Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Festivals in Kyrgyzstan

Many of the visitors who travel to Kyrgyzstan are intrigued by the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Kyrgyz shepherds who spend the summer living in yurts in remote jailoos, (high mountain pastures).  Attending a festival is one way to experience this traditional culture.  Although it is claimed on one travel website that “Kyrgyzstan isn’t exactly full of festivals” , even if that was true at the time it was originally written, the situation in current day Kyrgyzstan is quite different as in recent years various organizations have organized a range of festivals.
Most of them concentrate on a specific theme: traditional horse games; hunting with eagles; traditional crafts; cuisine and folklore – there is even a Mountain Bike Festival and the “Annual Clean-up at Son Kul”.  Many festivals, however, offer the opportunity to leisurely witness and experience many of the various aspects of traditional, nomadic, Kyrgyz culture.      
Although some of these events are organized by tour companies they are not exclusively for tourists.  The local character and feel of the event is preserved by the fact that they are equally popular amongst the local population, (after all, the Kyrgyz enjoy a celebration as much as anyone else), and who usually make up the majority of the people attending each festival.
Amongst the major festivals held each year are:
Horse games: Horses, along with hunting dogs, have always played a huge role in the daily life of the Kyrgyz. They are thought of, not only as thoroughbred racers, but also as true assistants in the daily life of the household. The majority of the rural population in the country, even today, follow a semi-nomadic way of life. Almost everyone, to a man, is able to ride a horse and the numerous types of horse games that have developed over the course of time, give a fine opportunity for them to show their skills, dexterity and fast reactions.
Traditional horse games which will be featured include: Ulak Tartysh – which involves two teams of riders “battling” over a goat's carcass; Kyz Kuumai – where a horseman should catch a horsewoman so that he can receive a kiss as his prize; and Kurosh – wrestling on horseback. In addition there are such games, as Tyiyn Enmei – where the rider tries to pick up a coin from the ground, at full gallop; At Chabysh – straight forward races, and many others. All of these games have arisen as a result of centuries-old traditions and they reflect the vital importance to the Kyrgyz of riding in past times.
There are several festivals of Horse Games held throughout the year, but the main one is organized especially for the horses of the Kyrgyz breed and is called At Chabysh.  It is held on the first weekend in November, which is the traditional time of year for such festivals, after the shepherds have brought their flocks down from the high mountain pastures, (jailoo).  
Traditional Crafts: Ancient traditions and customs; the variety of flora and fauna; scenes taken from everyday life and historical events – are all reflected in traditional, national, crafts. Kyrgyzstan is renowned for high-quality products made from felt. The peak of this art form is generally considered to be the boz ui (or yurta – the round, felt, dwellings used by nomads down through the centuries). A Felt Festival is held on the last Saturday of July every year.
Thematic Festivals: The national and cultural heritage of the Kyrgyz has been influenced by many factors over the course time such as: the landscape and the climate, and the interaction with other peoples in the region. Those who are interested in history and archaeology might like to visit the Saimaluu Tash Festival. Saimaluu Tash is the largest gallery of stone paintings (petroglyphs), which is found in Southern Kyrgyzstan, on a plateau of the Ferghana Mountain Range. The site houses a huge accumulation of drawings which date from the Iron and Early Bronze Ages, depicting hunting scenes, images of animals and people, signs and symbols.
The Birds of Prey Festival: This festival is devoted to golden eagles and falcons which are revered by the Kyrgyz. Since Ancient times, hunters have caught young chicks and taken them home, to bring them up and train them to hunt animals. In past times, one bird of prey could support a small settlement. Hence a Golden Eagle, or a falcon, were highly esteemed and were frequently treated as members of the family. People practiced in the art of training birds of prey are called “Berkutchi” and are treated with great respect.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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