Published: September 13th 2008September 13th 2008
Naryn to Jalal-Abad
stunning scenery all the way
En route to Jalal-Aabad we stopped overnight in Naryn, another identikit Soviet town, devoid of character or interest. We joined forces with a french couple, and hired a car to take us the 350k to Jalal-Aabad. The journey was quite an undertaking. Our driver was extremely good, and his car a comfortable old Audi, which frequently sounded to be on the verge of breaking down. It was very hot and very dusty, and the windows had to be kept shut to keep the dust out, and, of course, the heat in! The roads were little more than tracks, often strewn with boulders, and we wound up and down numerous peaks, with only a couple of stops. The landscape was stunning, and the geology ever changing. Sometimes we were surrounded by sandstone weathered into fantastic Cappodocian-type formations of turrets and spires, whilst at other times, craggy snow-capped mountains rose above us. After 8 hours we reached Jalal-Abad, the car covered with dust and badly chipped, but no mechanical mishap other than a flat tyre which was quickly rectified.
Jalal-Abad, though similar in it's architecture to all the towns we'd seen - long, wide streets in a grid formation - did seem to
have a slightly different feel. We were reasonably close to both the Chinese and Uzbeckistan borders, and these influences were apparent. It seemed dirtier, poorer, much friendlier, and perhaps for the 1st time, like Asia. Uzbeck people look very different, have a different language, and in this part of Kyrgyzstan, are the greater percentage of the population. We stayed 2 nights here, in a flat where the electricity and water was frequently out of action, and the bed was great canyon of collapsed springs. It was also intensely hot and airless. In England the appartment block would be thought of as a slum, yet the coule below us were professional people, university educated, and thought of it as a "nice" place to live, in spite of the utilities issue. It wasn't just this block, but the whole country, whose infra-structure seemed to be imploding.
We then made for Arslanbob, 100kms north of Jalal-Abad. It is situated in the Fergana Valley region, bordering Uzbeckistan, and famous for having the largest walnut forest on the planet. We were found a CBT homestay in a small house up a winding track and stayed with a family who provided us with a bed and
Silk Road spices!
2 meals a day of delicious local produce - wonderfully sweet plums, dried apricots, strawberry jam, honey, cream and a selection of traditional Uzbeck dishes. 99% of the village population is Uzbecki, and there is a great feeling of industry as you wander round the network of tracks that connect the widely scattered houses. Everyone is busy digging up potatoes, gathering maize, drying sunflower seeds; with lots of building activity - mixing mud and straw to make cannonball shaped 'bricks' that are mortared together with more mud and straw in between the timber framed structures, usung adzes, augurs and two-handed saws. A general air of purposeful activity, maximising the clearly plentiful resources. Such a relief to get out of the city!
Our meals were taken outside on the tapchan - a raised deck with roof and open sides, with views over the valley.It was carpeted and cushioned with a low table and billowing muslin curtains. A pleasure dome!
There were a couple of local beauty spots - a 250ft and a 60 ft waterfall - which are considered pilgrimage sites. The trees and shrubs around them are wreathed with scaps of fabric, tied there as votive prayers. The walnut forests
Silk Road Spices
surround the village, and some of the trees supposedly 1000 years old and 100ft high. There is a pungent iodine aroma in the air. The official harvest begins on October1st, at the end of Ramadan, and to prevent people heading up from the villages and stealing the nuts, the owners have set up camp in the forest to guard the trees. Back in the village, life was lived to the pleasing soundtrack of running water from the numerous streams, a mixed livestock 'symphony', and neighbours calling to each other (for the proverbial cup-a-sugar?) . The trees were heavy with fruit, and our encounters with locals on our walks often resulted in a gift of their produce. Pretty close to paradise.
The village centre consists of a small bazaar and a few shops. Hot, dusty and very quiet. There were a few small groups of elders hanging out by the mosque, and a few school children at the start of the new term, but very little else. The schoolgirls wear a bizarre antiquated uniform - black dress with white ruffled apron - andthe little ones have their hair tied up with enormous white ruffled bows, as big as their heads.
cook at a chaikhana
it's Ramadan, and this village is quite conservative, all cafes are closed. We were advised that it's respectful not to eat in public, so had a clandestine picnic by the river.
It being Kyrgyzstan, we are surrounded by mountains. They're very close , as the village is in the foothills. The highest peak, Babash - Ata, is just under 5000m, so not that high, but giving the area an alpine feel. The other 'feel', which is alien to us, is Islam. This area is functionally Uzbekistan, geo-politically Kyrgysztan, and religiously Muslim. The whole country is nominally Islaamic, divided into a more liberal North, and a stricter, conservative South. In Bishkek there is the exposure of bare flesh that we're used to in England, whereas here in Arslanbob women, without exception, wear head scarves and full length gowns . We haven't seen the full hijab much, and there is no concern about approaching women, but this will most certainly change when we get to Pakistan. However, we're getting ahead of ourselves .....
There are more photos below