The Dacha

Novo Pokrovka, Issyk Kul Oblast Travel Blog

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Nastya and Irina, and a dacha decorated in homage to Camel cigarettes
Our destination was the dacha at Novo Pokrovka, a little to the west of the south-east corner of Issyk-Kul, about 20 miles from Pristan Przhevalsk, and as we approached I had something of a shock. To me a dacha had always suggested a large and luxurious dwelling, something like a Russian version of an English country-house, and I suppose Stalin's dacha by the Black Sea was the example that I had in mind, although I did not of course expect anything quite so palatial. Approaching Novo Pokrovka, however, all I could see were scores of miniature dwellings, some little more that shacks, some rather more substantial, but all of them on their own little plot of land at the bottom of which - this was the killer blow - was a small wooden hut, the purpose of which I immediately and correctly guessed.
Another attractively decorated dacha
I had discovered that a Russian dacha is not so much a particular style of building as one with a particular purpose, which is to pass the time not doing very much.

The network of lanes joining all these dachas were un-named, so it was necessary to make an enquiry from a passer-by as to where exactly the dacha could be found, and in a few minutes we were drawing up outside. The dacha's owners, friends of Irina's family, were not there, but their four children were, in the charge of their grandmother. The dacha itself was provided with electricity for lighting - and powering the television! - but there was no water; that came from a standpipe a hundred yards away. Washing face and hands could be done using a bucket-contraption suspended on a post; it was filled with water from the standpipe, and depressing a valve on the bottom allowed a small quantity to issue forth.
At dinner; two traditional features are the carpet on the wall, and the careful custodianship that Irina's father maintains over the vodka bottle
Any more elaborate ablutions had to be satisfied by immersing oneself in the waters of The Pearl of Central Asia, a couple of hundred yards away. The hut had precisely the function that I anticipated, and was basically a hole in the ground with a seat over the top, made of decidedly untraditional polystyrene - the theory being that it was never cold. Every so often men would come and clear the hole out. I admit to being somewhat apprehensive, because I'm a surburbanite to my fingertips and I had never before encountered such primitive conditions!

Irina and I then embarked on a small exploratory walk through the network of lanes in the company of Nastya, the eldest of the four children, who wants to be an air-hostess. Each dacha is different, many of them having been built by their owners, some of whom have take great care over the external decoration; we found one painted in homage to Camel cigarettes! Most of the gardens are given over to growing fruit and vegetables, and for some owners, mired in poverty, this is an important function of the dacha - ours was one of the few with a garden of grass and flowers. The whole dacha complex has a fierce supervisor who occupies a dwelling at the entrance. He seemed deeply suspicious of Irina and me, as unfamiliar faces, and she had to explain with whom we were staying. The lanes themselves have a few lamps, but wandering about after dark is not a good idea.

Then we processed en famille to the little bathing area by the lake; the shorline consists mainly of sandy soil and rough grass, but there is a small grass-free area where dacha-dwellers congregate to play, sunbathe and (presumably) have a decent wash. The water itself was not particularly tempting, and only a few dedicated souls were disporting themselves therein. Unfortunately I speak no Russian, and so conversation, as far as I was concerned, was impossible as the family spoke no English; after a time Irina took pity on me and we went for a wander along the shore.

Then it was dinner time. The dacha had a garage-sized outhouse that contained the cooker, a large table with forms on either side, and all the supplies; there was a carpet on the wall in traditional style. Irina's father took custody of the vodka bottle, soup was produced, and I realised that I was beginning to feel decidedly unwell. I don't recall whether I managed to eat anything, but when the meal was over I decided that an early night would be sensible. Even more sensible was to look out my cache of imodium and rehydration tablets, as I anticipated that they would soon be needed. How right I was!
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Nastya and Irina, and a dacha deco…
Nastya and Irina, and a dacha dec…
Another attractively decorated dac…
Another attractively decorated da…
At dinner; two traditional feature…
At dinner; two traditional featur…
Novo Pokrovka, Issyk Kul Oblast
photo by: londonstudent