We left Bishkek around noon in a minibus. While at the bus station we had lots of time to people watch and thought these guys looked like gangsters.
The road was decent and there were lots of irrigated fields-- green where the rest of the landscape was yellow and brown. Before we started, an older man wearing a traditional Kyrgyz felt hat, his daughter and and his granddaughter sat behind us. Rowshan was taking the little girl's photo and showing it to her. She was delighted and laughed.
The grandfather asked where we were from. I said the USA. Before even asking our names, he invited us to his house in Bokonbaev. I explained we were grateful but already had reservations elsewhere. His daughter reconfirmed the invitation and said if we go through Bokonbaev on our way back to call.
Not far from Bishkek, the driver stopped by a market where the main product was large watermelons. Several women returned to the van carrying huge watermelons (one was 16 Kilos).
I dozed off for a few minutes and when I woke up we were in the mountains-- jagged and rocky with tufts of dry grass.
A small rapid river foamed next to the road. The mountains were grayish with occasional outcrops of red rock, eroded into finger-like walls and ropey waves.
There were only 3 other guests at the yurt camp. Briony, Rob and Dominique were participating in a car rally for charity where everyone drove a car from England, Spain, or Italy to Ulan Batar, Mongolia, by the route of their choice. Some took a northern route through Russia, others went through Turkey, Iran and Tajikistan. They went through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, then were heading back into Kazakhstan, into Russia, then to Mongolia. They had been driving for about 10 days straight and had their first real break here in Manjily, where they'd spent a day lying on the beach at the lake and gotten a bit too much sun.
The camp had a view through the owner's rather sparse experimental apricot orchard, across reddish gray sand and dirt speckled with scrubby green brush. The lake, a soft blue that blended into the sky was so large, I couldn't see the opposite shore. The view of dryness, softened by water made me think of Baja without cacti. Behind the yurt camp rose variegated clay hills and beyond that, the mountains with scrubby heads of pine trees.
We were served tea and dinner. The plov was quite good--not greasy like all the other plov we've had. We also had salad and nice bread. Towards the evening, as I was relaxing in the yurt, I heard the sound of a sheep. The our fellow guests reconfirmed it was a sheep that had been pulled out of the trunk of a car after bunches of other groceries and beer had been produced. It was presumably the meals for the next few days. We were all relieved that we weren't invited to witness the sheep's final moments.
After dinner, the women busied themselves in the kitchen preparing little fried bread pieces. Rowshan discovered the grandmother understood some Turkish so he was soon chatting with them.
A little later, they dumped piles of fresh fried dough pieces on the table. Hot, fresh out of the fryer, they were delicious. Rowshan had been presented with the first one. We all tried to go to bed early but a little after we turned off the light, a group came from Bishkek talking and laughing late into the night. They were up around 6AM in the morning, practicing. Food was being prepared and occasionally a car would pull up and 2 to 4 tourists would pop out. By the end of breakfast, the long table was almost full. The girls from Bishkek sang some songs and did some dances. Baykut, the owner of the yurt camp, told us about the history and legends of the region. Then we set off into the hills for a walk by several sacred springs. The first couple were small, leaving traces of heavier green amongst the gray rocks. We continued up and down hills until ahead of us we saw a large tree with leaf filled branches.
This was the strongest spring and it created a miniature oasis. A broad tree created a shady paradise. Lush green grass covered the ground. A family was having a picnic. Being a bit wary of springs, we didn't drink from it choosing our bottled water instead.
Back at the camp, we had another concert. By this time, a sound system had been brought in and several people performed on the komuz, the 3 stringed national instrument of Kyrgyzstan. The performances were very good. One woman played it with strange fluttering motions to express the conversation of birds.
The dances as a group were a bit disorganized, but the individual dancers' movements were graceful with lots of delicate hand gestures.
We had a huge lunch feast.
Afterwards, the highlight of the day began to show up: 3 eagle hunters (burkutchu) and their eagles. The men were dressed in matching brown velvet with gold swirl designs and traditional white felt hat.
They each had a giant golden eagle who perched on their heavy leather gloves, iron talons curled.
They were very elegant and dignified men of different ages. For the demonstration, they ceremoniously marched up a hill with eagles on their arms, while a man with a bag of rabbits walked out to the field below.
The first eagle was told to fly. She outstretched her wings and soared down directly at the rabbit, slamming it to earth.
The eagle hunter went racing to his eagle. The 2nd rabbit and 2nd eagle followed. then the 3rd. After the 3rd, we all raced down. Each hunter stood by his eagle and determined how much she could eat. The eagles were tearing the guts out snapping veins and inner organs.
The rabbits were removed and placed back in the bag. We are not sure what happened to them. Then we took turns taking photos with one of the eagles perched on our arms.
Two of the eagles and hunters left. One eagle remained, masked, by the dining area. Then we had free time which some of us utilized by taking a trip to the beach. It was crowded and there was a lot of trash, however one of the foreigners, a man from Switzerland, said he had swum in the morning and not only was the beach empty, it had been clean. The water was beautiful--clear but not too cold. By this time the sun wasn't too hot either. We relaxed on the beach with several other people we met visiting Manjily for the Birds of Prey festival. Then we headed back to the camp for tea with the family.
Before dinner we had an additional treat of a professional komuz performer, playing a mini concert. He played the bird song with fabulous bird motions and taps with one of the "birds" eventually flying away. The music of the komuz is surprisingly rich for its few strings.
Dinner and some more performances (Rowshan and I heard from a distance since we took a walk at sunset to see the graveyard, eventually getting distracted by a wild jack rabbit fleeing through the desert.) Then the DJ music was blasted until the electricity died. They changed the entertainment to games and we fled up a hillside where some of the other foreigners had already escaped.
As it got dark, they built a fire and we came down. The electricity came on to my disappointment because I thought the disco had been canceled and we would be able to go to sleep. Instead, the music seemed to be doomed to blast into the night, disturbing the serenity of watching the stars through the ceiling cross beams of the yurt. Rowshan was impressed how the dancers imitated dances from video clips.
The yurts were quite comfortable. When the top is open, the wooden cross pieces seem to frame the sky. There is a decorative piece above the door which makes a path to the cross piece-- a kind of ladder to the sky. The bottom is lined with felt carpets. The wooden frame also serves as hooks to hang things on or tie things to. A felt piece can be pulled over the top hole when it rains by pulling a rope. It is quite a feat of practical engineering. Everything has its purpose but is also decorative. The door flap-- a piece of felt with a reed mat inside, roles up and tucks into a flap of felt formed by the roof felt.