The Road to the Festival
Whilst in Osh we had a look around the busy market town as we slowly nursed Jenny back to health, and whilst doing this we stumbled across the CBT (Community Based Tourism) office and decided to ask about the rumored horse festival. The CBT initiative in Kyrgyzstan is aimed at helping funnel the tourist dollar into the communities that need the investment, as well as providing interesting and unusual holiday activities Because Kyrgyzstan is so dominated by a horse culture, a lot of the initiatives are horse based, but also often includes staying in a yurt.
Upon entering the CBT office we introduced ourselves to Talant, the local CBT officer, and we knew straight away that we would be well looked after. If ever you need any information regarding tourism and Osh/Kyrgyzstan then Talant is your man, and will more than likely sort out whatever you need - he comes now fully endorsed with the Jolly Follies seal of approval!
So after chatting for 5 minutes with Talant, we had secured ourselves an escort down to the festival - we could follow the minibuses that Talant was organising for other tourists. This was a big plus for us, because although we knew the local town that the festival was near, it was a 30 km off road journey to Peak Lenin base camp, and we had no idea how to pick this track up.
Jenny was by now feeling well enough to make the journey, and with our escorts secured we were ready to hit the road to the now infamous horse festival. We knew that on tarmac we would not be able to keep up with the petrol minibuses, but felt that once we hit the corrugations and off road proper we would be able to catch up enough to know where to go. After about 20 minutes of the journey, and with the minibuses having disappeared into the distance, we sighted a cyclist by the roadside, and two bikes. Woohoo! It was our good friends Alex and Natalie, the American cyclists we had met on the ferry from Baku to Actau, and then in Tashkent whilst trying to get our Chinese visa.
They were heading to the festival, but had also had some problems with illness and were behind schedule, they would probably not make it for the closing ceremony, let alone the main event. There was only one thing we could do - fit them in the back, just as we had done in Actau. Although, in Actau the journey was only for 30 minutes, and was on tarmac. This time they would be squeezed in the back of Dino for nearly 6 hours, and mostly offroad. Damn they didn't complain once, even after the 50th apology for hitting a bump too fast - those guys are tough.
With the Americans tucked in the back with their luggage, and their bikes on the roof of Dino, we found ourselves even more behind the minibuses, and with the human cargo in the back we couldn't really step on it to catch up. Luckily the road soon disintegrated into a series of potholes, and it is in these conditions that Dino is at his best. By the time we hit the last town we had caught both minibuses and were ready for the proper off road section. Here we had 30 kms of fantastic mountain track, where we could really put Dino through his paces. Unfortunately Ollie was at the wheel, and just as we were going through one of the last big puddles Jenny screamed out 'ROOOCKK!', but just too late. When we came to a stop we could see that although we had had great fun splashing through the water, we had also put a small hole into the corner of our water tank. Not the worst damage we could face, but still something that would need fixing at a later date.
We were some of the first tourists to arrive at the festival and soon had sorted ourselves out a Yurt for our stay. Because Natalie and Alex were on a tight budget we sub-let our roof tent to them (the price being future dinners at their not yet found or opened cafe in South East Asia) and we were all now nicely settled for the weekend.
As well as Russ and Herbie in our Yurt we also had Joe, the Canadian, Eva the Russian photographer, and Nathan the English biker. We had agreed a price of a little of $10 a person per night, which also included 3 meals a day and endless cups of tea. What a bargain!
The Horse Festival
After spending a pleasant evening drinking vodka and playing cards we all had a great night's sleep, and were ready for the day's festivities. Not only were we celebrating the horse festival, but it was also Swiss National Day! Herbie, our crazy Swiss biker friend was soon on the vodka again, but we all left him too it .... after all we weren't Swiss!
Walking around the base camp in the morning we soon realised that this was going to be a very big festival, as more and more cars arrived, having obviously made the same journey as us up the mountain. How most have them got there god only knows, but you have to take your hat off to the Kyrgyz driving and mechanical skills. All around us were young Kyrgyz guys on horseback, letting of steam whilst obviously letting the girls know who was the local hero. You could almost smell the testosterone amongst the more equine smells about. Not only were the Kyrgyz males out on show, but the woman also, often in their national dress, obviously waiting for the bride abductions to begin!
The festival was comprised of four main games, all of which are supposed to show off the main skills needed to live in the Kyrgyz countryside. The games are:
- Tiyin Engmei - in which coins are picked up from the ground at a gallop
- Oodarysh - Essentially horse back wrestling, in which two riders do their utmost to pull their opponent off the horse and onto the ground.
- Kyz-Kumay - Also known as "Kiss the Girl", and is something that has evolved from the traditional Kyrgyz wedding ritual of bride-chasing. The object of the game is for the groom to catch the bride. He is given a disadvantage of a slower horse, and the bride can also use her whip. But if the groom catches the bride, but knocks her off her horse she can use the whip on him!
- Ulak Tartysh - This is the ultimate horse contest, and is played with a goat carcass and resembles a cross between polo and rugby
Alongside the games there were a large number of stalls selling traditional clothes and foods (we even tried the fermented mares milks, kumiz - yumm!) and also some folk singing and dancing. No need to say we had a fantastic day watching all the crazy sights, and would put this down as one of the highlights of the trip so far. Below are some of the photos we took, but there are heaps more on the gallery page. We also have some pretty crazy video of the games which we are in the process of uploading.
Return to Osh
With the games completed it was time to return to Osh and get ourselves ready for the rest of Kyrgyzstan. Once again we took Natalie and Alex in the back, this time only down to the local town of Sary Tash, where Eva jumped in in their place, having finally given up on the crazy French, who seemed to be on a path of self destruction.
Having got to Osh, we all wanted to go out before we went on our various separate ways. On top of the people in our yurt we had also picked up a Hungarian backpacker Meshi, another Swiss, this time a girl and a Kiwi guy, Scott. Luckily for Ollie Scott was there ....
All this time we had been traveling with various people on and off, and it is fair to say that for a very small minority of them it was more by circumstances than choice. Most of the people we were out with we were glad to be with, apart from one - and it turns out we had good reason. Shortly before the evening would have reached its natural conclusion, the guy smashed Ollie over the head, from behind, repeatedly with a beer stein. Ollie wasn't even standing up and had no where he could escape to, and so had to just take the blows. Scott was luckily on hand to take a blow for Ollie (thank you Scott!!!) , and Russ finished the job off by knocking the guy out with one punch, but by this point Ollie was bleeding profusely, and desperately in need of some stitches.
What had been said between Ollie and this guy is not really for this blog, but our friends will know Ollie is not a violent guy, and that the violence in this attack was completely unprovoked. Our biggest sadness in this is that the beautiful Kyrgyz people had to see such stupidity carried out by the English, and for that we are truly sorry. At the same time, whilst in need of hospital attention, and looking like an extra from 'Saving Private Ryan' we were adopted by a fantastic Kyrgyz guy who did everything to make sure Ollie was OK, and then melted away into the background. Thank you whoever you were!
Ollie is fine now, and the wounds are almost completely healed, and we are ready for the next stage in our trip. Obviously something as stupid as this does make you think, and the rest of our trip is now in a sharp focus, and we are making sure we get the best out of our time on the road. Always a silver lining :)
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