Thursday, December 29, 2016

Kyrgyz Woman Singer Remakes Poem Traditionally Sung By Men

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Kyrgyz performer Gulzada Ryskulova
Kyrgyz artist Gulzada Ryskulova has rocked the local music scene with a powerful take on an epic poem that serves as a foundation of the Central Asian country's culture.

Reciters of the Manas epic, or manaschi, are guardians of an oral folklore whose origins remain obscure. They are also almost always men.

Sent underground during the Soviet Union, the tradition of charismatic oral poetry, themed on the life of a mythical warrior king, received a powerful shot in the arm during the rule of Kyrgyzstan's first president Askar Akayev.

Now, with the release of a song based on the epic and sung by a woman, the tale of Manas has a new twist, now carrying an urgent message about the need to preserve the country's incredible nature and its nomadic heritage.

Ryskulova wrote on Facebook:

"Friends - The whole might of the Kyrgyz Nomadic Spirit, the intimate, magical fluids of our mountainous country. Authentic feelings can be experienced through the voice, the music and the song of "Aikol Manas".

The epic of Manas stands as the most crucial cultural legacy of Kyrgyzstan. In the span of two years we have worked tirelessly to achieve a deep [and] quality immersion into the marvellous centuries of old Kyrgyz culture".

Below is the clip starring Gulzada and produced by Sumsarbek Mamyraliyev [3:44 mins] :


While Gulzada's release is a celebration of Kyrgyz culture, it is also a challenge to the patriarchy that presently surrounds the epic. Partly because there are many versions of the Manas legend (both written and oral) there are also different understandings as to what the warrior king should mean to the Kyrgyz people.

While Akayev used Manas as a tool to unite Kyrgyzstan's diverse ethnic groups, in more recent times the epic has been hijacked by nationalists that stress the position of ethnic Kyrgyz as the “children of Manas”.

Feminists and liberals were moreover aggrieved when a statue symbolising freedom in the form of a female angel in flight was replaced by one of Manas shortly after Kyrgyzstan endured its second and most bloody revolution in 2010.

Almost two years ago, Global Voices wrote about a Rising Voices grantee, Kyrgyzstan's school-age Devochki-Aktivisti (girl activists). One of the stories published on the blog, managed and edited by the Devochki-Aktivisti and consisting of letters sent to the Devochki-Aktivisti, concerned a young girl Manaschi.

In the story the girl wrote:

I have been a girl Manaschi (storyteller of the Epic of Manas) since I was 3 years old. When I was a child, everyone thought it was great – they considered all children equal.

But I grew up, and found that being an older girl is much harder. Beginning when I was 9 years old, everybody started telling me the stereotypes I should follow. And so my favorite pursuit – storytelling – stopped for a while. I had already resigned myself to the fact that I was a girl.

Below, the same girl can be seen performing a Manaschi-style recital to promote gender equality [1.45 mins]:

This article by Akhal-Tech collective originally appeared on Global Voices on 9 December 2016. It is reposted here with permission.

Related posts:
Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan
Elechek - Kyrgyz Traditional Headdress 
Uzbek Divas: Capturing the Poetic Traditions of Central Asia
Kyrgyz Chii - Yurt Screens and Mats 
Yurts of Central Asia Part  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

All-Woman Brewery Brings Craft Beer to Kyrgyzstan

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Aida Musulmankulova and Arzu Kurbanova, owners of Save the Ales
Tucked away in an unlikely spot, wedged between a domino club popular with Turks and a Soviet-built apartment block, is a treat for beer-lovers in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital.

Save the Ales, a microbrewery set up by a Kyrgyz-Kazakh pair, Aida Musulmankulova and Arzu Kurbanova, may be small and spartan. But what it is doing to Bishkek’s drinking culture is little short of revolutionary.

While bland imported lagers and watery local brews have long been the norm, Save the Ales is turning out its own homemade craft brews, borrowing from a trend that has established deep roots in the United States and elsewhere.

“Wherever we have traveled, we have always tried good beer,” said Musulmankulova.

Around three years ago, she and her partner, Kurbanova, decided to take the plunge.

“We decided to brew it [ourselves]. We learned everything from the Internet. It wasn’t as difficult as we thought.”

Craft beers tend to be more experimental than classic European-style lagers and pilsners, and are brewed in kegs rather than casks, as is the case with traditional British real ale. And it is not cheap either. Save the Ales charges an eye-watering $2.80 per glass, a sum way out of reach for most people outside the bar’s target market of upwardly mobile Bishkek urban types and expats.

micro brewery Bishkek Kyrgyzstan, small group tours kyrgyzstan, kyrgyzstan art craft
Saves the Ales, 193a Tynystanova Street, Bishkek
Musulmankulova and Kurbanova say they are spending the profits on developing their fledgling business and reinvesting.

The bar has been a stop-and-start affair. Save the Ales first opened in May, quickly gaining a strong following, but it had to shut for almost a month in late September due to an electrical fault.

The dedicated aficionados of the pair’s high-strength India Pale Ale, stout and fruit-flavored beers finally got their bar back in October.

A noticeable emphasis is placed on providing the real deal at Save the Ales. Bishkek has no shortage of novelty theme pubs that are low on character and often focus their efforts to lure in customers on big TV screens and loud music.

In established markets, craft beer is a big business. According to the US Brewers Association, the sector’s retail dollar value in the United States was estimated at $22.3 billion for 2015, representing just over one-fifth of the country’s beer market.

Beer is increasingly popular in Kyrgyzstan, but drinkers are prone to quote the old Russian saying “beer without vodka is money [thrown] to the wind.” The market share for craft beers is statistically insignificant, but the mission of Save the Ales, where the beer is brewed on-site, for now is to slowly cultivate more refined tastes and habits. Unlike almost all Bishkek beer bars, Save the Ales served no food until recently, although it did finally relent by providing lite bites.

Kurbanova and Musulmankulova say that over half their sales are to expats, although the share of young, urban middle-class barflies is growing. And the contingent of baikes — a term denoting “elder brother” in Kyrgyz, but also synonymous with portly middle-aged men — is creeping up too.

micro brewery Bishkek Kyrgyzstan, small group tours kyrgyzstan, kyrgyzstan art craft
It is a cool space inside Save the Ales
“I remember one time this guy walked into the pub,” said Sumsarbek Mamyraliev, who owns a production studio and is a friend of the owners. “He said, ‘Get me a beer. Where is the shashlik? Where is the chechel [smoked cheese]? Where are the owners? How do your husbands let you brew beer? This will never work!”

When the new client tried the beer, however, “his attitude changed completely,” Mamyraliev recalled.

“He was this patriarch with a gold chain. He said: ‘You girls have put all the men in Kyrgyzstan to shame. If you ever have any problems with anyone, just call me.’”

Musulmankulova and Kurbanova for their part have nothing against hiring a male staffer, especially since brewing can sometimes be physically taxing.

“But friends told us we should keep on as we started out,” Kurbanova told “So when we advertised on Facebook for a helper, we asked for a ‘pomoshnitsa’ (a female assistant), which caused a stir.”

Mamyraliev argues the success of the tiny brewery pub points to an emerging start-up culture in Kyrgyzstan, which has Central Asia’s most vibrant civil society. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business index, Kyrgyzstan remains the easiest country in the region in which to register a new business.

micro brewery Bishkek Kyrgyzstan, small group tours kyrgyzstan, kyrgyzstan art craft
Hand-crafted all-grain ales at Save the Ales, Bishkek
Alan Laing, a British customer who works in international development, agrees the pub is “a hidden gem”.

“It’s unlike any other bar in Bishkek,” he said, referencing various theme pubs in the city. “[Save the Ales] could be a bar in Brooklyn or Shoreditch (in London) before they became uber-trendy. It is simple, unfussy and all about the beer.”

Kurbanova attributes their beer’s popularity to a maximalist approach to brewing. They spare no expense in bringing in ingredients from Germany and the United States, in contrast to the cost-cutting attitude typical to other breweries.

That has led to invitations to serve beer at arts festivals and music nights, which the pair have accepted, as well as offers from admiring competitors to purchase their beer or even buy out the business completely. So far, they have resisted all such overtures.

“They come to us and say, we want to see your beer in our restaurant,” Kurbanova told “We tell them: join the queue.”

 Saves the Ales is at Tynystanova 193а, Bishkek. It is open from 17:00 - 24:00. Telephone: 555 241 811

This article was originally published by on 9 December 2016. and is reposted here with permission.

Related posts:
Kyrgyzstan: Flash Mob Opera in Bishkek Supermarket
Kyrgyz Blues
Kyrgyzstan's Bus Stops
Kancha - Design for Urban Nomads


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding

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Poster for Skateistan's new campaign featuring Afghan skateboarders
Skateistan, the non-profit organization, which uses skateboarding and education for youth empowerment, unveils a new fundraising campaign - "Give Her Five”.

The campaign highlights the positive impact Skateistan is having on the lives of girls in Afghanistan.

It launches with an inspiring animation called "Her Story" about an Afghan girl empowered by skateboarding and education.

From December 5th, Skateistan is asking the public to Give Her Five by donating $5 in a bid to raise $100,000 by December 31st. Skateistan believes girls have an equal right to be safe, play sport, go to school, have confidence and become leaders: 50% of their students are girls.

At their Skate Schools in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa, girls are skateboarding and learning together in much-needed safe spaces. Since 2009, skateboarding has proven to be a powerful tool for girls to access education, with Afghanistan being home to the highest percentage of female skateboarders in the world.

afghanistan girls skateboarding, central asian small group tours
Girls riding their boards at Skateistan, Afghanistan
"This is a very important campaign because girls deserve the same chances in life that boys get. The Skateistan community cares a lot about girls empowerment and you can support this!" says Skateistan Executive Director, Australian Oliver Percovich.

About one-third of countries in developing regions still need to achieve gender parity in primary education, but Skateistan is actively working to change that and provide opportunities for girls.

Throughout “Give Her Five” Skateistan will share real-life stories of empowerment. From girls who have found their confidence through sport, to students who have gained scholarships to private school and women who have traveled overseas to skateboard with the world’s best.

Skateistan has proven that when given the right opportunities, girls can change their lives, their communities and ultimately the world.

Consider making this your Christmas/New Year gift - donate $5 today.

Watch the new and very cool 2-minute animation narrated by an Afghan girl, below. (If the video clip does not appear on your device, please go directly to: ).

Update: Listen to Oliver Perovich's interview on ABC radio about SkateistanIt's 18 minutes and was recorded 5 April 2020.

Related posts:   White Silk Road - Snowboarding Afghanistan
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding 
Afghanistan's First Mixed Gender Team to Take on Ultramarathon 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel Castro in Uzbekistan

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Fidel Castro, in traditional Uzbek coat and skullcap, Tashkent, 1963
In spring 1963, four years after the revolution in Cuba, the 36-year old Fidel Castro first visited the USSR .

Diplomatic relations were established between Havana and Moscow in 1959. However, relations between the two nations' leaders cooled in 1962, when Nikita Khrushchev removed Soviet missiles from the Caribbean island following an agreement with US President John F. Kennedy.

Castro claimed the Soviet leader did it all behind his back. To improve relations with Cuba, Khrushchev personally invited Castro to travel to the USSR.

The visit lasted about 40 days, in which the revolutionary leader made an exciting tour all around the Soviet Union.

Compared to the grey-suited apparatchiks, Fidel Castro was like a rock star: young, handsome, dashingly dressed in his army fatigues. Crowds of Soviet citizens - young and old - thronged to greet him.

In Uzbekistan he visited cotton farms, young pioneer groups and the impressive Golodnaya Steppe (also known as the Hungry Steppe). 

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Fidel Castro drives a tractor at Kzyl Uzbekistan collective farm
Begun in 1956, this was a Soviet agricultural project on a grand scale, to cultivate the naturally saline virgin lands, an area of 10,000 square kilometres in Eastern Uzbekistan, about 160 kilometres from Tashkent. 

Castro also visited some of Samarkand's famous monuments. He made a point of spontaneous visits to ordinary working people, much to the chagrin of the carefully stage-managed Soviet program.

There is another Fidel Castro - Uzbekistan connection. Sharaf Rashidov, the Secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party from 1959 until 1983, was hand-picked by Khruschev to head one of the most important Soviet diplomatic missions. Rashidov was highly respected because of his excellent communication abilities and tact.

According to Open Central Asia magazine: "In the early 1960s, worried about the US deployment of military bases in Italy and Turkey, Khruschev was desperately looking for a counter balance against Washington. He eventually decided on Cuba.

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Fidel Castro in Samarkand spring 1963
Following the economic blockade of the Cubans, Khruschev had to convince Castro to accept the USSR’s protection and benefits in exchange for permission to establish Soviet military bases on the island.

According to Valentin Falin, a Soviet diplomat, the Cuban operation was highly confidential and only a few in the Politbiuro knew about it.

In May 1962, the USSR delegation led by Rashidov was described in the media as a visit of “irrigators and meliorators led by the head of an agricultural, cotton-producing republic”. 

This was a cover up for the Western intelligence which was not supposed to know that the head of the cotton producing republic was secretly entrusted to speak with Castro and deliver the Soviet proposal to deploy missiles on Cuba in order to deter a possible US strike.

The missiles and the personnel were supposed to be shipped on ships which would pretend to transport agricultural industry machines for irrigation. Given that such machines were produced in Uzbekistan, Rashidov’s leadership of the mission was not expected to raise suspicions".

Sharaf Rashidov and Fidel Castro meet young pioneers
Sharaf Rashidov and Fidel Castro meet young pioneers
Every step of Fidel Castro's visit to the USSR was well documented. A newsreel film titled The Guest From the Island of Freedom is available for viewing here:

Note that there are seven parts of the film. For the remarkable Uzbek footage, scroll down to Reel 4 and watch the first four minutes.

Related posts:
Remembering Muhammad Ali’s Visit To Uzbekistan
Langston Hughes: An African American Writer in Central Asia in the 1930s
Sidney Jackson - An American Boxer in Uzbekistan
Arminius Vámbéry: a Dervish Spy in Central Asia

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sacrament of Magic Yarn - Madina Kasimbaeva's Exhibition, Tashkent

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The magical installation of Madina Kasimbaeva's  "The Sacrament of Magic Yarn" exhibition

Tashkent has been a treat for exhibitions this autumn. The stand-out was Madina Kasimbaeva's  "The Sacrament of Magic Yarn".

Madina is an acclaimed embroiderer, who won the 2016 Best Crafts Person of Uzbekistan prize for her extraordinary work and contribution to Uzbek applied arts traditions.

Although her grandmother embroidered skullcaps, Madina does not come from an embroidery dynasty. In fact, her parents hoped that she would become a translator. However, after  excelling in gold embroidery techniques at high school, she entered the Tashkent Republican Art College named after P.P. Benkov, in the School of Fashion Design.

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Detail from a chapan (Uzbek robe) at Madina Kasimbaeva's  "The Sacrament of Magic Yarn" exhibition

It was there that she started to seriously research the varied embroidery traditions of all Uzbek provinces. Her talent was recognized early and at age 20, in 2007, she became a member of the National Union of People's Craftsmen and Artisans - known as Hunarmand. In 2008 she participated in Fashion Week, Milan, where her jackets and accessories were snapped up instantly.

Committed to educating Uzbeks about their unique traditions and ensuring those traditions flourish, Madina took a mirco-credit loan in 2008 and has since trained over 500 young women in suzani embroidery techniques.

Madina has proudly represented the applied arts traditions of Uzbekistan in exhibitions in Moscow, Baku, South Korea, Europe and the US. She regularly participates in the Santa Fe International Folk Fair.

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The second room of the exhibition  of Madina Kasimbaeva's Sacrament of Magic Yarn

In this exhibition Madina again collaborated with art historian Binafsha Nodir and again the exhibition was held at the Tashkent House of Photography. The light in the building is excellent and renowned Uzbek artist Babur Ismailov coordinated the installation of chapans (traditional robes). 

The chapans were embroidered using techniques from the major Uzbek embroidery regions: Bukhara, Samarkand, Nurata, Shakhrisabz and Tashkent.

uzbekistan suzani embroidery exhibition, uzbekistan small group tours, uzbekistan art craft textile tours
Unusually, this chapan (Uzbek robe) was embroidered in wool.

Recently Uzbek Journeys organised a suzani master class with Madina at her home in Tashkent. Some clients were already skilled sewers and others, dilettantes. However, we were all flabbergasted at how difficult and time consuming suzani embroidery is.

After about 40 minutes of generally slow and poor progress, we abandoned our class and instead raided Madina's collection - many of the pieces were being made for this exhibition. Her work is easily the finest quality in Uzbekistan.

Madina does not have a website, however, on an Uzbek Journeys tour a visit to Madina's boutique in the old city is included. Some of her accessories are also sold in Tashkent stores. You can also contact Madina, who speaks Russian, Uzbek and some English at this email:

Please enjoy more images of Madina Kasimbaeva's work below.

Update August 2018: Madina's exquisite pieces are now available at Human House, Tashkent.

Related posts:
The Fantasy World of Uzbek Textile Artist Dilyara Kaipova.
Uzbek Suzanis - Like Flowers in the Sand
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani
Suzanis as Upholstery: the Brilliance of Bokja Design
Symbols in Stitches: Uzbek Suzanis 
Ikat - the Thread that Connects Generations

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Detail of silk on silk fine stitching at Madina Kasimbaeva's  "The Sacrament of Magic Yarn" exhibition

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Renowned Uzbek artist Babur Ismailov preparing the installation in the Tashkent House of Photography

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Art historian Binafsha Nodi, left, and Madina Kasimbaeva, right, at the exhibition opening

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A charming pair of Madina's ballet flats

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A pomegranate embroidered wall hanging. Note Madina's signature bottom right.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Tashkent Nostalgie - Eugene Panov's Exhibition, Tashkent

tashkent artist Eugene Panov, uzbekistan art craft tours, uzbekistan small group tours
Poster for Tashkent Nostalgie exhibition
As Tashkent morphs into a modern Central Asian city, many neighbourhoods are undergoing rapid change.

Large apartment blocks are being built in traditional mahallas (neighbourhoods) of single storey homes with courtyards.

Sometimes garages - always painted green and often used as storage places - are removed for new construction.
New business complexes replace two or three-storey old office buildings.

It is the same throughout Central Asia as cities expand and countries develop and establish their own architectural language, throwing off the Soviet model.
Talented Tashkent-born painter Eugene Panov lovingly looks at his city. In this charming collection of watercolours, he notes the rhythm of quiet streets: neighbours, courtyards, washing hanging from balconies, electricity poles and gas pipes crowding the streets, old walls, windows and gates in the rain. This is the city Tashkent citizens remember with such affection.

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Tashkent Nostalige, Eugene Panov
That old Tashkent still exists - but these days it is a little harder to find. You need to go further from the main streets and peek into courtyards, where Uzbek families still sip tea on a tapchan ( a raised platform, which functions as a table or bed ) and grow roses and basil side by side.

Often old, small apartment blocks share a common garden and play area.

In these places you will hear the morning milk man calling out "молоко" (milk) as he wanders the leafy neighbourhoods.

You will come across small bazaars in which you can buy homemade sour cream, kefir and cottage cheese. Or a bunch of flowers freshly picked. Or have your shoes or umbrella repaired.

Panov works in many mediums, but watercolour seems just right to reflect this city in transition.

tashkent artist Eugene Panov, uzbekistan art craft tours, uzbekistan small group tours
Artist Eugene Panov
Classically trained at the Republican College of Arts named after P.P. Benkov, Eugene Panov has exhibited regularly and widely, including a solo exhibition in St. Petersburg.

This exhibition is at the cool Bonum Factum Gallery until 20 November. The gallery is located at 20 Sodiq Azimov ko'chasi, Tashkent, near the Japanese Embassy. It is open Monday - Friday, 10:00 - 18:00 and you can call ahead on +998 71 232 03 60.

Gallery staff speak English - they can send image files and can arrange postage of artworks.

Below is a selection of paintings from the exhibition.

Related posts:
Seismic Modernism - Architecture and Housing in Soviet Tashkent
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings
Uzbekistan's Decorative Architectural Panels

Tashkent Nostalige, Eugene Panov

Tashkent Nostalige, Eugene Panov

Tashkent Nostalige, Eugene Panov     

Tashkent Nostalige, Eugene Panov   

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Poster for Tashkent Nostalige, Eugene Panov

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Giorgio Armani's Take on Ikat

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Armani's gorgeous, tailored ikat jacket
Another international designer, Giorgio Armani, included wondrous silk and velvet ikat  in the "Crossing Colours" collection.

Although the origins of ikat are unknown, it is in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley that this weaving technique, practised and refined for generations, is flourishing.

Ikat differs from tie-dyeing in that the pattens are dyed onto the threads before the fabric is woven. (In tie-dyeing, the fabric is woven first and then the resist bindings are applied to the fabric which is later dyed).

The inclusion of ikat fabrics in haute couture collections seems unstoppable. Perhaps because the variety of patterns and colours are endless and the beauty of ikat silks is mesmerizing.

View a selection of Armani's pieces below. And maybe consider a visit to Uzbekistan, where you can meet Uzbek designers who are creating edgy, contemporary ikat clothes and accessories? Or perhaps have pieces made up to your own design?

Related posts
The Story of Uzbek Silk Production: Step by Step 
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani
Ikat Porcelain Tableware
The Fantasy World of Uzbek Textile Artist Dilyara Kaipova
Human House - Tashkent's Coolest Design Space

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Armani Ready-to-Wear coat

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Armani ikat skirts

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Armani ikat stretch knit top

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Samarkand Painter Alexei Sherbakov

Ten Days of Heat, Alexei Sherbakov
Suzanna Fatyan, one of Uzbekistan's finest tour guides, has contributed several pieces on this website about Samarkand as well as about Uzbek cuisine. 

In this article she introduces us to the Samarkand painter Alexei Sherbakov.

Artists have always been inspired by the beauty and light of Uzbekistan, its people as well as its monuments. Samarkand artist Alexei Sherbakov is one such artist.

Born in the village of Juma, near Samarkand, his early years were marked by a spinal injury and long stints, sometimes years, in hospital.

However, in 1971, he entered Tashkent's famous classical art college named after Pavel Benkov. After graduation, he worked as an artist and designer in the workshop of the Art Fund, attached to the Samarkand branch of the Academy of Arts, Uzbekistan. Since then he has exhibited extensively.

Sherbakov's works, in oil, acrylic, water colour and on textiles, display his lifelong fascination with Uzbek culture and traditions, mixed with his own experiences of village life, suffering and joy.  The artist has an incredible ability to describe every gesture and pose and to penetrate the essence of a character.

Under Our Tree, Alexei Sherbakov
His palette is notable for being bright and abundant – a reflection of the brilliance of Uzbek bazaars.

Yellow, brown and green are his favourite hues, punctuated with a sudden red or blue.

Alexei Sherbakov is a master of the wet-on-wet technique, which lends the paintings an improvisational style, capturing a moment in this timeless landscape.

His works are found not only in the state galleries of Uzbekistan and Russia, but also in private galleries in Japan, Argentina, USA, Great Britain, and Europe.

I invite you to view some pieces of  below.

Please contact Suzanna if you would like further details about Alexei Sherbakov.

Contact Suzanna via email: susanna202001(at)yahoo(dot)com

Read Suzanna's other articles.

Dream, Alexei Sherbakov

Pilgrims, Alexei Sherbakov

Girl with a Pumpkin, Alexei Sherbakov 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus

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Cover of this ravishing new recipe and travel book
Uzbek Journeys clients, and readers who are dreaming about visiting the Silk Road, will relish this new publication Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus.

Caroline Eden, a regular contributor to the food and travel pages of London's Financial Times, The Guardian and Independent newspapers, teamed up with Eleanor Ford, a recipe developer and editor for the Good Food Channel and BBC Good Food, to produce this lavish book.

For many centuries various ethnic groups passed through the fabled city of Samarkand, sharing and influencing each other's cuisine and leaving their culinary stamp.

Over 100 recipes, adapted for the home cook, are showcased, interspersed with personal travel essays introducing the region and its ethnic groups: Uzbek, Tajik, Russian, Korean, Turkish, Caucasian and Jewish.

Of course Uzbek plov is featured and as Eleanor Ford said in an interview with the Evening Standard: "This is absolutely the defining dish of the region, and it is such an exciting experience going at lunchtime to one of the plov kitchens - bustling canteens where hundreds of people are served from this one vast kazan pan.

One chef would be doing it, layering up meat and rice and vegetables with just a little bit of spice. That way everything is scented by the slow cooking meat which is at the bottom of the pan. Officially this is a lunchtime dish, or a dish served at weddings or celebrations".

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Cucumber and rose soup
Gloriously photographed, the book displays the vibrancy and culinary originality of this remarkable region.

It is divided into these sections:
  • Shared table
  • Soups
  • Roast meats and kebabs
  • Warming dishes
  • Plovs and pilavs
  • Accompaniments
  • Breads and doughs
  • Drinks and deserts

Definitely a treat for yourself or on the Christmas list for a friend.

Related posts:
The Glory of Uzbek Bread
Chekichs: Uzbek Bread Stamps
Samarkand Restaurants and Cafés: An Insider's View
Nowruz Spring Festival 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Kyrgyzstan: World Nomad Games are Underway

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Mounted archery competition
The Second World Nomad Games opened on the shores of Issyk Kul lake on Saturday 3 September in spectacular fashion.

In an era of globalisation, the Games are an initiative of Kyrgyz President, Almazbek Atambaev, that aim to:
  • show the world the greatness of nomadic civilization
  • show the world the values of peace and culture and the life of each ethnic nomadic group
  • provide the opportunity to see nomadic sports in their original form
  • provide the opportunity to see the richness of the world's nomadic people.
 "The purpose of the organization of the Games is to give a second breath to sports which are little known to the rest of the world, but are very popular in countries where modern nomads live, or have lived," said Nurdin Sultanbaev, Head of the Secretariat of the Second World Nomad Games 2016.

Forty countries  are participating this year, double the number from the inaugural games in 2014. As well as other Central Asian countries, participants come from Argentina, Australia, America, the Middle East and Africa.

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Er enish - wrestling on horseback
Over twenty games will be in competition including wrestling, archery, (mounted and stationery) falconry, hunting with taigans, board games and shagai - similar to knuckle bones, though ankle bones are used.

Unsurprisingly, in Kyrgyzstan where there are more horses than cars, horse games figure prominently in the program: buzkashi, wrestling on horseback, javelin throwing on horseback and horse races. A new racetrack has been built at Cholpon Ata specifically for the Games.

A small town has been built high in the mountains, in Kyrchyn Gorge, which recreates nomads’ yurts with traditional interiors and craftsmen’s workshops with handicrafts. A Folk Festival featuring traditional music and costumes is also part of the festival.

You can view the opening cermony and follow the World Nomad Games online.

Related posts:
Kyrgyz-style Polo: Ulak Tartysh or Buzkashi 
Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan
Elechek - Kyrgyz Traditional Headdress
Yurts of Central Asia 
5 Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan

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Opening ceremony at the 2016 World Nomad Games, Kyrgyzstan

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bishkek from Mediaeval Times to the Soviet Period: A Brief History

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Lilya Kas'yanova with mushroom bouquet
Frequent contributor to this website, Lilya Kas'yanova, an expert guide to Kyrgyzstan, has noted that many travellers are unaware of the city's history prior to the Soviet period. In this essay she provides an overview.

The location of medieval Bishkek was quite advantageous as the Valley of Chui River was  criss-crossed by the caravan trails of the Great Silk Road.

The eastern branch of the trunk road threaded through the Golden (Chui) Valley, and interlaced there with another, which pierced through the territory of the Central Tien-Shan mountains.

In the 7th – 13th centuries A.D., the Turkic-Sogdian Djul’ settlement was located in the space of present-day Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. Historians date Djul's foundation from the 6th century A.D.

In ancient Turkic dialect "Djul" means "steppe". One theory is that the town had also been known under its Sogdian name "Peshgah", meaning “town that lies in the foothills of the mountains”. In the Middle Ages, it was common practice to give two names to localities: one – Sogdian, another – Turkic.

Djul’ was not the only populated center of the Golden Valley: some historical sources indicate 18 towns and 50 small settlements. A well-defined distance of one-two days’ caravan march separated the towns of the Valley.

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Detail of Sogdian textile - the Sogdians were the great
merchants of the Silk Road  

The Iranian-speaking merchants and farmers who had moved from Sogdiana founded those settlements. Samarkand, in present-day Uzbekistan, was the heart of Sogdiana.

Gradually, those Turkic nomads, who were attracted by a sedentary lifestyle, took up residence in the towns. The settlements of the medieval era were multi-faith centres: they were settled by Zoroastrians, Christians, Buddhists, Nestorians, Muslims and pagans who lived together in peace.

In the 7th century A.D., Djul’ had the following layout:

  • citadel (central, fortified stronghold) - positioned in the dominant north-western section of the shahrestan;
  • shahrestan (residential quarters of ruler and nobles) - surrounded with a rampart;
  • and  rabad (suburb represented by workshops, shopping stalls, etc.) the centre of economic life, and which in turn was encircled by orchards and fields. 
Kilometers-long embankments screened cultivated areas: Djul’ was a sprawling city by medieval standards.

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Nestorian tombstone dated 1368, from Chui Valley,
now in the Hermitage museum
It is generally accepted that the booming towns of the Chui Valley declined by the 14th – 15th centuries. However, different versions describing the eclipse of urban life are put forward: the devastating marches and punitive expeditions of Amir Timur (Tamerlane), natural disasters such as earthquakes, internal feuds, plagues and so on.

In 1825, the Khan of Kokand (now in present-day Uzbekistan), after conquering lands populated by the obstinate Kyrgyz nomads, built a fortress known as Pishkek at the site of today’s Bishkek city, to maintain firm control.

However, the Russian military detachment led by siege-craft experts, completed a successful attack on the enemy’s citadel in November 1862. The Kokand fortress fell; it was demolished to the foundation by the Russian troops. Later, on the site of the former fortress, a Cossack outpost was positioned.

Pishpek settlement was founded in 1868.  Finally, the district center was moved from Tokmok to Pishpek, and it was granted the status of town on April 29, 1878.  The town became the administrative center of the Soviet Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Region in October, 1924.

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Parade at Central Square, Bishkek 1939
In 1926, Pishpek was renamed Frunze in honour of Michael Frunze, a major Red Army commander in the Russian Civil War, who is best known for defeating Baron Wrangel in Crimea. He was also Joseph Stalin’s arch rival – Frunze was born here in 1885. (As an aside, when flying to Bishkek you will note that the luggage tag’s three-letter airport code is FRU – a relic from the Soviet past).

The residents of the town laid out a great many parks and gardens of delicious coolness, managing to create a delightful oasis in the mid-desert steppe.  Frunze was regarded as the greenest capital of the Soviet republics.

During World War II, some of the Soviet manufacturing facilities were moved to Frunze, thus keeping them beyond the reach of the enemy. A number of heavy industry enterprises were launched at that time turning Frunze into a thriving industrial heartland. Many cultural centres, such as museums and theatres, were built in the capital.

Frunze was renamed Bishkek when the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic became independent Kyrgyzstan in 1991.

Additional images of Soviet Bishkek are below.

Contact Lilya on: lolya.87(at) mail (dot) ru

Read all Lilya's articles

Related posts:
Burana, Kyrgyzstan: Medieval Settlement & Central Asia's Oldest Minaret 
Kyrgyzstan: Uzgen's Eternal Treasures
6 Quirky Things About Kyrgyzstan

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Old airport terminal of Frunze town

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School number 3 in Frunze, named after Joseph Stalin
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Southern Gate architectural complex, Frunze, 1970s