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Cholpon Ata Museum

69 Sovietskaya. Exhibits in Russian and Kyrgyz

This small Issyk-Kul museum is worth a quick visit. Museum's emphasis is on archaeology, it displays the majority of the archaeological finds from around the lake and the Chui valley including displays of local Scythian (Saka) gold jewellery, balbal gravestones and a fine set of mouth harps. Compared with its traditionally settled neighbours, mainly nomadic Kyrgyzstan has a scant assortment of historical remains-much of it, excavated in Soviet times, was shipped off to St Petersburg.

Unusually for this part of the world, a lot of care has been taken over layout and lighting. Unfortunately, captions are only in Kyrgyz and Russian, but it is easy enough to get a reasonable impression of what is on offer. The museum presents a well-arranged walk through the history of Kyrgyzstan. If you are a Russian-speaker or travelling with an interpreter, it is worth hiring a museum guide who will breathe life into the display with the energy and knowledge of the enthusiast.

Much of the museum is given over to local archaeological finds that include items from Scythian burials, stones with Arabic inscriptions, pottery, underwater finds that include jars from Lake Issyk-Kul, and some remarkable leather-ware pots. Black and white photographs show the excavations themselves.

There is an interesting display showing photographs of some of the more notable petroglyphs from Saimaluu-Tash, including an aerial shot that gives a useful idea of the extent of the site, and some distinctly erotic petroglyphs that must be the closest thing to prehistoric porn. There are further petroglyphs from the Altai and Tuva regions of Russia that demonstrate many parallels to what has been discovered in Kyrgyzstan.

A room devoted to Kyrgyz history has photographs of everyday jailoo life that show women milking mares and sheep, singing and dancing, and erecting yurts. There are also some excellent shyrdaks and examples of weaving and embroidery.

Another room concentrates on the Manas legacy, with photographs of the 1,000- year celebrations and performances of local manaschi storytellers. Further displays are given over to the work of writer Chingiz Aitmatov, who often used to summer at Cholpon-Ata, and also the artist Yuristanbev Shigacv whose work draws heavily on ritual and a Picasso influence.

Many rooms are devoted to ethnography, Kyrgyz bards, music and costume. Amid the familiar bronze and clay pots and agricultural implements, you find unique ancient embroidery, using vegetable-dyed silk on cotton, a variety of local inscriptions from the earliest petroglyphs to Tibetan inscriptions found near Tamga. There are also musical instruments and traditional, brightly coloured felt carpets, yurt hangings and bags that somehow survived Sovietisation. Soviet sections of the museum have been re-interpreted. One room now concentrates on the Manas epic, local manaschi, Kyrgyz poets and writers, and Islam. Extensive displays about President Akaev and the writer, Chingiz Aitmatov have replaced Lenin in the final hall. For a nation deep in the process of evaluating and rewriting its past, the museum is a valiant effort to capture and interpret history.