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Jailoo | Kyrgyz Nomadic Tradition

If there is anything that could be considered distinctly Kyrgyz, it is the nomadic lifestyle.  The traditional nomad follows the seasons, answering the call of the mountains or the valleys as they care for their family’s livestock.  In April and May, driving through the Too Ashu pass will include numerous encounters with animal herds - horses, sheep, and cattle - making their way to the greener pastures of Suusamyr and other jailoo locations.

Each family claims an area and sets up their yurt, or bo zoi.  Some family members will spend the entire season in the mountains, sleeping in yurts and spending their days taking care of the animals and each other.  The animals often give birth in the spring and raise their young on the nutrients found in the new mountain grass.   Mare’s milk is also collected and used to  make a fermented milk drink called "kumuz", which is reportedly good for health and cherished by much of the Kyrgyz population.  While many foreign tongues have not quite acquired the taste for this yeasty, salty drink, it is a necessary flavor to a least try while visiting.     

Food, games, and tea flow freely, as friends and relatives travel between these jailoo camps to visit, relax, and enjoy this freedom in the mountains.  Bread and kumuz are the essential offerings of hospitality to guests, while relatives coming from the city might bring fruit, tea, and other staple supplies.  As grown ups catch up on the latest news, children run freely, keeping an eye on the animals and playing games.   A favorite game is chukko, played with the bones of sheep knuckles and requiring skills in strategy and speed.   

This is an ordinary part of Kyrgyz life, the going on jailoo.  As each winter draws to a close, family, friends and neighbors began thinking of the summer and making their plans for the season of the mountains.  Talking with students in the springtime, the usual question of “What will you do this summer?” is met with a starry-eyed look and beaming, “Jailoo”.  

Ruby Mitchell

Online Content Editor at White Leopard Travel Co.

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