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Kazakhstan: A Visit to the Healer

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When a group of visitors comes to Ungurtas, Bifatima-Apa prays with figurines of dragons on each hand.

From Kazakhstan’s southern city of Shymkent, Bifatima Dauletova walked hundreds of miles across the steppe about a decade ago, finally stopping at a “holy hill” in the village of Ungurtas. Or so goes the legend.

She built a house there in the foothills of the Tien Shan Mountains, about 80 miles west of Almaty. The hill is the kind of place revered in local folklore. Dauletova believes the area is the center of the earth’s energy.

Sometimes called the Last Dervish of Kazakhstan, Bifatima-apa, as we call her, welcomes people from around the former Soviet Union to her small homestead in Ungurtas, seeking to glean some of her wisdom. I was one of them. Tired of trying to stop smoking, and wanting a break from city life, I visited Ungurtas three times this past spring when about 10 people from Kazakhstan, Russia, and even Germany were also living there, working on her farm, trying something different.

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Ikuru Kuwajima is a freelance photojournalist based in Almaty.

Kazakhstan: A Visit to the Healer

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