Along the southern border of Issyk-Kul lake, Kyrgyzstan, two shining golden gates and 1,500 metre long wall shield a giant hundred hectare complex. I scaled the wall and on the other side, I discovered hundreds of abandoned yurts, an outdoor theatre and a handful of colourful peeling murals. ‘Aalam-Ordo’, which translates as ‘the centre of the universe’, now sits abandoned.
At the order of Kyrgyzstan's then President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a centre for culture science and spirituality was constructed in 2009. It was a bold vision. Young and old would live together in 365 yurts, exchanging ideas and learning from each other. These ideas would be accessible by all online. The hope was that these ideas would spread far and wide, and potentially even bring a Nobel Prize to Kyrgyzstan.
Massive murals with traditional Kyrgyz motifs like eagles and horses feature prominently on the sides of walls and buildings. Others have a more symbolic meaning. One mural depicts a dragon stealing Kyrgyzstan's wealth as villagers desperately fight back. The villagers who fight back become ensnared in the dragon, and eventually become it, a visual metaphor for the vicious cycle of corruption. Ironically, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who commissioned the centre was removed from power in 2010, after corruption led to widespread protests which sparked the second Kyrgyz revolution. Today, the centre stands forgotten on the shores of Issyk-Kul, while corruption continues to ravage Kyrgyzstan.