Olyssa broke the news over lunch. Our programme for our final afternoon in Nur-Sultan included a ‘Kazakh Cultural Show.’ This had not been on our itinerary. I naively assumed it would be a display of music and dancing – not something that would normally appeal to me, but as the weather had turned a bit wet, an indoor entertainment was not such a bad idea.
We were taken to a hotel and shown upstairs. As we approached, a couple dressed in traditional costumes threw sweets thrown at us in welcome. It was when we entered the room that I began to realise that the afternoon’s entertainment was going to be rather more participatory than I had anticipated. We were shown to a table and offered kumiss, special bread and dried cheese called kurt. I enjoyed the bread, which was rather like a savoury doughnut and quite liked the cheese. Kumiss, however, is sour and smoky; an acquired taste that I don’t really have the will to acquire. We were also shown how to make a traditional Kazakh sweet by mixing grain, millet and melted butter.
Then a musician came in and played a couple of songs on a dombra and shan kobyz or jew’s harp. That was fine, but then they wanted one of us to have a go. My husband (typically) refused point blank, so I had to do it, despite never having played a stringed instrument and being tone deaf. It did not go well. My being left-handed confused all of us. I concluded I was a dombra dumbo and gave up. Our next challenge was the syrnai (a sort of clay whistle), with which we had a bit more success. Next on the programme was making our own syrnai by pressing clay into a mould. It had suddenly all gone a bit Generation Game. We made a reasonable attempt at this. Bruce Forsyth would have been impressed. After washing the clay from our hands, we were given traditional clothing to wear, and then instructed in the art of yurt-building, with a miniature version.
This tourist experience was definitely not how I would have chosen to spend the afternoon, given any choice, but it was quite fun. And the doggy bag of bread and cheese they gave us to take away came in useful later when we found ourselves stuck at the airport waiting for a delayed flight to Almaty.
We visited Kazakhstan in September 2019