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

^^

 

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8. TJ – Karakul

The Pamirs is probably the most breathtaking roadtrip I’ve ever taken. How lucky I am, to be able to witness such beauty in the world!



The smallest, and poorest republic in Central Asia, Tajikistan is sandwiched between Afghanistan and China, andt also borders Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is 93% mountainous and has one of the world’s best road trips – the Pamir Highway.





‘The Pamir Highway, known more formally as the M41, runs 1,252km from the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Osh, through the Pamir Mountains – known as the “Roof of the World” – and along the border of Afghanistan until it ends in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Originally a northern segment of the Silk Road trading route, the Pamir Highway has been in use for almost 2,000 years. In fact, Marco Polo journeyed along this route on his way to China in the 13th Century. But few other travellers have followed suit since.’


After crossing the border the ride became significantly bumpier. The landscape remained its canvas of mountainous beauty, but the road slowly shifted to a bumpy dirt road. I watched cz’s head bouncing along with the tyres of the car. Potholes that splashed glistening droplets excitedly as we passed. The occasional cloud of dust. Welcome to the Pamirs! ‘The roof of the World’

I loved the melding of Colours here- the Browns of earth, the shades of beige, the green, the blue, the white, the peach; I love how the Colours came together, the Colours of nature.

The brushstrokes of its contours, painted in its cascading, surrealistic splashes of earthy colours.

What happened to the greenery? The vegestation? They’ve been replaced by a landscape of brown and white. Sugared mountain tops. Higher altitude now.

What a first impression, I thought. I am reminded of the fact that Tajikistan is the poorest country in Central Asia. Potholes that splashed glistening droplets excitedly as we passed. The occasional cloud of dust. As we jerked along, I am reminded of Laos and Peru and Bolivia and my long bus rides.

We entered Tajikistan. The border guards are friendly (?); they come into the car to have a chat with us. We chatted a little while waiting for our driver, and we highlighted our route. Here, I nervously stand (hence awkward distance) next to a Tajikistan officer the same age as me, married with a kid.

From Osh, Kyrgyzstan, we crossed over to Karakul. The man from the CBT office picked us up early in the morning. 

 


Crossed the border with the GBAO permit!

“Mainly because most people I have met have never heard of a “country” calledGorno Badakhshan. In fact, even some Kyrgyzs people I have met this week were unaware of the existence of this disputed state, an autonomous region that has been claimed by China, Russia and Taiwan down the years, yet the United Nations (and most people) class it as part of Tajikistan. When the civil war broke out in Tajikistan in 1992, the local government in Gorno-Badakhshan declared independence from the Republic of Tajikistan. So yes, Gorno Badakhshan should have been a new country, but remains to this day as part of Tajikistan with different laws attached to it. So you’ll need a visa/permit to backpack it!”

 

Reaching our homestay!

Exciting sights awaited!

So kul at Karakul

First described by Marco Polo

What did he see then?

 

7. KGZ – Osh

Osh!



Featuring…

Anonymous faceless bread companion

view from the beautiful Sulaiman Hill – The Sulayman Mountain, located in the Ferghana Valley, is the only World Heritage Site located entirely in the country of Kyrgyzstan It is located in the city of Osh and was once a major place of worship

​ Osh, the oldest city in the country, marked the midpoint on the ancient Silk Road, that facilitated overland trade between Europe and Asia. Do the head scarves that the Kyrgyz women wear draw from tradition, to indicate relationship status (married), or for religion (majority Muslim) etc? I’m still trying to find out 👀

The women’s dressing consists of a long and wide A-line dress, long and wide trousers paired with a camisole and a special head-dresses (worn according to age groups and relationship status) called ‘Elchek’ ‘Tebetei’ and ‘Shokulo’ .

Some carpets hanging in the sun

“Tension between Osh’s Uzbeks and Kyrgyz is what caused June’s ethnic violence. Though it was said to have been deliberately sparked off by Kyrgyzstan’s ex-President who had been ousted in April’s revolution, the roots of the tension go way further back. None of these countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or Turkmenistan ever existed until Stalin drew them onto the map. The Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Turkmen existed as language groups but there was never any sense of nationhood. Stalin created these countries and drew their borders himself, deliberately making sure that each contained sizeable pockets of the other nationalities under his divide and rule policy, the effects of which are still being felt today in Osh. The Tajiks, who never existed as a people or a country, were even harder hit by ethnic violence: Stalin drew a border that created a country uniting dozens of different tribes, clans and language groups and terming them all Tajiks. After the breakup of the Soviet Union ethnic violence erupted… claiming 50,000 lives.”

Man spotted with a kalpak – The kalpak is the “holiest” of national clothing for the Kyrgyz. It has “mysteries” that many say they can feel when they wear it. This ancient style of hat seems to connect the man wearing it with the history of his fathers and the destiny of his people.

Kyrgyz respect their kalpak. According to tradition:

  • You must not kill a man with a kalpak on;
  • Kalpaks should not be put on the ground;
  • Kalpaks are laid next to your head at night, never by your feet.

There are also many sayings connected with the headgear, such as:

  • “If you lose your kalpak you lose your head”;
  • “Don’t trade your kalpak or you’ll trade your mind”;
  • “Wear a kalpak and you won’t get sick, it is warm in winter, cool in summer”

Uzbek skullcap (left) vs Kyrgyz kalpak

I can almost hear the chorus of giggles from the children as they shrieked excitedly with every periodical spurt of the droplets glistening in the sunshine

can’t remember the name of this, but it’s a typical local pastry, crispy on the outside like a currypuff filled with meat / potatoes inside. yummyyyy (but oily)

I love the tea culture there and drinking tea every meal

This is a beautiful place, photos do not do it justice. One may also find ancient cave carvings / petroglyphs

And only about 20 mins drive from the main city.

This is one of my favourite, favourite chill-out place. 1. The night with Kamila with the soft blankets and pillows, and 2. THIS – the swings, the chairs, the music. Such a great place with its ambience. I would love to set up a place like that. I told cz: If I could bring someone on a first date, this would be the perfect place. What about in Singapore?? Can I think of a place as apt?

WHAT’S THE NAME OF THIS PLACE???? I have forgotten :O :O Trying to find out now
The day next we’ll start on the Pamir highway!

 

See you again Kyrgyzstan! I think to myself as I bit into the cherry, savouring its bursting sweetness in my mouth. I want to save some for later but I can’t stop. It’s a beautiful sunny day. ☀️ I catch a tiny green worm-looking thing moving on the cherry. I stopped eating after.

 

Bye Osh!

 

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

 

The Silk Road

​This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,

To cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.

First to let go of life.

Finally, to take a step without feet.

Rumi

“For centuries, the great civilisations of East and West were connected by the Silk Road, a fragile network of shifting intercontinental trade routes that threaded across Asia’s highest mountains and bleakest deserts. The heartland of this trade was Central Asia, whose cosmopolitan cities grew fabulously wealthy. Traders, pilgrims, refugees and diplomats all travelled the Silk Road, exchanging ideas, goods and technologies in what has been called history’s original ‘information superhighway’.

The Silk Road gave rise to unprecedented trade, but its true legacy was the intellectual interchange of ideas, technologies and faiths that the trade routes facilitated. It’s curious to note that while the bulk of trade headed west, religious ideas primarily travelled east. Centuries of migrations and invasions, and a location at the crossroads of Asia have added to Central Asia’s ethnic diversity.

Central Asia’s high growing is dominated by the Pamirs, a range of rounded, 5000m to 7000m mountains known as the ‘Roof of the World’, which stretch 500km across Tajikistan. The Pamirs is probably the least explored mountain range on earth.”

The general route, from capitals to the villages in the forest to the mountains of the Pamirs