Trans Eurasia travel

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Ethnographic Museum of Mangyshlak

On the left of the main entrance to the park stands the Ethnographic Museum of Mangyshlak. This is centred on a yurt-shaped hall, its outer walls decorated with some pleasant mosaics. You enter into the hall which, logically enough, is largely occupied by a yurt, 6m in diameter. The exhibits on the walls around the room include some interesting photographs of local Kazakh and Turkmen people, taken in the early years of the 20th century. There are also carpets, costumes, weapons and musical instruments. The next room features displays on the two traditional mainstays of the economy, pastoralism and fishing. The rather fearsome fishing implements on display include a spiked club and an equally menacing-looking descaler. There is a display of chunky silver jewellery in the centre of the room.

Next comes a room focused on koytases and kulpytases, with wall friezes depicting some of the items engraved on stones marking male and female graves: blacksmiths' tools on the former, a samovar, teacups and jewellery on the latter. There is also an example of one of the square-shouldered limestone human figures found on the Ust-Urt Plateau, and dated by some researchers to the Sarmat period. The figures typically have a sword and an emphasised chest, leading some to suggest that they may depict Amazon-style female warriors. The next room includes some Kazakh traditional games, such as a board for togyzkumalak, somewhat akin to backgammon, with nine egg-shaped indentations on each side of the board. There is also a very large stone, the centrepiece of a very basic game which involved seeing who could lift it. There are photographs of local musicians such as Muryn Zhirau, who died in 1954 and was famed by his ability to recite the entire epic cycle known as Forty Batyrs. The last room chronicles the arrival of Russian migrants, with their Singer sewing machines and heavy wooden furniture, and the lives of the Turkmens of the region, now few in number, with a display of Turkmen headgear, including the shaggy dandelion-like telpek.