The nomads of Kazakhstan are experts in self-subsistence and survival, from foraging and hunting for food to enduring the harsh extremes of its climate — very hot summers and very cold winters, strong winds and little rainfall. The country’s nomadic roots are still very much reflected in its culture today, and here are three ways for visitors to experience the lifestyle.
- Stay in a yurt
The yurt is an intelligent piece of architecture, designed to provide shade from the scorching sun while ensuring warmth in winter. It is also securely fastened to the ground to withstand the strong desert winds.
Everyone pitches in to build a yurt. Using raw and renewable materials such as bones, leather, metal and wood, the men craft the frame of the yurt while the women apply their weaving skills to jazz up the aesthetics of their home.
In a nod to its cultural significance, the roof of the yurt, known as the shanyrak, is depicted in Kazakhstan’s national emblem.
- Taste nomadic food
Meat and dairy products are staples of the nomadic diet and commonly found throughout Kazakhstan. For instance, beshbarmak, meaning “five fingers”, is widely regarded as the national dish. It contains several types of meat – horse, mutton, beef – heaped on top of rectangular-shaped noodles and paired with a rich, meaty broth.
Yes, it sounds like a lot of meat in one dish. But this hearty meal invigorated the nomads and kept them warm on cold winter days. As its name suggests, beshbarmak is traditionally eaten with bare hands.
Another popular dish to try is kurt, a salty, dried cheese ball made from sheep’s milk. Kurt needs not be refrigerated, does not spoil easily and is able to sustain temperature drops. This makes it an ideal food for the nomads who clock long distances when moving from place to place.
Wash your meals down with kumis, a mildly alcoholic traditional drink made of fermented mare’s milk.
- Attend a nomadic craft lesson
Another way to understand more about the nomadic culture is to pick up traditional craft and needlework skills from the expert craftsmen.
Nomadic hunters and blacksmiths will share ancient techniques passed down through generations, such as how to fashion bird traps and weapons from wood, bones and metal.
Or learn coveted embroidery, weaving and crocheting skills from the nimble nomadic womenfolk to create a range of home furnishings, such as carpets and assorted decorative items.