weirdo / act cool
THE delicious blue flames licking the edges of darkness
tiny silhouettes crept closer towards it, the bellowing fumes that occasionally cloaked them out of sight
What I remember: Ijen is a more arduous hike than Bromo of course, stumbling in the darkness down the rocky steps with our gas masks.
‘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 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
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
here, we saw the little kids climbing up as well
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
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!
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-
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.
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
Akbailik holy spring of fishes
Considering it’s a landlocked country, how did the fishes get there???? We wondered
spotted some shan yang. my friends. i like! HURRAY!
ME FRIENDS MEEEEEE AND SHEEPDOG
Bulunkul – lake with fishes
Yashiikul – the nicer lake that looks like Almaty lake
Alichor village to sleep
Next up: Introducing our driver, Shuric
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.
The lake was one highlight
The yaks were another
yak fur! shedding them during the winter season? mmmm. I touched them. They were warm. and… rough… stringy. like wires. hmm
At the CBT office, we took a close look at the tourist map:
‘-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
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.
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.
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:
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. 🙂
Breakfast- the bread
For memory’s sake
They knew I was taking the photo. Before this I was also observing the kitchen. Roles.
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
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”
Things I learnt about Kyrgyzstan from my ‘fake-Kyrgyz’ (too cosmopolitan) Friend:
– Flag of kyrg has a yurt
– 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.
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. 🇰🇬 🐏
fight fight fight
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!
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
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…
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’)
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.
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 (!!)