Traveller's Tale

In freezing Kyrgyzstan, Barbara Bryan has dinner in a yurt and is warmed by hearty soup, vodka and dancing.

As we head out on a very chilly Kyrgyz night, we learn that we are to dine in a yurt, not inside a cosy building, and immediately regret not dressing even warmer. Our small group is spending our first night in rural eastern Kyrgyzstan after travelling from Beijing and Kashgar, China, for days by numerous flights and then by bus to this village of Kochkorka.

Before entering the yurt we wash our hands at the outdoor portable wash basin that even has hot water from the tap (provided by a small tank above that was filled with freshly boiled water just before our arrival).

While settling into the cushions on the well-carpeted floor of the host's village yurt, the warmth of the hospitality is soon felt, as are the traditional felt rugs and the extra blankets handed around.

We wonder what more could be fitted on to these low tables generously laden with food but we soon welcome bowls of hearty hot soup and homemade local round, flat breads to help warm us more.

We are given a traditional Kyrgyz felt hat with a different style for men and women. The male version is tall with gold embroidery and velvet lining - quite majestic, as well as warming for the men's heads. The women's version is not so flattering, being much like a tight-fitting embroidered cap.

Next comes the offer of some vodka - not Russian but local ex-Soviet republic Kyrgyz vodka. Our guide tells us it is for medicinal purposes - and to warm the inner person.

After a large course of delicious central Asian-style pilaf (lamb pieces mixed with chickpeas, rice and vegetables), then seasonal fruits, nuts and sweets, I am ready to lay back and rest against the yurt walls with a full belly. How silly to think I will have some quiet time to reflect on the meal just consumed - I hear music nearby and in through the yurt door burst some Kyrgyz men playing piano accordion, violin and the central Asian lute.

They are accompanied by women and girls in traditional dress ready to dance in front of us in the limited central space of the yurt. So vibrant are the colourful dresses and movements that we are coaxed from our comfort zones to cavort while trying to avoid knocking over the tables.

This helps settle our full bellies as well as getting us close to these friendly folk. After a whirlwind of guests and locals we are able to sit down around the tables for another sip of that warming vodka. Now I know why it is so popular in these parts - much needed when approaching a long, cold central Asian winter.

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