it was like to live a nomadic Kyrgyz life and really see what they do in their everyday lives. 

 

Life in the mountains (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/320 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 12mm

 

 

Fortunately for us, the breakdown of our car was in our favour. We may have had our plans thrown out the window, but sometimes things work out for the best. If it wasn't for the car issue, we wouldn't have been able to live the life of a nomad for a day and experience some of the most unforgettable moments from the trip.

 

 

A Lucky Break

 

When we arrived at the Osh Guesthouse to sort out our itinerary to the Pamir Highway and our car rental, I noticed that there was something written in the common area’s whiteboard about ‘Kyrgyz Games in Kyrgyz Ata’ that is scheduled in a couple of days. I asked the people in the guesthouse what it’s all about. They told us that it an organised day trip by the Kyrgyz Pamir Tours and Destination Osh to one of the national parks around 3 hours south of Osh wherein they will be visiting a local village and will be showing some of the traditional Kyrgyz games.  Given that we didn’t have a car anymore and only had a couple of days left in Kyrgyzstan, we decided to join the trip to be able to witness the traditional Kyrgyz games and experience the life in a rural Kyrgyz village. They also mentioned that this was the first time such a trip is being organised and we will be the first group to experience it. How can you say no after that? :)

 

The next morning, we headed back to Osh Guesthouse where we were picked up by a small bus that will take us to Kyrgyz Ata. There were around 15 other people on the trip from around 11 other countries. Since the start of our trip, this was the first time Matt and I had joined an organised tour and been around other travellers. We’re glad that we did this as we were able to share stories and exchange information with them. Funnily enough, during the rest of our trip in Tajikistan we met a number of them and travelled for some distance. More on this on our later stories.

 

 

 

The Village Life: Arriving in Kyrgyz-Ata

 

After about three hours on the road, we finally reached Kyrgyz Ata National Reserve. We arrived at a local village in the middle of the reserve and were greeted by the locals. The atmosphere was amazing. They were really friendly and a bunch of them were actually inviting us into their yurts. Some of the kids were curious and were looking at us from afar, but after awhile they warmed up and approached us. Some of us even had a chance to play billiards with them.

 

The mountain village in Kyrgyz Ata (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/320 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 12mm

 

 

Local kids posing for photos (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 47mm

 

There was also a group of elderly villagers who were really friendly and were keen to have their photos taken. I happily took some photos of them and gave them a special print as memorabilia and sign of gratitude. I specifically brought a portable photo printer just for moments like this, and I’m glad I did. Their eyes lit up when I handed over the photos and were genuinely happy with it. In turn, they gave me a huge watermelon as a present. It was one of the most heartwarming and authentic moments that I’ve had on this trip.

 

The Elderly of the Village (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/400 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 20mm

 

 

After a while, the village elders started playing music (that somehow sounded modern!) and started dancing. They invited us to dance with them, at first we were a bit shy, but we decided to dance with them afterwards anyway. It was fantastic. If there was one thing that I will fondly remember from this trip, it was this moment. Just being there, laughing and dancing with the locals – it was priceless. This was something that I’ve always wanted to experience and I’m glad that our car broke down and was able to have this experience.

 

A simple life of playing in the fields (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 100mm

 

A local boy poses whilst smelling a flower (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/15 sec at f/6.3, ISO 400, 80mm

 

 

 

 

A Kyrgyz Lunch

 

We bid goodbye to the villagers and started heading down the road to the area where were to eat our lunch. The lunch was set up in a massive yurt and it was a glorious traditional Kyrgyz spread. There were lots of foods – from Borsok to Kuyrdak and fruits to lamb intestines. We also had the chance to taste the Kyrgyz drink – Kumis – which is a fermented mare’s milk. It’s not for everyone, but it was actually good and I would recommend anyone visiting Kyrgyzstan to at least try it.

 

 

Local Cuisine: Intestines (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/60 sec at f/4, ISO 1000, 29mm

 


While having lunch, we were also treated to some Kyrgyz folk-show performances. There was a young boy who recited a part of the Epic of Manas, a young girl who played us traditional Kyrgyz musical instruments and a couple of elders who sang for us. It was quite an amazing traditional Kyrgyz experience.​

 

Amazingly enough during lunch, I realised that some of the people who joined us were actually from Discover Kyrgyzstan and Destination Osh who have been really helping us during the course of our trip. Such a lucky coincidence to have met them on this tour and was able to extend our gratitude in person for all the help that they've given us.  Funny how things work out. :)

 

Enjoying some local music during lunch (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/50 sec at f/4, ISO 1000, 66mm

 

A young girl entertains the crowd with some amazing musical skills (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/40 sec at f/4, ISO 1000, 80mm

 

 

 

On The Way To The Games

 

The weather was turning as we finished our lunch. The clear skies had turned dark and it started to rain. We were told that the games will be held on a random clearing and we needed take the bus up a slippery slope to get there. 

Rushing waters (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/160 sec at f/6., ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

Mountain roads can get a bit confusing and the pouring rain didn’t help as well. We spent some time on the bus while our guides were figuring out the best way to get to the location. The rain made the slopes and the road slippery and we could see a large amount of water rushing down the river. Our friends who decided to join us in their Lada decided to head back and not continue to the games. I thought that we also wouldn't be able to go to the games as well because of the weather.

 

After a while, it was decided that we will set off on foot since they realised location is not far off where we got stuck. Luckily for us, a group of horsemen greeted us and took some of the group in the horseback to get to the place of the games.

 

Rushing waters (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1125 sec at f/5., ISO 200, 7mm

 

 

The lads are bogged: Felix & Magnus (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/7., ISO 200, 7mm

 

One cramped and uncomfortable bus (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/160 sec at f/28., ISO 200, 7mm

 

  

The Kyrgyz Games
 

A couple of minutes of walking later (horseback riding for some), we finally reached the open field where the games will be held. Our luck seemed to also change as the sky started to clear up as well.

 

The place was perfect. Vast open field where horses can freely run surrounded by the amazing rocky mountains of the Alay Ranges. It was a fantastic sight to see.

 

The local villagers happily greeted all of us and without another moments notice. They started to showcase the games that they are famed for. Like they say, it's not all work for the nomadic Kyrgyz people. After a hard day's work, many locals enjoyed partaking in games as a way to relax and socialise. Being descendants of the tribes of nomadic horsemen, a lot of their games are horse related.

 

 

Games with a view (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/100 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

 

 A hut in the middle of the mountain pasture (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/4 Pro: 1/250 sec at f/2.8, ISO64, 40mm

 

Let The Games Begin (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/125 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800, 12mm

The lone horseman (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/8000 sec at f/45., ISO1000, 15mm

 

 

 

Kok-Boru

 

The definitive highlight of the Kyrgyz games is Kok-Boru. Considered as the national game of Kyrgyzstan, Kok-Boru or “Dead Goat Polo” is a traditional Central Asian game that involves two teams of horse riders. They compete to throw a headless goat carcass in the opposing team’s goal at the end of the field.

 

Kok Boru  (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/250 sec at f/4, ISO 800, 23mm

 

Immense skill and strength is needed to be able to partake in this physical game. Being able to masterfully shift one's weight and dangle from the side of a galloping horse is no simple feat. This is performed simultaneously as they attempt to drag or pick up the carcass.  As the game intensifies, players will use any means possible to prevent the other team from reaching the goal. Pushing, pulling or grabbing the opponent’s horse to slow them down - all is fair in this cut throat and competitive game.

 

It was amazing to see this game being played in action. Everyone was so intense  and the skill level was pretty high. And this was just a local community play - I couldn't imagine how intense it can get when this is being played in the World Nomad Games.

 

Picking up the Goat Carcass (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/320 sec at f/4, ISO 640, 12mm 

 

Intensity (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/4000 sec at f/3.5., ISO 500, 7mm

 

 

The game intensifies (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/4 Pro: 1/320 sec at f/2.8, ISO64, 90mm

 

 

Spectators (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/80 sec at f/4, ISO 800, 34mm

 

 

 A Kyrgyz Family (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/80 sec at f/4, ISO 800, 34mm

 

Other Games

 

Apart from Kok-boru, we also witnessed a variety of other games played by the villagers such as Kurosh (wrestling on horses), Kyz Kumay (a rider trying to catch a girl rider in order to get a kiss), and a classic game of tug of war. All of the games were  really competitive and fun. After trying to pull each other down a horse or heartily pulling on the rope, everyone just laughs and cheers each other afterwards.

 

For Pride (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/2000 sec at f/4., ISO 500, 14mm

 

 

  Winning Face (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/4 Pro: 1/250 sec at f/3.2, ISO 64, 64mm

 

 

An epic game of tog-o-war (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/5.6., ISO 500, 10mm

 

 

All in the name of fun (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/640 sec at f/4.5., ISO 500, 7mm

 

 

Game Face (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/4.5., ISO 500, 7mm

 

1 v 1 (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1640 sec at f/4.5., ISO 500, 7mm

 

 

 

It was such a great thing to have spent a day with the locals and be able to see what day do in their every day lives. It may have just been one day but this trip to Kyrgyz Ata has definitely felt priceless. Being able to experience first hand their culture and witnessing their games, it definitely gave us a deeper sense of appreciation on how they live their nomadic life and the traditions that they grew up with. It was the best way to end our Kyrgyzstan leg before we start our trip to the Pamir Highway.

 

The Crew (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/640 sec at f/6.3., ISO 500, 9mm

 

The View Heading Home (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/320 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 12mm

 

 

 

 

 

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November 16, 2017

October 22, 2017