09 Aug 2013 Kyrgyzstan: Living with Nomads
Atop the pointed edge of a rocky crag I squinted against the bright summer sun, straining to make out the blurred outline of the vast inland lake that shimmered in the distance. Behind me a belt of tremendous cliffs hung with jutting rocks diminished the 3,100 metre altitude that I was at.
Partly because of the late afternoon sun that was streaming through the clouds and partly because of the distance I could barely make out the tiny white specks and the moving black dots on the ground below me, but knowing what they were I could still hardly believe where I was.
There I was looking out over Kyrgyzstan from my seemingly private vantage point next to Song Kol, and down in one of the yurts that from where I was standing was nothing but a white blemish on the landscape, a bed was set up for me. For the past couple of days we’d been part of this beautiful scene, experiencing the lives of the nomads who were now just black dots moving around in the distance; they had welcomed us into their homes, given us horses to ride and shared their meals with us. As if this wasn’t exceptional enough already, I couldn’t help but think about all the places that we’d seen on the way, on our drive from Australia to Kyrgyzstan.
Very few people in the world have the opportunity to abandon “real life” for a year and drive across the world. In some cases it might be because of disadvantage or culture, for others it could be a result of career priorities or family circumstances, and sometimes it will just be out of sheer laziness, but together with three good friends I had worked hard to make this opportunity for myself and had grasped it with both hands.
Over the past 149 days my travel companions and I had made our way through some of the most remote and untouched areas of Eastern and Central Asia, and not even half way through our journey I considered where we were, how we had gotten there, and all the places and people in between. As I stood there at Song Kol it felt as if I wasn’t just looking over a lake and the surrounding mountains, but as if I was looking out over the whole world.
Bouncing and jerking our way back across the dried river beds and sharp ditches we drove towards the group of white flecks on the horizon that our yurt was part of, watching with fascination as the tiny white specks became yurts and the black spots became horses and people. Peculiar circles of dead grass punctuated the landscape where yurts had once stood and we even had the pleasure of witnessing the relocation of one. The frame was literally picked up by a group of people and carried to its new location, the felt covering carefully removed and lugged across separately, piece by piece.
Inside the yurt that was our temporary home, I lay back on a pile of patterned rugs and sleeping mats and from the sunlight streaming in through the uncovered circle at the pinnacle of the felt construction, I took mental photographs of this exquisite and unique scenario.
The wooden frame, often painted but in this case left its natural colour, was held together by a variety of brightly coloured ropes and straps, over which sections of handmade felt were layered, secured to the frame by braids. Beautiful velvet quilts and striking tapestries covered the inside walls, the bedding that I was lying on and the small poo fire stove (essentially the same as a wood stove, except the fuel of choice was cow poo) the only pieces of furniture.
Peering up into the circle of sunlight directly above me I could just make out the pattern that all yurts have in common, the feature so distinguishing to Kyrgyzstan as a country that it is the emblem on their national flag. At the point at the very top of every yurt, where all the sides of the wooden frame meet, is a circle with three crosses through the centre.
We were so privileged to have had such an insight into the lifestyle of one of the few remaining nomadic communities in the world, and if the freedom and sense of independence that comes with travel didn’t hit us there, I can’t imagine a place where it would.
About the Author: Eilidh Robertson: Originally from Scotland I now live in Australia, and amidst a variety of jobs my adult life thus far has revolved around travelling. I’m doing my best to experience the untouched corners of the world as much as possible and my most recent trip was an overland roadtrip by car from Australia to Scotland. Find me on Facebook or check out my blog.