Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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The world of yurts

The yurt is the traditional dwelling of the nomadic peoples of Central Asia - including the Kyrgyz - and are to be found anywhere between Anatolia and Mongolia. It is not possible to say which of the ancient nomadic tribes originally developed the traditional design but it is still in use by people throughout the region and plays an important role in the lifestyle of the Kyrgyz "chaban", or shepherd. Styles of architecture and city planning come and go, but the yurt remains a stable and lasting link with the past.

A skillful master can make a yurt within a month although it can last, if looked after, for decades.
The "koychumans" usually set up their yurts on high ground, from where they can easily oversee their livestock, and watch the surrounding world. They can also be seen in valleys beside a mountain stream. In autumn and winter, sheltered spots away from heavy snowfalls were preferred.
In stormy weather the occupants attach fine lassos to the ceiling. They are often mistaken for decoration, as they end in large tassels of multicoloured threads hanging down from the tyunduk. However, if necessary, they can be pulled down and attached to the poles in the middle of the yurt. This adds strength to the structure and helps it to withstand even very powerful storms.
Life in the yurt centred on the "kolomto", the fireplace, which was directly beneath the tyunduk. Behind the kolomto, near the rear wall of the yurt, just opposite the entrance stood the "juk" - blankets, carpets and pillows piled up on chests or special props. The height of the juk was another indicator of the family's wealth. The mistress of the yurt would ensure that the juk consisted of fine looking, thick "toshoks" - blankets and carpets. On hot sunny days they were taken outside and spread on the grass to expose them to direct sunlight. Fluffed up, steeped in the aroma of fresh mountain herbs they made a pleasant place to sleep. The place in front of the juk is called the "tyor" which served as a seat for guests of honor - "aksakals" - wise old men. In everyday life the head of the family occupied the tyor. Next to him sat his sons, whilst the area nearer the entrance was designated for the women - his daughters and the mistress of the household. These traditions were followed very closely and no Kyrgyz would violate the order. On the right of the entrance was a space reserved for women's work - the "eptchi zhak". It served as a place to keep utensils and wash dishes. The kerege here contained embroidered bags in which were kept needles, threads, needlework, knitting and nick-nacks.
The part of the yurt reserved for men, the "er-shak" was located on the left-hand side. The kerege here contained harnesses, "kamtchas" (horse whips), hunting knives - all the necessary tools one would need to rear cattle, for hunting and for handicrafts.

The day in the yurt begins before dawn. The women would already be cooking breakfast and putting food into bags for the men who would lead the herds out to the pastures. After seeing them off, the women would attend to other household tasks. Boys who could barely walk were taught to ride a horse. The girls would learn about cookery, embroidery and the traditional patterns which adorn "shyrdaks", "ala-kiyiz" and "tush kiyis". These carpets would be placed on the walls or the floors of the yurt. They not only served practical purposes - helping to keep the yurt warm - they also had an aesthetic function. The patterns reflect the colours and shapes found in nature such as the variety of colour and fragility of flower petals, eagles with proudly bent wings, the blue tints of the sky.
Although most Kyrgyz now live in high-rise apartment blocks, they have a special affection for the yurt. Often, on the occasion of a birthday a yurt will be set up and guests invited to the "dastarkhan" - a "holiday table". The yurt is also a place where the Kyrgyz gather for the funeral of their relatives.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #3

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