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Published: April 4th 2016
Day 73 Thursday 31st March 2016 – Bishkek to Osh
We are so mean – arrived for breakfast at 7.10am and it was in darkness with the only light coming from outside, this is in the 24 hours restaurant Prego which does the breakfast for the hotel. Looked at the counter and there was tea and coffee and the urn was hot, so thought “that will do” as maybe brekkie does not officially start till 7.30am. On a previous occasion the waitress had been asleep in one of the corner booths but I could not see her. Got settled and one of the kitchen staff walked through and although we were making noise and waved she did not notice us, would not be the first time we have been invisible. We just smiled to ourselves, she returned shortly and jumped ran back into the kitchen turning on lights and calling out, from a booth right in the corner the waitress emerged she had been sound asleep, we felt very mean waking her up.
Back at the room we got a call saying our driver Zamir was here and it was right on 8am
Bishkek to Osh
Immobile and mobile trucks
which was a good start. We have written before how Scott and I always seem to get the bombiest looking taxi or car so I was looking around thinking where is the Lada 4 wheel drive being held together with duct tape, when he opened the door to a big Toyota Land Cruiser. We hoped in the back seat and looked at each other and said this is too good for us. We made our way out of Bishkek and from one village to another that seem to run into each other and the day being slightly overcast but warm.
About 2 hours into the trip we started to climb zig zagging our way up the Ala-Too mountain range all along the route there were trucks broken down and yet more slowly making their way up the steep climb on a road that is full of huge bottomless potholes. Zamir stopped for us to take photos when he found safe places, by now it was sleeting and when we hopped out the ice was pelting into our faces which made us dart from the car take a few photos and jump back in. The scenery was breathtaking
Bishkek to Osh
Us at the Tor-Ashuu Pass
as we wound up the mountain, there were some concrete roof sections built over the road to protect it from falling debris and we had to also pass through a few small tunnels to get to the Tor-Ashuu pass which is at 3586 metres. Just before the top is the notorious 2.6 kilometre long tunnel that we have read about, it is narrow dark and there does not seem to be any road just potholes, it is a bit scary seeing trucks coming the other way wondering if we will fit passed. The tunnel appears just to be wide enough to fit two trucks passing each other, these trucks are big but not huge so you get an idea of the confinement in the tunnel. All this is compounded by the air quality inside which is what lead to fatalities in 2001 from carbon monoxide poisoning, by the end I was very glad to be out.
As we exited the tunnel we were confronted by snow, so we stopped for a quick photo before making our way down to the Sussamyr Basin; at the bottom it started to pour with rain. Then we were climbing again this
Chaos of the Osh Bazaar
time the Ala-Bel Pass at 3184 and we were back to sleet. Stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant and had a great Kuurdak which is a mutton dish and Zamir got a well-deserved break. As the road wound down and around the Toktogul Reservoir and we were greeted by brilliant sunshine. Stopped for a photo beside the lake and Zamir found it amusing that we would be interested in water when Australia is surrounded by it. A few of the locals we have spoken to seem amused that we are interested in mountains, and told us that to them it is the ocean that is beautiful, which I guess it would be when your country is landlocked. At Kara-Kol had a quick stop for a car issue but took advantage because from this point you can see the dam at the end of the reservoir. From here the terrain looked similar to Katherine Gorge in Australia with red sandstone walls only huge. We were now looking down to the Naryn River the longest in Kyrgyzstan which is fed by glaciers and snow which I assume gives it the amazing blue colour, and it is very dramatic against the red
Bishkek to Osh
The Concrete road roof
At one point Zamir pointed to two barbed wire fences running parallel beside the road they were about 1.5 metres high and about 10 metres apart and he told us that it was the Uzbekistan border meaning that the cows, sheep and shepherds we saw in between the two were in no man’s land. The landscape had changed again now there were grassy small hills filled with red, yellow and purple flowers; spring has definitely arrived. As we entered Osh it started to rain again; talk about 4 seasons in one day. Arrived at our hotel at 8.00pm meaning we had the most amazing 12 hours, we are so glad that we did not fly and chose the road. Said goodbye to Zamir and thanked him for the day, his safe driving and showing us more of his amazing country.
Got settled and had a beer to celebrate a great day of travelling. Day 74 Friday 1st April 2016 – Osh
A new month and a new city to explore but first to arrange how we are getting across the border,
Bishkek to Osh
Entrance to the 2.6km long tunnel
do we do the three local minivan/shared taxi connections or another organised driver? Went to Munduz Travel to discuss options and one of the ladies confirmed that the Wakhan Valley was still closed as she had been there 2 days ago and had to back track but we had sort of already ruled it out. After lots of discussion we decided to get a driver to the city of Khojand in Tajikistan, he would drive us across the border and stop for us to get photos. So far the travel agencies in Kyrgyzstan have been great because they always give you the cheapest options of local transport as well as what they have to offer. Even giving us an option of the driver getting us to a town just over the border and helping to get a shared taxi the rest of the way to make it cheaper.
With that sorted we walked around town and down to the Osh Bazaar which is meant to be the biggest one in Central Asia. The town is not what I thought it would be like, I knew that it is the second largest city after Bishkek with about 300,000
Bishkek to Osh
but I thought it would look like Naryn (dusty and quiet) only bigger, but there is quite a lot happening here although not much in the way of sightseeing. The bazaar has a sprinkling of traditional items, heaps of everyday items and some great smelling eateries around. Had a quick look around don’t want to see it all at once as we have another whole day here. The funny thing about the bazaars in Kyrgyzstan is that they are almost entirely constructed from shipping containers, and often shops in the rural towns are the same. Sort of smart thing as they are strong, can be locked up and secure and easily stackable. The bazaar straddles the river flowing through town and it had me wondering what happens if they get a flood, and I had this image of hundreds of shipping containers floating down the river.
Spent the afternoon doing a bit of laundry back in our room as the hotel here also charges ridiculous prices for laundry; $2 USD to wash a T-shirt. Worked out that our bag of laundry would cost about $60, and so we have opted to drag our dirty undies into Tajik
Bishkek to Osh
where we are hoping for cheaper laundry prices. For dinner we went to a place around the corner which offered local and Turkish cuisine. No English menu and no one spoke English, but the menu did have pictures. Unfortunately not many options were available and had to fall back on skewered meat. Michele’s was as tough as an old truck tyre and the salad she ordered didn’t arrive, but the people running the place were so lovely and tried to help, and the feed was cheap. Day 75 Saturday 2nd April 2016 – Osh
Bit of a rainy dreary day so we were slow in getting out the door and actually had the cleaning staff giving us the hurry up.
Before coming to Osh we were told/semi warned that Osh was a completely different town to Bishkek. The phrase we heard twice was “Bishkek like Europe, Osh is Islam”, so we sort of expected a very religious town with mosques on every corner and women dressing more conservatively, but it hasn’t been the case. The town has had its share of trouble in the past,
with political/ethnic riots here in 2010 which claimed the lives of 400 people, but things have settled down. Osh sort of lies near where the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan all joined in a crazy interlocking pattern that Stalin dreamt up in the 1950’s in an effort to define the boundaries of the different ethnic groups. Sometimes fences and boundaries only inflame tensions rather than establish everlasting peace (hear that Mr Trump). The town does feel a bit different than other Kyrgyzstan towns but we saw no sign of ethnic division or tension in our short stay, only a bit more begging on the street and a lot less English is spoken. Also alcohol isn’t as widely available in the restaurants, but can still be picked up at the supermarkets.
Today we wandered down to the main attraction in town, which is a large craggy rock in the centre of town called the Suleiman Too. This is apparently a bit of a sacred place for Muslims, and has been claimed (although widely disputed) that the Prophet Mohammed prayed here. More realistically it is where Zahiruddin Babur (the founder of the Indian Mogul Dynasty) built a prayer
Bishkek to Osh
room in 1497. The lump of a rock is dotted with caves and crevices that are supposed to have all manner of spiritual powers including one that helps women with fertility. The place is also claimed to represent the half way point for the Silk Road, which is sort of funny as there were so many routes and so many starting and finishing points, but it makes a good story and sells postcards. For us it was a hard twenty minute walk up uneven steps and slippery rocks to get to the top. Once at the pinnacle you realize that Osh is actually very ugly from above and is much prettier at street level. By this stage we were getting a bit wet from the constant drizzle so decided to walk back to the shelter of our hotel.
For dinner we went to a Turkish restaurant and thankfully the menu had pictures and what we chose was available. Only a couple of days ago we were sad about leaving Bishkek and now tomorrow we are leaving Kyrgyzstan, it does feel really sad. Kyrgyzstan isn’t a “wow” destination and we have arrived at the wrong time of year
Bishkek to Osh
Army trucks on the move
but it does get under your skin and it feels good. Thankfully the difficulties of getting around is compensated by the warmth and helpfulness of the people.
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