I decided to take a little trip to see more of Central Asia because time is quickly flying by and I want to get as much out of my time here as possible. I was in possession of a multi-entry visa to Kyrgyzstan (as my evacuation plan) so I decided to finally use it!
In my trusty “Lonely Planet” it recommended catching a very historical city, Osh, which is over 3000 years old (similar to Khujand). The best part is that Osh is only a day’s drive from Khujand and for us Canadians that’s nothing… so I decided to give it a try. Luckily I had great timing when planning my trip and a car from MEDA was going to Osh to attend an Agro-Expo, and there just happened to be a seat in the truck for me.
The drive was long, but armed with my faithful “sea-bands” to prevent motion sickness it was quite enjoyable. The country was beautiful, and I enjoyed driving through little villages to see what life was like outside of a city. We met up with a truck load of Agro-Expo participants from CESI, and made a few pit stops to stretch our legs and do a little tailgating. We made it to Osh before dark (they are an hour ahead… I did not know this!) and I managed to find a nice guest house after many unsuccessful attempts (either too grungy or too nice $$). Finally goldilocks found one that was just right. I was also pleasantly surprised when I went to a nearby café for dinner and found LETTUCE on the menu! First of all they had English on the menu, which you don’t find in Khujand; second of all they had VEGETABLES!!! My love affair with Kyrgyzstan had begun.
The next day when I woke up I heard this unfamiliar sound… it was raining! In all of my 6 months in Khujand I have never seen it rain, I know it has rained because I have seen puddles but I think it only happens when I’m sleeping, and it’s very light as I never hear it. Needless to say I was unprepared, so my first mission was to buy an umbrella. Looking up how to say “umbrella” in my little Russian phrasebook I took to the streets. This mission was quite unsuccessful; I had found many little shops, but no umbrellas. I decided it wasn’t raining THAT bad, and I could probably due without. However the snow was melting and turning into thick slush, so I was afraid my feet would be the most wet and an umbrella wouldn’t help that. My next mission was to find the gang at the Agro Expo to say goodbye and tell them I would be off to Bishkek later that day. I thought it might be a problem finding them in this huge building, but thanks to Akbar being unusually tall for a Tajik I found them no problem. Next I went to buy my plane tickets… I sat there with my phrase book studying what I wanted to say so I wouldn’t feel silly, and next thing I know the man behind the counter says in perfect English “Excuse me mam, can I help you?” It turned out that most people who worked at restaurants/hotels/stores all spoke a fair bit of English, so much for getting lots of practice!
After I had my tickets I only had a couple of hours to explore… which turned out to be plenty. I walked by the famous mountain, “Salomon’s Throne”, saw a bunch of statues, and attempted to go to the market but gave up after it being so crowded and pushy. My feet were soaked and I was deciding Osh wasn’t really what I expected, it may as well have been Khujand, I didn’t see anything that resembled their culture or heritage… guess I would have to go to a museum in Bishkek for that. So off I went, hopefully leaving the rain behind!
I arrived in Bishkek mid-afternoon and managed to be called “cheap” by a taxi driver as I took the bus to the city. When I arrived I just wanted to check in to my B&B and take off my wet shoes, but this turned out to be quite the process! The B&B I had circled in my book was under renovations, so I was off to check out other options. I decided to stay in an old soviet hotel, not because it was nice or cheap (it was neither) but it was getting dark, I was hungry, and it was located by a restaurant that my book said offered “excellent” vegetarian meals. Well my book was right! And the best part was they took MasterCard… so I ate almost everything on the menu, including a SPINACH salad!
The next morning my first mission was to find a new place to stay; other then the great view and a shower with great water pressure I wasn’t too impressed with what I got for my money at this place. Finding another option was nearly impossible it seemed, but after and hour and a half of walking around I finally found a place I was happy to call home for the next couple of days. I checked in, had some breakfast, ditched my backpack and finally was ready to see Bishkek.
I spent the day walking around the streets, looking at fancy buildings, statues, exploring INDOOR SHOPPING MALLS!! Honestly, there was a little culture shock; I couldn’t believe this was part of Central Asia. I wasn’t tempted to spend much time in these places, I kind of felt like they were alienating the Central Asia I had grown to love. I did love the wide, cobble stone streets though, there was no pushing and shoving like is so common in Khujand. But unfortunetly men still had the disgusting habit of spitting all over the streets just like in Khujand, I would be happy if I never heard that sound again or had to watch where I step to avoid it… I will never understand how people find spitting an acceptable behaviour in Central Asia. To end the day of aimlessly wandering I ate at another western style place, this time it was a sports bar. I loved it, it felt like back home with all of the wood, big screen TV’s showing sports (in English!) and beer on tap. This was also the home of an excellent veggie burger with mushrooms and Swiss cheese… a little slice of heaven!
The next day I wanted to explore the Ala-Archa Canyon; Kyrgyzstan is known for its beautiful scenery and I wanted to see it! I hired a driver from the hotel and off we went, I finally got to see some country side that I was expecting to see. We passed by fields, hills, and mountains with sheep, goats, cows, and horses grazing. Horses were everywhere, and if I would have come in another couple of months I could have gone trail riding through the mountains, riding horses, sleeping in yurts, cooking on an open fire… I have to come back!
When we got to the park, we started up one of the mountains for a view of the canyon and a waterfall if it wasn’t frozen. Unfortunately it was frozen, but the view was still so spectacular I couldn’t imagine it being any better. All of the mountains were snow covered, but it was warm enough we had to take off our jackets when we rested. The sun was shining, the air was warm and fresh, and the view was breath-taking. I never wanted to leave! I could hear rushing water, but did not see any water flowing… my driver who ended up coming along for the hike said that it was water from a melting glacier on the other side of the mountain, if I had a couple of days I could have hiked there and slept at the base camp. Yup, I definetly knew I had to come back! After we enjoyed the view for a while, we hiked back down and went into the canyon where the river was flowing. This was quite a refreshing day, after breathing in coal-burning fumes all winter my lungs didn’t know what to do with the fresh air!
After I made it back to town I set my shoes by the heater to dry and took a quick nap… then it was time to hit the museum and grab some souvenirs. I had attempted to go to the museum the day before but it closed early because the police blocked the area in front of it to have some kind of very official looking announcement, but I’m still not sure what it was about. The museum was interesting, finally glimpses of culture that I was expecting such as a yurt (a portable circular room made of felt, like a fancy tent), a loom, and even a mummy! (which I wasn’t expecting!) Then I found a bunch of souvenirs, in Tajikistan this is a chore because they really lack in typical souvenir type apparel, but in Kyrgyzstan there was soo much to chose from but so little money (no MasterCard’s accepted…yet!). I also really enjoy the paintings, so many of them depict their love for horses, I really wish I could have bought one, they were so beautiful. To end the day I found a great pizza place (also lacking in Khujand) and enjoyed a nice veggie pizza and mango milkshake! What a great way to end my time in Bishkek.
The next morning I set off for my journey home, I flew from Bishkek to Batken (near the Tajikistan border). The flight was spectacular; as we came below the clouds the view of the mountains was amazing. And as we approached Batken the scenery changed drastically from the usual snow-capped mountains to mountains made of the red/purple rocks that are unique to the Isfara area in Tajikistan. Then I took a taxi to Tajikistan (Isfara, across the border) with a group of friendly men I met on the plane. We then switched taxis in Isfara and took another one to Khujand. I was back in no time, ready to unpack and check my email to see if my Uzbekistan visa came through… which it did!!! I will be leaving Friday for another journey, but this time desserts and camels instead of mountains and horses!
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