While travelling throughCentral Asia ASC connected me topika researcher, Andrew Smith, who commissioned me with a very mysterious task. He told me about a traditional medicine, called mumeo, thatÂ´s solely used in Central Asia and contains pika feces! My initial thought was: "What the heck?!", but at the same time I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about it and would ask any Central Asian I encountered about this mysterious stuff. Andrew wanted to know if mumeo is still in use and if you can buy it on the markets. The second demand he gave me wasnÂ´t as funny unfortunately: pikas in Asia are threatened by poisoning and I should ask around if this is still happening. I spent two month in Kazakhstan, travelling the vast country from west to east and south to north. Plenty of different pika species are inhabiting the steppes and the lesser known mountainous parts of this beautiful part of the world.
I took a train and traversed the whole country. Depending from where you start this can easily take up to three days, sitting or lying around in a wagon with 50 Kazakhs and loads of fresh air, ... mhh no, not really ;) But itÂ´s great fun and I really enjoyed my train rides in Central Asia. ItÂ´s the best way to get in touch with locals and to experience a bit of their culture. Due to my russian language skills I was able to talk to them, was invited for dinner and I even got free lessons in the history of Kazakhstan. If you ever come to Central Asia or Russia please donÂ´t hesitate to buy a cheap 3rd class train ticket and socialize with these super hospitable people. ItÂ´s like putting the cherry on a cake of great landscape views and beautiful nature. Eventually I ended up hiking the mountain ridge south of Almaty, close to the Kyrgiz border. Andrew gave me some directions to a good pika spot on a big talus field ,and down in the city a friend showed me some pictures of his pika sightings nearby at Big Almatinsky Lake. I was very keen to see those cuties finally, but isnÂ´t it always like this? If you really long for something, you wonÂ´t get it and therefore I never saw a single pika in Kazakhstan. Instead I encountered lots of big, fat marmots, many different species of insects, plenty of beautiful alpine flowers and an Ibisbill next to the lake.
Without ASC I would have never known what Central Asian traditional medicine is about and that it can be linked to pika research. I really had a lot of fun with this task and hope you enjoyed my little report about it :)
- Irina Muschik