the weird mural in Issyk Kul

This mural has become something of a legend in my mind. My former Belgian housemate first told me about it a few years ago after he drove past it and snapped a photo. “Have you heard about the painting with the big, pink dragon attacking the White House?”

Uhh, no. No, I haven’t.

Can you imagine? The southern shore of Issyk Kul is generally quieter and less crowded than the northern shore; it’s not prone to the backed-up traffic jams that the northern shore experiences at the height of summer. The road that follows the southern coast can be completely empty for miles at a time, just the car I’m in and the beige sand speckled with short, dry plants.

And then, concrete yurts appear on the lake side of the road.

It goes on for so long, with Kyrgyzstan-themed murals between each one. We pulled over the car and I ran up to them for a closer look. In the photo below, between the column that’s directly in the middle of the photo and between the electrical wires, you can just barely see the wall continuing. From this angle, it doesn’t curve much and it’s hard to see just how long it is. But trust me, it’s long. We got back in the car and drove farther in the opposite direction to get to the mural up on a hill.

Above, this is one of the murals between two concrete yurts. All of the yurts and paintings looked slightly disheveled, like they were completed quickly, without much care or attention to detail (although, that could be intentional how there’s a half-finished shyrdak floating in the yellow negative space, which is kind of cool), and tiles are starting to fall off and crumble.

This appears to be the main part of the yurt complex. It was completely deserted, although maybe it’s just the off-season? It was considered a bit early when we went to Issyk Kul that weekend. For something so elaborate, I haven’t been able to find much information about what this is, who built it, or what it is used for.

A winged moose? And a treasure chest? These are huge, I could walk under the moose, and they’re located to the left of the dragon mural.

The story I heard about what the mural represents seemed pretty consistent: A dragon is terrorizing a village and stealing its riches. One by one, brave men attempt to fight the dragon, but none of them ever return. One day, a man goes off to fight the dragon, and, unknown to him, a little boy follows him and watches. The man finds the dragon laying atop his stolen riches, kills him, and then himself transforms into a dragon that continues to terrorize and pillage the villagers.

If I absolutely must beat you in the face with the meaning of this myth (that might have only been invented following the 2010 revolution), it’s about how the people who fight to expel corrupt rulers become corrupt rulers themselves.

There were a bunch of horses grazing around the mural when I took photos.

Putting aside any discussion about the meaning of the photo, I’m still most interested in who put in the effort and funds to place this thing seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The mural itself is strangely intricate and sloppy at the same time. The shadowing on the faces of the men being slaughtered by the dragon/shot by the snipers is accurate, but then smaller details like the faces of individual villagers or the scales of the dragon are drippy and unrecognizable up close.

I mean, it’s cool though. Very abstract.

Update! Thanks to reader comments, I now know the yurt complex is called Aalam Ordo, built/founded by Tashkul Kereksizov, who also built/founded Ruh Ordo in Cholpon Ata. The yurt complex seems to date to about 2009, according to this really trippy article about the grand aspirations for what it would be used for, but no word on the dragon mural.

7 replies on “the weird mural in Issyk Kul”

  1. Ташкул Керексизов (known as an oligarch) is the author and funder of this complex.

  2. Aalam Ordo was there back in 2008 – it had about half the stuff inside it that it has now, although it was all in slightly better shape (even the “newer” construction looks worse now). In ’08 it was mostly Manas-themed. Now it’s Manas and Chingiz Aitmatov themed. According to one of my host families, the mural with the dragon was erected specifically in honor of those who died in the 2010 revolution. Once I get home and start posting about my latest Kyrgyzstan adventures I’ll have a long post on it.

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