Touring Karakol, Kyrgystan: The Animal Bazaar, Bride-Napping and the Falconer

This morning was a hoot. I was almost bride-napped and, having been saved that fate, nearly become a falconer.

We started out going to the Sunday animal bazaar where the Nomads come to trade their animals. Stepping through mud, often over the soles of my white sneakers, made mushy by the melting snow from the previous day, we wended our way through people pulling on the ropes of the goats they had just purchased, riding the horses they were showing off for sale for either meat or riding, and the cattle. There had to be over a thousand people milling around there, all intent on trading. I was busily trying to photograph it all when a man came up to me. I figured he wanted me to take his picture as so many of the people I've met at bazaars have wanted, so I turned the camera on him. But that didn't seem to satisfy him so I showed him the picture. Still he wasn't satisfied. He kept pointing to himself and then to me. Oh no. I didn't want to become his "third' wife. (Men can have one legal wife and three secondary wives.)  "Nyet." and off I went.

Time to leave and return to the bus. That meant going back the way we had come, through the mud, trying desperately to skirt the dung, dropped in haphazard piles by the myriad of animals standing around. We spotted a concrete fence behind us with a field beyond it and then a road that we thought would lead us back to our bus. With a bit of a push on one side from Olga and a pull on the other from Sarah, I pulled myself over it. Warren followed and off we went across the field. Eventually we gave up finding the bus and took a taxi a short distance to the bus where we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to clean the mud off our shoes.

More about bride-napping and the falconer later. Lunch is being served now at the Kyrgyz guest house where we are staying.

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Lunch consisted of cabbage (lovely purple cabbage, orange carrots, and green cabbage) salad, homemade brown bread, borscht beef (vegetable soup with a tomato base), beef pilaf (the kind that is mixed),   small pastries covered with confectioner sugar to which we added one of the jams--berry, cherry or apricot,  chocolate marble cake, and black or green tea. This is fairly representative of the lovely meals we have been having. The dishes are not spicy but usually sweet.

I am sitting at the dining room table where we ate, looking out the long window staring into the distance at the snow covered mountains and ready to tell the story of the falconer.

This area is famous for its golden eagles, called golden for the ring of gold feathers around their necks. They are hunters and there are contests for the best hunter. Tamara, our bird, had just become a champion for the second time in a row. The birds are judged by which bird catches the largest animal. Some have been able to capture an animal as large as a wolf. Tamara has a wingspread of about 6 feet and weighs about 13 pounds.

The falconer showed off his bird which sat on his glove, talking to her and even occasionaly kissing her. Then, unexpectedly he motioned for me to come up  and slip my hand into his glove. The bird was quite heavy as she sat on my arm.  And apparently I wasn't very comfortable for her either. She suddenly fluttered her wings, scaring the heck out of me; I expected the wings to be brittle and heavy and I was afraid they would beat me up. Instead, they felt like silk and simply brushed against my face. She settled for a moment more and then fluffed her wings again and took off, going back to her master. It was delightful.

The falconer then set out to demonstrate howTamara can hunt. He took her up into the nearby hill where two boys held on to her, her cap over her eyes, until the falconer signaled to take off the cap and let her hunt the dead fox that he had set up below.  He signaled. The boys removed the cap. Tamara stayed put. She was not going anywhere. The falconer wiggled the fox. Tamara fluffed her wings, rose and  flew to a hill close by.  The falconer ran over to the hill. We watched from a distance on the flat prairie-like area as he appeared to discuss the situation with the bird. He came down to us and called the bird but to no avail. Once again he climbed the hill  to talk to her and then returned to call her. She remained stationary for a minute, then fluffed her wings and took flight. We were ready to cheer but she veered off and circled back to the other mountain. This game went on for about fifteen minutes. It reminded me of the game Nuala, my dog, plays. She picks up her dish, waits for me to move toward it and then runs off so I will chase her around the table. Eventually we signalled the falconer to come down. It was apparent that Tamara was not going to perform for us today. She had performed yesterday well enough to become a champion. Obviously she felt she deserved a day off.

We left for the gorge and the seven red rocks. I'll tell you about it in another blog.

Filed under: Kyrgystan

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    Carolyn Boiarsky

    " I am an American," but not "Chicago born" like Augie March. Only Chicago aged. I'd like to think that if Henry Louis Gates were to investigate my geneology, he would discover in my past three women who traveled around the globe, chronicling their adventures. Sarah Kemble Knight traveled 112 miles by carriage from Boston to New York in 1704, a journey most women did not embark on alone (and men did so only with some trepidation). In fact, women were only just beginning to exercise their independence in the 1920's when Emily Kimbrough took off with her friend, Cornelia Otis Skinner, to explore Europe. But it is Auntie Mame, transforming herself from a New Yorker to the wife of an Austrian Baron and climbing the Matterhorn, whose mantra I have adopted. "LIFE IS A BANQUET...LIVE!" I began travelling in the 1960's when I traveled around western Europe between graduating from the Univiersity of Pennsylvania and my first job as a statehouse correspondent for UPI (United Press International) in Charleston, West Virginia, which was about as foreign a place as Europe was to someone who grew up in the environs of Philadelphia. Since then, I've also travelled to Kaunas, Lithuania, to teach at Vytautus Magnus University and to Sheffield, England, to present a paper at an engineering conference. I've been to the Alps and seen Auntie Mame's Matterhorn while climbing, by a series of cable cars rather than by foot, toward the peak of Mont Blanc. For the past 10 years my husband and I have been traveling to unique places: a sheep farm during lambing season in England's Lake Country, a hotel on one of the Barromeo Islands in the middle of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, and a cottage in Dun Quin on the Dingle Peninsula which the Irish claim is the last parish before Boston. Between excursions, I'm a professor in the Department of English at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana,. My husband passed away recently and, Auntie Mame-style, I am in the process of transforming myself. Last year I joined a tour to Central Asia. This year I'm going to China to work with the pandas. A new adventure. Another banquet.

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