Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Explore Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2016

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View of the old city in Khiva, Uzbekistan. Image: Richard Marshall
Details of Uzbek Journeys 2016 one-of-a-kind, small group tours to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are now available.

The 16-day Uzbek tours, scheduled for the very best seasons in Uzbekistan, focus on the architecture, art, craft and history of this fascinating section of the Silk Road.

Explore the architectural masterpieces of the ancient cities of Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara and Khiva.

Visit artisans’ workshops to meet families who have practised their craft for generations and contemporary artists who are fusing ancient techniques with modern style.

Roam the bazaars, lounge around in tea houses and spend the night in a yurt in the Kyzyl Kum desert. Learn about the intrigues of the Great Game between Britain and Russia and view the extraordinary collection of avant garde art in remote Nukus.

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The majesty of Kyrgzystan's landscape
The 8-day Kyrgyz tours combine the majestic, rugged landscapes of snow-capped mountains and lush valleys, with visits to craft co-operatives, design workshops, felt carpet makers and yurt makers. 

Travelling around shimmering Issyk Kul lake, with the towering Tien Shan mountain range in view, you will understand how nomadic traditions are still at the core of the Kyrgyz people, who take immense pride in their heritage.

There are opportunities for hiking, picnics by streams, and listening to traditional musicians and bards in private homes. You will have the chance to see a kupkari (buzkashi) match and an eagle hunt. The tour also includes a visit to Sunday's Karakol livestock market.

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country, often called the Switzerland of Central Asia, and makes a marvellous contrast to the landscapes of Uzbekistan.

Why not discover this fascinating region in 2016?

View the 2016 Kyrgyzstan tours.
View the 2016 Uzbekistan tours.

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Magnificent felt work from Aidai  Asangulova's workshop, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Monday, June 29, 2015

Kyrgyz Blues

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Decorative elements of Karakol house. Image: Lilya Kas'janova
Travellers in Kyrgyzstan are charmed by the blue architectural details of Kyrgyz homes: marvellous hues adorn shutters, doors, gates and windows.

Often the paint has faded  - nevertheless, the charm remains, particularly on the gingerbread cottages dotted throughout the countryside.

Discussing this with Lilya Kas'janova, the brilliant guide who leads Uzbek Journeys tours in Kyrgyzstan, there are many theories about why blue is so popular. 

As always, Lilya dazzled me with her knowledge of Kyrgyz traditions. (However, I hasten to add that theory #11 below was contributed by a mad Kyrgyz taxi driver).

Why blue?

1.    Blue represents the boundless sky of Kyrgyzstan.

2.    Blue also represents water - Kyrgyzstan's bright, blue lakes and the swift-flowing, crystal-clean mountain rivers.

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Blue gate, Chon Kemin valley
3.    Blue is considered a symbol of eternity: the colour is attributed to the Sky God in Kyrgyz folklore.

 4.    Kyrgyz people are of Turkic stock and in Turkic culture, blue is a symbol of the deity Tengri. Tengriism, a religion of ancient Turkic and Mongol tribes, arose at the end of the 2nd century B.C. 

Adherents believed that the universe consisted of three parts: the upper, middle, and lower worlds. Blue was associated with the upper world, the realm of the gods.

5.   In Mongolian and Kazakh cultures, blue is identified with fidelity and selfless devotion to one's country.

6.   In the Middle Ages, blue became associated with veracity and people who dressed in blue clothing were those who sought, and arrived at, the truth.

7.   People of the East believe that blue frightens away evil spirits - it protects against evil curses and the evil eye.

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Stylised almond design on a fence to protect from the evil eye
8.   Manas, Kyrgyzstan's legendary national hero, had a blue flag when going into battle. After victory, the flag was red.

 9.   In southern Kyrgyzstan, women wear either a blue scarf or dress for one year following the funeral of close family members.

10.   In the Soviet era, the range of cheerful paints was limited - blue was the brightest available. People liked the effect and continue the tradition.

11.   This is the alternative Soviet era theory. Yes, the range of paint colours was severely limited in the USSR.  However, for some reason, Kyrgyzstan drew the "blue paint" straw and vast amounts were trucked from Moscow to Kyrgyzstan and distributed around the country for residential purposes.

Whatever the reason, you will be charmed. Enjoy several other Kyrgyz "blue" images below.

Related posts: 6 Quirky Things About Kyrgyzstan
100 Experiences of Kyrgyzstan 
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan
Bishkek's Mosaics: Fragmented Dream Project

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Twilight in Kyrgyzstan, Rosemary Sheel

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Colonial house, Karakol. Image: Lilya Kas'janova
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Tush Kiyiz (Kyrgyz traditional decorative piece to be hung on the trellis wall of a yurt). Image: Lilya Kas'janova

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Poplar Leaves on Blue Bench at Prezewalski Museum gardens, Karakol. Rosemary Sheel's evocative use of Snap Art 3

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Uzbekistan's Askiya - Oral Folk Wit and Debate

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Askiya participants enjoying their own gags
Askiya is a genre of Uzbek verbal folk art that takes the form of a dialogue between two or more participants, who eloquently debate and exchange witticisms around a particular theme.

It was added to UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in late 2014.

Bearers and practitioners, mainly men, must master the peculiarities of the Uzbek language, and be able to improvise and reason quickly and skilfully, using humour and banter to great effect. (Women did practise askiya in the past, however, it is rare today).

The dialogues, although humorous, play an invaluable role in raising awareness of social tendencies and events, drawing attention to important issues through acute observation of daily life.

Askiya is often performed in folk celebrations, festivities, family-related rituals and get-togethers organized in cities and villages across Uzbekistan. At present, more than thirty forms of Askiya are known, some professional and some amateur, each with its own distinctive features. It is most widespread in the Ferghana Valley - in Andijan, Namangan and Ferghana. To a lesser extent it is practised in Tashkent and Bukhara.

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Audience enjoying an askiya competition, Ferghana
Askiya-related knowledge and skills are predominantly transmitted orally among individuals, groups and communities, based on traditional master-apprentice teaching methods.

Askiya promotes humour, ensures simplicity of communication among people, and unites representatives of different communities, irrespective of age and background, around a common event. It also has a strong educational component.

(As an aside, the local bazaar, near the hotel where Uzbek Journeys clients stay in Tashkent, is called Askiya bazaar).

Below is a 10-minute UNESCO video clip highlighting askiya. Sadly the subtitles are a little blurry. However, the genial nature of Uzbeks and their delight in good puns and jokes, makes it worth watching.

Related posts: Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan
Uzbek Divas: Capturing the Poetic Traditions of Central Asia