Spring officially begins this week, and thus kicks off not only a season of increased tourism, but also Festival Season!
Nowruz festivals will occur throughout the country over the weekend to celebrate the Central Asian “new year” holiday. We will cover more about that tradition in the upcoming articles!
There are a few larger festivals that encompass a wide array of Kyrgyz traditions and grow a larger audience each year. Other festivals are smaller, targeting individual aspects of the culture and serve as a gathering point for a region or community around an activity in which they particularly take pride. Yurt construction, kymyz making, patchwork styles of sewing (kurak), and shyrdak demonstrations are a few examples of these smaller, more locally-ingrained festivals.
Most of the festivals in Kyrgyzstan take place in villages around Lake Issyk-Kul or in the high mountain region of Naryn. Jalalabad also hosts a its fair share of festivals, including the Walnut Marathon in Arslanbab, in October.
The last weekend in June is peak moment for the town of Bokonbaevo, right on the south shore of Issyk-Kul. A new music festival - Kol Fest - takes place nearby, right on the edge of the lake, from Friday through Sunday. At the same time, shyrdak masters are offering demonstrations and discounts during the annual Shyrdak Festival in Bokonbaevo.
Two weeks later, in mid-July, the South Shore Festival occurs in the same region, this time highlighting a wide array of Kyrgyz customs, including eagle hunting, yurt construction, and archery. This festival has grown in community collaboration over the past few years, and continuously improves in its accessibility to international visitors.
At the end of July, there are festivals revolving around traditional horse games at Son Kul and Suusamyr. Pride, wealth, and social status are all at stake in the games, making the competition fierce, but also entertaining and jovial.
In August, the Birds of Prey Festival takes place near Bokonbaevo, offering one day of a community-organized event that brings hunting birds and hunters from all corners of the country.
Also, for those enjoying the city-life, August brings the “Oimo” Festival to Bishkek. Artisans of all types bring the handicrafts to Bishkek for two weekends of craft fairs, workshops, and classes integrating traditional crafting with modern designs.
From March through October, the festivals are always a welcome break from ordinary days, and give reason to break out the costumes, instruments, and cherished cultural customs. Smiles abound and guests are welcomed with genuine gratitude for their interest in the history, art, and tradition of Kyrgyzstan.
Competitors from Turkey, Korea, Japan, and all-across Central Asia take part in the archery challenges. Among the rules, all bows must be traditional and made from natural elements.
A lesser known but captivating event is the competition of hunting dogs. Primarily, the dogs are judged on their agility, and the speed with which they cover a distance of 350m while chasing the dummy of a hare or fox.
Central to the nomad tradition is the dependence on horses for much of their livelihood. Horses are therefore a focal point during the games, with multiple racing events, performances, and polo-like games attracting large crowds.
A modern music fest, on the shores of Lake Issykul. Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and German artists performed over the 3-day festival, with workshops, games, and swimming filling the daytime. Food vendors served up drinks and Kyrgyz dishes, while many participants stayed in nearby yurt camps or stayed with host families in guesthouses organized by CBT. The first of its kind, Kol Fest will return in summer 2020, again championing EcoTourism while offering a fun option for spending a few days by the lake!
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