The Old & New Silk Road to Tash Rabat

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April 1st 2016
Published: April 1st 2016
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Bishkek to Tash Rabat

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Roof and Mountains
Day 68 Saturday 26th March 2016 – Bishkek to Naryn

Off today for another side trip so back to the bus terminal, the first bus was just about full so this driver rang the next one in line who took us over to his van. Maybe my reputation has preceded me and I hardly have to ask for the front seat. One small problem the bus was due to leave in 2 hours so it was a bit of a wait but the bus quickly filled up obviously the locals like to get there early for the better seats. I made friends with a little dog who I shared my biscuits with and gave cuddles. I also had a long time to look at the interactions around the terminal, all the drivers seemed to get on well laughing and joking but the same could not be said of the women selling fruit. Two of the ladies had a bit of a screaming match with two drivers standing nearby in case it escalated which it was very close to before one stormed off ranting – who needs Days of our Lives it all happens at the bus
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Hard day in the saddle

The first half of the trip was the same route to Karakol but at the lake we speared off to the other side and continued through beautiful mountain scenery watching men fishing in ice blue streams. The driver got his license at the universal mini bus school and persisted on playing chicken with trucks, cars and pedestrians but thankfully the speed was low due to major road works.

Finally arrived at Naryn at 5.30pm and it is a sleepy little town, walked to the edge of town to Khan Tengri Hotel hoping it was opened. The hotel is large and has 4 different buildings it almost looks like a government compound, it was opened and had plenty of rooms. The next challenge was dinner which at first seemed that it would be easy as the hotel has a large restaurant in a separate building but they seemed to want us to eat in the breakfast room. We said that’s fine we will go for a walk but it seemed that they wanted us to stay, discovered the restaurant was booked out with a huge event with lots of dancing happening, so ordered a
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Front view
meal that they brought over to us in the breakfast room.

Day 69 Sunday 27th March 2016 – Naryn

After a huge breakfast that had multiple courses including a large bowl of porridge, we waddled down the street to book a tour for tomorrow and see the sights of the town. The town was dead and the tour offices closed and just as we were about to continue down the road a lady pushing a pram called out to us. Turned out she worked for CBT, one of the tour groups and told us they were all closed on Sundays but spoke to us a while and we arranged to go back tomorrow to her office at 10am for a tour. With that solved we continued down the main street which is very long with some smaller side streets and not much more, we could not see any obvious restaurants, we saw some small eateries in the small bazaar. Lucky we did eat at the hotel last night, maybe the places are more easily located at night when all lit up but I don’t think so.

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Cemetery and mountains on the way back from Tash Rabat

There was nothing much to see in town so we headed back to the comfort of our room and at 6pm headed over to the restaurant next to the hotel for another great feed of Kyrgyzstani food. As per usual they didn’t have everything available on the menu but there was still plenty to choose from and we now have a good handle on all the different dishes. Stayed at the restaurant for an extra beer before returning home, and we were only in our room 5 minutes when we got a knock on the door and it was Gulira from CBT to sign us up for the tour tomorrow. We were going to meet her at her office at 10 but she decided to come by at 8 at night to get our money and lock us in. She did explain that the tour offices in town actually don’t open for another two weeks till it gets warmer, so I guessed she didn’t want to go into the office if she didn’t have to. Didn’t worry us her dropping by and she claims to have arranged an English speaking driver for us, so all is looking good for

Monument in town

Day 70 Monday 28th March 2016 – Naryn & Tash Rabat

Up early for our 3 course breakfast that is way bigger than we can cope with, but we have a fair go at it. At 10 our driver turned up to whisk us away into the Kyrgyzstan Mountains. The road we are taking actually leads across the border to the Chinese city of Kashgar going over the 3700m high Tourgart pass that was built in 1952. At the moment there is a lot of roadworks going on and in particular just outside Naryn. This maybe Chinese funded as I have read that China is funding a lot of infrastructure projects in Central Asia. Seen a lot of roadworks so far on this trip but this one is the first one where it appears to be moving fast with lots of people and machinery working hard. Unsure of the name of the mountain range we followed today but it sure was spectacular and it made a great backdrop to everything we saw.

After driving for 90 minutes, (the last 15 minutes on a crappy

Our luxury bus
dirt road) we arrived at the main site for today Tash Rabat. This is a small stone building that was built sunk into the mountain side. Depending on what you read or who you listen to it is either a 15th century caravanserai (ancient hotel), or a 10th century monastery, later converted to a caravanserai. The location is at 3200m in a rugged valley that just adds to the atmosphere to the place. We had to pay a guardian to unlock the doors so we could have a look inside and it was great snooping around except it felt like a freezer, it would have had to been 10 degrees colder inside and this was fairly evident by the piles of snow and ice on the floor. Didn’t linger too long inside but walked around it several times taking in the ancient structure and the incredible vistas. It sort of funny to think that this was built all those years ago because it was near the silk road and today they are repairing that same route for trade reasons. Silks and spices used to be transported along these routes but now it is mobile phones and cars. China is literally

The road leading to our hotel
30 minutes down the road.

From here we headed back to Naryn stopping along the way to take photos. And at one stop we got some nice shots of a local cemetery outside a small village. The cemeteries here are huge and are covered in large mausoleums and statues which must cost the relatives a fortune to erect. It almost looks like they are trying to outdo each other in size and complexities.

Last stop of the day was at the ancient site of Koshoy Korgan which was a mud brick fortress built sometime between the 10th and 13th century. Not sure who came up with the idea of building a fortress out of mud, but looking at the remains you can sort of understand that the idea didn’t take off in a big way. Might be okay in the Sahara, but in an area that snows and rains it wasn’t the smartest of ideas. If you manage to spot it on Google Earth it sort of looks impressive but at ground level there ain’t much to see. The whole site is ringed with barb wire and there is a large ornate steel gate

A shepherd as seen from our hotel
to the site which is held shut by string; high tech security. A nearby museum was closed due to us being out of tourist season so we headed back to town. Today has been a fantastic day, the sites were nothing huge but the scenery was great, and it was worth the effort of coming all this way just for that.

When we got back to our room we had another great surprise in that we had finally received our LOI for Uzbekistan so as soon as we get back to Bishkek we can hit the Embassy.

Day 71 Tuesday 29th March 2016 – Naryn-Bishkek

Bad travel days always start early and todays started extra early. At around 5am we heard a guy doing the rounds of our hotel knocking on doors waking everyone up, okay we have heard that before as a tour leader rounds up his minions. A couple of minutes later the guy starts up a full throttle call to prayer right outside our door. We both love the call to prayer, waking up in the morning to the sound of the call to
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Shelley and Tash Rabat
pray waffling from a distant mosque is one of the nice moments of travelling and signifies that you are “no longer in Kansas”. However a guy screaming outside your door is not what you want. Not sure who the guys were but they had turned the hotel lounge area outside our room into a mosque, and after the call to prayer we endured over an hour of sermons and general chit chat. Despite not being religious we are both very respectful of others beliefs and I would never ever consider being disrespectful of someone’s place of worship, but I would also consider they should respect my place of sleeping.

The commotion kept us awake till 7.00am by which time our alarm went off and we had to get up anyway. If the hotel had told us when we checked in that this event was happening and we agreed to stay I would not have minded. Went to get breakfast and discovered that our breakfast café was closed and they wanted to send us across to the restaurant….oh did I mention that it was raining. Shelley stomped upstairs to get her rain coat in a manner that screamed
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Rear and roof of Tash Rabat
“I have the shits”, and then across at the restaurant we encountered the noisy brethren and apathetic staff that only flamed our anger. Not sure who these religious zealots were that had overtaken our house of sleep but I found it weird that they weren’t doing their “thing” in the mosque just down the road rather in the common room outside our door. Left the hotel and then walked the 30 minutes down the road to the bus terminal.

Knew things were going to be tough when a guy with a golden tooth pushed me off the footpath to befriend me into driving us to Bishkek. At the bus terminal the share taxis drivers actually grabbed my arms and tried to pull me into their taxi while Shelley stormed ahead and they pushed me to the limits of my non-violent benevolence. Managed to get decent seats on a minibus/van and watched another young local man being pulled in every direction by the taxi drivers with the old ladies in the bus laughing at the scene before two men from the bus company dragged him away and onto our bus. So we were now a full bus and
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Drunken doorways
only after waiting 15 minutes we were underway. Our driver today was good and when we went over one of the high passes and it was snowing he actually slowed down and took it cautiously.

After 4 hours of travelling including a quick lunch stop we arrived at the town of Kemin and were told to change minibus. Now I need to explain to those that do not know us that Michele suffers from Claustrophobia, which is perhaps the worst affliction any traveler could have in a country of mini vans. It has never been a major issue when we travel and it is something that you can always work around even if it costs a little bit more in money and time. Today wasn’t a problem as Shelley got a seat near the side door which calms her immensely. The other passengers were not happy with having to change minivan, with the old ladies yelling at the driver but that didn’t stop them trampling Michele as they stormed out the door. Our new minibus was smaller and had no side door so Shelley said no way. I guess because I had lost a bit of sleep
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Comfy rooms
this morning I didn’t take too well to having Michele put into a situation that she wasn’t comfortable with so I guess I lost my cool with the driver and had a bit of a rant, and stormed off.

Not proud of losing it and we marched down the road in the middle of nowhere but I had hit my limit…so I thought. Saw the minibus terminal and whilst we tried to work out which van could take us to Bishkek, a taxi driver came over and told us he could take us to Bishkek for 700 Som ($14). The guy couldn’t speak English but held up 7 fingers and also typed 700 on his phone so we could understand the price. It was a shared taxi but he we had it to ourselves and we kept trying to indicate to him to pick up others but he didn’t. Down the road he stopped to fill up with petrol and asked for payment so we did (this is not uncommon) and then he suggested that he could take us directly to our hotel for a fee, we had given him the hotel business card before we hopped
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The walls and mountains
in the taxi. This fee started at 500 Som so we declined the offer and said just Bishkek thinking he would either drop us at the edge of town or one of the bus terminals. Back on the road he rang a friend who spoke English but aggressively to Michele and said the fee to our hotel would be an extra 163 Som and mentioned no other costs, which we figured it was worth it to save the hassle of changing taxi so we agreed to the price. By this stage we were starting to get a bit worried about the whole thing and rightfully so. After our 90 minute trip we got to our hotel and handed the guy 170 Soms, at which he looked horrified at us and demanded more money. We have played this game before and know that there is no point sitting in a taxi arguing when you are in your right so we left him and went into the hotel, and of course he followed. Thankfully the staff at our hotel are fantastic and the guy at the front desk was able to handle him, but it took 10 minutes of arguing and the
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Side view
threat of calling the police before he left. His side of the story was that he told us that 700 Som was just for petrol and he also showed us 2000 on his phone which was the extra money he wanted, even the hotel reception thought that made no sense to ask for petrol money separate from the main fee. He never showed us that 2000 and his friend on the phone did not mention that amount, it was all just a con job, and I guess he picked the wrong people on a bad day to try his tricks. In the end we did get the ride too cheap as he did not pick up other passengers so I hope he learns to tell people the total price at the beginning so everyone is happy.

After that there was only one thing to do, get a few drinks and forget the day, and we did a good job of it.

Day 72 Wednesday 30th March 2016 – Last day in Bishkek

Woke up just a tad hungover for hopefully our last day in Bishkek. Straight after
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Domed roof
breakfast we hit the streets and walked up to the Uzbekistan embassy with the hopes of getting our Visa. There was a bit of a procedure to get in the front door, with them letting in only one person at a time, so we had to stand on the footpath waiting. Inside we got “the woman” who has built up a bit of a reputation on forums for being a nightmare to deal with, and she was. To get our visa we are supposed to ring and make an appointment which can take up to 2 weeks, but read how some people had just turned up and got it on the day and so decided to do the same as we really didn’t want to spend another two weeks in Bishkek. Of course the woman was annoyed with us and read us the riot act and told us we had to make an appointment and tried her best to ignore us, but then the nice guy we had spoken to two weeks ago appeared and greeted us like friends, hey presto, we were being processed.

We had to walk two blocks away to a bank and deposit
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Inside domed roof
the $240 visa fee and then return with the receipt before it was complete, but after all the waiting we finally had a Uzbekistani Visa. From here we wandered down to CAT tours and arranged an escape from Bishkek for tomorrow. Going to Osh and our options was a 40 minute plane ride or a 12 hour vehicle journey, and I know we are mad but we scrubbed the plane as we wanted to see the countryside. The road is a bit of a nightmare, so we ended up blowing the budget and organized a car and driver for the day. Could have got a minivan or shared taxi but after yesterday we were both a bit gun shy, and wanted the luxury to be able to stop and take photos along the way. Yesterday we passed through some incredible scenery and it is just so annoying that you can’t stop, take it all in and get a photo or two. We were both now so relieved that we had our visa and now an exit strategy for Bishkek, and to celebrate we got a couple of last beers at Edgars followed by a chicken pie in the park. It
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Inside main room
is amazing the change we have seen in Bishkek since our arrival, a couple of weeks ago it was snowing and everything was in lock down, but now the sun is out trees are in bloom, people are jogging around the park, and outdoor cafes have opened. The town has a completely different feel I can only imagine that as it turns to summer it only gets better.

For dinner we returned to a café on the third floor of a small shopping centre overlooking a park. The food tonight was okay but nothing great, but the view from the window over the Victory Park was brilliant. As the sunset we watched families wandering around, joggers and other Bishkekis enjoying the end of another day and we realized how much we will miss this town. Spent more time in this town than just about any other place in the world and although we are glad to be moving on we will also be really sad to be leaving.

Additional photos below
Photos: 34, Displayed: 34


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Tash Rabat

Original plaster walls
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Tash Rabat

Main hallway
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Tash Rabat

Dome over main room
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Tash Rabat

Rear view

3rd April 2016

What a travel day!
I loved the opening sentence to Day 71 'Bad travel days always start early and todays started extra early'. You two were really put through your paces, but it made a great story! We usually have high tolerance for touts and bullshit artists too, but I seriously draw the line at arms or packs being grabbed - all courtesy goes out the window at that point. I giggled at you getting 'the woman' at the embassy... if we ever identify staff we don't want to get, 99% of the time, we get that person. A version of instant karma for thinking badly of them I suppose :) Safe onward travels guys!
3rd April 2016

Long Rant
Sorry about our long rant, it was just one of those days and later on you come to your senses and realise the worst day of a trip is still better than your best day at work. I actually took the arm pulling okay which is very unlike me, as like you I find it unacceptable. Thanks for following us and hopefully our next blog is gentler.
3rd April 2016
Tash Rabat

I love this portion of your trip. I want to go. Stunning. Love the adventures. Keep them coming.
4th April 2016
Tash Rabat

Stunning scenery
Kyrgyzstan does have some amazing mountain scenery, and if you like that sort of thing the next blog has even more. Glad you are enjoying the photos.
12th April 2016

So how many people can honestly say that they can get so much in only one day.....and get through two can! Deep breath in.....long breath out......whooohoooo!!!! your on your the scenery of this blog......amazing pic's Shelly. I think I want to die in Kyrgyzstan and be buried at that hello! those mountains....happy travels x
12th April 2016

Don't be in a hurry to get into the cemetery
Please don't ask me to build you one of those brick mausoleums they are way too complex for my brick laying skills. We both didn't feel that the photos did the mountains justice so it gives you an idea how grand they were. Thanks Traudy

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