The woman handed me a bowl of Kumis and I took it with a nervous smile. Bringing it to my lips, I almost gagged at the smell, but managed to somehow swallow a small sip, forcing down a grimace as the thick, sour, rancid mare’s milk sloshed down my throat. I nodded at the woman politely, smiling gratefully, and her face shone with pride at pleasing a foreigner. A faint breeze caressed my face, smelling of the wild flowers covering the tall, beautiful mountains of Kyrgyzstan that were all around me, witnessing my initiation into their cultureby tasting their beloved national drink.
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Spending a week living like a Kyrgyz nomad teaches me the beauty of a simple life still immersed in an old, ancient culture, shockingly not impacted by all of the technology and new developments arising in what always seemed like such a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Living in quirky felt huts, or yurts, by the side of the permanently freezing lake Son-Kul, using fire to heat myself and the fish that is caught-life here is the same as it has been for years. Learning the captivating folktales the Kyrgyz have ingrained in their culture that explain their various landmarks and eccentricities – such as a salty lake, a lone ancient tower, and various rock formations – stretches my imagination, making me feel like a child once again experiencing the magic of nature, not knowing the scientific answer to everything. Horseback riding through the mountains, following the herds of sheep and cows that help boost the Kyrgyz economy and visiting their cemetery, where each plot of land is decorated in such a personal manner – elaborate paintings of the deceased and beautiful scenery, majestic shrines with beautifully carved stonework, depicts just how much they appreciate their ancient culture and makes me want to become more in tune with my ethnicity.
Then on the road again – leaving the community of yurts far behind me as I wind through the mountains, passing sparkling streams and waterfalls, occasionally grinding to a sudden halt to let a herd of fuzzy, black yaks pass. Each mountain is so unique. Some so tall that snow glistens at the top, despite it being the middle of the summer, while some are short and blanketed by beautiful bright green trees and vegetation. Some are made of brown stone and riddled with caves, some wide and thin, creating narrow canyons. Surrounded by these mountains, you can’t help but feel miniscule compared to the huge expanse of the planet. You can’t help but realize that compared to everything in this world, you’re kind of small and inconsequential. Compared to these mountains that have lasted and will continue to last for years, you are ephemeral and forgettable. While at first this came to me in a bout of dejection, in time this knowledge came to give me strength. It means I should make each little moment count, find beauty and valuein every person and experience I come across. These are clichés that are easily tossed around – the commonly stated “you only live once” – however I never truly understood them, and their importance, until that moment, driving through the Kyrgyz mountains, away from any technology, away from most of humanity, and seeing the small amounts of people happy and thriving among the beautiful, natural wild flowers and tall, magnificent mountains. Life and nature, in its simplest, rawest form, is truly wondrous.
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