Published: July 16th 2010July 2nd 2010
buses at the Presidential inauguration
Overnight stop in Urumqi on the way to Bishkek, arriving in Urumqi airport from Beijing we were hoping to just find the right terminal and chill for couple of hours, but when we checked at the Southern China Air we were given vouchers for a hotel! We told them we would be happy to stick around, but no! they insist we go in the hotel, we don't see and passengers loitering and we took it that it is not allowed. The shuttle bus took ages and when we finally got to the hotel it was 3am, we had nice cup of jasmine tea we bought from the crazy Silk market in Beijing and went to sleep for couple hours.
We got a morning call at 5:50am. quick shower and off we go to meet the shuttle, we waited for 30 minutes because 3 women were late in getting up to catch the same bus! Meanwhile this annoying Chinese dude was annoying me as well, I opened the back of the van to put my backpack and he cut me to put his first, I opened the door to get seated he cut me again, I want to punch him but
all sorts of dried fruits, nuts, grains at a local market
Russ tried to calm me down.
I was asked by immigration in Urumqi if I have a visa to Kyrg, I said VOA, and he stamped me right away. Our last yuan we spent on toblerone and noodle soups. 2 1/2 hour plane ride and we arrived in sunny hot Bishkek. We proceeded to go to the Visa counter, the woman there was so nice, had us fill up forms and she issued the visa on the spot, $70 double entry, 30 days. Aside from me and Russ a Korean dude whose family moved here years back was in the queue as well, he visits his family for a month before returning to his studies at Baylor in Texas, nice fella he gave me his cell # in case we get lost or need help while in Bishkek.
Right there we experienced officials asking for money, David, the Korean dude has no cash so he asked to come out of the arrivals hall to get money from his Dad to pay for visa, he was taken by a security official, when he came back the guy wants a bribe for helping, he politely declined and he told me
to do so as well if this happens to me in the future.We were supposed to get picked up we waited 1 hour and no show, Nomad's house promised me in writing someone will pick us up, no show Russ is ticked off, I looked for a phone but the number I have does not work, so we decided to get a taxi, there are hordes of taxi guys outside the airport, they are very annoying and insisitent, following us wherever we go, one guy asked me the address and told me $40! I said no! and went straight to the taxi counter inside the arrival hall and we got a 350 som quote so I took it, the guy who offered $40 cursed at me and I returned the favor, then outside he kicked me so i kicked him back! I almost got into a fight in my 1st hour in Bishkek!
Anyway we got our taxi Vitalli our driver was very quiet but careful driver, it is about 40 miles from the city our hostel was in a suburb, we got there and no Gulnara or Raisa the owners, a pretty young girl opened the gates for
Russ pointing to the bread he likes
us, she speaks good English and welcomed us in. Meanwhile I contracted Vitalli to take me to the Tajik embassy, he has to consult someone about directions but it all went ok, he drove me there, turns out he is very talkative, speaks fluent Kyrg, Ukranian and Russian and I taught him some English, he entertained me by teaching me Russian words while we wait outside the gates of a big house in a nice area, are you sure this si the consulate I asked again yes, pointing to the Tajik flag! yeah but maybe the ambassador lives here but not the office, he assured me it is!
The door opened when I buzzed the guy speaking in Russian, I was told to wait as there is another person inside. While waiting I met a cool Pakistani student about to pick up his passport. He is travelling for a long weekend to Tajikistan just to have a look, we exchanged contacts as I wanted to see if I can get tips from him, he invited me to Pakistan but he won't be there, only his family. Anyway we chatted as I filled up the visa form, the consular officer
view from outside of our hostel
is very pretty and very nice, interviewed me briefly about my plans in Tajikistan then had me fill up 2 page forms and write my own LOI! Explaining where I want to go and asked for GBAO permit, I listed down every town I can see in the LP map of Gorno Badakhshan. She said I have to come back Monday, now is Friday, and pay $25 and 50 soms, she can only give me 1 entry visa which was good enough for me. I went back to the hostel and contracted Vasilli for Monday again to pick up my passport, I paid him 400 soms for his effort which was fair, at first he said pay whatever I feel but I forced him to quote me, he got shy as we became friends quickly but I know he is trying to make a living. You can also take the tram to get there, directions are in the LP thorn tree forum but I couldn't be asked.. I got back and Russ was sleeping so I went for a 3 hour nap as well.
Took a bus to town, we just randomly got off as we don't know where
we want to go and ended up in a market, had a look around then we found internet before heading back to the hostel, we bought dinner 1st, Russ bought some meat pie I had one of those pickled Korean stuff, pickled mushrooms, tofu etc. We tried to get a bus back but we can't find it and we are tired of walking, an old man offered his taxi and we took it, for 50 soms, he was talking to us in Russian we can't understand him , he keeps praising Allah, and pointed to the mosque we passed by, hilarious guy he entertained us all the way back, very fatherly man, we lucked out, most taxi drivers are sharks! I fell asleep soon as I had my dinner and Russ was ticked off I wouldn't come to see football with him at some bar, he went back half an hour later, no bars around!
We got woken up early in the morning we have a new roomie, Emily from France just arriving from Paris, lucky her she got picked up at the airport. She had jasmine tea with us as we chat, then Russ and I headed to
babushka sat waiting for the Presidential inauguration ceremony to commence(July 3)
town again to explore, this time we really got lost and we walked for a good hour to get to the center, we noticed lots of police people around in every corner, we asked for directions we thought they misunderstood us but it was right it's just very far walking, we met an elderly American dude dentist who walked with us to the right direction towards Ala Too square, he lived here for years then settled back in the US and now just comes for a visit 1 month a year, we asked about the golden teeth we see in older people, he said it was shit quality and but the locals don't like it when it gets replaced by porcelain filling.
We found the Philharmonic place we tried to cross the street we got yelled at by police sowe took the underpass after buying food at the local supermarket for breakfast, we saw a crowd of people as if waiting for a parade just in front of the Philharmonic bldg. so we sat in the steps of one and started eating our breakfast, everyone that passes by stare at us, then one dude approached us speaking perfect English
Nomad's house hostel dorm, Russ passed out
he asked if we were journalist, when he found out we were just tourists he told us what is happening, their President(interim) is being inaugurated, we stuck around for a bit and watched the army parade then the ceremony went inside so we left, we walked around to Panfilov sq. to the Historical museum where we paid 150 soms to enter, 200 soms more for photos, it's huge and very Soviet in design, quite dim though, we took fotos nevertheless and then we fell asleep in the comfy benches in one of the exhibition halls, for 30 minutes! We literally passed out and kids were laughing at us, one even got close and kicked my sandals to check if we are alive!
Outside it's hot again, we found the fountain and washed our feet there, oh so cold! but refreshing. We walked around some more and found Tsum dept store where we bought our souvenir Kyrgyz shirts, then lunch. Trying to get back to the hostel we figured we can walk it, a good 1/2 hour perhaps, we were rewarded when we found a kiosk where you can buy take out draft beers!! It was reasonably cheap, $2 a
Nomad's house hostel alley to our dorms
liter of fine Russian beers, we got a liter then soon realized it was damn good so we went back for more. in the even we walked back again there to ge some more. We have new people in the dorm, a couple from Holland who is travelling through Central Asia on their 4 WD utility vehicle. They told me on heir way to the hostel driving they got pulled over by cops and every single item in their truck got checked even their wallets! But none were taken away, now they are worried if all of Kyrgyzstan is like that.
The next morning me and Russ headed to the Osh bazaar, and to our surprise we already been there on our 1st day! We bought some fruits and nuts for our planned hike into the Ala Archa gorge tomorrow.After the Osh bazaar we decided to check out the local banya called Zhirgal, we walked it as we don't know which bus to take, when we got there we saw this igloo looking building whose brick facade is peeling off in some parts, we got in and paid the entrance fee of 190 soms per person, we were led
to the men's quarters, a huge locker room, you get assigned a locker and you leave your stuff there and then time to strip naked as everybody is anyway, they hand you out a linen towel for modesty if you so chose to wrap yourself in it, While Russ went to the toilet a dude tried to talk to me, word got out that 2 foreigners are here, when his English got scant i said goodbye, we can't understand each other. We got in to the main banya, there are lots of shower stalls around and men lying on tables being scrubbed by attendants, we soon realized you can have it done for a fee and also if you fancy a massage, another extra, there are 2 dry saunas, one hotter than the other, I went in to the "milder" one, slabs of wood in one corner, I wonder what that is for, when I sat down on the seat, I realized, the slab of wood is to sit on, wetting it with water so as not to cook your bum! I observed on how the locals do it, a few had birch twigs with them and started flagelatting themselves
with it, some wear this wool hats, for whatever reason, it is so hot already!
Then I moved on to the round swimming pool, very cold water! I jumped in and it was very tingly refreshing. People sat there to relax after a swim, young kids mill around and jumping one after the other. Small kids came along with their Pa, tagging along wherever their dad goes.I saw Russ in one of the bench chilling, we both then went back to the sauna, then the pool, hot and cold whenever we feel like, the place is crowded with naked bodies, not for the shy, everybody walks around in the buff, this seems to be popular here even in this searing hot summer, more so in the winter I would think, the locals' past time. The attendants are busy scrubbing bodies and cleaning the sauna every so often, I got booted out of the sauna when it was time to clean it so i stayed in thepool area until I had enough and had a shwoer and left.
We stopped by the Tsum department store so Russ can get cash, he failed, we then got cornered by a young
man wanting to interview us in English, he studied in Wisconsin, he asked us questions about what we think of their new President, Russia's statements on their countries current political situations/riots/violence etc. He asked if he could record it. We felt like celebrities but was done in 2 minutes. We then grabbed lunch, I had sashylik again, the lady selling it made a mooo sound when I pointed to one meat skewer indicating it's beef, we both had a laugh! Stopped by our local draft beer take out joint then head back to the hostel. We met Emily's sister who just arrived from France, they will travel to Kyrg for 1 month.
We paid our dorm beds, packed up for the Ala Archa trek tomorrow then changed our mind at the last minute and decided to just head to Kochkor instead! Russ rented a tent from the hostel, Ernest the owner called our favorite taxi guy Vitalli to pick us up tomorrow. The next morning after a brief breakfast we headed out, Vitalli arrived on time, 1st we need to kent to Kazkommerstbank in town to sort out money payment for Russ' transit visa, they told him they need
a piece of paper from the embassy first, so we drove to the Kazakh embassy on Mira St. a long stretch of tree lined road in front is the gorgeous snow capped mountains. Russ was pissed he was just told the embassy is closed for 2 days because it's a holiday in Kazakhstan. So we went to Tajik embassy now, I was told come back at 11am but it's only 9:30am when we got there, I saw a bunch of American dudes about to apply for their visas, when they were let in I went in too, luckily the woman consul saw me and nodded, in a few minutes my visa is ready and I paid the $25 and 50 som fee for my single entry tourist, she gave me what I requested, 40 days, and the GBAO permit is stamped in my passport.
Vitalli then drove us to the West bus station terminal for the bus or shared taxi to Kochkor, bless him he did the work for us, he asked around until we got the best price, for the 2 of us 500 soms only on a shared taxi! We can't thank him enough, we promised to
use his service again when we come back to Bishkek. We waited for 20 minutes before we left and ended up sharing the taxi with 2 kids, their grandparents dropping them off at the station. It was about 3 hour trip the driver was fast, sometimes too fast! The scenery was as beautiful as I remember it, different colored hills, blue lakes and raging rivers.
There are more photos below