22 March is Nauryz, the beginning of the new year for the Kazakhs (and many other surrounding countries). Nauryz means “new day” and symbolizes goodness and wealth, happiness and love and a great friendship day.
We decided to head to the Nauryz festival in the Athletes Village in northwest Almaty, but after passing a few smaller celebrations along the way by bus. But we were rerouted due to road closures and then stuck in traffic. So, we got off at Astana Square and partook the festivities there.
We had been to this park before and it was dead. It was so weird to see people and activities all around.
On Nauryz it is a must to have a traditional festive dish Nauryz-koje on the table. Kazakhs believe that one should eat much of this dish on Nauryz, then your year will be in prosperity. Nauryz-koje is a nutritional rich soup that is cooked from seven ingredients: meat, water, flour, butter, millet (could be replaced with rice or corn), salt and milk. Each component of the dish symbolizes one of the seven life beginnings: growth, luck, happiness, wealth, health, wisdom and sky auspices.
For a mere 500KTZ ($1.57/€1.48), Robb and I decided we had to try Nauryz-koje. It was a cold, salty milk based soup with meat, beans and hard cheese. We didn’t finish our one bowl. But at least we can say we tried.
Kazakh festival food consists of overpriced samsa (meat-filled pasteries), plov (meat and rice), shashlik (meat skewers) and baursak (fried dough eaten on special occasions).
The festival had a lot of things going on all at the same time. Horse riding, tight roping, pole climbing, wrestling, horse wrestling, sheep lifting, traditional dancing… All at the same time! My favorite, the eagles. They’re massive!
I love looking at traditional costumes of countries. Luckily for me, Nauryz is a day that people decide to wear them. I love the headpieces with the feathers coming out of it. I also felt bad really bad for the girls because the dresses looked pretty thin on material. But it was still beautiful.
Overall, we managed to go to three separate Nauryz events in one day, all a little different from the other.
The one thing I wish we could’ve done was go inside a yurt (a nomad house). It looked like it was invitation only. When peeking inside, there was a lot of plates of rice and bread, half eaten with a faint hint of alcohol in the air.
The Nauryz holidays did mess up our travel plans a bit, but at least we got to see a more of Almaty and experience the Kazakh culture more.