Thursday, 23 September 2010

Crows and Dombras

Thursday 9th September

I have been riding steadily westwards along the foot of the Zailisky mountains through some unspoilt and quiet countryside, passing the occasional small village. But little hilltop citadels, such as shown in the photo below, invariably turn out to be one of the Moslem graveyards which are scattered throughout the area.

Sometimes we pass herds of sheep, cattle or horses, with or without attendant herdsmen..

sometimes we are approached by a curious riders - here a Kazakh on his chestnut stallion....

Compared with China, Kazakhstan teems with birdlife, but curiously this includes enormous flocks of crows, rather ominously reminiscent of Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. I did not linger through this field, which must have contained several hundreds.

One village we visited en route was Zhambyl, named after the renowned pro-Soviet Kazakh poet/musician Zhambyl Zhabaev, who was apparently able to perform the entire Kyrgyz epic 'Manas' by heart, among other talents. The Soviet authorities gifted him a house here, and the building with its rooms as he lived in them is now open to the public. There is also a surprisingly substantial museum attached, as well as a mausoleum in the grounds.

The museum includes this diorama of a white bearded Zhambyl sporting his ever present fur hat. All the labelling is in Kazakh, so I have no idea who the shifty looking character in the white bedsheet is, but his dombra playing is apparently not up to much, judging by the way Zhambyl is clutching his stomach. In case you have not boned up on Central Asian musical instruments, a dombra is a Kazakh two-stringed guitar, particularly important for accompanying aitys, or Kazakh traditional improvised verse performance.

Kazakhstan is not short of ancient car wrecks, but this Mad Max livestock pen is a novel use for them.

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