A small hill just beyond the unremarkable village of Ungirtas is one of the most intriguing places in Kazakhstan for here, the faithful believe, is the hub of the universe, through which passes a rich stream of cosmic energy.
To get here, head west on the Bishkek road. Some 23km beyond the Uzunagash turning, take the left-hand turning signposted for 'Ungirtas'. You reach Ungirtas village after a further 6km. Taking a right turn in the village, you come to a green hill lying just to the left of the road, after a further 1.5km. The hill is your destination, but your first stop should be the corrugated iron-roofed building on the other side of the road to meet the elderly dervish from Turkestan, Bifatima Dauletova, who uncovered the cosmic secrets of the hill in 1999.
She describes the place, somewhat wordily, as the Aydarli Aydanar Ata Ayman- Sholpan Spiritual Health Centre, a place of the two-way passage of energy between heaven and mother earth, like a cosmic umbilical cord. She explains that humanity is just starting to become mature enough to accept and understand the 'secret knowledge' of reincarnation, knowledge which was traditionally guarded by dragons. This centre is one of the places at which this knowledge can be taught. She and her colleagues are trying to get together the funding to construct a mosque on the site, and a 'Hidden World' Museum of Secret Knowledge. She will show visitors around the simple building. Its walls are covered with her intricate drawings, as well as posters of holy places, such as the Khodja Ahmed Yassaui Mausoleum in Turkestan. Steps lead down to a complex of rock-hewn underground rooms. There is a small mosque, its walls covered with posters of Mecca and, for some reason, one of the Arc de Triomphe. Two other rooms serve as basic overnight accommodation for visitors to the complex. These are decorated with textile screens, covered with drawings by Bifatima, which are said to emit healing energy. In the courtyard outside the building, Bifatima then delivers a benediction to those about to climb the hill.
'During my visit, this process involved her pouring water over my hands, and then head. She beckoned me to face her, and with a flourish launched a ladleful of water at my face. She asked for my wallet, blew into it, then extracted a note from it, which she folded up. She placed wallet and folded note between my outstretched hands, and then slapped these together, to ensure that I would be wealthy. With slightly sore hands.'
On summer weekends the small hill is often packed with visitors. The first port of call on the hillside is marked by two sticks, covered in votive scraps of material, which delimit an energy gate. If one of Bifatima's assistants is around, they will tell you to face the gate, with your hands raised. They note how easy it is to push forward through the air, while pulling back encounters more resistance. Turning around, facing away from the gate, it appears more difficult to push forward, while the air seems to encourage you to pull back. This, they claim, demonstrates the direction of energy flow through the gate. The path continues up and round the hill, passing numerous rocks and cave entrances, all of which are ascribed different healing and energising properties.
'What's this rock good for?' a visitor asks one of Bifatima's assistants. 'Feel it for yourself, and find out.' You are advised to lie back against a vertical stone, and allow its energy to conduct a cleansing process. The instructions from the Spiritual Health Centre get quite precise. A rest of between ten and 20 minutes against the vertical stone is advised (five to ten minutes in winter), with no more than five people leaning against the rock at any one time. In winter, allow a 30-minute break between visitors to allow the energy levels of the rock to re-accumulate.
At the summit of the hill, a standing stone marks the belly button of the world. This is the place through which energy is believed to funnel from cosmos to earth. You are advised to lie on your back around 4m from the stone for a period of between five and seven minutes. Ask for your soul to be cleansed and the energy passing through your body will take from you everything negative, everything hindering you in life, and cast it deep into the ground. A longer exposure here, say the staff of the Spiritual Health Centre, helps combat high blood pressure, asthma, even small tumours.
A smaller reddish-coloured obelisk nearby marks the centre of the energy current moving in the opposite direction, from mother earth to the cosmos. The energy you receive here, like a mother's milk, is said to strengthen and immunise. A stay of ten to 20 minutes here is recommended for those in generally poor health, children and the elderly. But the staff warn that, should you start to feel any unpleasant sensations near either of these energy conduits, you should leave the area immediately.