Friday, August 08, 2014

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan

We are nearing the end of our two weeks in Kyrgyzstan, most of the time spent well away from any computers with access to the internet which means a bit of a catch-up blog from our guesthouse in the southern city of Osh where we are spending a couple of relaxed days.

Our itinerary has been as follows:

24 July - flight to Istanbul with onward connection to Bishkek

25 July - arrive in Bishkek, Fred without his luggage, taxi to our hotel - Asia Mountains 1, with ots charming gardens and swimming pool, not to mention very friendly staff. Walk into the city where we spend most of our time at the Oimo cultural festival, full of handicrafts, song, dance and traditional costumes. Beer and dinner with a French lady at Edgar's, sitting outside in the nearby park

26 July - we arrange a lift to Karakol in the east, which is about 400 kms away, leave a bit late after a refreshing swim. Stop off at the Burana Tower near the city of Tokmok and follow the Chui valley to the lakeside town of Balikchy. Lunch at Cholpon Ata (but not near the lake, so no swim) and then a rushed drive through to Karakol as it was getting late and the driver did not want to stop anymore. Arrive at the disappointing Turkestan Yurt Camp where we sleep in a yurt. Look around for money but all the ATMs only take Visa and we only have Mastercard, eventually change some Euros for Som at a hotel which is enough to buy us some dinner. Meet some friendly people working at the Karakol Coffee House and they tell us that the Demir Bank has just opened near the Post Office and that this uses Mastercard, as well as advising us to go to Stealth for a good meal, which we do.

27 July - early rise to go to the weekly livestock market (sheep, cows and horses), the most impressive, of course, being the horse market, well worth making the effort to being in Karakol on a Sunday morning, which explains our rapid exit from Bishkek the day after arriving. We find the Post Office and the Demir Bank and stock up with Som (70 to the Euro) and then go looking for a festival which I had read about on Facebook before leaving, supposedly in Ak-Suu. We take a taxi there and it is a pleasant ten minute drive along the valley to Al-Suu but when we arrive there is no sign of a festival and no-one knows anything about it. We walk around the villlage and find the impressive wooden Russian Orthodox Church and meet some German speaking religious fanatics from Kazakhstan there and then  take the minibus back to Karakol. There we go to Karakol Coffee and borrow the chap's i-pad and find out that the festival is in Box-Uchuk in the municipality of Ak-Suu, so thanking him, we take a taxi to Boz-Uchuk but still no festival. The taxi driver asks one person after another and is finally told that we need to head for the hills to find the festival and after 15 minutes on bumpy and dusty roads we finally find it. Here was the Kyrgyz village festival in a beautiful valley, with a number of colourful yurts, twenty colourful horsemen, a number of handicraft stalls and a number of people in traditional costumes who would sing and dance. And, even better still, no other tourists. A wonderful relaxed atmosphere, with plenty of time to take photos and be dragged into the yurts to taste the food which had been prepared. This consisted of pieces of fried dough, bread, fresh fruit jams of mostly raspberries, fermented mare's milk, lamb's intestines, soup and so on. The horsemen rode around and performed various tricks, including standing in their stirrups. The highlight would have been the performance of the black steed song, with young and old dancing away with the weirdest movements we have seen since Eritrea. I will upload the charming video I took.

28 July - After leaving our yurt, we went along to the Eco-Tours office on the main street where the charming young lady arranged for a vehicle to take us up the Ak-Suu valley to Altyn Arashan. This was an old military vehicle, all battered and bruised with holes in the floor, driven by the Russian Sergey. It had to be tough as the two hour journey was along some of the toughest roads we have ever had to deal with as the road followed the fast flowing river coming down off the snowy mountains, along a valley floor surrounded by pine trees and wild flowers. Up and up and round and round we went until we finally came to our destination, a few buildings on the riverside, in a clearing in the forest. We decided to stay in the middle guesthouse as we could have a room to ourselves as well as have use of the local hot springs ( a bath of very hot water in a shed by the river)

8 August - After our early start of the day before we decided to treat ourselves to a later start, breakfast at 8.30 plus a couple of hours on the computer in my room writing up this blog. We then leave the guesthouse without much of a plan and go first to the right along Lenin Street to have a look at some Commie buildings. The Kyrgyz are quite pro-Russian and are quite proud of their Communist past with its Lenin statues and hammers and sickles, so a lot to be seen. Eventually we wind our way back to the market and we meet up with our honey man Evgeny, who asks if he could bring us to a beauty spot outside Osh where he likes to go swimming in the river. We meet up again at 4, expecting to go for a swim, but it was just a nice drive up the valley to take a few pictures of the gorge and the fast flowing mountain river before stopping off again on the way back to get our feet wet and splash some of the cold mountain water on our faces. Back for some more blog and now it is time to have a shower and go out for dinner at the same place as we ate last night.


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