It was a very cold night. It seemed like there was some thing boiling in the stomachs of the horses and the steam was coming through their noses. There were at least twenty horses. They were rubbing on each other and making the circle that they were in smaller and smaller to keep warm. There was no wind. A narrow pipe was sticking from the top of the yurt. The gray smoke was disappearing in the darkness of the sky as it found its path into heaven. In the darkness of the mountains, there was no sign of life as if the snow leopards and eagles had ordered every creature of the mountain to stop moving or maybe even living.  A fat bellied marmot put his head out of his hole in the ground. He looked around curiously. It was too cold and it was not worth breaking the rule of the rulers of the land and sky. So, he, too, disappeared. A shadow from behind came to the front the yurt. He opened the painted door. The dim light defined his shadow. He was wearing a tall hat. It must have been twice the size of his head. He was carrying a bucket. He bent down, went in and closed the door tightly. The oil lamp was hanging from the middle of the yurt. The flickering light was some times over shadowed by the suds from the fat soaked wick. The smell of the burned fat did not bother any one in the yurt. His daughter in law was sound a sleep. She had worked all day long to keep the yurt immaculately clean. The mare’s milk was already boiled and poured in the tall leather container.  The left over of the BES PARMAK ( name of a Kyrgyz dish made of noodles and mutton; means five-finger since they eat it with their hands) dish was neatly packed for the next day. The laundry was miraculously washed with out wasting much water. The children were dressed with additional layers to keep them warm at night. The old man was proud of his daughter in law. He put the bucket down. He was 84. He knew exactly how long this dung will last them in the stove before the piercing cold of the night would wrap them while they all were buried in their felt and fur blankets.  It was men’s job to beat the mare’s milk in the saba ( 5-foot tall leather container made of goat hide) He grabbed the bishkek, the long stick in the container, by his right hand and started beating it down to a rhythm. He acted like he was born with this beat. Four fast – one slow, two fast – three slow… on and on he tried every numeral combination until he left the Bishkek rest in the bag quietly.

The grand children knew not to bother their grand pa until he was done with his chores in the yurt. After the grandpa fed the hungry stove and the heat wave started dancing in the yurt, the grand children, Aygul and Timur crawled next to the stove and looked in the eyes of their beloved grandpa. Timur pointed to the direction of the mountains. He said,” Aty, the teacher at the school taught us the names of these mountains. They are called Tienne Shan Mountain . Did you know this name?” The old man did not want to show the tears in his eyes. He was going through this torture every day. Aygul and Timur were both going to a school where they were removed from their culture. The Grand pa knew that if he did not talk to them every night, they might even forget their language. He started talking not allowing his voice to shake. He said,” Timur and Aygul, you are ‘the balls of my eyes’. Our ancestors called these mountains Tengri-Dag. Tengri or Tanri means God. Dag means Mountain. Aygul was excited. She asked if a mountain can be God. The old man smiled. He said, “I asked the same question to my mother when I was your age. She taught me that hundreds of years ago, we, the people of the Altay, the Turks were shamans. We believed every thing of nature was worth worshiping.” Timur was trying to understand but it did not make much sense to him. Aygul cuddled a little more under the arm of her grand pa and said,” grand pa is that why we still pray to the moon when it is a crescent.” The old men put his big bony fingers in the soft hair of Aygul and nod. It was so comfortable to sit by the lap of their grandpa. With the heat radiating from the stove, Timur’s red cheeks were now like apples of Alma –Aty ( old capital of Kazakistan;means father of apples)

Grand pa wanted to tell a story. Temir quietly clapped his hands. Aygul’s eyes were filled with joy. She asked, “Will you tell us about Manas?” Grand pa moved his head meaning no and said, ” you both are a ‘chunk of my liver’ , I love you both very much. But Manas is for fathers to teach their children.  I do not think I can live long enough to tell you the whole story of Manas. There are more than 1 million verses in the epic of Manas. I learned it from my father and your father will teach it to you. Both of the children put their lower lips out and they did not dare to ask the question, ”when?” They have not seen their father for a year now. He had gone to Bishkek to work. But if their grand pa said that their father was going to teach them Manas, they had now doubt that they too will learn about the heroes and traditions of the Kyrgyz nation when their father returned!


It was getting late and the dung in the bucket was getting low. Grand pa was better to start telling the story.

“Once upon a time there was a woman on the other side of the Tengri Dag. She lived where the desert ended and where harvest could be made three times a year. She could not have children. She was the only woman in the village who has not had a baby. She always hid in the orchards to be away from the eyes of the other people. One day when she was laying in the shadow of a huge, old plane tree, she felt a soft caterpillar walking on her hand. She rubbed the caterpillar with affection. It was so smooth. It felt like the skin of the new born baby that she had seen once. She thought she may give this caterpillar the love that she would have given to her baby. Soon she found what the caterpillar loved most. The leaves from the white mulberry tree were its favorite. The caterpillar ate like it was starving all the time. The lonely woman was getting more and more attached to this little creature. But one day, her little white crawling baby stopped eating and started hiding it self in a little white box that it made it self. In the evening the caterpillar was gone completely. She was so hurt. The only thing that she was attached in life with love was now dead. It had built its own coffin and was gone. She wanted to save this white little coffin for ever. The only way she thought she could keep it is if she could boil it. She took the little white cocoon and put it in boiling water. When she was ready to take it out of the boiling water she used her broom. A fiber was stuck to the broom. The more she pulled the broom, the more the fiber was wrapped around the broom. She pulled it and pulled it and pulled it. This little cocoon looked like an endless source of thread. She spun it. She wove the thread and made a little handkerchief. She was going to save this handkerchief until she died. However, the day she finished weaving, the messengers of the emperor came to her village and told every one that the emperor wanted the most valuable thing from each house to be given to the palace. “The one who failed to do so will be punished “, said the messengers. Our lonely sad woman could not think of any thing else to be more valuable than the handkerchief. When this little woven peace of material reached the palace, no body knew what to do with it. They wondered if this woman deserved a punishment. They called the woman to the palace. She told them the story of the little caterpillar, the cocoon, and her life. The emperor was curious. When he touched the handkerchief, he could feel the warmth, the love, the purity that this little material was radiating. He called it “ SILK” and asked the woman to teach every woman in the palace and in the city to feed and love caterpillars. With in the city walls of Xi’an , now every one was trying to feed caterpillars and produce more and more of this wonderful material called SILK.


  The wealth of the emperor had to be protected. His palace was defended by an army of soldiers. At first he wanted the soldiers to be of every little town of his empire. It was Ok if the soldiers wore different hats and different sandals and different coats. However, after a while his obsession of perfection made the emperor think that he him self could create a very orderly perfect army. He wanted every soldier to be of the same height and posture. Each one of the soldiers was sculpted to the size and to the shape that the emperor wanted them to be. His team of potters and sculptures worked day and night for ten years to have to most perfect army for their emperor. The terra cotta army could only be defeated by time.

It was during this time, at about 2200 years before our time, the silk found a wide spread use in all over the Chinese Empire. The reputation of this material which made sound like the leaves touching each other, which radiated love and became the symbol of endurance, reached beyond the boundaries of China. The monks in the temples, the queens in the palaces, and the victors of the wars were given silk as a gift of honor and respect. It did not take long for the merchants to realize that silk could be a good commodity to bring to the west. What they were going to bring back on the way back was not even a question because the east was craving for gold and glass. The distances were far and the dangers were unknown. The guides were scarce. The climates were too diverse to overcome. But nothing was going to stop the merchants of Xi’an from trying. Soon they learned their lesson. There was no need for them to risk their lives to make money. They actually could sell silk, jade, paper and add few of gorgeous tiles to the pile. It would then be up to the merchants of the Central Asia to deliver them in their caravans to their far away destinations. Through the southern end ofGobi desert there was only one path that any one could follow. One needed at least four months to go through the desert. The nights were freezing cold. The days were deadly under the blazing sun. The scorpions were not fond of being bothered in their long time peaceful home. As if getting revenge of the caravans, they could attack like a lightning. They were not just stinking but they were pouring their deadly vengeance in to blood of those who had disturbed them. The water was scarce. The sand dust often created a curtain making a day turn in to a night in the middle of the day. The pain of the burnt skin, the torn feet, and the heart ache over the fear that they might never see their beloved ones were still worth taking the silk to the west and bringing the glass back to the east. The Silk Road was established there was no way to stop this trade, and trade route for many centuries to come. 

Aygul was scared with all of what she heard. She asked,” Aty, grand pa, how do you know all about this?” Her grand pa smiled and started telling Aygul about the time when he visited a museum in Urumchi before he moved back to Kyrgyzstan . He said, “Even I was not born yet. When my father was a young man at the end of 1860’s, the Russians came to our beautiful country and forced us to bow our heads to them. Though there was a quite a bit of resistance, we did not have the means of fighting with the Russians. The only way we could stay out of enslavement was if we had gone to the other side of the mountains. In the east, at East Turkistan , the postures were nice. The people were free. We could run our horses as much as we wanted with out loosing our pride.  Aygul loved horses, so she was interested especially in this part of the story. She asked if there were trees and rivers too at where those meadows were. The grand father gazed in to the eyes of his grand daughter. “ No, my little pasha”, (In Central Asia “pasha” is a title given to noble women) he said with a smile. The Kazaks ran away from the Russians too, and they moved to the northern skirts of the Tengri Dag. Where they lived, there were tall trees older than my great grand father. The meadows were green and there were lots of waterfalls and lakes where the horses could hop on the stones and play in water in the heat of the summer.” Timur had heard of the Kazaks in the school. He wanted to show his grand father that he was learning a lot in the school. Talking to his sister, he said,” Kazaks speak Russian..” but before he could finish his statement, the heart broken grand pa held the hand of Timur. He had a worried look on his face. Aygul thought he was angry. Timur thought grand pa was sad. They were anxious to hear why their beloved Aty was  now looking away from them, gazing into the dim light and whispering to him self,” Kazaks, Kyrgyz and all our brothers and sisters of Turkish tribes from the Ural to the Altay Mountains have their own language. Chinese on one side and the Russians on the other side have been assimilating us. Some times a child can not understand what her mother is saying. They have changed our alphabets so many times in the last sixty years that three generations in the family can not read each other’s books. Timur was only seven years old. He did not understand why this was so bad. He still wanted to hear about his grand pa’s meadows on the other side of the mountain. The old man started talking. It felt like if his hands were not anchored in the hands of his grand children, he could fly in time and get lost in time tunnel. “The road from our postures here climbs up to 4200 meter above sea level. As the road gets steeper and meanders through the mountains, the snow covered peaks of the hills lined one after another, look like they are holding each others shoulders and doing a dance around us in a circle. You wonder if you will be caught in the middle, and will never be able to get out. But there is always a way out, only to find your self in the middle of another circle of mountains. The lake at the peak of the pass, Catigol, (The Roof Lake) looks like it sits on the roof of the earth. Yaks play around the lake and eat the little grass they can find with difficulty. Once you start descending to the East side of the Torugard pass, the mountains change color from purple and gray colors of Tengri Dag to reds and green and dark browns of the Kunlu dag. Our new yurt was in the meadows of these colorful mountains. ( Yurt means the round, felt house. Yurt also means where your house is –home land) We fetched our water from the big river which had a bad temper. When the snow in the mountains melted, it wanted to sweep away every thing that came in its way. We were not allowed to let our horses get close to the water unless we were riding on them. “

The children knew that they should not ask questions when grand pa was talking, but Timur was very impatient. His beautiful eyes were pleading for grand pa to tell more about how he went to Urumchi to learn about the merchants in the desert on the Silk Road . The grand pa closed his eyes momentarily to picture his childhood remembering how he had to spend hours on his donkey pulling the wet felt. After his mother sheered the sheep, she would clean and card the wool carefully so there were no impurities left. Then, she would fluff it and lay the colored wool as the  pattern on top of foot high fluffy wool. She then would carefully roll the wool  around a long stick. The stick was as thick as his father’s wrist. Once the wool to be felted was wrapped around the stick, she would tie the stick from two ends to the back of a donkey. His job was to run the donkey up and down the gorge at least two miles each way back and forth for hours. The bumpier the road was, the better it was for the felt. By the end of the day, when both the donkey and he were exhausted, the felt rolled on the stick would be ready to be unrolled and be used as  a bed, saddle, cradle, shoes or yurt coverings . They could use the felt even as a door.

The dogs were barking out side. There must be a wolf walking around. Grand pa promised Timur and Aygul that he would tell them about Urumchi the next day. It was time for them to go to sleep. Obediently, the children crawled under the thick sheep skin blanket. Rahat Hanum, their mother, pulled Aygul towards her heart and reached out to the end of the blanket and tugged it under his son. Even the freezing cold air that rushed in to the yurt when the grand pa opened the door could not bother them any more.

The wolves must be close, the dogs were barking louder, and the horses were stumping the earth. It was going to be a long night for him but he knew what he had to do.

The snow peak of the mountain behind the yurt was lit by the light of the rising sun while the rest of the valley was still in deep darkness. A pink cloud that was roaming over the mountains was enjoying to be the first to see the sun before any body else could. The cloud sometimes looked like a head of a ram and some times it changed to a shape of an angel. Rahat Hanum was already gone to the creek to wash her face. Before the children woke up, she had to sweep the manure and prepare the dung. Her father in law was going to cut the oldest sheep to day. She had to cook it well so it would keep for the next few weeks. She needed a lot of dung for the fire. She wished there were few trees around. But she dismissed the thought from her mind immediately. While her husband was working so hard in the city, she should not be thinking of easy way out of her responsibilities. Even the thought of her husband brought some color to her cheeks and she ran to the creek.

The grand pa was already awake when mountain was slowly changing color as the sun got higher. He always thought the mountain was getting dressed up like a bride as the rays of the sun washed the hills. He had so many things to do all day but he himself was excited about the story that he had started telling to his grand children.  He wanted to take his time away from work today and try to remember the old days so he could continue to tell to his grand children. He was going to let Timur take care of the horses. He was going to walk to the other side of the meadow. He had not played his flute chopa choor for weeks. Every one knew that if he disappeared for the day, he must be creating his sanctuary and playing his flute. He remembered that he had to cut the sheep but that could wait until he returned. He put a loaf of bread in his sack. Lately he did not want to eat too much.

The old man who had made his chopa choor, the bird shape flute out of clay,  had taught him why playing this flute was Godly. He had said, “My son! We believe that we have come from earth and we go to earth. If that is true, then God knows from whose flesh we get this clay to make the flute. When you blow in to it as God blew his breath to give us life, you, too, like god did, will give life to God knows who!” The old man had never forgotten this Sufi teaching. His old legs were not going as fast as he wanted. He slowly walked away from the yurt. He was happy.

He was thinking that he should tell Aygul about the man whose corpse was on display at the museum in Urumchi. This man was dehydrated in the desert near Astana tombs in Turfan. He was wearing a deep burgundy colored chapan (a kaftan like long jacket generally used with a long piece of cloth  wrapped around the waist)He had a big tattoo on his left cheek. 2000 years after he was dead, the tattoo was still very clear. The world knew this man and many other man and women like him as the “mummies of Urumchi” but dozens of them were only dehydrated corpses. They were not at all mummified. The materials of the chapans that these corpses were wearing were woven with the techniques and patterns known only to the Westerners. This was not surprising. On the Silk Road there were merchants from all walks of life and from all nations.

The old man smiled to him self. He thought if he were to tell the children about who those men and women could have been, they will probably not understand him because some of those people did not understand each other either. The sense of humor of the grand pa was mischievous. He thought of two Christian merchants meeting in the desert; Pavlos of Anatolia and Petros from Hama . They would sit around the fire. After being away from home for so long, it was nice for Petros to be with some one whose name was Pavlos just like his son’s name who now was living many many moons distance away in Tarsus . The stories of long journey through Mari, Buchara, Osh to this deadly desert Taklamakan were very exciting. The journey had not been easy for neither one of them. Petros had to leave his beloved horse in Belh when it broke his leg. Pavlos talked about the bandits who broke in to their caravan and broke all the glass that he had bought in Tyrea. They both felt the chill of the evening as the white sand dunes of Taklamakan started looking like the huge waves of a black ocean. They moved closer to the fire. This difficult life which was testing the endurance of the merchants every second was bonding. Petros said “Brother Pavlos I heard from the sarrafs (one who sells gold) in Buchara that there are some clans ahead of us who worship in fire and their priests get drunk on the Petros would take a piece of bread from his bag and break it in two  and offer it to Pavlos saying “ In the name of our Lady, Maria, the mother of God, take  this bread, brother!” a  The grand pa was eager to see his grand children grow and be young man and woman soon. He wanted them to be as wise and as knowledgeable as he was. But he knew that an apple will not get ripen before the heat of the summer embraced the apples and the children will not be adults before the years added more white hair to the beard of the grand pa. 
( an old Kyrgyz saying from MANAS ) The old man admitted to him self that he loved being a teacher and a story teller. He was now thinking of how he could explain the young children the Nestorians who had come from the West on the Silk Road . He could visualize a caravan meeting another one coming from the opposite direction. The caravans both had to spend the night in the same Karavan Sarai. Since the biggest Caravan Sarai that he had seen was only 15 kms from the main road on the Torugard pass, he started thinking what might have happened there    ....... TO BE CONTINUED   
when the  “ Theo Tochos” “ Theo Christos”