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Diane next to a YurtAt last I’ve done it – my life’s ambition has been accomplished and now I can die happy – I have stayed the night in a proper felt yurt (and I wasn’t even at a Festival).

Unlike most dreams it was even better than I had imagined. I’ve had this romantic yearning to stay up in the “summer pastures” since the times Jim and I used to go to Turkey when the kids were small and we got to know some semi nomadic people in the Toros Mountains. They were always urging us to come to the “yayla” where they decamp to in the summer months. It always sounded very tempting – even if it really just meant getting in the back of their truck with them as they moved a few miles up the mountains to their Riversummer home. But we were never there at the right time of year.

Lonely Planet keeps going on about the delights of the Kyrgyz yurtstay but we are here right at the end of the season, it’s getting very cold at night in the mountains and many people are packing up and going back down to lower altitudes for the winter.

Anyway we’ve got to give it a go so we trek up from the Seven Bulls rocks early in the morning with an overnight bag, just in case. If we go early enough we have time to get back to town if there’s no sign of the yurts, and anyway the scenery is wonderful. As the track crosses the river for the fifth time the mountains open out into flat pasture land and we are in luck!

Three yurtsThere is one camp still operating and we negotiate ourselves a bed for the night – and discover that the good thing about being late in the season is that we can have a yurt all to ourselves.

It’s hard to work out who’s who at the camp because there are at least three different families milling about. A sheep is also being butchered. Luckily we have missed the grisliest parts but we’re in time to see the head being singed over a fire – chap with blackened sheep’s head on a stick – nice!

Two nomad women preparing sheep-based delicacies

Gulmira and Reyha, my new best friends. Reyha attractively posed holding on to the sheep’s windpipe.

And two grannies (I will be careful not to call them old ladies as they’re about the same age as me) are carefully pouring milk into the windpipe and lungs of said sheep for a special Kyrgyz delicacy which I am hoping I am not going to be offered.

We take ourselves off for a walk around the pastures and woods and when we get back some of the sheep has been cooked and large plates of potatoes and lamb’s liver, boiled meat, slabs of white fat and what I can only describe as “mutton water” are pressed on us. Kyrgyzstan is a wonderful country but if you are a vegetarian (or even if you don’t want meat for every meal) you have a lot of explaining to do.

Finally all the uncooked meat (including the head and those milk filled lungs) is put into plastic bags and the family start saying their goodbyes. So all 6 adults and 4 or 5 little ones (I didn’t count properly, they were a bit of blur) get in the one car and they’re off back to the capital, Bishkek tonight. We reckon they came out from the city for a weekend in the country and brought their own sheep to have a meat feast.

Yurt interiorAnyway we are now left with just two people -our lovely hosts Bakit and his wife who has such a long name we call her Mrs Bakit. They live up here from May to September and at the end of this week they will be packing everything up and going back to their village to do “potato business” over the winter.

They have 3 yurts, 20 sheep, 3 cows, 2 calves, a cat, a dog and 4 teenage children. We have a fantastic night – dinner in their cosy yurt with stove and then back to ours where we wear all our clothes including hats and get under two quilts and fleecy blankets with tigers on.*

Up there the stars are even bigger and brighter than on a Shropshire hillside and the sound of the river rushing down from the mountains is the only sound until morning.

Next morning after a breakfast of pancakes, clotted cream and thick white honey, we set off back down the track in the sunshine with enormous great smiles on our faces.

Stoking up the samovar

Stoking up the samovar. The Kyrgyz like their tea as much as we do.

Yurt with painted wooden door and a thick felt door cover

Painted wooden door and a thick felt door cover keep out the cold winds.

A summer pasture

A lovely summer pasture – a yayla in Turkish, or a jai-loo in Kyrgyz. It’s enough to make a nomad’s heart sing!

* Toilet Note

Long drop in little wooden shed on a hillock accessed over the stream. Torch definitely needed.

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