11. TJ – Wakhan Valley (Langar to Ishkashim)



‘Today we drive along the Afghan border from Langar to Ishkashim. En route we visit the Buddhist Stupa in Vrang, the ruins of Yamchun Fortress, the sacred hot springs of Bibi Fatima Zahra and the old fortress of Kah-Kaha in Namadgut.

We arrive in Ishkashim in the late afternoon and settle into our family run homestay.
Ishkashim is a small town at the mouth of the Wakhan corridor, where the 19th century Great Game ended. Continue up the north side of the river with amazing views of the Pamirs to the left and the Hindu Kush to the right; a number of peaks in view are above 6,000 m.’
 

We crossed to the Wakhan valley. It was snowing and the fog was thick, concealing the distance. At the guard post in front of us was a truck facing issues with its petrol, so we stopped for awhile. I looked the the creaking flagpole with the rusting metal flag, green and white and red, and the guardhouse scribbled in blue crayon-like words. The soldiers in their military uniform, a gun peeking from beneath. My driver standing next to the guard post with the soldier. He walks over to check our boot. I am slightly nervous, as always when crossing borders. They remind me of a scene from a foreign film – I know that is because that’s the only time I’ve ever seen the Persian-descent, blue-eyed features of the Tajik-Afghan region.

I am nervous anyway. Ah, media.

We drive slowly along the Wakhan valley. How curious, that a single river separates the border between the two countries. Just less than 300m away. It is a mountainous, barren place. It was foggy and cold.



Zong Castle (vishim qala):



crossing a small stream on our way up

dog following us

he likes

This is one of my favourite memories. Here, we met a boy (a young shepherd carrying a bleating sheep) who brought us to his home.

I remember him gesturing for us to come in. Hesitant but curious, I gingerly stepped into his house. We smiled, uncertain, taking in the carpets and the ceiling with its Pamiri roof and the things around us. He gestured for us to sit down, and we did.

His mum tried not to look surprised at our presence. We smiled at each other, and I took out my pens from Singapore and gave it to them. I then asked them to smile for a polaroid.

They smiled at the photo, and the little boy immediately stuck it on the wall along the doorway. He smiled at his mother. She then gestured for us to sit down, and went away for some time. A moment later she appeared, with warm bread and a bowl of goat milk (presumably) for us each.

Wasn’t sure if it was impolite to completely refuse, but at the same time we didn’t want to impose or take too much from them either. We tore a little piece from the warm bread and ate them, and drank the bowl of goat’s milk. I believe it’s freshly squeezed; I still remember it was cold, and had little curdlike texture in it. I gulped it down.

Took a photo with them, and took our leave, feeling warm and happy. He walked with us a little bit, and we waved him back as it was drizzling. I can still remember me waving to him as I walked on, watching his figure grow smaller and smaller. I can still remember his delighted grin, and his genuine excitement as he invited us back to his home.

This was the first time I’ve ever, ever been invited to a stranger’s home.

Vrang buddhist stupa – here we met a group of children looking for rubies, it seemed. The little girl opened her palm, and showed me some rocks. ‘are these rubies?’ she had asked. I shrugged. Later, I read that there was indeed a ruby mine around the area.

 

Climbing up a seemingly random unmarked path

 

nice view

here, we saw the little kids climbing up as well

followed them down
as we walked down, their mother called out to them, and then to us. she waved for us to come down.
so we did, we followed them down. they spoke English, and we chatted for awhile.
They’re a clearly friendly family, and spoke some good English. The children learn English in school. They asked how long we were staying, and poured us some tea.
The little girl took out her English textbook.
I loved this part, because the English textbook had the Tajik words to it. Here, as we went through the English word of vocabulary like ‘bed’, ‘table’, ‘breakfast’, ‘dinner’, they told us the Tajik translation as well. The Tajik versions were so difficult! They corrected us patiently, and we tried to learn.
We lauded them for their ability to grasp both Tajik and English.
It was fun :))
The sun was setting soon, and we had to leave. We had stayed a little too long, Shuric must be waiting. Took polaroids and bidded them farewell.

I will remember you 🙂

Drove on and stayed in Yamchun for the night

i remember walking to this toilet

it’s an interesting toilet, hence i took a photo of it

being butt-naked in the cold is cold

At night in Yamchun – no lights, I read my book and slept

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10.TJ – Langar for lunch / Wakhan Valley

Superstar Shuric
our awesome driver, Shuvic (pronounced Shuric, he may be contacted at 900502656)
As with the Tajik tradition, giving sweets and candies is part of a culture (‘in every house you visit, fruit and sweets will be piled high in front of you’)
yes, he really poses for me

We rode past a herd of animals grazing on this barren land. Wow, I excitedly point out. The little girl stared into the distance. Her long lashes and rosy glowing cheeks catch mine. When she’s my age, would she remain as fascinated as I was? Or would she grow accustomed by these landscapes I hardly see in my homeland. I offer the Mother my remaining 2 sweets. She nods and smiles, taking them from my outstretched palm and giving them to he children. I had meant then for her, so i was slightly surprised. It made me consider if I’d do the same (well i suppose so, if i don’t eat sweets / if i have kids, but still). I stare curiously at them; they stare curiously at me.

I was actually really excited about the Wakhan valley before the trip, considering its proximity to Afghanistan, separated only by a river. But the weather was poor and cold, and Ishkashim triumphed this, so this faded in my memory. 😀

meal time! yummy in the cold!

 

i like this toilet, i found it interesting and showed it to my students
when the watch was still around.
at 4000m, the high altitude means that the surrounding vegetation and landscape is different.

 

homestay

 

 

another pamiri home!
where’s this? hmmmm

 

9. TJ – Bulunkul & on

From the outside, a traditional huneuni chid (Pamiri house) may look like a simple mud-stone box, but inside guests are greeted with carpets that line the walls and floor; gentle curtains greet the sunshine that lightly peeks in.

We woke up early this morning at 6.30, and got ready for breakfast by 7. Breakfast served that yummy sesame biscuit again, and slightly-too-salted eggs, and of course, chai! As with every meal. And a delightful plate of sweets. THE SESAME BISCUIT -GUSHES-


The Pamiri house is normally built of stones and plaster, with a flat roof on which hay, apricots, mulberries or dung for fuel can be dried.
 

A skylight, the design of which incorporates four concentric square box-type layers known as ‘chorkhona’ (‘four houses’) representing, respectively, the four Zoroastrian elements earth, water, air and fire, the latter being the highest, touched first by the sun’s rays.



More on symbolism in the Pamiri home here

act cute face

love the carpets! the prints! wait till uzbek / iran, i know, i know
We headed to Murghab:

– Visited the Shakhty cave to see Neolithic cave paintings – with their perfectly preserved red-ink paintings of a boar hunt.



Pictographs in Shakhty cave (Murghab district)



These rock paintings are supposedly approx. 12,000—8,000 BC. Now that I think about it… These rock paintings were just… exposed, and well, lying amidst some graffiti. I remember asking CZ ‘is this the one?’ We took awhile to find it, there were other modern scribbles around. 

Approx. 12,000—8,000 BC… now that’s a really long time, quite incredible isn’t it. Such art in the past. And yet lying so casually within my reach! 

Should some preservation actions be taken? hmmmm

 

“huh???”
they were asking some question about this. i can’t remember what

Akbailik holy spring of fishes

Considering it’s a landlocked country, how did the fishes get there???? We wondered

ulu signboard

spotted some shan yang. my friends. i like! HURRAY!

ME FRIENDS MEEEEEE AND SHEEPDOG

Bulunkul – lake with fishes



bulunkul

Yashiikul – the nicer lake that looks like Almaty lake

Alichor village to sleep

Next up: Introducing our driver, Shuric

 

8.5 TJ – Karakul

Karakul is, to say the least, absolutely gorgeous. I remember walking along the coast (?), freezing with the howling wind, but stood still at its breathtaking beauty. The silence and the calm that accompanied the glint of sunshine reflecting off the glittering sea, the frozen blades of grass / waves and the foam-like heaps of snow – I had never seen anything quite like that.

Nature’s beautiful way of blending its shades of blue and white

i love this, i remember sitting down and taking this picture, feeling a wave of calm wash over me

We met a little girl at our homestay, the daughter of our homestay owner. Dressed in white, she skipped around with a ball, kicking it amidst the sand. The wind blew relentlessly as the sand attacked my eyes. Each time the ball dropped, she would run after it excitedly, despite the brown sand that smeared across her white frock.

We dropped our things in the room, and headed to the lake.

The lake was one highlight

The yaks were another

weird

yak fur! shedding them during the winter season? mmmm. I touched them. They were warm. and… rough… stringy. like wires. hmm

^^

 

6. KGZ – Arslanbob – Hike to the Holy Rock!

 

Arslanbob, the largest walnut forest in the world.
It’s not the season for the harvesting of walnuts, unfortunately. Nonetheless, we were determined to find its traces before we left.

Fresh air!

At the CBT office, we took a close look at the tourist map:

We aimed to approach the Holy Rock, that little dot along the contours of the hill.
Little did we know how hard it was to identify the rock in the actual landscape. The ominous dark clouds gathered….
Warning sign: dark clouds ahead

Community-Based Tourism:

‘-While in Kyrgyzstan, please respect local people’s traditions, cultures and religion.

-Pay fair price for lodging, food and services. Buying local products benefits the local economy.

-When entering a home, don’t forget to take off your shoes.

-Don’t smoke in homes.

-Please don’t give anything to begging children; it teaches them poor habits.

-Carry a plastic bag for litter. Pack up all non-biodegradable rubbish.

-Please don’t drop cigarette butts or candy wrappers – set a good example for children!

-High altitude vegetation is frail; avoid trampling, and do not pick plants or flowers in quantity.

-Leave only footprints, take only photographs.’

Extracted from the CBT office in Arslanbob

Walked past cows
Past large roaring waterfalls
Trekked through the rocky edges
Wandering along the valleys
It started to rain. We walked towards what seemed like the Holy Rock, but there didn’t seem to be any definite path. Was this the route? Was this the path for the animals? We walked on, even as it poured relentlessly.
Rest-stops along the way

It was a long day, I recall walking through the rain and immense wind at one point, but we walked on anyway. When we eventually walked back we were tired, but grateful for the mutual support and encouragement.

I love Arslanbob for its beautiful calm nature that is free for me to embrace!

 

5. KGZ – Arslanbob – The many faces / Homestay

Arslanbob – I loved Arslanbob the moment I heard its name (biased, but yes, very alluring name. Arslan-bob. It tastes like a sprinkle of magic and fantasy.)

When I think of Arslanbob, I will remember the gentle cool breezes and the bright blue skies, peppered with tiny cotton floating carelessly in the wind. Like flakes of snow, lazing across the blue canvas. It adds to the spark of mystic. Arslanbob.

Unlike Bishkek, Arslanbob is almost totally Uzbek in population (looking at the map, it borders quite closely to Uzbekistan)

How are cotton plants planted?


After a 10 hour shared taxi ride through the mountains we reached Arslanbob, a predominantly Uzbek community home to the largest walnut forest in the world. The men wear the traditional Uzbek skullcap instead of the Kyrgyz kalpak. Everyone is really friendly; we walk past the homes and children giggle and wave shyly back. ‘hello! Hello! Photo!’ they ask, excited, crowding around. Wish I brought some food or cherries with me to give.

Kyrgyz kalpak

Uzbek skullcap

Arslanbob has a strong community-based tourism establishment. At the CBT office, we see the numerous homestays offered. To register and opt-in to host tourists, the CBT office has certain requirements that these homes will need to fulfill. E.g. Ensuring a basic level of cleanliness and comfort, toilet bowls, showers, blankets, meals that can cater to tourists’ tastebuds etc. These opportunities are also offered to those that fall below a certain income, in order to help those of a lower income group.

Tourists are a key source of income for the homes. When these homes eventually earn enough money, they ‘upgrade’ their homes, or allow other households to participate.

How interesting, studying about CBT in school and then speaking to someone from the CBT office from their perspectives.

The various homestays available:

 

Yes, good

Homestay family:

Room – big room. I remember stepping in feeling relieved in the night; it traps heat.
In the day, stepping into the room is much cooler. It is a space of respite in either case.
The blanket is thick and warm.

Dinner! My gosh, that plov. Awesome plov. We came back to this enormous plate of plov which we devoured, after a long, long day of hiking and walking nonstop for at least 8-10 hours. I remember my legs aching, and feeling immensely rewarded by this meal. 🙂

HAPPY!!!

Breakfast- the bread

For memory’s sake

They knew I was taking the photo. Before this I was also observing the kitchen. Roles.

In the morning, sunlight filtering in
Fam
We walked around the neighbourhood on our first day.
Everyone is really friendly, and everyone seemed really curious and interested in us, as foreigners. Everyone said hi, and many offered (volunteered) to take photos with us.
Word had spread about the polaroid. When we were walking back, another family seemed to be waiting for us. They stood there, giggling as we walked past, and indicated to the polaroid their friend had. We gave them some, and they were delighted.

The family looks on curiously at my polaroid for them. The little boy runs across the street to show his neighbour.

 

 

These little girls are walking home from school

They kindly agreed to the photo

 

 

 

 

Lovely day
More about Arslanbob:

“Of course, Arslanbob is not just about walnuts: the village has multiple identities. A relatively conservative Uzbek enclave in a predominantly Kyrgyz nation, Arslanbob has strong historical ties with Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley that lies not so very far away over gerrymandered Soviet-period borders to the south (never was the political strategy of ‘divide and rule’ more apparent than with the convoluted and sometimes utterly nonsensical lines of demarcation that separate the now independent republics of Central Asia – Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan). Almost totally Uzbek in population and culture, Arslanbob is also a spiritual centre of sorts, with holy rocks and sacred lakes in the mountains above the village and religious shrines in the surrounding forest. Islamic it may be, but there are strong animist and shamanist overtones too – the peoples of Central Asia have always had a strongly developed sense of place that has its spiritual expression beyond the normal confines of formalised religion. Legend has it that in 329 BC, Alexander the Great visited these forests, extracted a walnut tree, and brought it to back to Greece.”
Seeing the Uzbek-dominant area makes me question – do the 5% Kyrgyz get along well in an Uzbek dominated area? Considering the ethnic tensions between them. Been reading up Wikipedia a little, and this seems similar to the Bosnia situation – stirring of conflict for political gains, nationalist statements, border issue, neighbouring countries stepping in

“Stalin then intentionally drew borders inconsistent with the traditional locations of ethnic populations, leaving large numbers of ethnic Uzbeks and Turkmen within Kirghizia’s borders. This was supposed to maintain a level of interethnic tension in the area, so that these closely related groups would not rise up against him”

4. KGZ – Hiking in Ala-Archa (Bishkek) / En-Route to Arslanbob

Tu vida no la escribes con palabras… la escribes con acciones. Lo que piensas no es importante. Lo 

único importante es lo que haces. 

 

Things I learnt about Kyrgyzstan from my ‘fake-Kyrgyz’ (too cosmopolitan) Friend:

– Flag of kyrg has a yurt


2. Kyrgyzstan has a nomadic history

“Kyrgyzstan has a deep-rooted nomadic heritage that went along untouched until collectivization in the mid-1900s.  Nomads lived in yurts and herded livestock in the mountains; cities were never in the picture.  If you aren’t familiar with yurts, imagine the tip of a crayon that’s been used and then the part just above the paper label is cut off, and that’s the basic shape of a yurt.  A yurt has circular latticework that rises from the ground, then you attach curved poles to the ends of the latticework.  All the poles curve inward, but don’t meet at a point.  There’s a circular piece of wood that levitates above the middle of the latticework that all the poles connect to.  Everything is tied together for stability and covered with felt to help keep out the rain and cold.
However, things changed when the Soviet Union introduced itself to Kyrgyzstan’s history.  Collectivization brought on by the Soviets translated into villages and cities popping up in Kyrgyzstan where a lot of people ended up settling down.  Not all nomads planted roots though, so after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, nomadic life began to make resurgence. While not everyone has returned to a nomadic way of life, there are still many nomads living in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan today.”
 
Sanjar stayed in a yurt of his relatives when he was young. How fun!!!!!!

– 90% of the country is mountainous

– Dominant ideals of masculinity and non-smiling

– The shared taxi system here is also, well, interesting. They do not move until they have enough passengers, so you don’t have a definite time of when you’ll start moving. Nicolas, the guy from couchsurfing, waited 4 hours for his vehicle to Osh. In the end, he took a flight instead.

We went to the Tajikistan embassy in Bishkek the next morning. The process was fuss-free and quick. 75usd + 100soms admin fee. Fill up a couple of forms and you’re done. Collection same day possible. To think I was most concerned about visa, sigh. It was easy.

We went back and took a taxi out to Ala Archa, picking up Sanjar along the way.

Trying the Kymiz – horse milk, on our way back

It tastes sour to me, I make a face as I taste it

‘She’s not open minded enough,’ Sanjar and CZ laugh at me

How interesting that the Kyrgyz flag has a yurt symbol in its middle, the traditional home of its nomadic people. 🇰🇬 🐏

 

 

WE ARE READY!!!

ALA ARCHA LET’S GO
ROUTE- UP UP UP

The skies were rather gloomy.
Rest points:
best decision to buy the super huge kebabs. THEY WERE AWESOME, THE BEST KEBAB EVER in the cold hunger.

 

 

whee!

WHEE!

 

 

WHEE!!!!

hurray!!!!

finally done
or was this before we set off? hmmm

fight fight fight

no la don’t la *cheesy*

As you can see, it was cloudy and moist and drizzling a little at the end. Nonetheless, the company was awesome, and the process is what mattered.
En-route to Arslanbob:



Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan –> Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan

Such an eventful ride.

10 hour shared taxi ride to Arslanbob:

The ride here was homely. The bus driver bobbed his head along with the music, and the curves on the road.

The women behind broke her bread into pieces and handed them to us. The man in front of us poured his drink into plastic cups as we passed down. We clink our cups – ‘cheers’.

To me, the way they so casually ate each others’ bread and drinks so nonchalantly – no sense of paisehness / 客气-ness – no wave of thank you or mentioning of it whatsoever, but a very normal kind of sharing between family, provides an insight on their sharing culture (?)

 

We stopped halfway for a short break. Met a group of locals here who were really excited about the polaroids. Gave away a few. We also took photos on my camera, and tried exchanging emails. I say ‘tried’ because it didn’t seem to be a proper address. I tried to send from my phone but it failed. There was a little communication error, I have to admit.

everyone’s really excited to be our photo actually. They requested for the mass group photo!

The people at my side are all looking at my phone instead of the gopro. LOL
our awesome driver!
happy people

We watched the sunset from the carseat

and slowly the night swept in.

We are riding through the valleys towards Arslanbob. The road ahead is dark; occasionally the flash of the vehicle moving in the opposite direction approaches. Beside me, a white scar etches across the dark sky. Tiny patters of raindrop fall with the rhythm of the windscreen wipers.

My heart races a little as I peer at the road ahead. The sky flashes nervously.

They’re such experienced drivers, I thought as I watched him steer the wheel – carelessly? Confidently? Nonchalantly, you added

He chatted on, tapping the cigarette ash out of the window, leaning with the turn of the wheel

My mind flits briefly to an arcade game

3. KGZ – Bishkek

Osh Bazaar, Bishkek

More than 80% of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous, but in its capital and largest city of Bishkek, locals sell their fruits / vegetables / bread / spices / toilet rolls without the cardboard ring in the middle (which makes some sense to me) at the Osh Bazaar.

We took a shared taxi to the Kazahk – Kyrgyz border. Crossing the border was pretty fuss-free, although I was nervous. No tricky issues though. I had read that we had to take note, to ensure that the immigration officer gives 2 chops. She did. We crossed, and pretty quickly, around the afternoon.

Cz took photos of the Kyrgyz immigration building. A guard walks up to him and asks to show his camera. I get nervous for a bit. After showing him the photos and deleting the ones taken during the border crossing, he waves us off. Still, I was nervous. I had read that one blogger had all his photos deleted from his camera. Man…

And of course, corruption when crossing the border. But all was well, hurray! The taxi uncle wanted to charge us 100usd (no typo there) from the border to the city centre. Joke

Pleased to say that after the practice from the Balkans and parts of Central Asia, I can now pronounce (not the most accurately) CYRILLIC!!!!

(Yes, this says ‘Kyrgyzstan’)

Stairs to USSR hostel, Bishkek! It was nice and cosy. Here, we met the very chatty Sascha, and another Japanese girl who was travelling around Central Asia etc alone, and had come from Iran alone. There, one of the contributing impetus for my plans next June.

Bishkek is full and gloomy, it’s raining and it’s cold. Sanjar says that in May, it’s usually dry and sunny weather, but this year has been strange, for it’s been raining all week.

We stayed in our hostel for awhile. The USSR hostel (8+USD / person / night 4-man dorm) is pretty nice, free laundry, nice owner, comfy pillows and bed.

We met Sanjar, a couchsurfing local, at Sierra Coffee. Went to change some money.

The currency changed within an hour.

67.5 to 68.3 (USD to Soms)

I had read about the frequent fluctuation of the currency in the country, but was nonetheless surprised at how the currency indeed fluctuated within an hour. We changed money before we entered Sierra Coffee and when we stepped out it was different. :O

I heard about how Almaty used to be doing pretty well economically, until the oil crisis which upset their currency, causing it to dip by half. Imagine that – your savings halved all too suddenly. My mind floats to Malaysia.

 

first time feeling not-so-tall (ya first time, first few times)

At night we ate at Fariz, where I had more lagman. The food here caters pretty well to my taste, very Chinese food (to me) and suits me very much indeed. Lagman, manti, plov… Yummmmm. I don’t quite like meat though, the horse meat is terribly hard to chew through.  Ah Bishkek, the huge toasty kebab (2+usd) is also awesome. The potato bread (!!)

This menu makes so much sense to me, it’s brilliant. I can’t read Cyrillic so the photos MAKE SO MUCH SENSE!!!!!!! So amused and thrilled when I saw this photo menu
Other curious sights:

 

there, the toilet roll without a ring in the middle
The second night, we ate at:
It was an absolutely lovely place! The ambience was awesome and so were the prints. Can’t wait to visit Uzbekistan!!!!!!!

 

EVEN THE TEAPOT COVER!!!! A YURT

 

 

IT WAS A GOOD NIGHT

 

2. KZ – Great Almaty Lake!

Things I learnt about Kazakhstan:

1. Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world. Stan is an ancient Persian word meaning “land” or “nation,” and Kazakhmeans “wanderer,” “adventurer,” or “outlaw.” Therefore, the name Kazakhstan translates as “Land of the Wanderers.”

2. Kazakhstan has an unofficial taxi system. People wave on the street, cars stop, destination and price are discussed, and they go.

Every car is a taxi; you may flag down any car on the street, tell them where you’re going. They may agree and you hop in, or you may not be going in a convenient direction and they drive off; no worries because you may flag down the next one. You negotiate the price with the driver. Along the way, if someone else waves the car down, he may check if it’s a convenient direction, and the passenger may hop in.

Grabcar without an app, isn’t it? In this way, every driver on the road can get some source of supplementary income.

3. They still have traditions / beliefs relating to their tribes – e.g. can’t marry partner of the same tribe unless they’re 7 generations apart

4. We had a really hard time finding souvenirs in Kazakhstan; such sentiments were echoed by fellow travellers.
Our second day was spent at…. THE GREAT ALMATY LAKE! Such a gloriously beautiful day, how great it was indeed!

The mountains and the rivers and ME!!!!!!!!!!! – HUGS THE FRESH AIR –

I happily skipped step by step as we went on

We woke up early in the morning, walked to the street, took 28 to the presidential palace, and another bus on to the big Almaty lake. The marshrutka dropped us off at a… Random place.

I stared curiously as a man carried multiple big empty bottles, filling them with water that flowed from a pipe. He taped the cap with a scotch tape with each one that was full. Others waited around to fill their bottles.

Was he selling these water? Could he sell these bottles even though the caps have been unsealed? Is that allowed here? I thought briefly. We then departed and walked towards what we thought was the entrance to the national park.

We walked towards a sign with a bunch of Cyrillic list; none matched the one on lonely planet, none indicated anything about the big Almaty lake. Where were we supposed to go? Hmmmm. We stood there for awhile, slightly amused.

(Ah, lack of development in tourism facilities. Almaty, you have so, so much to offer! Kamila mentioned this; she wants to work on this when she works in the tourism industry.)
We laughed, and walked on. Cz stuck out his thumb as we walked on. I walked on cheerily, pleased with the sunshine and the cool air. A car stopped. My heart leaped with joy! A guy unwound his window and we hopped in, telling him our plan.

He could speak perfect English; he was heading towards the Three Bears but could drop off somewhere along the way. We chatted and I learnt that people actually drive up to the mountains to fill their bottles with water to drink. Some extreme ones even use only mountain water to cook and for everything else. For him, he was here to fill his bottles, as many as the ones that he could find. My mind flashed back to the guy with more than 10 bottles.

No wonder there were kids in the cars, shiny cars too. So they weren’t water-sellers! It was interesting to know that people would drive all the way here just to get water from the mountains. How lucky they were! To be able to collect the pure water from the mountains. If I lived here, would I do the same, come to that sort of trouble? Hmmmm.

He dropped us off further than proposed, and we cheered.

 

All ready!

LET’S GO GREAT ALMATY LAKE
We walked our way towards the pipes. We saw steps. Right place, hurray! On we go!

I took in the cool air. I took in the trees, the greenery. I took in the somewhat familiar calmness and quietness that surrounded me, the purity of the bird’s chirping. The little yellow flowers that dotted the grass. I walked and I took them in. I breathed.

UP

love. I just love this. Even looking at these pictures I JUST LOVE the cool air, the silent trotting, drowning in my thoughts (or lack of them). Peace.

UP

eventually…

WAAAAH!!!! I beckoned at the view. So beautiful!!111!!!!111!!!

Cz mocked me because he said I haven’t turned around, which was the highlight.

After I turned around and ‘waaaaaaah-ed’, he says ‘eh you turn back leh, you think that’s the highlight right’

But 0:50 is really beautiful isn’t it, i can’t decide which is more beautiful. IT IS JUST BEAUTIFUL. ALL ARE HIGHLIGHTS.

 

I uploaded this muted video onto an insta account and I re-downloaded it to upload it here. This explains the poor quality. Still, good memories worth placing here!!

Walked down this road for awhile, sticking out my thumb

FINALLY! Someone stopped.

We hitchhiked our way back to Almaty. Using Google translate that works offline, we switched phones back and forth, Russian – English, and I learnt that the 20 year old law student was from Shymkent, studying in Almaty, and liked sports.

We eventually reached Almaty; I snapped a Polaroid hastily, likely not so pretty, waved them goodbye in the rising traffic and we parted.

How interesting that we could communicate even though we didn’t speak each others’ languages. A world without borders? Thank you Google Translate Offline!

Thank you people who stop for hitchhikers. 😀

1. KZ – Almaty, Kazahkstan

I didn’t know much about Central Asia before May this year. I didn’t even know some of the countries, much less how to spell them, I admit. 
 
Central Asia is sometimes also referred to as ‘Middle Asia’, and, colloquially, “the ‘stans” (as the six countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix “-stan”, meaning “land of”).
 
Since the earliest of times, Central Asia has been a crossroads between different civilizations. The Silk Road connected Muslim lands with the people of Europe, India, and China. (Look at the world map!) This explains the richness and diversity in their culture, the Turkish / Asian / Russian influences, the East-Meets-West aspects apparent in their food, culture, dressing etc. Interestingly, from its beginning in 1917, the Soviet state never included Kazakhstan in Muslim Central Asia, preferring to give it a non-Asian identity by linking it closely to Russia and Siberia. 
 
These countries only came into existence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The five Central Asian countries gained independence after  Kazakhstan (pop. 17 million), Kyrgyzstan(5.7 million), Tajikistan (8.0 million), Turkmenistan (5.2 million), and Uzbekistan (30 million), for a total population of about 66 million as of 2013–2014. Afghanistan (pop. 31.1 million) is also sometimes included.
 
The Silk Road: 

The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that connected the great civilisations of East and West / Europe and Asia. Traders, merchants and diplomats all travelled the Silk Road, exchanging ideas, goods and technologies (e.g how to make paper!) in what has been called history’s original ‘information superhighway’. Some key routes of Central Asia were important trading points throughout history.

We flew in to Almaty, Kazakhstan from Dubai (sg > dubai, dubai > almaty, because it’s cheaper). My first ever FlyDubai flight was alright, quite comfortable enough. In fact, I quite enjoy these long travel hours where I have the free will to decide what I can do with my blank space of time.

 green market

mountains, mountains 🙂

my favourite memory of Almaty

My travel read: 49 Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. 

On hindsight, it was a random yet surprisingly appropriate trip for the read. I knew nothing of Rumi prior to my trip, yet spotted a quote by Rumi at the end of my trip on the plane. A few weeks later I spotted an article about the Shams of Tabriz.

The universe is one being. Everything and everyone is interconnected through an invisible web of stories. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a silent conversation. Do no harm. Practice compassion. And do not gossip behind anyone’s back – not even a seemingly innocent remark! The words that come out of our mouths do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time. One man’s pain will hurt us all. One man’s joy will make everyone smile. (Shams of Tabriz)

It was an easy read that hooked me in almost immediately, and already I feel somewhat connected to its themes. Why? I feel like I’m attracted to books that discuss things about eternal love, love, the complexities of affairs of the heart. I remain intrigued.

“Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”



overnighting in Dubai to catch our second flight to Almaty – well prepared 





apple almaty


Day1: Airbnb, dinner with lucy

Day2: big Almaty lake + Kamila


Almaty’s green, clean. We drove past some shiny buildings.

The first day, we reached Almaty in the evening. We walked around with Lucy and had kebab and pizza. The apartment had a beautiful kitchen and it was cosy, absolutely recommended as an apartment. Russian signs, so fascinating to me in my first Cyrillic city of Bulgaria, don’t faze me anymore, I realised as I walked around trying to read them. I’ve been learning some Cyrillic / Russian before the trip, but learning Russian is really difficult right now despite my increasing Duolingo levels. Can’t. Remember. Them.



Quite frankly THE best value-for-money airbnb accomodation I’ve ever stayed. 

For $15 SGD for 2 people a night, and such a comfy and conveniently located place, coupled with a gorgeous kitchen (MOST BEAUTIFUL KITCHEN EVER where we sat and drank hot tea in the cold but I can’t seem to find the photo… 😦 ) it is amazing and highly recommended!





Ascension Cathedral

Day 1, when I still bothered to look nice for pictures

Green market!

Here we found many stalls selling nuts, dried fruits, fresh fruits, spices, bread, vegetables, and some Korean stalls selling Korean salad. How curious. Why so many Korean food stalls? And Koreans selling them!

Something to do with the history, as I gathered from talking to some people.

Now, as I’ve googled:

‘In 1937, Stalin began a campaign of massive ethnic cleansing and forcibly deported everyone of Korean origin living in the coastal provinces of the Far East Russia near the border of North Korea to the unsettled steppe country of Central Asia 3700 miles away. 180,000 Koreans became political pawns during the Great Terror. The Koryo Saram (the Soviet Korean phrase for Korean person) were designated by Stalin as an “unreliable people” and enemies of the state.



 Many of the Koreans in Central Asia are descendants of 182,000 Koreans that were forcibly deported by Stalin from Vladivostok to Central Asia in 1937 because Stalin feared they would spy against the Russians for the Japanese, who had just invaded Manchuria. Ironically many of the Koreans that were deported had escaped from Japanese labor camps and hated the Japanese. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: China, Russia and Eurasia edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company]

More to be read here (Deportation of Koreans in the Soveiet Union) and here (Koryo-Saram)

Interesting! Interesting how I pay attention to the ethnicity of the people, which links back to its history (duh). I just never thought about Singapore’s that much, how we became an multi-ethnic nation because of our history. We learnt about it but I’ve never really given much thought to it… I wonder if other tourists look at us and wonder about that. (am sure they do)


Almaty is such a… City. I had no impression of Kazakhstan before I arrived, much less of Almaty. It was neat and had so many trees. People sat in the parks, we walked part the Church on a Sunday and it was lively. There were flowers blooming by the streets. We walked past one flower lying randomly; did you leave this for me? I asked. Yup, you played along. I brought the flower to the Big Almaty Lake.
Met the dearest Kamila for dinner after our hike from the Great Almaty Lake:


I was a little stressed because I was worried about being late in meeting Kamila. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that easy to get free wifi in the public space of Almaty, unlike Sofia (SOFIA HAS THE BEST PUBLIC WIFI!!!)  I had to walk some distance to search for the free public wifi.

We ran to meet Kamila, I called with my M1 simcard for the first time travelling. We took a taxi to a wonderful place where we could sit down, wrap a warm blanket around ourselves, sheltered from the rain by a curtain-draped square to ourselves. We sipped chai, we ate the manti and the plov and the lagman and the salad and the broth, and we laughed and we talked and we laughed. The waiter said they were closing; we eventually reluctantly left. I shook Kamila’s hands as we said, we had so much fun, we really enjoyed our time with you, thank you for everything, I squeezed her hand and I hope she knew I meant it. It was so fun. We waved goodbye. I went home and sent her a text and our photo together, our adorable Polaroid.

^ I wrote this that night when my eyelids were slowly coming to a close

This was one of my favourite dinners, ever! Really glad we met Kamila, talking in the rain, in the cold. We sat and chatted amidst the lightning, but the blankets were really warm. I LOVE the concept of the place. Being allowed your ‘private’ space to eat, with those beautiful curtains, your own seating spaces, and blankets! Pillows! How cosy, I truly made myself at home. Sipping tea and chilling. Loved it.