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Published: November 17th 2007
Bishkek's main square
this picture was taken during the visit of the Chinese and the Russian president, everything was closed down and guarded
After some relaxing days in Osh
with its nice and big market and its lively and pleasant atmosphere (at least in daytime), I headed off alone towards Kyrgyzstan's north, out of the Ferghana valley, which is mostly populated by Uzbeks (thanks to Stalin it's part of Kyrgyzstan though) to the Kyrgyz heartland.
Once in Bishkek
, I had to solve some money-transfer problems which forced me to stay longer than planned in this modern and quite pretty city that's turned into a terrifying place at night by drunk Kyrgyz, Kazhak and Russian men.
Without the intention to scare anyone, just some stories from me and people I personally met in the 5-7 days I was there:
one French traveler was beaten up for nothing, they broke his jaw and he had to fly home
Alastair, my English companion in the Wakhan valley was followed and nearly beaten up by a gang of people for no reason again...he saved himself by running in a shop and buying 2 vodka bottles from which he broke the bottom off and holding them in front of him to reach the next taxi on the street...
a Canadian traveler had to wait 11 days for his face
Lake Yssyk Kul
the Southern shore...much less touristic than the North which is invaded by Kazakhs
to recover from being beaten up for no reason after a club visit
two English guys I briefly met in Khorog were beaten up and had to go to hospital to get their wounds stitched
I for myself also got my story, but luckily it ended much less worse...I was sitting in one of the hundreds Mercedes Sprinter shared taxi after nightfall in Bishkek, when I was approached by a Kyrgyz (he wasn't drunk). He talked to me in Russian, the lingua franca in Bishkek, and demanded me to stand up and give up my seat to someone else. Me, being quite weak, as I was suffering of diarrhea, just ignored him first...bad idea.
He then turned onto me, grabbing my arm and repeating himself. I told him that I don't speak Russian and that he should cool down. Things just got worse after that...he brought his face next to mine and would certainly have beaten me up right away if we weren't in that taxi, surrounded by people who eagerly watched out of the windows. He told me to come out and face him (i.e. being extremely beaten up, see the samples above) and all I cared about was
my ride through the valley
I was sitting on top of all the straw, great view but quite windy :-)
to grab the seat and staying where I was..!
Well, he phoned some friends then which made me fearing he really wants to stick to me until he gets what he wants, but after some more bad words he left for good...I was lucky I didn't meet him on the street....
Very dangerous city at night, I didn't feel any motivation to go out at night.....
So far to the bad sides...the good ones of this city are the tree-lined avenues, the big squares, the beautiful girls and the international flair that was even emphasized by the meeting that was held during my visit by the presidents of the Central Asian states, Russia and China. So the streets were full of police to protect all the power that was present in this small city with its stunning mountain backdrop.
The streets are filled with imported used German cars, which make up 80-90%!o(MISSING)f the traffic.
As I already mentioned, numerous Mercedes Sprinter work as shared taxis, the so called "Marshroutka", with fixed routes, but flexible stops...great system.
After sorting things out and enjoying a quiet and unspectacular week in Bishkek, I headed for Lake Yssyk Kul
"warm" lake), of which I wanted to explore the quiet and unspoiled Southern shore (the Northern one is occupied by Kazakh and Kyrgyz party seekers and family mass tourism). I got off the shared taxi in Balykchy
, a middle-sized city at the Western tip of the lake, from where I started to hitchhike along the road between the mountains and the lake.
Great scenery and warm people made my image of Kyrgyzstan improve a lot after the days in Bishkek. I met some nice people on the way and found a quiet stripe of unspoiled beach where I intended to stay overnight in my tent.
I put up my tent and went for a swim in the slightly salty lake (still fresh water, but it has no outlet, hence the salty flavor) before I enjoyed my lonely dinner, watching the sunset.
To my discomfort, a thunderstorm approached from the mountain behind me and a light wind started to blow...I hoped that it will proceed without much damage and secured my tent with stones.
About half an hour later, I went to bed, just to jump out after 10 minutes, when the storm hit with full power...My tent was literally flowing
away...and this was just the beginning..!
I decided to surrender to nature, quickly gathered my stuff, left the tent and my mattress behind and tried to reach a nearby house before the rain started to pour.
I was pitch black and my little lamp didn't help much, but I made it just in time under the little roof in front of the door.
The rain was pouring down when some young guys in a van approached the house to buy some vodka from the residents (I first assumed it's abandoned). I asked them where I can find a dry place to sleep in this weather and they invited me to their home. There I agreed to pay them some money (I guess I financed the second bottle of vodka they bought) and could sleep in the little house of one of them. He was living in very basic conditions with his wife and brother, all younger than me. Next morning his father dropped by to have a look at the foreign guest and watch some TV at his son's house, so I said goodbye and carried on.
After collecting what was left of my tent, I stuck to the road
view from the top
not as high as in Tajikistan, but still beautiful
and wanted to hitchhike further East.
But after being informed by the next driver who gave me a lift, that it's raining here nearly every evening, I decided to forget about the beach and head towards some less humid areas in Kyrgyzstan. I went back to Balykchy and spent the night there in a dormitory with some Kyrgyz truck driver before I made my way by hitchhiking (yes, what a pleasure) over small roads into the remote Suusamyr valley
(mainly known for the earthquake in 1992).
Most tourist don't make it further than Son Köl, a popular lake in the mountains with endless trekking opportunities. As I wasn't in the mood to do some trekking with "foreigners", I kept on going and had the intention to cross the whole valley. Many locals (including the NGOs which are developping tourism there) told me that it's impossible to keep on after Aral
without hiring a taxi, but my experience told me not to listen and see for myself :-).
Getting to Aral wasn't a big deal, but everybody there told me the same thing as before...the onward road to Kyzyl Oi
isn't paved and goes over the mountains, no traffic at all.
They liked my collection of hats and caps...as you can see
waited an hour until I found a father and his son who were first in my direction and then South, so we agreed to hire a taxi to the crossing and from there I wanted to hitch further West.
Once there, I didn't even wait 5 minutes until the first truck full of straw passed and gave me a lift...on top of it :-) I got an amazing view and some troubles avoiding the branches of the trees we passed to sweep me off the Russian truck.
It was definitely one of the best lifts on my journey, with all that amazing scenery surrounding me and the wind in my hair, I loved it!
The road was in a horrible state, but hey, nothing I haven't seen before, remember I had been in Tajikistan...
Once in Kyzyl Oi
I checked out their NGO which doesn't receive too many tourists (about 10-20 in a month, mainly groups) and their great excursion program
. After exploring the village, a truly Central Asian pearl with its red clay houses (Kyzyl Oi means red valley), the trees and the river squeezed in the valley by the mountains surrounding it, I decided to do some horse riding
the wooden stick she has in her hands is called "Bishkek", that's where the city has its name from
on a "jailoo", the Kyrgyz word for summer pasture. That's a place where the families go in the summer with their horses and other animals and set up their Yurt to live there for some months (a bit like an "Alm" in the alps).
I spent two days up there with a family, did some exploring on horse back, reading, playing chess with the father and had fun with the kids. I saw how they made their "kymyz", of fermented mare's milk (they mix it 1000 times a day in the goat-leather bag with a "bishkek", a wooden mixer) and slept with all of them in the comfortable yurt.
Then my driver brought me back to Kyzyl Oi and I had a nice bath in the banya and a nice evening with some locals before I set off towards the Southeast and China the next morning.
Hitching was tricky, but finally a car full of Kyrgyz tourists arrived and the family in it was glad to practice their English.
I reached the main Bishkek-Osh highway at nightfall from where I got a lift (this time payed) by a dangerous looking guy in a brand new Mercedes, with an old Kyrgyz
couple in the back. First I was happy to have such a comfortable lift, but it turned out that this driver was the worst driver I ever had in life...somehow he must have thought that he has to keep up to his great car and just speeded along the highway. So far so good, but he wasn't able to control the car at this speed, also he looked like being on drugs...then he didn't know the way (it wasn't too difficult either...) and so on.
In this night (we drove 6 hours, then slept an hour in the car, then carried on 2 more hours till the morning), I had to shout at him several times to brake and to pay attention and not just to accelerate...once he nearly drove us in a field...scary lift...the only thing that assured me (and made me stay) was my seat belt (not self-evident in this country), the airbags around me and the star in front of me!
Well, he stopped next to Osh
, from where I wanted to head straight towards the Chinese border. It was 6 in the morning when I finally arrived in Osh and I checked into a hostel for
playing with the chessboard
I had some matches with their father afterwards :-)
a shower and some hours of sleep before I headed to the bazaar where the shared taxis meet.
After a purchase of a beautiful white Kyrgyz skull cap with golden embroidery (the first cap in my collection that wasn't a present...) and some bargaining, I found a nice Audi to bring me back to Sary Tash
, from where it's easy to hitch to the Chinese border.
I had a nice company (all young guys and girls) and I abandoned my intention to sleep and sang with them some songs and had a lot of fun. They told me that one of them was going to get married in a small village and the rest of them is coming to celebrate with him.
After some more talking (unfortunately they didn't speak English) they made clear to me that they want me to come with them!
Given the transport situation, the wedding date and the customs, I estimated that the wedding would take up to 7 days...so my visa would be still valid then.
I made up my mind and didn't know how right I was to agree and go with them when I first said "yes"...you'll know when I find the
posing with the car
the car that brought me there was used right away to spread out the cheese on it in order to dry it (the white balls on the trunk)
motivation to write down what happened in the following 5 days in the village with the amazing view on Pik Lenin
and the Pamirs.
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