We are supposed to be meeting Fatima as she is spending her birthday at Lake Song Kol, but we have no clue how to find her so the Horseman pauses at each yurt cluster to ask. Finally as if by magic, it’s not Fatima we find but a yurt bearing a huge sign with her name on it.
We start to panic when there’s no sign of her at 9pm because she is our ride out of here. But then at 9.30pm we spot a mini van getting stuck in a ditch and a horde of people of all ages flowing out of it. A pack of children runs towards us screaming and immediately gang up on Phil with kicks, punches and bites. A generator roars into life and topped off with the animals chorusing around us, the place literally resembles a circus.
A giddy Fatima greets us to say they are laying out food and that she will come and get us when it’s ready. An hour later we are summoned to her yurt for a feast of fruit, salad, plov (rice and meat) and vodka plus an endless array of photos with us as the star attractions.
But crazier things are happening outside. A sheep is being slaughtered and butchered for further feasting. The men of course are naturally proud of their efforts and don’t hesitate to pose for photos with their kill. The best bits are to be barbecued for shazhlyk that night. We way up the pros and cons of waiting up for the shazhlyk but given its already midnight we make the sneaky getaway to our own yurt.
The next day we are invited to join Fatima’s birthday lunch featuring the rest of last night’s sheep. When we wander into her bustling yurt, said sheep is bubbling away in a huge pot. Lord knows how all of Fatima’s gang slept in this yurt as there are at least 20 of them, and we are pretty cosy in our yurt with just the four of us. It transpires they didn’t and they were up all night playing cards.
The various parts of sheep are extracted from the pot and noodles go into the meaty broth, and eventually they are served with a hunk of meat and a great big slice of fat that quivers menacingly on the plate. I can’t say it’s an attractive dish, but it’s hearty and tasty (except for that slice of which I hide under my meat bone).
Then its time for the best bits. The sheep’s entire innards are laid out on a platter, including its intestines which have been stuffed with carrot. Everyone digs in eagerly and we can hardly refuse so I do some more artful hiding.
We say a prayer of thanks and Fatima announces it’s time for another Kyrgyz tradition, singing a song to wish her happy birthday (that isn’t ‘Happy Birthday’, she adds firmly). The Kyrgyz gang goes first, led by one of Fatima’s husbands friends who surprisingly breaks into a tuneful tenor as if he is some kind of secret Kyrgyz Gary Barlow.
It’s a hard act to follow and we deliberate on what we should contribute. The Beatles? Taylor Swift? We can’t find a song everyone knows the words to so we settle for ‘God Save the Queen’, bigging up the fact it’s the British national anthem. Fatima looks on excitedly while we deliver what is possibly the worst rendition of the song and we get a dutiful round of applause at the end.
Back to Koch Kor and we take the scenic route back which involves more singing plus a four hour detour down a perilously winding gravel road that at times seems like it will defeat our clunky mini van that has children sleeping in the aisle, all to see a waterfall. You can’t say that country life in Kyrgyzstan is uneventful.
Wearily, it’s back to Fatima’s guest house at the end of it all, to prepare for our next trip, to Tash Rabat.