Monday, August 21, 2006

A yurt hotel

August 2, 2006

Last night I had an entire yurt to myself. The owners brought stacked up several mats, put a sheet on top, and gave me a blanket covered in a sheet. The upper circle of the yurt, where a stovepipe would usually go, remained half open. So every time I woke up I looked out at the black night sky and breathed in the cool, fresh mountain air.

I’m now typing on my laptop in the yurt, still scrunched under my blanket in the chilly morning air. When my eyes look up, they follow the circular red spokes that hold up the roof, I look at the beautiful red wallhangings, that line the interior, at the red felt mats that cover the floor and release a scent of sheep, at the small red double doors, through which I entered, up at the high branches of popular trees, swaying in the light blue sky. I hear the swish of passing cars (which seems strange in a yurt), and hear cow noises.

This is a tourist complex that opened two years ago, 20 kilometers outside of Talas. Talas is the capital city of the Talas region, the area in the far northwest of Kyrgyzstan. This is my first visit here.

The large and beautiful property is filled with water and vegetation. A stone path leads through a flower garden, with strawberry fields on either side, to my yurt. A bamboo bridge covers a small stream, and near my yurt are three small fountains, providing me with the constant music of running water. Futher on, I can follow the stones to a swing overlooking the gardens, to two traditional Kyrgyz toys – one resembling a seesaw, another a long, flat wooden swing, that two people stand on and row like a boat. There are places to sit in the shade of tall trees. At the top of the hill, the property moves into full-fledged fields, where they grow animal feed.

The friendly family lives in a house on the property. Yesterday I returned to my yurt and passed an elderly Kyrgyz man in the garden, picking fresh strawberries. He wore a kalak and suit jacket, had a long white beard and carried a cane. He told me that he’s lived here since he was a small boy.

It’s a relatively remote region. One paved road leads here, but it involves going through Kazakhstan, which requires a Kazakh visa. The second option follows the same hairpin turns and 3,586 meter ascent as on the way to Osh. Then it turns off and crosses another mountain pass, but this time on a dirt road. The landscape is one of low green mountains, scattered with boulders, white snow stripes covering nearby peaks. Yurts dot the area, the owners making homesteads, with a yurt, a tent, a corral for the horses, and endless green snacks for the herds of cows, goats and sheep.

Talas is a primarily agricultural area and is primarily known for its beans. Bean signs began to appear as soon as we arrived in town. From what I hear, the majority of beans produced are sold overseas, leaving little for the local population to eat. Buyers come from as far away as Bulgaria to buy Talas beans.

The locals don’t seem to be much of bean-eaters, so they don’t mind that their product is sold where it can fetch the highest price. When I tried to order beans at a cafĂ© last night, I was told they didn’t have any. Instead we had roasted chicken, tomato and cucumber salad, sliced cucumber, crab stick and corn salad, and the everpresent olive, a Russian salad of potatoes, sausage, egg, and pickle.

It’s a long haul from here to town, and I’m planning to try it today on my bike. But since it’s not so convenient to trek back and forth, I’ll probably end up moving to someplace closer tomorrow. Until then, I’ll enjoy the wide, round red space of my own, private yurt.

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