The grand, rugged Kyrgyz Republic is an adventurer’s dream! Over eighty per cent mountainous, it boasts some of the highest altitudes and the second largest mountain lake in the world. On one border lies China and the eastern realms of the Silk Road. On the other sides it is surrounded by its sister countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. 80 different nationalities live here and rest assured that you will never find a warmer welcome; be it in a yurt in the valleys or in a home in the capital of Bishkek.
Kyrgyzstan Customs and Traditions
The Kyrgyz are descended from ancient Turkic tribes, and have been nomadic cattle breeders for centuries and a large part of the population remains semi-nomadic, with sheep often outnumbering the population!
As in Kazakhstan, the culture of the horse is omnipresent. Competitions like Ulak Tartysh, a team game resembling a cross between polo and rugby and Jumby Atmai, the object of which is to break the thread holding a large bar of metal by shooting at it at a gallop reflect the importance of riding skills and games on horseback.
In Kyrgyzstan the ancient practice of “bride kidnapping” is now prohibited by law. Of course, now some of these abductions are staged, either for romantic reasons or by couples who would otherwise face family opposition!
The majority of Kyrgyz weddings, how young take place through matchmaking arrangements between the parents of the bride and groom. And, nowadays, many young young people – especially in the cities – prefer to get to know each other first by “going out” together and thus have a more active role in the decision of who they will marry.
Colorful, eventful and full of fun, festivals are held throughout the year. These reflect the culture and enthusiasm of the people of Kyrgyzstan. The new year Nouruz is celebrated on the vernal equinox in early spring. Bright new clothing is prepared, a multigrain porridge sumolok is served and wishes for peace, prosperity and health are exchanged.
Along with the national Horse and Game Festival in July, there is also the Birds of Prey Festival celebrating golden eagles and falcons. Falconry has been a Kyrgyz tradition since ancient times and these birds of prey are some of the best hunters.
At the Kyrgyz Kochi Festival – Cuisine and Folklore Festival, which takes place in the Djety-Oguz Gorge, a large variety of traditional dishes from different countries are presented. It is a wonderful opportunity not only to taste the many succulent dishes, but to watch as they are prepared. The festival also includes an exhibition of national crafts and felt making, as well as competitions among local folk groups in singing and dancing.
Over the centuries, people from many regions have passed through or settled in Kyrgyzstan, and influenced Kyrgyz cuisine. The visual appeal of dishes is important, and a variety of spices are used for flavor and color.
The national dish of Kyrgyzstan is besh-barmak “five fingers” – so-called because it used to be eaten without utensils. It is made with meat – usually mutton or horse and noodles that are boiled in the broth. Another Kyrgyz dish is oromo “filled bag”, in which minced meat and vegetables are steamed inside a pocket of soft dough. The most common drink is kumis – fermented mare\\’s milk, and other traditional drinks are made with camel or sheep milk.
Kyrgyzstan National Dress
The sharp continental climate and nomadic culture demand practical clothing. Padded layers, sheepskin coats – the chapan, silk tunics and felt hats provide warmth and mobility. The kalpak, the white men’s wool hat is worn everywhere. Made out of four triangles of felt, the bottom can be rolled up to form a brim. It’s certainly a distinctive feature of dress in Kyrgyzstan.
Girls traditionally wore long white dresses with embroidered velvet vests. Heavy skirts would be worn over these in winter. Their hair was arranged in about forty braids and covered with elaborate headdresses. Her wedding dress would be more elaborate with a cone-shaped hat and veil. After marriage, two plaits were the norm.
The Kyrgyz have been famous for their musical talent since ancient times. Through the oral traditions handed down from generation to generation, these epic and narrative songs have developed, as each performer introduced new variations and details.
The most famous Kyrgyz epic is Manas, the thousand-year-old story of a hero who defended his land and his people. Longer than the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, it recounts the lifestyle of the Kyrgyz people – their customs, traditions, morals, religious rites, knowledge of medicine, and diplomatic relations.
In Bishkek, you can visit the Osh Bazaar, the most vibrant and fascinating place to immerse yourself in the local culture. This, the city\\’s most popular market, has everything you can possibly find in Kyrgyzstan, including Moorish sweets and beautiful fabrics.
The Dordoy Bazaar, on the outskirts of Bishkek, stretches for more than a kilometer, and is a major shopping center. It is also the main outlet for imported goods from China and Europe.
The Karakol market, open on Sundays only, is the most famous and colorful horse market in Central Asia. Here you will find livestock of all kinds: roly-poly piglets, woolly sheep, and all kinds of cattle. The market includes a section for cars and used car parts, with bits of scrap metal artistically arranged on the ground.
Kyrgyzstan Applied and Decorative Art
Felt is the most popular material for several products in Kyrgyzstan, including ornamental carpets and other elements of the yurts. Shirdakcarpets have beautiful repetitive patterns taken from the natural environment in deep rich colors. Ala-Kiyiz, another popular type of carpet, are variegated and have subtler, “washed-out” colors that leave less definition to the borders and have their own unique appearance.
Other handcrafts that you will find in Kyrgyzstan includes beautiful embroidery with a great variety of stitches creating different textures and patterns unique to the Kyrgyz. Jewelry is crafted with a combination of various decorative techniques, such as filigree, engraving, and coralwork. Leather is intricately patterned and tooled. The Kyrgyz also make beautiful braided screens, using reeds that grow in the foothills of the Kyrgyz mountains.