Basab, the General Manager of the Green Hotel told us at the Curry Club evening on Saturday that on Monday they were having a party for Independence Day, and invited us to come over.
Since we had curry at the Club on Saturday, went to Lena's on Sunday and enjoyed some really good Indian food, it seemed only appropriate to continue the pattern and go to the party. We taxied over there for the 7pm start only to find them starting to set up the tables and the buffet in the quadrangle in the centre of the four hotel buildings. It started at 7pm Indian time, and we hadn't adjusted. We went to the bar a singularly dark little room with couple of TVs and a small bar with no draft beer attached to the hotel kitchen. The TVs were on, one with the ubiquitous MTV, the other with the news, neither had sound, that came from some other system. It seems that the quality of a restaurant in Atyrau is measured, in part, by the size and number of flat TV screens mounted on the walls. I have not been in a restaurant that does not have TVs.
My glass of Bavaria beer came from a bottle in a locked fridge. Having to padlock a fridge in an hotel bar raises questions in my mind. Sandra had a glass of Valpolicella, which she unwisely sipped before she smelt. I didn't need to taste it, it had the "nose" of a fine red wine vinegar. We managed to communicate to the bar girls (it took two) that id was not good, and without a fuss they replaced it with a glass of cabernet, and poured the valpolicella back into the bottle, stuck the cork back in the top, and put it back on the shelf. Sandra had only taken a sip, so it probably didn't mess too much with their portion control!
James, a key organiser of the Curry Club, joined us in the bar. He was the only other non-Indian, non-Kazakh at the party. Basab greeted us and was a most gracious host. He chaperoned us from the bar to the courtyard, where people were arriving. In one corner was a band set-up, speaker, amps etc. but all that was playing was a video of an Indian author, we couldn't find out who he was, talking about the evolution and development of modern India. People listened for a while, and it was quite interesting and sensible, but after about ten minutes people seemed to think it fell a bit short of party entertainment ("poverty does not cause corruption, corrupiot causes poverty"). We found a table and settled down to be eaten by mosquitoes. Is that why I was the only one in shorts with no socks?
The appetizers, were the same as we had on Saturday, tandoori chicken pieces and samosas, but also some king of pakora, and fish in soft batter (not a big favourite...my one small bite-size piece had nearly ten bones in it).
After appetizers it was buffet time, the sun was setting and we were only slightly less hungry than the mosquitoes. Mercifully, this morning I can confirm that their bites were more irritating than inflaming, and the itching did not keep me up all night nor result in my ankles and legs being covered in welts. I think I would have relaxed and enjoyed things more if I hadn't felt I was the main meal.
The buffet was a good spread, and for a change I will avoid detailing the menu...but you can email me for it if you are interested!
The light had faded and the music started. People ate.
In the typical Kazakh way, the small band turned out to be pretty good and extraordinarily varied in what they played. There was Indian music, Turkish music, Arabic music and rock and roll (we think that is what they were), and there was belly dancing by a professional, Indian dancing by another professional and a truly varied exhibition of all sorts of wiggling and twisting with mincing steps and grinding hips by small groups of men who were guests and clearly not professional. It was the middle aged male version of the girls dancing around their handbags at a western disco, except done with extreme enthusiasm and no inhibitions and wanton exhibitionism. I did not try to film this, but below is one of the professionals.
And below is the esteemed band.
James and I stayed for a further 45 minutes and then gave up and too a taxi home. Poor Basab was very disappointed to have been let down by his star act, as by the time our taxi came there was a small crowd outside the front of the hotel waiting for cars and taxis.
I would not have missed this, it was an interesting evening, and though I have seen Indian and Belly dancing before, I had never seen grown men dancing with such enthusiasm at a party.