Cholpon-Ata is a beautiful resort town nestled on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul in north-eastern Kyrgyzstan, in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Issyk-Kul is one of the jewels of Central Asia, and is the second-largest saline lake in the world. At an elevation of just over 1600 m, it is surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan mountains – still home to the elusive snow leopard.
Yet, despite being an alpine lake, Issyk-Kul remains warm during the winter months – its name translates as ‘warm lake’ – and September is an ideal time for swimming. Floating in the calm blue waters while enjoying the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape makes for an experience few will ever forget.
Kyrgyzstan is home to the famous eagle hunters, called berkutchi, who fly golden eagles – berkut. And every September, Cholpon-Ata hosts Salburun, a festival of traditional nomadic hunting games organised by the Salburun Federation, Kyrgyzstan’s largest falconry organisation.
Festival participants show off their hunting skills through multidisciplinary games involving berkut falconry, archery, and the racing of Kyrgyz Taigan hounds. Every year Salburun brings regional falconers and hunters together to celebrate and reconnect, but it also attracts contestants from around the world.
The gathering is an important celebration for the whole community, including displays of traditional Kyrgyz art and craft, music and dance, food, costume contests, yurt building competitions, and other games such as ulak tartysh, ‘dead goat polo’.
A ‘mini-Salburun’ has been specially arranged for all guests, to let us experience the excitement of the celebration for ourselves.
The word ‘Salburun’ refers to the group hunting tradition of salburyn, where a party of berkutchi was historically accompanied by storytellers, musicians, and beaters. The impressive scale of this hunting party helped flush quarry and stop it from escaping. The falconers travelled on horseback, equipped with bow and arrow, an eagle or a falcon on their gloved hand, and hunting dogs running alongside.
Petroglyphs and Museum
Cholpon-Ata is famous for its many petroglyphs – images carved onto stone – with some dating back to the late Bronze Age. They depict long-horned ibex, horses, camels, and even hunting with snow leopards, and can be found in a vast open-air museum just north of the town.
There is also an Historical Museum, telling the story of the area through archeology and ethnography, with jewellery, textiles, and musical instruments.
September is harvest season for many fruits and vegetables, so the local markets will be bursting with tasty watermelons, melons, apricots, cherries, grapes, and other soft fruits.
If you are looking to pick up crafts or souvenirs, there will be plenty on offer, so sharpen your bargaining skills!
Ruh Ordo Cultural Centre
The meetings and workshops will take place in the conference rooms of the peaceful Ruh Ordo Cultural Centre in Cholpon-Ata. The centre has a beautiful open air museum and park with paths, statues, and sculptures representing the world’s religions. It will be the perfect setting for discussions and workshops in a relaxed atmosphere, with views of serene Issyk-Kul.