This is Michael Hancock again – it’s been a little while since I’ve posted last. As it turns out, I have something to share that will both tickle your fancy and have something to do, however tangentially, with my still-unfinished-thesis on the history of Kazakhstan circa 1723.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Kazakh-Land! Situated near sunny Malibu, California, it offers something for everyone, from romantic folk-art displays to retirement-style weekend getaways. The website is plenty nice and the word on the inter-tubes [up to this point] is that it’s the real deal. However, there is a lot of suspicious English (especially on the guestbook and caretaker pages) that smells of Russian translation. Like some bad Borat joke, Russian-language descriptions of the theme park name-drop Pamela Anderson and Angelina Jolie. It’s not their fault, of course – these descriptions come off the site’s own guestbook, which reads like a finely translated and prepared proof-of-concept brochure. In other words, I’m skeptical whether any of these people are real. And I remain skeptical, as the website has no actual information regarding pricing, reservations, etc. I tried to contact the staff via email, and I will update this post with the eventual results. If this site is legit, it certainly would appeal to some of the readers of Registan.net!
In case you’re wondering what connection it has to my MA Thesis, here is where it gets interesting. When I first heard of Kazakh-Land, it was from some friends who wondered just from where the equipment had come, particularly because of the odd nature of the yurts involved. They were asking why, for example, all the yurts pictured are called either “yurt” or “yoourt” on the website, as opposed to the Kazakh name, “Felt home,” or Киiз Үй. The color also came up – all the yurts seemed to be white, instead of the typical brownish color of steppe yurts in Kazakhstan.
I thought nothing of it… until I saw the pictures. And then something clicked. Granted, it’s just an assumption until I hear the full story, but I think that I know: where the yurts came from, why they’re white, and why Kazakh-Land is in Malibu, California, of all places.
First, here are two pictures:
This is identified as the Central Square of Kazakh Land. Note the white yurts, the structure with a pagoda beside three yurts on raised platforms, the center being larger with an awning leading one into the leader’s presence. We’ll come back to why this isn’t “Kazakh,” per se.
And this picture is from the 2005 Kazakhstan-financed box-office bomb called “Nomad: The Warrior,” released in Russian as “Кочевник” and in Kazakh the title the same, though in the plural: Көшпендiлер. Truth be told, I actually liked the film. This photo came from this website, belonging to a crew member that worked on the film. Any doubts you have about whether or not the yurts came from the movie will disappear once you run through all the pictures on that site. And you’ll see that the prominent yurts in the first picture are visible in the upper-right corner of the second picture.
I got a chance to visit the set not long after filming was finished in August of 2005. What I recall is how swiftly the river (I believe it was the Ili) flowed through this defile – enough to make me nervous about swimming in it. These film-set pictures popped up during my thesis research, as I am working on how different historians have interpreted the events of 1723 in various ways – and that is a large part of the inspiration for the film “Nomad: The Warrior.”
So – whose beautiful camp is rendered in that movie set? Is it the Kazakh camp, you ask?
Of course not! It’s the camp of the dread and terrible Jungar/Жоңғар, related to the Kalmyks of the Volga region in Russia, though not quite the same folks. Interesting, in the film “Nomad: The Warrior,” these are the only people on screen actually living the nomadic life – the Kazakhs are seen riding the steppe alone and protecting their walled city of Turkestan from the dreaded Jungar horde and their European cannon specialist [based LOOSELY on a true story – ask me about Renat sometime, that guy was awesome!].
So, that’s why the yurts are white – because they seem to be taken from this movie set, and they are Mongolian yurts in the film. “Nomad: The Warrior” was made with Hollywood help, so that explains how the equipment could have finally reached California, though not how the park was set up in the first place.
The page that interests me most, however, is the “About the Caretakers of the Park” site. It is as nicely produced as the others, yet seems to be introducing a cast of storybook characters, with the kindly shepherd-patriarch Karim Kulibaev heading the flocks as kindly tourists take in Kazakh culture. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be more intriguing this way, but almost none of the people seem to be involved in actual park~tourism activities.
Which led me to finally call their bluff and look up their address. They claim to be two minutes from Highway 101, and they have a map on the site showing their park lying somewhere north of Castro Peak. Google Mapping that place shows a couple things: some local vineyards, lots of no-doubt expensive prime ranch and luxury house land, and absolutely no sign of yurts, theme-parks, or anything approaching a grassy expanse of land. There’s a golf-course, though, kind of in the shape of Kazakhstan, if you squint and are bad at geography. But maybe there’s a park in the offing! The website does list an address: Kanan Road/Mulholland Agoura Hills, CA 91301. If you punch that into your Google map search, you’ll come up with this website and a price-tag. So, know anybody looking to money-launder on the order $7 million, just for the land? Not sure if 455 acres is enough to simulate the vastness of the steppe. Why not somewhere east of Wyoming, west of the Mississippi? Land would certainly be cheaper!
So, the jury is out, but the verdict seems certain. Which is a bummer, because I was hoping for some kazy and ат етi. Maybe if this proof-of-concept fake website generates enough interest, the bank investors can be tricked into signing off on the loan and putting up some yurts!