Tuesday, 31 January 2012

KYRGYZSTAN - a quick passage through mountains, valleys and desert

Issyk-Kol
What do you know about Kyrgyzstan or Kыргызстан? That´s right...nothing. Same here...before I went there.  Monster mountains and their associated valleys, glaciers, gorges and ice-blue lakes dominate 90% of the country. The average altitude is about 3000m. I know now that I wanna go back for sure, it´s one of the countries that after you leave you have the feeling that you´ve missed so much. At least I have to go skiing in Karakol, I heard so much about it.
Not a famous destination for Europeans, I guess lots of people got scared after the riots in 2009 but it looks that its all under control now. Even in Uzbekistan I was warned a few times when mentioning going to Kyrgyzstan.


OSH
Got to Osh a bit frustrated after the hassle from the Uzbek authorities at the border. Took a marshrutka to the city center, a few km away (if u are a solo girl travelling, looking angry at the world, with no Kyrgyz money, its free :). Then asking for directions, a Kyrgyz-Uzbek old man took me in his car around the city, again for free until we found my final destination. He even gave me his phone number in case I need his help later. Central Asian hospitality again!
Basically, there is a famous guest house in Osh (Osh guesthouse), recommended by the Lonely Planet and it seems that everyone goes there first but it´s quite often fully booked . I also went there a few days later to look for travel companions to the Chinese border, left a msg on a board but never heard back from anyone (and the fare offered by the owner of the guesthouse was a bit overpriced in my opinion, I met other travellers who made it in a day to Irkeshtam Pass just hitchhiking, so many trucks head that way every morning).

Building a new mosque
My host, Prad, an Indian guy, working in Osh, cooked for us (me and the other CSurfer – a Russian cyclist), which was pretty nice of him. We explored the city together with the him, not that much to see but the market (Jayma Bazaar) was impressive, one of the Central Asia´s biggest markets, teeming with Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajiks dealing in everything from traditional hats and knives to horseshoes and any fruits and vegetables.  I impulsively decided to cut my hair there in a tiny hairdresser place...well, big mistake. Similar  to Uzbek food – plov, lagman, samsa and manti (dumplings)...Tasty and cheap



Check the next photo to understand why they have a TV in the park
Karaoke in the park

Good old LENIN



Jayma Bazaar
Dima buying a Kyrgyz hat
Trying our Kyrgyz and Tajik hats


We went on a short hike up to Solomon´s Throne – has been a Muslim place of pilgrimage because the Prophet Mohammed once prayed here. 
Local girls wanted to take photos with me. Many of them



Random museum built in the rocks

If u slide here, you will be in perfect health
Two days later I headed to Bishkek, not an easy one and not a short one either. The only option is a taxi or a minivan but either way takes 10 hours. Its a beautiful drive though, I couldn’t believe my eyes. And while in Osh you could still wear a T-shirt and shorts, on the way to Bishkek you find so much snow, its all white and freezing. Made it to Bishkek quite late, probably around 11ish and Andrey (my new host) came to pick me up from a junction somewhere...

On the way to Bishkek

BISHKEK

On my very first day in Bishkek after having the compulsory morning tea, Andrey, a few others and myself went to visit an orphanage in a village nearby due to his work. He is a social worker and they were supposed to award some of the kids there who were participating in a competition for an essay “How I spent my summer”. We ended up staying there for a few hours, playing with the kids (aged between 8 and 15) and giving them another task for the next visit. It was quite sad and rewarding at the same time. How little is needed to make someone happy! I had to hide my tears a few times cos it was too much, looking at all these kids (most of them mentally or physically defective), happily bouncing around us and asking for attention.
Try to pronounce that. One more " ы " please ;)
The classroom
Asila & dont remember the other girl´s name
The kids in the orphanage waiting for the new task
My favorite little one



Andrey and some of his friends showed me around the city centre quite lot, visiting all the interesting sites and places. He told me that I'm "такая солнечная" and that just made me feel really good. His parents were also very warm and talkative. The whole house was very welcoming, felt home straight away.
Andrey´s room
The "couch". It was so comfortable
Next day was pretty intense. We went to the outskirts of Bishkek to play paintball. Sounds funny – about 20 Kyrgyz Russians and me, playing paintball. Our team (the greens) sucked, we got crushed but it was fun. My first time paintball-ing. The whole thing took 4-5 hours so then Andrey and I went back home to get the car and headed to Alatau mountain, just out of the city. Stunning views, cold and snow.

Love it!
Warming up
Ready to fight



After the fight

Alatau mountain






One more STOP sign
ISSYK KOL
Cholpon-Ata

I took a minivan to this beautiful lake surrounded by mountains from all sides. The name means warm lake (I guess because it never freezes) and is the second largest alpine lake in the world. The Kyrgyz are proud of their lake and I can see why. You can swim in the lake in the morning and go skiing in the afternoon if you are enthusiastic enough (I met people who would do it J))
Cholpon-Ata was quite empty, it was end of September, means already getting cold. Almost no one on the beach but I still went for a swim admiring the snowy mountains around. Met a local guy who took me around and wanted me to stay but I left.
Arrived back to Bishkek quite late, round 11ish, right on time for the party. It was Andrey´s friend birthday party so I went straight to her house where all the family and friends were already pretty wasted. That´s why I was forced to catch up with lots of vodka toasts.


Self-portrait






I had to leave Bishkek sooner than I expected as I found a free ride to Irkeshtam pass. I definitely didn’t wanna leave that soon but my Chinese visa was about to expire, as well as my Kyrgyz one, so I would have been stuck just like Tom Hanks in the film “The terminal” if didn’t make it to the China in time. Didnt have second thoughts when I was offered the ride, it saved me lots of hassle with finding someone to share a taxi with. It was another 10-12 hours overnight in a shared taxi to get back to Osh and then I waited for my ride.
Osila from Bishkek (Andrey’s friend) organized the ride to Chinese border (Irkeshtam pass). A truck driver came to pick me up from Osh . It was quite a pleasant trip, especially seeing everything from above... took about 7 hours, crazy roads though, no chance making it in a car, has to be 4x4. The scenery was stunning, I couldn’t stop taking photos. I know I say that all the time but ...Yeah, I really have to be back to Kyrgyzstan one day. So much to see here.







I really dont know how the cyclists made it on these roads



The truck driver who took me to the border
Last village before the border

We made it in the last 5 minutes before the border closed. Osila’s cousin was waiting for me there and he helped with all the formalities. But then once through the Kyrgyz immigration, I had to walk 6 km to get to the Chinese border together with the truck drivers who couldn’t make it to China in time. They all left their trucks behind and went to the Chinese border where the “accommodation” was. The Chinese authorities took my passport and told me to come back next day at 9. When I saw where I was supposed to sleep I was horrified – hundreds of rooms, military style, with 8 to 10 bunk beds each. So it was me and hundreds of truck drivers – Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek and Chinese. And two Asian looking women who were at the truck drivers´ "services" (busy, busy). But the Tajik people who I was sharing the room with, were so nice and worried about me (I must have looked pretty scared) and took really good care of me. They even paid for my bed (I couldn’t convinced them that it was not necessary, they said that I´m their guest even though we were not in Tajikistan) and invited me for breakfast in the morning.
Walking the 6 km between the 2 borders

Having breakfast with my new Tajik friends
No hassle at all at Chinese customs went quick and smooth. I met this Italian girl inside the building, and got asked the most ridiculous question ever: She saw me and the first thing she said to me was: “Are u Chinese? Considering that I was the only westerner (with a big backpack) and a girl there!
Then was just about time and luck to find a truck driver going to Kashgar (took about 15 min but only because I was busy talking to the Italian couple). Goodbye Kirgizia, Im sad to leave now but I will be back one day!

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