|Osh Bazaar - Bishkek|
|Osh Bazaar - Bishkek|
|Osh Bazaar - Bishkek|
|Shared Taxi to the beach|
|Lake Issyk Kul|
|Roughing it in a tent|
|On the way to Lake Song Kol|
|Our yurts at Lake Song Kol|
|Buzkashi - polo with goat's carcass|
|Lake Song Kol|
|Chinese Mosque with no nails in Karakol|
|Ubiquitous dried apricots|
|Aslanfu - finally a veggie dish|
|Bishkek to Osh roadtrip|
|Abs with FC Dordoi at our hotel in Osh|
Jobs quit, insurance paid for, immodium at the ready - we were finally ready for our first stop; Kyrgyzstan.
We didn't really know what to expect with this bizarrely named country. After spending nearly 2 weeks here we have discovered it to be a land of horse milk, old (drab?) soviet architecture, loud Russian pop and possibly the most beautiful women (after Portugal) that we have come across.
Our trip started with a couple of sleepless, jet-lagged, swelteringly hot nights in the capital Bishkek. After two days walking around the leafy, green city and being stopped twice by the police for a "random" search we decided we'd had enough of the capital. So we picked up a visa for our next country, Tajikistan, and headed to the "beach".
And so Tamchi was our next destination. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul we arranged a home-stay relatively close to the shore in some random lady's house.
The hundreds of Russian / Kazakh tourists at the beach created what can only be described as a very poor man's Ibiza, though probably a little dirtier. Nonetheless despite the Russian pop music emanating from the numerous eateries it was a beautiful setting for a swim in the 2nd highest alpine lake in the world, cushioned on all sides by a vista of beautiful snow-capped mountains.
We headed further East the next day to the town of Karakol from where we started a 2 day hike to Altyn Arashan.
We do not exaggerate when we say that the14km one-way, uphill hike nearly killed us. Too unprepared, too old and several years of using London's fantastic (?) public transport system meant we were not used to walking more than the distance between our desks and the nearest toilet. But at least there we had some respite from the rain, which started during the final hour of our trek.
And so after six hours of slowly hiking up our tired legs finally made it to our destination where we set up a rented tent for the night under a drizzle of silvery rain, more reminiscent of the grey skies of England than the +35C heat that we had become accustomed to since landing in Central Asia. Being so high up in the mountains (3000m) however the temperature slowly plummeted in the evening and we warmed ourselves by eating soup prepared by the site manager and drinking copious amounts of Russian & Kyrgyz vodka with the fellow campers, who included no less than German cyclists, a Canadian backpacker with his Kyrgyz girlfriend and a Russian couple who could not help but laugh when realising that Diana was a vegetarian.
The night passed slowly and coldly with both of us waking up several times in the night through the bitter cold that had penetrated our tents, sleeping bags and several layers of clothes. And so it was with relief that morning came and we were able to finally take advantage of the hot springs for which the area was famous for. Situated on the edge of the roaring glacier-formed river, the setting was perfect with a natural hot spring pool providing some relief to our sore muscles, before we packed away all our gear and made the 14km walk back down to Karakol.
A day of relaxation was followed by a long day trip to Lake Song Kol, situated in the middle of the country and offering a stay in a yurt for 2 nights. Our compatriots for this leg of our journey came in the form of 4 Czechs and a French couple on a 2 week holiday in the country.
The tranquillity of the lake provided a nice break for a couple of days. We sat around, ate some local food (including some amazing home/yurt-made cream, jam and delicious bread), went swimming in the lake and were fortunate to catch a glimpse of the national sport, buzkashi, in which players ride around on horses trying to get the carcass of a dead goat into the opposition’s goal. Nottingham Forest it was not, but nonetheless it was both fascinating and disgusting (especially when they decapitated the goat’s head – Diana couldn’t look). Abs was also fortunate enough to give an interview to the South Korean film crew in the area doing a documentary on Kyrgyzstan.
Still in the company of our 4 Czech companions we made our way to Osh in what was probably the best vehicle we had taken during our two weeks in Kyrgyzstan. Little did we know that a modern suspension and a four wheel drive would provide minimal relief for the 10 hour trip ahead. Our driver had six children, spoke no English and had a death wish. Overtaking on blind corners, driving on the wrong side of the road, ignoring every traffic sign for danger or reducing speed gave Diana several minor heart attacks and made her wish she had brought a stash of sleeping pills. Between bouts of screaming and praying we caught glimpses of sand colored mountains that rose high above turquoise lakes making this the most beautiful scenery we saw in Kyrgyzstan.
Osh was a pleasant enough city to spend the next 3 nights. We walked the tree lined boulevards, took pictures of a random plane in the middle of one of the city parks and explored the closed bazaar which was probably one of the biggest we’ve ever come across.
It was here that after spending 2 weeks in Kyrgyzstan we decided it was time to move onto Tajikistan.