Day 12: We travelled in Jenia’s van to the Kokorya district. This is the desert-steppe landscape of Central Asia, it is very similar to Gobi desert. Pallas' cat and argali sheep inhabit these areas today, and in the past dzeren and dhole (Chyon alpinus) lived here. However, it is very difficult to see wild animals except for pikas.
The landscape is dry and has been grazed for hundreds of years by sheep and goats. The affect on the vegetation has been to reduce it to almost nothing. There are no bushes or trees. Consequently, there is no firewood, so the inhabitants collect the cowpats from their animals and dry them in the sun for fuel. There is so little precipitation here that the buildings frequently lack a pitched roof, sometimes sporting only the outline of a roof as a means of supporting the TV aerial. The rain falls on the mountains and there is plenty available below the ground. So much in fact, that Zana-Aoul is a new village, built about 5 years ago with the help of Kazakhs that migrated to Mongolia, to replace a village that had problems with the water table making the ground unstable.
Typically, the villagers only use their villages during the winter when it can be 60 degrees below freezing. The animals live out all year, huddling together on the ground for warmth overnight. There is very little wind and no precipitation, so the temperatures are not a problem. During the summer, the villagers are out and about, farming, mining and herding the animals.
Zana-Ahoul showing mosque and village on 05/09/04
From the ethnographic aspect, this area is a symbolic frontier between the Altaian and Kazakh settlements. From the Kazakh village of Kosh-Agach we drove about 35km to the east along the Chuisky Highway to a village called Zana-Aoul where we saw the carefully preserved Kazakh traditions, learnt about the traditional nomadic life of the Kazakhs, visited a museum and a mosque.
The museum had been set up to preserve a record of the Kazakh way of life, most of the exhibits had been donated by the villagers.
The director of the museum arranged for a local lady to sing traditional Kazakh songs for us. She played a dhobra to accompany herself, which is a two stringed instrument a bit like a mandolin.
Before we left, we bought a small felt rug or mat made by the local people as a souvenir. We were also impressed by a type of picture art they did by wrapping coloured yarn around straw stalks and tying the stalks together to build up a picture.
It is still possible to see traditional Kazakh yurts with flat roofs.
Rebecca and Alison dressed up in traditional Kazakh costume.
In the evening, we returned to the hotel at Kosh-Agach. Before leaving the following day, we visited a shop and bought some bottled water and fruit juices as we were finding the desert conditions very dehydrating. We also visited the local market that had a Mongolian section which was a rabbit warren of tightly congested rooms with people swarming everywhere amongst the stalls, most of which seemed to be selling the same thing, clothes.
Alison and Rebecca in
traditional Kazakh costume