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The Khorkhyt-Ata Monument

In 1980, a huge complex of monuments was built beside the Syr Darya, 18 kilometres beyond Zhosaly. The Khorkhyt-Ata Monument is dedicated to Khorkhyt (or Korkut), the legendary musician, philosopher, narrator and inventor of the kobyz, who is known to many Turkic nations. The architect Bek Ibrayev joined forces with physiologist S. Isatayev to construct an ingenious musical image in concrete. Comprised of four identical, eight- metre-high "half-tubes" made of reinforced concrete, each section of the monument points in a different direction, towards the four winds. The shape of this modern stele recalls the kobyZ-but in more than simple form. The wind, which never fails to blow here, is caught by the concrete sections and produces a moaning tune, which can often be heard from far away. This is facilitated by the organ-like interiors of the four sections, which consist of a sound box made of 40 metal tubes. The stele is decorated with ornaments that symbolize the cosmic images of the ancient nomadic peoples.

A mausoleum is said to have been located on this spot until 1950, about which legend tells the following story: in the 9th Century, a woman in an aul along the Syr Darya bore a child, the sight of whom made all the women who had gathered in the yurt shriek and run away, since the newborn creature looked like a shapeless sack. But the mother opened the amniotic sack and a tiny baby appeared and immediately started to cry. On hearing this, the women returned to the tent and were reassured. They recommended that the mother name the child Khorkhyt, meaning terrifying. The boy grew up a clever and perceptive child, with a remarkable level of sensitivity. This characteristic remained with him, and when Khorkhyt was 20 years old, he had a bad dream, in which white-robed figures told him that he had only 20 more years to live.

Khorkhyt decided to search for immortality. He roamed the world on his female camel, Zhelmaya, and one day he met some people who were digging a grave. They answered his question by telling him that this grave was meant for Khorkhyt. He understood that he would not find immortality here. Restlessly he travelled to all points of the compass, but everywhere he met signs of death. Finally, he returned home. He sacrificed his camel Zhelmaya, built a musical instrument and covered its sound box with his beloved camel's skin.

Thus was born the kobyz. Khorkhyt drew sad melodies from the instrument made front the hide of his beloved animal. This "sound from the afterlife" turned into a magic force. Death appeared but could not take Khorkhyt, who sat on the banks of the Syr Darya and played the song of life on his kobyz day and night. But eventually he fell asleep and death appeared in the shape of a poisonous adder and took him after all. The kobyz is said to have lain there for a long time, the wind drawing soft tones from it. Ever since, music has been successfully fighting death. Where it resounds, death has no power.

Not far from the monument there is a museum and a small amphitheatre. Sitting on its stone benches, groups of travellers can see and hear prearranged performances by musicians and dancers-the melancholy sound of a kobyz at sunset makes a deep impression.