Our first days in Kyrgyzstan: Culture shock and awe

Merry Christmas, everyone! We hope today brings you mountains of joy and good times with family. Over here on the other side of the world, Christmas isn’t so popular in a country that’s approximately 80% Muslim… but rest assured we’re counting our blessings this holiday season—we are so grateful to be able to experience Kyrgyzstan’s dynamic culture.

Before I start sharing our photos, I want to address a common question: Where is Kyrgyzstan? Allow me to enlighten. It’s a country in central Asia bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,Tajikistan and China. If you’re one of the many that thought Kazakhstan was a made-up place for the movie, Borat, you will be surprised to know it exists, and it’s actually a very large country… right above Kyrgyzstan. The main influences in Kyrgyzstan are the Kazaks and the Russians on the northern side around Bishkek and Karakol (where we are currently), and the Uzbeks in the southern region around Osh (where we’re headed on the 31st).

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Now that we’ve got our geography lesson down for the day, here are a few photos we’re ready to share…

Me, in Bishkek’s city square, happy to be off airplanes and out of airports.

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These huge trees line most of the main roads in Kyrgyzstan. We don’t know exactly why the bottom of the trunks are white, but it makes for good reflectors when you’re driving at night.

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The Kyrgyz flag, painted on the side of a hill. The symbol on their flag is called a түндүк, or tündük, which is the name for the crown of a yurt—the country’s traditional architectural structure. The forty rays shooting out from the sun represent the 40 tribes of Kyrgyzstan that united against the Mongols in the ancient epic, “Manas.” (It’s longer than Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey!)IMG_5246

Breathtaking mountains in every direction…

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In the fishing villages of the Issyk Kul region of Kyrgyzstan, locals sell their wares (typically fish, honey and jams) on the side of the road.IMG_5280

In traditional Kyrgyz culture, the donkey is viewed as a “free animal,” meaning that when people need it, they can use it and when they’re finished, they turn the donkey out to the streets. This boy is using the donkey to pull his cart through the streets of one of the northeastern villages.
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The Russian influence from years past is abundant in the larger cities and villages. Even this car pays homage to old military vehicles.IMG_5376

These red rocks—called Jety-Orguz, or Seven Bulls—are found in a canyon just outside Karakol… similar to what we see in Zion, the abundance of iron in the rock gives them their red-orange color. When we saw them, the sun was just rising over the mountains, and they seemed to glow! You may count seven, or eight or more “bulls” shown here, but seven is a holy number in this region, thus it was named Seven Bulls.
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It’s a common game to ask people How Many Bulls Can You See? when they visit the Seven Bulls… as shown here, grafitied on the side of a deserted building nearby.

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Deserted Russian buildings and businesses still haunt even the deepest canyons of Kyrgyzstan.

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