The giants of Skazka Canyon (Kyrgyzstan)
Once upon a time, just like now, Issyk Kul was a piece of heaven on Earth. In spring the wind would carry the song of a citar and an invisible brush would freely paint strokes of green and blossom white, while strawberries, just like mushrooms popped off the ground. In summer, the branches of the trees, heavy with delicious appricots, apples and pears, reached almost to the earth telling her stories of the life above, with bees busily buzzing around kissing pink and violet flowers. Curious rasperries would peep through picuresque wooden fences to look at the flocks of birds flirting in the air and cows and sheep peacefully grazed for months in the lush pastures. In autumn, happily riding their proud and magnificent horses, the Kyrgyz would pay visits to each other, singing and laughing, feasting on foamy cream sprinkled with wallnuts, sweet yellow butter, pumpkin covered with golden honey and blueberries dipped in milk. And in winter, when white snow would fall from the sky and the mountains gor frozen in an icy hug….well, then was just too cold and one could only watch through the tick curtain of the yurt, drink a glass of kumiz, eat a ball of kurut and go to sleep under many heavy shyrdaks dreaming of the warm sun. Life was joy dancing to the magic song of the calm blue waters that wash the shores of lake Issyk Kul. People lived lightly and in abundance, and since nor cars, neither Iphones or oil and gold were yet discovred, they could not think that one might be wealthier, or even happier, than them. Back then it was a well known fact, that long, long ago the gods had cut a piece of their paradise garden and had sewn it like a patch among the mountains of Central Asia.
Years were passing quickly and rolling down in a neat queue towards the ever hungry belly of time. Everything went undisturbed for millions of days until one silent morning, when clouds of dust suddenly tickened the air and did not let the sun rise around the lake. For one full week, day and night, a strong wind blew sand in all directions, and nobody could see further than the nose of his horse. And just when the storm faded away and the sky showed up blue once again, the Earth trembled and a sharp roar cut open the atmosphere. Hidden winith the blinding blanket of red sands, a great calamity had come uninvited to the lake. Giants of monstrous shapes and cruel character claimed the happy land and established there a kingdom of their own. As evil as they were, the giants had a fine taste for the what is beautiful and knew well the pleasures of life. Unfortunately they wanted egoistically everything only for themselves. Instead of asking the Kyrgyz if they could stay around, build their castle, bath in the lake and visit sometimes for the afternoon tea with milk, the monstorous race selfishly decided to conquer and reign in fear. Settled in their new magical home, the invading rulers enjoyed a glamorous fairytale lifestyle. Like feudal masters or iddle aristocrates they enforced heavy taxations upon the people and the animals, requiring a great share of their fruits, honey and milk and privitized the most beautiful beaches only for their own use. Sarcastically, they insisted that the taxes are levied as a payment for their protection of the locals against the possible threat of unexpected attacks from another monstorous races.
The seasons kept on changing, but the Kyrgyz lived as if in a constant winter. Locked in their yurts they saw dark clouds even when the weather was bright. Few dared roaming freely, especially girls, because the giants -that we insist were as cruel as sensitive to beauty – took on the habit of kidnapping pretty Kyrgyz and driving them to their castle, where nobody ever heard of them again. Life became an unbearable burden and fear reigned supreme…Until one day when the Kyrgyz decided that enough was enough. The giants, who year after year enternained themselves by asking the locals for impossible tasks, had required this time that they cultivate a huge appricot with kurut instead of a stone in its core. If nobody managed to find one and bring it to them, they would confiscate all the kumiz in the area. Mockingly satisfied with their cunning plan the giants were anticipating an unprecedented, grand-scale kumiz party on the beach, oblivious to the fact that the fear amongst their subjects had turned into wrath. The giants had not brought anything else than centuries of devastation to the lake. They did not introduce a new religion like the Mongols, did not built infrastructure like the Russians and did not even offer a few melons and water-melons like the neighbouring Uzbeks, but anyway laid a hand on everything they saw and now dared to extort kumiz too!
All the shamans and bogatirs from the yurts gathered secretely and after days of discussion, Nursultan – a smart lad from Barskoon – came up with a bold plan: his sister, the beautiful Gumusai would be sent to the Sun to ask him for a favour – or better said to convince him of coming down to Issyk Kul that night and joining the Kyrgyz in their Troyan plan against the giants. The villages ladies had gathered all the wool in town and were already giving the last touches to an apricot dress of solar dimensions, that Gumusai would need to get the sun to wear. Not wasting a second, the brave girl jumped onto her horse and rode off to the sky in her mission. Time flew, hours passed, and it was long after sunset when the round and orange apricot dress was ready, but there was no sign of Gumusai. Late at night, when all hope was faint and the Kyrgyz were turning to vodka in dismay, a red blinding figure came down sailing the starry night on a horse back. The Sun, who had fallen in love with Gumusai promised to help the Kyrgyz and did not object to dressing up his might in such a ridiculous manner. Together, they continued their journey to Giant’s castle, where they found them bathing in honey and milk, surpsised by the the unexpected visitors and specially by the Kygyrz ability to fulfill their challenge one more time. They starred with their huge open eyes at the beautiful appricot that our hero insisted had a kurut instead of stone inside, but just for a few seconds before they all jumped at once to devour the ‘appricot’ and inspect its core. At that moment Gumusai lifted the dress of the Sun and He shone in a splendid anger. The Giants, with no time to exclaim or escape, were instantly baked red and stayed petrified in their places forever, condemned to watch the lake from faraway for the rest of eternity.
Gumusai, returned as a hero, bringing the good news and a troup of kidnapped girls, together with an unexpected announcement to her family. In love with the astral fire, she had decided to join the Sun on his journey across the days. It was that very night that a silver disc appeared for the first time in the sky. From then on, it was always there bright and shiny, reflecting in mysterious light the adoration of her lover. And the Kyrgyz recorded the story in their language always adding “Gumus” (silver) when they speak of “Ai” (the moon), to remember the day when Gumusai and the sun saved Issyk Kul from the terrible giants.
Yet, life had changed irreversibly and some Kyrgyz had learnt from the giants that with force and robbery they could gather easily both wealth and women. This is why they are famous in history for raiding caravans and still now one can hear of the practice of ‘bride kidnapping’. Most of the Kyrgyz though, resistant to corruption, simply ride their horses, drink their kumiz, eat honey and appricots and enjoy their merry time on Earth, laughing, singing and welcoming guests with natural straigthforward hospitality and simple kindness. If you dont believe us, visit their paradise land of lakes and mountains, spend time in their yurts and go to Skazka canyon where the giants still stare frozen at Issyk Kul under the scorching heat of the Sun.
- Issyk Kul – The second highest alpine lake on Earth, bathing the skirts of the Kyrgyz mountains in east of the country.
- Skazka Canyon / Fairytale Canyon – a natural canyon adorned with natural sculptures of red rocks that is set on the southern shore of lake Issyk Kul, around 5 km from the road and accessible on foot.
- Bogatir – a brave knight /a traditional character in slavic medieval legends, similar to a Western European knight-errant.
- Kumiz – a Central Asian drink made of fermented mare’s milk, claimed by all Kyrgyz to have supernatural healing properties (at least by those we spoke to)
- Kurut – balls of dried yogurt
- Shyrdak – beautiful Kyrgyz felted carpets made of colured wool.
- Yurt – the woolen homes of the Kyrgyz.
This tale is entirely fictional. The fairytale was inspired by the natural and human wonders of Kyrgyzstan, but we confirm hereby that none of the characters or events have any connection whatsoever with real current or historical people or facts, although we do not exclude the possibility of giants being buried under the shapes of Skazka Canyon.
This post is part of the series Roving Fairytales – stories inspired by the landscapes we cross and the characters we meet on the roads of Asia. You can read other stories here.