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Cultural Activities

Immerse yourself in Kyrgyz nomadic traditions and culture.

South Shore, a destination steeped in nomadic culture, is a destination where centuries-old Kyrgyz traditions are practiced proudly alongside modern life. South Shore is a destination that needs no artifice, as nomadic culture is a thread woven tightly into every aspect of life on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. The region’s unique history allowed strong traditions to remain an essence of the local people even during Soviet times. Travelers visiting today can experience these aspects of living nomadic culture through artistic, musical, and hunting traditions which have passed on for generations. And if you time your visit with one of South Shore's festivals you just might be able to experience it all in one day.

Only returned to the Kyrgyz people after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ancient hunting style of Salbuurun is as fascinating as it is unique. At the core, Salbuurun is a style of integrated traditional hunting involving a hunter, eagle, horse, and hound — all hunting together as one. The hunter rides astride the horse armed with a bow and arrow. His golden eagle or falcon rests on his arm and his dog, traditionally the ancient taigan breed (still bred pure in Kyrgyzstan) runs alongside the horse. No other traditional hunting style in the world combines these elements.

Once an integral part of the region’s nomadic culture, warriors head into the mountains and hunt together in groups. This hunting style trains mind, body, and spirit to unite as the hunter becomes instrumental in coordinating the three animals to hunt in tandem. It is this harmony that helped the nomads find food year round in the often inhospitable Central Asian terrain. Salbuurun is a beautiful style of hunting bringing man, animal, and nature together as one.

Experience it:

  • Offered as a round-trip day trip experience from Bokonbaevo, spend an hour immersed in the techniques and wonder of Salbuurun with experts from the Salbuurun Federation and an English language guide to help you understand and enjoy this ancient sport. Learn more about and book this tour.
  • Often showcased at festivals in the region, check our Festival Calendar to see if a festival featuring Salbuurun demonstrations coincides with your visit.
  • For an indie experience, you can independently visit the Salbuurun Federation headquarters to arrange a show or tour (no English-language staff or translations, however). Word has it there will be a museum and other information added in the coming years.
  • Note: Many guesthouses and yurt camps throughout South Shore offer golden eagle demonstrations and shows. While the golden eagle is an integral part of Salbuurun, it is not the complete representation of this nomadic tradition together with archery on horseback and taigan dogs.

Yurts are a place of heart and hearth for the Kyrgyz people, and they are tangible evidence of the country’s millennia of living and surviving nomadic culture. Still as useful now as they were in ancient times, traditional yurts provide nomads with a transportable dwelling that is cool in the summer months and cozy and warm during the harsh winters. Amazingly, traditional yurts are constructed without using a single nail; instead the circular frame is constructed in a lattice-worked pattern of flexible wooden strips. The doors traditionally always face east, to meet the rising sun, and the circular crown (called a tunduk) can remain open in good weather to bathe the interior in light. Beautifully colored and designed felt rugs, called shyrdaks, insulate yurts while creating a visually appealing atmosphere to live out daily life — nomads cook, eat, sleep, and host guests inside their yurts, holding themselves to high standards of Kyrgyz hospitality. Yurts have existed for thousands of years as the primary home of Central Asian nomads, and this tradition remains strong and true throughout the South Shore of Kyrgyzstan. One of the reasons for this is that the most famous village of yurt craftsmen in Kyrgyzstan is Kyzyl-Tuu on the western edge of the South Shore region. Many families living there come from multiple generations of yurt builders.

Experience it:

  • Stay in one of the dozen yurt camps in South Shore — some camps are right on the lakeshore, others up on the jailoo (high mountain summer pastures).
  • Take a yurt building workshop! These dwellings take less than an hour to construct, and our master-builders offer a fascinating yurt building workshop in Kyzyl-Tuu village. Book the tour now.
  • Buy a yurt! The best craftsmen in Kyrgyzstan live in the region and sell custom yurts in a variety of sizes, styles and price ranges. Contact Tolosun Bektemirov in Kyzyl-Tuu village (+996-700-411-011). Or contact Jyldyz Asanakunova at the Felt-Art studio in Bokonbaevo and Almaluu Yurt Camp (+996-777-347-419).

Every strand of wool in a traditional Kyrgyz shyrdak is imbued with meaning. The designs and patterns convey stories and legends that bear testament to the country’s long nomadic history. Unlike the knotted or woven wool rugs found elsewhere in the world, the art of hand-stitched felt rugs has been passed down for generations. Shyrdaks can be impressive in color, design and size -- running as large as 15 to 18 square meters, contain a dizzying array of colors, and designs often symbolically representative of elements of nature and family life. This centuries-old tradition is inextricably linked to nomadic life, and the gorgeous carpets and textiles have adorned yurts and homes across Kyrgyzstan for centuries. For many Kyrgyz people, a shyrdak remains a source of pride — they can last for more than 40 years and often contain vital pieces of familial and cultural history stitched into their very fiber. Another traditional Kyrgyz handicraft to look out for is the tush-kiyiz, large embroidered decorations that traditionally hung on the interior of the yurt (see top right photo). It is said that grandmothers often embroidered the dreams they had for their grandchildren into the designs.

Experience it:

  • Book a crafts workshop! Learn shyrdak and ala kiyiz techniques and history from Janyl, the founder of Altyn Oimok (Golden Thimble) NGO. You’ll even leave with your very own traditional, hand-made souvenir.
  • Shop for hand-crafted souvenirs. Visit Altyn Oimok (Golden Thimble) NGO, a shop at Karymshakova Street #69, Bokonbaevo (Contact details: altyn_oimok@list.ru, +996 778 846 731) offering high-quality felt handicrafts that employs women in the rural regions of South Shore. Or, visit Felt-Art Studio at T. Moldo Street #8 in Bokonbaevo (Contact details: felt_art@mail.ru, +996 778 333 631), also offering workshops and a range of traditional nomadic crafts. Both shops are open year-round, from 9AM.
  • There are other handicraft cooperatives or shops throughout South Shore offering workshops or an opportunity to buy handicrafts directly from craftswomen. These include: Association Delmige, Kalyk-Usta Handicraft Center, Kesken Bel Workshop, Jaamat Bai Tugol, and Yntymak Handicraft Association. You can find a full listing of all handicraft shops and workshops here. Many of these places do not speak any English, so ask Destination South Shore for their locations and for assistance in arranging your visit.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. You can’t miss spotting shyrdaks when you’re traveling throughout Kyrgyzstan — they are a vibrant part of modern Kyrgyz culture. Homes, restaurants, guesthouses and yurt camps use these on the floor as carpets, on the walls as decoration, and as design elements in almost any context imaginable.

The Kyrgyz are a patriotic people and the same love they pour into horse games and traditional handicrafts they also pour into their traditional folk music. A family or community gathering is never complete until elders sing songs and pluck the strings of their komuz, an ancient fretless, three-stringed instrument. Kyrgyz nomads have used the komuz since at least the 4th century, though traditions of folk music are surely as old as time. The komuz echoes the sounds of nature and adds an otherworldly element to songs of love and loss, of history and legends, of a people centuries parted from its ancient heritage, but somehow still intimately connected. The Kut family lives in South Shore and have played traditional folk music for audiences all over the world, offering travelers the chance to hear Kyrgyz songs and legends come to life through song.

Experience it:

  • Book a traditional folklore show for your group gathering and enjoy an hour of traditional music. This is an ideal activity for groups.  Musicians will travel to your yurt camp or accommodation site. Contact Destination South Shore to book a show or ask at your yurt camp or guesthouse if they offer folklore shows.
  • Often showcased at festivals in the region, komuz can also be seen at various cultural festivals in South Shore. Check our Festival Calendar to see if a festival featuring live folk music coincides with your visit.  

Kok Boru, one of the oldest games in Kyrgyzstan and perhaps the nation's most beloved sport, is unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed. Designed to prove Kyrgyz warriors are fearless, as well as strategic, the game is played on horseback as riders compete in a polo-like match involving a goat carcass. History has it that the game developed during ancient times when herds of cattle grazed year round in the steppes and mountains. Nomads needed to protect their herds from wolf attacks, and without any firearms, they would chase the wolves, beating them with sticks and lashes. Each fierce warrior battled to deliver the final blow to the wolf, thus protecting their herds. Thus was born the sport of Kok Boru, meaning Grey Wolf. Today, a goat replaces the wolf carcass and the winner of the game receives the goat as a prize. Popular across Central Asia, Kok Boru is recognized as part of UNESCO's List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  It is played competitively in the biennial World Nomad Games (next one in September 2018).

Experience it:

  • Book an afternoon of Kok Boru ($400 USD) and we’ll host you in a pasture near Bokonbaevo. This activity is perfect for large groups and tour groups, although it is available to anyone with an interest! Contact Destination South Shore to book it. Jaichy yurt camp and several other yurt camps across the South Shore can also organized games upon request. 
  • Catch a game of kok boru, as well as other traditional nomadic horse games, at one of the many festivals that take place in the South Shore each summer.
  • Witness the sport with all of the adrenaline and the cheering crowds at the World Nomad Games, hosted every other year (September 2018, 2020, 2022, etc.) in Cholpon-Ata Kyrgyzstan.

Ancient art of Kyrgyz nomadic leather

Learn the ancient art of leather tanning and horn crafting from the grandmaster of leather craftmanship in the South Shore region. Craft your own implements and souvenirs using real leather and horn harvested from the Kyrgyz mountains. Visit a leather-making yurt to taste fresh horse milk (kumis) fermented in a special leather vessel (saba) and try out traditional bows and arrows fashioned from ibex horn (summer season only).

Experience it:

  • Book a 2 hours tour for 700 KGS/person. This activity is perfect for a group of 5 persons. Contact Destination South Shore to book it.
  • Enjoy the rare opportunity to learn the ancient craft from one of the last leather-craft grandmasters in Kyrgyzstan.
  • You can make your own souvenir with the help of an english speaking guide.