One of the advantages of having to travel for work is that, often unexpectedly, you find out hidden places and cultural traditions you were absolutely unaware of. So, when someone reluctantly asks you, "And what are you going to do there?", I immediately begin to imagine how many surprising things could happen.
Central Asia is, as its name suggests, a region located in the heart of the Asian continent, made up of five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, although sometimes there are those who add a region of Mongolia, a Chinese province and Afghanistan.
Although we may think being part of the same region gives these countries common characteristics, we would be surprised at how different they can be. Despite the fact all of them became Soviet socialist republics within the former USSR, their characteristics are very diverse. First of all, they all speak different languages, corresponding to different language families. Kazakh is spoken in Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, which are very different, but close to Russian. They are Slavic languages, therefore. In contrast, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan speak Uzbek and Turkmen, both languages from a Turkish origin. In Tajikistan they speak Tajik, which comes from Persian, like Iranian.
However one of the things that all these countries have in common is that they were nomads, and in fact, in many areas they still are. A large part of the members of these societies are engaged in cattle ranching -cattle and sheep- and, remarkably, in the breeding of horses, of which they are outstanding riders. Historically they have practiced transhumance, since they had to move with the cattle to find new pastures, especially in the cold seasons, which in Central Asia can be very hard.
At one of the project meetings I was participating in, I had the opportunity to go to Kyrgyzstan. The meeting was in the capital, Bishkek. This is a small country, located between valleys and, therefore, very hilly. During the weekend I took the advantage for going to one of the most recommended places: Issyk-Kul (The warm lake). Surrounded by mountains with perpetual snow, the lake never freezes, hence its name. There I found out one of these surprises that I was talking about at the very beginning. In addition to the beauty of the environment, highly recommended, in that place, near the town of Cholpon-Ata the " World Nomad Games" were being held.
Just as when the world celebrates the Olympic Games, a meeting place mediated by sport, in Central Asia the nomadic peoples meet to practice and compete in those sports practices that are their own: balancing and fighting on horseback, human towers, archery, falconry, wrestling (alysh and kourash), among others more specific and typical of those lands, such as shagai, mancala and kok-boru or buzkashi.
The feeling is you are in the middle of a great international event... centuries ago. Technology is simply non-existent. Everything works exactly as one imagines it should have worked hundreds of years ago. But, at the same time, everything also corresponds exactly to an event of today: markets where the merchandising of the area is sold, provisional facilities for the venue (the typical nomadic yurts, here called "boz üi") where athletes and sportsmen and sportswomen change and rest, as if it were an Olympic village, and spaces for eating and drinking, all organized in exquisite chaos.
Central Asian countries have also awakened to the call for the modernization of higher education and are looking for the best way to adapt their culture and customs in the knowledge society. It will be important to keep an eye on its evolution in the coming years, given that its potential for improvement and its capabilities are very high.