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October 16, 2002

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What do you think of when you imagine Kyrgyzstan? (This assumes you think of Kyrgyzstan at all). We never thought we'd find a beach in this landlocked country or relics of old Soviet vacation hotels. Cholpan Ata holds a large resort area where visitors can experience life as a feted Soviet official. Near these islands of Soviet colonialism, we saw petroglyphs left on rocks by pagan nomads over 3000 years ago. Rainy weather polished the stones. Then we drove back to Bishkek and ate a farewell dinner with our host who admitted to being a former communist. Today she's doing a good job as a capitalist. Kyrgyzstan is the nearest thing to Mongolia - the economy isn't horse-based like Mongolia, but a horse grazes in every yard of a villager. Our guide says the villagers are much richer under the new free market economy because they are allowed to keep the surpluses of livestock and food. The older generation suffers the most from the change to a free market economy; instead of a pension they're left to beg in the streets and dream of days when Soviet subsidies would have made their retirement a comfortable one.
A beach in Kyrgyzstan? Chopan Ata, farther from the ocean than any other beach.
Scythian rock inscriptions, dating from 500 BC. The Scythians were the only people to successfully resist Alexander the Great.
Graveyards in Kyrgyzstan show influences from Islam (raised and fenced-in burials, moon and crescent), Russian (pictures of the deceased), and pagan (shamanistic symbols).
The Russians brought infrastructure to Kyrgyzstan's mountains, that's why many Kyrgyz fondly remember the Soviet times.