Photo of the Week: Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day

Oh, the holidays. When you’re at home they mean family time and lots of preparation and perhaps more than a fair share of stress. Hit a holiday or two on the road, though, and its all photogenic backdrops and friendly folks happy to share in the celebratory spirit.

Ala-Too Square at sunset

In Kyrgyzstan, Independence Day is every bit that. There are traditional games like ‘Dead Goat Polo’ and horse races at the National Hippodrome in the suburbs of Bishkek. The Third-Place game for the national Kok-Boru tournament is popular, but the Final in the afternoon is downright raucous, with the stands so full that spectators tend to fill the outfield for a close-up view at the cost of a bit of personal safety. Every once in a while, the match will surge out of the defined boundaries of the field and the crowd standing just nearby scrambles to avoid the hoofs of charging horses while those more removed have a good laugh.

ulak tartysh in bishkek

rider falling during kokpar

The day is not all about horses, however. Back in the city center there are plenty of people on the streets celebrating with their family or walking hand in hand with that special someone that one day might be family. Particularly around the central Ala-Too Square, the focal point of the city center, old and young can be found wandering around listening to live concerts or watching dance performances by local troupes.

IMG_0185

IMG_0264

Unsurprisingly, most people come to Kyrgyzstan for the horses and peaks or to hang out with semi-nomadic herders living in high-altitude mountain valleys. If you do happen to be in the country for Independence Day (August 31) or Defenders of the Fatherland Day (February 23) or really any other holiday,  give the city a chance. There are at least a handful of things to do in Bishkek, and experiencing it in the throes of a day of festivities is definitely at the top of that list!