Day 7 – Bishkek

This morning we took a plane to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. This mother and her child, with curls popping out of her cap, caught my attention in the airport.

We fly over the Tien-Shan Mountains, an impressive mountain range on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China. It is the largest mountain range in Central Asia.

From the airport in Bishkek, we travel to a felt workshop

where we see artisans creating felted silk scarves.

This woman shows us an elecek, a headgear traditionally worn by nomad women in Kyrgyzstan.

The headdress is created with strips of white cotton that are wrapped around each other and used by the nomad women when they are on the move to bandage wounds, to use in childbirth and menstrual periods, and for wrapping the bodies of those who die. The wrapping makes for a clean cloth which is replenished as needed.

We pass a mall on the way to lunch in downtown Bishkek.

Lunch is at a very festive restaurant.

In the dining room, our guide Nur describes the felt pattern on the wall hanging.

After lunch we head to the Kyrgyzstan Historical Museum, but first we stop to say hello to Lenin.

After independence, the Lenin statue was moved from its central spot but not destroyed because it is considered a part of the county’s history. Now Lenin points to the American University, as do we.

We next visited the Kyrgyzstan Historical Museum. On the steps, our guide told us about the Epic of Manas, a traditional epic poem about a 10th-century legendary hero of the Kyrgyz people, who value him as their sacred ancient forefather.

It takes over a week nonstop to recite the whole legend. Soviet scholars recorded the story in writing in the 1920s, resulting in over one million lines and many volumes.

Both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan claim ownership of Manas and his legend. To settle the debate, in a recitation competition taking many days, Kyrgyzstan won.

Our guide showed us how a few lines are recited.

Inside the excellent museum, we see artefacts from Kyrgyzstan’s history, including another balbal, this one much more articulated.

Petroglyphs are found throughout the mountains in Kyrgyzstan.

A yurt is on display, well-made and beautifully decorated inside. It takes one day to set up a yurt and when disassembled, it can be carried by one camel.

Nur shows us a diagram of the Kyrgyzstan tribe organization. His particular tribe specialized in diplomacy and dealt with the Russians in the 19th century to work out co-existence agreements.

The museum displays many examples of textiles, including this hat which has an interesting texture I would like to replicate.

One of many felted carpets.

A shade made from reeds wrapped in wool threads.

An ancient (BCE) leather vest.

After the museum visit, we take a walk around the city center and its parks. This statue honors a woman who became a leader of many tribes and is revered in Kyrgyzstan.

The parks are large and enjoyed by people of all ages.

Large banners honor World War II heroes. This way of celebrating Victory Day must be influenced by the Soviet past, with its focus on medals and military parades.

For dinner we go to a restaurant in a building that looks like a castle.

The food is very well presented.

On the walls are enormous felt pieces done in incredibly fine detail.

The horse motif once again. Unfortunately the pieces were not signed. The artist who created them is a master.

Tomorrow we take off for the countryside.

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