Detained by the Police in Kyrgyzstan!

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Asia » Kyrgyzstan » Bishkek
January 26th 2013
Published: January 26th 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

Entrance to Osh BazaarEntrance to Osh BazaarEntrance to Osh Bazaar

Watch out,you're being watched!
Osh Bazaar is Bishkek’s largest market place. It is a hive of activity with endless arrays of fruit and vegetables, clothes and mops, and everything else the people of Bishkek could possibly want. It also had a contingent of policemen, two of whom were watching me, though I didn’t know it at the time. Suddenly I spotted what I was looking for - a stand peddling kumis,fermented mare’s milk.

Even though I’d tried the hideous stuff in Almaty, I was eager to give it a second chance. Perhaps the Kazakh kumis I’d drank had been from a bad batch. Peering into the large urn, I mimed to the lady in charge that I’d like a cup of Kyrgyzstan’s national drink. After the usual confusion, she produced a bowl and ladled the white liquid in for me. I handed over thirty som and took my brew to the side where I could sample it unhindered.

After swirling it around for a few seconds, I deemed it lump free and raised the bowl to my lips. And then I took a sip. The taste hit me immediately, a horrible vomit flavour mixed with curdled cheese. Kazakh and Kyrgyz kumis was one and the same. In the resulting convulsions, I spilt some down my shirt, and so put the bowl down and fled, searching out a stall that sold water so I could rid myself of the vile taste.

And then they pounced.

Two Policemen with huge dinner-plate caps

Two blue-uniformed policemen with massive black and red caps blocked my path. One looked to be about thirty, the other was younger, barely out of his teens. Both were unsmiling and looked like they meant business.

“Passport,” the older of the two stated bluntly. He had a wispy black moustache which I reckoned he could quiver at will for sinister effect.

This was just my luck. The only day I’d left my passport at the hotel was the day someone actually wanted to see it. I told them this and they conferred for a moment. Mr Moustache shook his head. “We need to see. Otherwise big problem.” He’d emphasised the word big, stretching the vowel out.

Fortunately, I had a photocopy of it in my wallet and so fished it out while a group of young boys hovered nearby. They were watching me suffer with barely disguised glee. I handed the piece of paper over, hoping it would suffice.

“Eeengliz?” said Moustache Man after staring at the photocopy.

I nodded and smiled. I didn’t want to piss them off in away way. Both men studied it further and then conferred again. The patrons of Osh Bazaar were all giving us a wide berth, except for the boys who still lurked nearby.

“Visa?” Mr Moustache said eventually.

I had expected this request but without my passport, there was no way I could show them it. But I reasoned they already knew this.

“Without visa, big problem.” said Mr Moustache, faintly quivering his facial hair.

Both men stared at me for a long while, and I began to feel a little unnerved. Finally Mr Moustache spoke. “Come,” he stated bluntly. He pointed through the market, obviously towards the place they wanted me to go.

I pretended I didn’t understand and pointed in the opposite direction and grinned an inane grin hoping the men would think I was a simpleton and let me go. They didn’t. Mr Moustache touched my shoulder in an attempt to get me moving but I stood
Kumis - tasty!Kumis - tasty!Kumis - tasty!

Fermented horse milk
my ground.

“No,” I said, still grinning. “I’m going that way. Bye.”

Both men blocked my path. The older man shook his head and tutted. “No. You come so we deal with things.”

What choice did I have? I could hardly flee though the market with some rancid mare’s milk sloshing about in my innards. And anyway, where would I run? They would capture me in seconds, possibly frothing at the mouth. Besides, they were the police! People like me didn’t run away from the law. Finally, I acquiesced and allowed the officers to lead me away. Some people stopped to watch me leave, but most averted their eyes and carried on with their business. The only people enjoying my torment seemed to be the group of boys.

Escorted through the Bazaar

As we made our way through the market, we passed the stall where I’d bought the mare’s milk. My bowl had gone, I noticed, and Mr Moustache stopped to mime someone drinking and then grimacing. Then he pointed at me and laughed. I wondered where they had been watching me from. The boys were shouting and laughing, causing some people to stare. Mr Moustache turned around and yelled. They swiftly scarpered.

Policeman number two, the youngster, began speaking to me in broken English. “Kyrgyzstan good? Yah?”

I nodded enthusiastically and the man smiled for the first time. He seemed the friendlier of the two. He also decided to mime me drinking the kumis and laughed uproariously at his own impersonation. I laughed too because the situation was utterly absurd. It got even worse when he followed it up with a chillingly accurate impression of a horse neighing. He then mimed someone milking it, presumably educating me about where the kumis had come from.

We continued our walk through Osh Bazaar and Mr Friendly asked me something but I couldn’t understand him. He resorted to mime once more and swung his arms about in a swimming-like motion. I nodded earnestly and smiled. Yes I like swimming! I like it very much, especially in a vat of mare’s milk. Now please let me go!

We rounded a bend and came to a dark little part of Osh Bazaar. Fewer people were here and it crossed my mind that I might be about to receive a beating. I considered making a dash
The photo of me inside a Kyrgyz police stationThe photo of me inside a Kyrgyz police stationThe photo of me inside a Kyrgyz police station

Taken by a Kyrgyz police officer
for it, but for all I knew, there could be security cameras everywhere making escape impossible. Shaking my head resignedly, I followed the policemen into a cramped and stuffy windowless room filled with three desks.

A few other policemen doing nothing in particular were inside and all looked up when I entered. I quickly became the centre of attention. A quick conversation erupted but I didn’t understand any of it. A fly buzzed by the low ceiling and Mr Moustache directed me to a chair on one side of a spare desk. I sat down, awaiting my fate in my first Kyrgyz police station.

Inside the Police Station

Mr Moustache sat opposite me while Mr Friendly stood by his side. Bad cop, good cop. They spoke to me in thick Russian and I shrugged. I can’t understand you. They spoke some more in Russian but I stopped them by saying. “Nyet Russki!”

Suddenly one of the policemen sat a table behind me piped up. “They want to know why you in Kyrgyzstan?”

Do they indeed. I turned to the new man and said, “Please tell them I’m a tourist from England.”

The policeman gave this information causing Mr Moustache to waggle his whiskers at me. “Where hotel?” he asked, reverting back to English.

I pulled out a card the hotel had given me when I’d checked in. It clearly stated I was a guest there. I handed it over. Both men studied it and then put it on the table between us.

Mr Moustache gestured to my bag and decided to do some mime again. He acted out a strange scenario that looked like he was injecting himself with something. His sidekick nodded like a galoot. I quickly worked out they wanted to know whether I had any drugs.

“No,” I stated.

They got me to empty my bag and remove everything from my pockets. Mr Moustache immediately picked up my wallet and began leafing through the Kyrgyz som and US dollars I had, but Mr Friendly was more interested in my camera. He picked it up and tried to turn it on. After failing to do so, he handed it to me to do the job. I powered it up and he started flicking through all the photos and videos I’d taken that day: the man carrying a horse, the Mig fighter Jet and me drinking the kumis. He seemed particularly interested in the latter and asked me to play the video. Within seconds he was laughing furiously, pointing at the camera and then at me. He showed it to Mr Moustache who smiled but continued to poke about inside my wallet. After watching the clip a third time, the strange policeman did his horse neighing impression again, closely followed by the weird swimming arm motions. Maybe he was insane.

Mr Moustache finally placed the wallet with the rest of my stuff on the table and gestured that I could pack it all away. I did this while his pal still fiddled with my camera. In another moment of unreality, he asked me to pose for a photograph with my own camera. I did so, and he handed the camera back. When I’d finished packing, I looked at Mr Moustache, wondering whether he’d helped himself to some of my cash in the confusion.

“Finish,” Mr Moustache said. “You leave.” He stood up and offered his hand, which I shook involuntarily. The other man did the same and I left the room, sweating and wondering what the hell had just happened.

Outside, I counted my money but it was all there. Then I looked at the photo the young policeman had taken. It was rather good. If it hadn’t been for the photo, I might have thought I’d dreamed the whole episode.

The Red Quest

If you enjoyed reading about my experience at Osh Bazaar, then please buy my book, The Red Quest, detailing my journey through every former Soviet Republic (plus all the old Warsaw Pact nations). Along the way, I eat horse meat in Kazakhstan, get chased by hounds in Ukraine, endure visa hell in Tajikistan, survive a blizzard between Armenia and Georgia, and visit a genuine breakaway Soviet Republic where I almost get beaten up in a border hut. I find out about Nazi horrors in Latvia, photograph the front door of the KGB headquarters in Belarus and visit a torture museum in Slovakia.

visit for more information and exclusive photos.

The Red Quest is available from Kindle at:


26th January 2013

Congratulations on your book!
I'm a bit slow in discovering this news, but I hope completing your book was enormously satisfying. May you be rewarded with many sales and happy readers!
26th January 2013

I loved writing about my travels. But I'd like it even more if millions of people bought it!
26th January 2013

Ahh...don't you just love run ins with plod.....
Anyway, a great story Jason. You had me on the edge of my seat. Good luck with the book :)
26th January 2013

Glad you like it! But do you know what, even while it was happening, I thought to myself, this will make a great story...
26th January 2013

I'm going to read this blog next. I was in Kyrgyzstan a few years ago and remember a hearing a lot about the police from the backpacker I met.
26th January 2013

Here is the blog I made a few years ago, about my trip to Kyrgyzstan. I was kept on edge for the entire planning and execution of the trip with things like visa confusion, avoiding police and avoiding drunken Kyrgyzstani men. -
26th January 2013

I've saved it to m favourites. Looking forward to reading it later!
26th January 2013

Book in a non-Kindle version
Hi- I was wondering if you have a non-Kindle version of the book. I would like to buy it, but I do not have a Kindle. Thanks
26th January 2013

Congrats on the book! And how thoughtful of the police to give you a souvenir photo of your visit to the station. Better with your camera, than theirs!
26th January 2013

Yeah, I was so pleased when I saw the photo he took!
26th January 2013

I just downloaded it for $2.99...
even backpackers should be able to afford that! You're going to have to sell alot (one for each TBer) to become a millionaire. Your first reveiw was 5 stars! I'm looking forward to reading it as I will be traveling through that area in a couple of months.
27th January 2013

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it!
27th January 2013

I'm thoroughly enjoying your book...
especially how you kept the Quest from Angela for as long as possible. That was a close one when she suggested that you next vacation be to Italy and you countered with Hungary. To the book...better than the blogs (not that the blogs weren't great!)
27th January 2013

Wow, you read that quickly! Glad you found it an enjoyable read! Only need another 9,999,989 people to buy it and then I'll have reached my goal!
30th January 2013

Finished the book...
it was great. I particularly liked how you wove in turnips throughout the book. And I like Angela; such a wise person, and very understanding. What I want to know now is how and when you set your goal to visit 100 countries culminating with a South American visit with Angela, with 100 being Rio de Janero, Brazil?
30th January 2013

The 100 countries was always in the back of my mind, but the Soviet Republics were by baby. I loved them, as seen in the book. And glad you noticed the turnip theme! Initially, In was going to call the book, 'Stop Staring at My Turnips'! And I'll let Angela know you think she's wise!
30th January 2013

I forgot to mention...
that I also appreciated your passion for visiting the former Soviet bloc countries, and then giving the history of each in your blogs. These countries went through so many difficulties and it's wonderful that they are recovering; some sooner than others. And some habit die hard...this requirement for Letters of Invitation is rediculous, for example. At least Kyrgyzstan has seen the light! The last blog I published of my life's travels on December 31, 2011 ("The end of the Cold War and a tour of Former East Germany, the Czech Republic, SLovakia, Hunagary, Austria, and Bavaria" dated August 10, 1991) was in celebration of the fall of the Soviet Union, and I shared my thoughts as I was directly involved in this process working at the U.S. Mission to NATO. I hope you read it an comment. Thanks. Now, when can we expect your book on how you reached your goal of 100 countries? That also happens to be my goal, but I don't expect to reach it until 2016 or so...I'm at 68 and hope to pick up 7 more in March/April.
4th March 2013

Congratulations on your book
We will be downloading your book later today. Looking forward to reading more. If you get back to the states please look us up.
4th March 2013

Hope you enjoy the Red Quest!

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