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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Turkey for Your Kyrgyz Christmas

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There is a ski resort in eastern Kyrgyzstan whose sights are aimed at a mythical radiant future. Like the Moscow metro map, where planned stations are drawn years before construction, the Karakol Mountain Lodge maps trails and lifts that are, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent. Nonetheless, the resort proved to be a wonderful place to spend Christmas.

Surrounded by fir trees in an alpine valley near Lake Issyk-Kul, the cozy lodge was built to high specifications. Sitting at solid oak tables near insulated glass windows -- rarities here -- one could observe workers carrying Italian insulation into a nearby billiard hall still under construction. A real shock came when the kitchen staff said that yes, they did have a spare turkey for our Christmas Eve dinner.

During the Soviet period, the complex housed a sports school. Local students still ski for free, although paying customers can cut in front of them in the lift lines. The entire resort has an informal, unfinished feel. There are so few customers -- of both the paying and nonpaying varieties -- that the two upper lifts operate by demand only. They close altogether for the noon hour, so that the employees can have lunch. The manager herself spent 30 minutes computing our bill when we left, in an act of inefficient hospitality.

The management has leased the property, which lies within a provincial park, for the next 50 years. This fact did not stop them from building two new lifts last summer, and investing in a snowgroomingmachine, snowmobiles and other luxuries. One wonders where the investment money comes from.

Lift tickets cost $6, and the hotel can only house a dozen guests. The roof of the lodge is an indicator of what clientele the management hopes to attract. A Russian flag, fashioned out of colored aluminum tiles, lies adjacent to the Kyrgyz national emblem. Perhaps the planners overlooked the fact that Muscovites can now fly to Zurich or Vienna for about the same price as Bishkek, which is still a six-hour drive from the resort.

Late on Christmas Eve, the only other group in the dining room was two wealthy Kyrgyz patriarchs and their entourage. Our little bird seemed a bit puny compared with the boiled sheep they ordered, prepared as a national dish called beshparmak (five fingers).

A young man, probably their driver, poured drinks but did not eat, drink or speak. Two well-built bodyguards in jogging suits took turns singing karaoke. The first song was a surprisingly tender rendition of "Ofitsery" -- which glorifies Russian officers who fought in Afghanistan.

New Kyrgyz are a rare site, and oddly endearing.

Ethan Wilensky-Lanford is a freelance journalist in Central Asia.