Centuries-old traditions in Central Asia are contrasted by some of the region’s most startling contemporary innovations. Learn all about them with our guide to 10 unmissable summer festivals in Central Asia.
Capital Day Celebration
The beginning of July marks the annual celebration of the inauguration of Kazakhstan’s new capital, Astana, with fireworks and a national holiday. Officially relocated from Almaty to the former city of Tselinograd in 1998, the city was renamed Astana, meaning ‘capital’ in the Kazakh language. The city in itself constitutes a spectacle, having grown rapidly to a population of more than 700,000. This effectively is triple in size. It also has growing architectural development with iconic buildings designed by world-famous architects like Norman Foster.
Festival of Khan-Atlas
The Khan Atlas Festival which takes place between June2 and 6 is a particularly vibrant event showcasing traditional Uzbek textiles in contemporary fashion designs. Uzbekistan’s traditional ikat textile is recognized worldwide. However, Khan Atlas breathes some originality into a tradition steeped in the silk mills of eastern Uzbekistan in the Ferghana valley. Taking place in Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent in the Tashkent House of Photography, the event will also be attended by French designers. They will arrange a seminar on the topic of Uzbek textiles in contemporary fashion design.
Festival of Nomadic Civilization
The Festival of Nomadic Civilization takes place in early June in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. It highlights the continuing importance of nomadic culture to the people of Kazakhstan. The festival’s location outside of the Khan Shatyr shopping mall is no coincidence, as Norman Foster’s yurt-like design of the center echoes the traditional dwellings of nomads on the steppe. The event’s headline act is a group of stuntmen directed by the Dikambayev brothers of Kyrgyzstan that will stage a theatrical performance. They will also put on traditional Kazakh horse competitions. Taking heritage to a new level of contemporary technology, the festival will also feature a holographic theater of traditional rituals and ceremonies. There is also an international variety of food stalls and specialty crafts.
Dushanbe Ethno-Jazz Festival
Kicking off the summer in Central Asia is the Dushanbe Ethno-Jazz Festival held in mid-May, bringing together a collection of Tajik, Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Uzbek jazz musicians, as well as a few Western performers. The festival constitutes a fusion of West and East, not only in the scope of performers but in the styles of music. Central Asian musicians blend traditional motifs with jazz. The festival features Tajik jazz groups both established and up-and-coming. There’s even a Tajikistan-based American consular officer with a passion for jazz.
Silk And Spices Festival
The Silk and Spices Festival, planned for June6 until 8, brings together traditional Uzbek craftsmen to showcase their work and provide demonstrations of their techniques. Evoking the heritage of the silk road and its diversity of fine craft items, the historic city of Bukhara itself is the venue for craftsmen ranging from ikat and carpet weavers, woodcarving to embossing, jewelry and gold-work as well as miniatures and ceramics. Alongside craft items, the Uzbek national dish of plov in all of its varieties will be available to sample. There is also performances by folk ensembles and demonstrations of national games like ram and cock fighting. These events will take place in some of Bukhara’s most iconic heritage sites, as traditional culture melds with the historic built environment.
Birds Of Prey Festival
Taking place on the southern shore of Kyrgyzstan’s vast Issyk Kul Lake at the Jaichy yurt camp, the Birds of Prey Festival will be held on August. Traditional cuisine and handicrafts – particularly the Kyrgyz women’s colorful felt designs – are enough of an attraction in themselves. However, the real event that takes place is a demonstration of traditional hunting techniques using trained eagles and taigans. In addition to the aviary spectacle, storytellers recite the ancient Kyrgyz epic of Manas. This is an oral recitation of Kyrgyz national history that surpasses the Illiad and the Odyssey in length.
Horse Games Festival
The Horse Games Festival takes place on two separate dates, on 19 July and 23 August in the village of Kyzyl Oi. The event features horse games, but the most famous of all is undoubtedly Kyz Kuumai, literally ‘chasing the girl.’ In this game, a man and a woman in traditional garb ride horseback, with the man chasing the woman in order to secure her status as his bride. Tyiyn Engmei is another game that takes place only among male participants with the goal of snatching golden coins off of the ground while galloping at full speed. Another game called Er-Enish features two men on horseback who try to wrestle each other off of the horse’s back while covered in oil. In addition to the spectacle of the horse games, visitors will be able to watch a traditional folkloric show and sample Kyrgyz cuisine.
Roof Of The World Festival
The Roof of the World Festival will span the first days of August, taking place in Khorog, the capital of the Pamir region of Tajikistan. The Roof of the World Festival is a premier showcase for folk music of many genres from the Central Asian region. It gathers performers abroad from Azerbaijan and Pakistan to Afghanistan and the Caucasus. Between 12,000 to 15,000 guests are expected to attend the seventh annual festival, making it arguably the most important cultural event of the historically remote region. While the festival will feature acts on stage equipped with microphones, some performances will also be held in different parts of the Khorog Central Park. This draws on the natural acoustics of the environment to create an intimate festival atmosphere.
World Games Of Nomads
The city of Cholpon-Ata on the banks of Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk Kul lake will play host to the World Games of Nomads from September 8 until 14. Organized in a style similar to the Olympic games, the World Games of Nomads instead features traditional nomadic sports. These include Kok-Boru (horse wrangling), Toguz Korgool (similar to mancala), Kyz Kuumai (chasing the girl), Oodarysh (horseback wrestling) and Alysh (belt wrestling). Participants from Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, China and Russia will each try their hand at these sports.
Independence Day Of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s independence day on 1 September marks one of the nation’s most important and widely fêted holidays. There is an official celebration and a lively array of street life as Uzbeks take the day off work. In recent years the official independence festivities have been closed to the public for security concerns. Instead, a show of cultural and folkloric performances realized on a monumental scale with thousands of performers is at the very least broadly televised. It is accompanied by a speech by the Uzbek president Islam Karimov. Street life abounds with traditional delicacies such as sour dried milk balls or somsa, meat pies.
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