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Nomadic way of life

Nomadic way of life never really died out in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs and their ancestors have maintained nomadic traditions on the open steppe for 3,000 years-this culture is the only sophisticated way to survive within the steppe's dry vegetation, its scarce water resources, its summer heat and its winter cold. Since the end of the Soviet period, the nomadic way of life has demonstrated its ability to support life at a time of material penury and difficult self-rediscovery for the Kazakhs. The yurt, in some places preserved with much care, has regained its place of honour. Knowledge about the behaviour of the weather, the characteristics of plants, water and animals is once more being applied.

Meanwhile, nomadic migrations are no longer exceptional, and in summer you can find mobile nomad settlements in many steppe valleys and on mountain pastures. Smoke rises from the yurts or army tents, and children play around them. In the evening, shortly before dark, mounted herdsmen with dogs arrive, driving herds of goats, sheep, cows or horses in front of them. The animals have spent the day in the pastures of nearby valleys or on the higher grassland plateaus, but are driven to the compound for the night. From the yurts, humming and laughing is heard throughout the evening hours. Anyone who joins the company will be offered a bowl of kumis or tea, along with round flat bread. These encampments are called zhaylau, and the very sound of this word can provoke a smile on the face of proud Kazakhs throughout the country.

In winter camps, called kystau, things have changed slightly from a century ago, with the herdsmen now living in huts or houses, in most cases supplied with electricity. However, even in winter the animals are still driven out to graze-only in bad weather are they kept in the stables and fed hay. These communities of herdsmen, who during the warm seasgn follow the food and water with their herds, but in winter occupy fixed dwelling places, are called semi-nomads.

Meat is the main food of Kazakhs. When winter comes, a horse is chosen for slaughter, as its meat is considered the best energy provider during the cold season. A young bull's meat is considered the best dish for spring, and mutton is available year round. Mutton tastes particularly good in summer, when the sheep are grazed in herb meadows.

Semi-nomadic livestock breeding has a bright future in Kazakhstan. It is recovering well, with families gradually gaining a position of modest prosperity-to the extent that the travellers who are invited in for a bowl of kumis inside the yurt, may find to their surprise that a refrigerator and TV set have been added to the room's many colourful decorations.