Dharamsala, Himchal Pradesh, India (Triund Hill)

‘Dharamshala is a city in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by cedar forests on the edge of the Himalayas, this hillside city is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile.’


Mcleodganj, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. Here, I met the craziest fun-loving guitar-playing-on-a-hill hosts whom I learnt from about the caste system, the hijras, the sacredness of the cow in Hinduism, and other cultural curiosities.

my hosts

I had so much fun with them, we were laughing nonstop from almost the night we met to the next day. Short, but sweet. I took many videos of them singing. We did one birthday song with them strumming the guitar. I was so happy.

full of nonsense (as usual)

People my age, exactly my age. Making fun of my Chinese eyes. Man, I don’t get that too much around here, it took me awhile to get used to and reminded me to check my privilege here.
I think back to the first night my bus reached the terminal at Dharamshala at 9pm or something. The sun had set. Divyang said he’ll pick me up. I didn’t feel that worried, but my panic meter started rising when we drove into the darkness (poor street lighting) and he said he wanted to bring me to a place. We stopped at the entrance of a gate. It was a cemetery.

The rest, as it unfolds, is a hilarious memory. I will always remember this epic experience. Lollllll

Dharamsala definitely feels safe. Tranquil. Many restaurants here sell Tibetan food – the mantou and noodles, etc. Shop signs in Tibetan. I briefly asked if the locals here feel threatened by the influx of culture. Seems like in the initial beginnings yes, but now it’s better and generally peaceful. Borders.

 

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Ijen Crater (Photo Log)

A crater lake is a lake that forms in a volcanic crater / caldera.
Crater lakes covering active (fumarolic) volcanic vents are sometimes known as volcanic lakes, and the water within them is often acidic, saturated with volcanic gases, and cloudy with a strong greenish color.
‘The lake is the site of a labor-intensive sulfur mining operation, in which sulfur-laden baskets are carried by hand from the crater floor. The work is paid well considering the cost of living in the area, but is very onerous. Workers earn around Rp 50,000 – 75,000 ($5.50-$8.30) per day and once out of the crater, still need to carry their loads of sulfur chunks about three kilometers to the nearby Paltuding Valley to get paid.’

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
sunrise

 

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.

 

 

crew!

 

Mt Bromo, Indonesia

More info and details at Yonderingsoles.com!


Closest I’ve ever been to an active volcanic crater, peering at it up close – I could hear faint explosive growls from the distance as looming grey plumes of ash clouds rolled slowly, unabashed, towards the bright blue sky. Stared wide-eyed and fascinated, in awe of the majesty of Mother Earth. Every now and then, if one took a closer look, the ash walls of the crater would crumble, eroded over time. What’s happening within your grumble?

The first day we landed in Surabaya, we found ourselves on the road for several hours before reaching Probolinggo, the base city of Mount Bromo. I recall feeling ravenous by (a pretty late) dinner-time, which may or may not have accounted for the ridiculously delicious indomee we had for dinner. It was so delicious, I remember wanting to gobble down packets of it. I could have easily eaten another 2 packets.

Photo-log below:

Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. TJ – Yamchun / Khakha Fortress

In Yamchun, we stayed at a… bed&breakfast, gingerly perched upon the side of a mountain. should i describe it this way?

i remember we drove up a slope as night started to fall, our surroudings dimming

up we went, up a long steep slope

the place surprised me a little, a bed and breakfast located so high up, and inaccessible withot a car, highly prone to mass movement, i thought to myself

i briefly hoped it wouldn’t rain

all was well, we slept well.

1. Early morning – we woke up for a morning walk

Climbed up some height just in time as the sun rose

It felt like a random peak, and it felt like the mountains here could be climbed randomly

We hiked up and up and up in a way that reminded me of Mt Agung, and I was reminded of my weakness

waiting for me

Then the glowing sun rose and I finally reached and I heaved a sigh of relief as I sat on the stone to catch my breath, feeling sore about feeling weak

but i was happy when i reached. hurray!

i like this picture alot. hehehe

It was beautiful – I was reminded once again that such a sight can be seen only if one works his/her feet, and I was pleased

2. Bibi Fatimah – hot springs

The best hot shower ever. The best shower I had in the week (HAHAH). I’m dread cold showers, showers in the cold. The hot springs came to me as a huge relief – hot gushing water that embraced me. We had to step in without our clothes, the men and the women had separate rooms. I thought of the hot springs in Japan, and followed shyly stripping before I stepped into the warm embrace of the waters

Here the locals believe in the medicinal / spiritual qualities of the hot spring, and one can get granted wishes or cures for medicinal conditions / fertility grants if they pick a stone here (or something)

I stepped in cautiously, and was greeted by a lady completely unabashedly naked

The gushing warmth of the shower flowing seamlessly from the marbles of nature massaged my body (as exaggerated as it may sound) – best shower ever, I thought to myself gratefully

I hadn’t had a proper shower for too long. I am always grateful after going without warm showers for some time

I scrubbed my hair and brushed my teeth with ease, taking my time

3. Yamchun Fort

We then went to the beautiful Yamchun Fort.

The most impressive of the valley’s many tumbledown castle ruins, complete with multiple walls and round watchtowers. It was beautiful, breathtakingly so. There was some men up there, though. It strikes me as a surprise (or not) that there’s no attempt at protection / restoration efforts at a site this beautiful. It’s almost like an abandoned random place where people are free to ascend. Not that that’s a bad thing, but a historical site like that, this beautiful, has potential to claim greater recognition and should be preserved.

part of the ruins at the fort

the view

 

the hershey kisses mountains

interesting place, but some workers were throwing some bricks down next to us. I’m not sure what they were doing, but these bricks lying vulnerable, I could easily throw them around too. Wonder how this fort will look like in 50 years.

Driving along ishkashim, we passed by gigantic rocks and a beautiful sandy place, littered with broken beautiful patterned rocks, marble rocks of green and blue stripes that aligned neatly in pieces. I gaped at the lovely pile scattered nonchalantly on the floor. So amazing!!! So beautiful!! What were all these metamorphic rocks doing here? How were they related to the marble hot springs at bibi fatimah? What is it about this area that gives them the condition to form? We played with the softest sand glittering on the shapeless landscape.

Bye bye Yamchun Fort!! You were beautiful!
MOST BEAUTIFUL ROCKS!!!!! I wanted to pick up many of these and bring them home, but i contemplated for some time. SHOULD I? IS IT ECOLOGICALLY UNFRIENDLY??? WHAT IF EVERY TOURIST BROUGHT ONE HOME? TAKE NOTHING BUT PICTURES LEAVE NOTHING BUT MEMORIES?!?!?!
BUT… WILL I EVER VISIT THIS PLACE AGAIN? NO. 99.999999% NO.
Anyway I didn’t. I don’t think I’ll collect rocks. But I have the photos.

 

convenient platform for scribbles

we had alot of fun here, taking videos of the sand slipping from our grasps. why are the videos? – inserts video from memory –

Lunch, then

4. Khakha Fortress (Wakhan Valley)

We walked up the steps and met with some men in army green. Are those guards? I asked, as we drew closer. I think so, they look like they have… Guns. Cz replies. Calmly, as we walked closer, he greets the officer and proceeds nonchalantly. Me, I walk hesitantly behind, my nervous grin emerging. I try to be friendly and make conversation – we’re tourists, how old they were, … The age similarity (22 years old) assured me in some way- surely that forged some sort of connection, surely they won’t shoot me? Of course they won’t, but the thoughts that come to my mind when I see a gun (and especially when pointing at me incidentally) I do freak out

They turned out to be really friendly. I have a photo of me with them somewhere. They even agreed to our 360 degrees video.
A single river separates the 2 countries – Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Here’s the closest I might be.

 

View of Afghanistan across the river Panj, from the top of the Khakha fortress // Shuric pointed out across the river border, 300m away- ‘afghan car, afghan school, afghan cow,’ he says as we move on. We drive past an afghan woman and her children. They wave! We wave back at their tiny figures. ‘Afghan wife,’ Shuric says. ‘Afghan grass,’ ‘afghan flowers,’ Cz adds. I burst out laughing. We continue pointing out ‘afghan house, afghan washing clothes,’ Just a river away. So near in distance, but so distant nonetheless. I wonder if this is the nearest I’ll ever be.

 
While walking along this path, a part of me pictured getting shot from the back, thinking about the last film I watched with a landscape like that. LOL

 

James Bond Shuric. Too picturesque, we make him pose for us over and over again  (HAHAH)


 

James Bond Shuric
indeed, over and over again

Shuric pointed out across the river border, 400m away- ‘afghan car, afghan school, afghan cow,’ he says as we move on. We drive past an afghan woman and her children. They wave! We wave back at their tiny figures. ‘Afghan wife,’ Shuric says. ‘Afghan grass,’ ‘afghan flowers,’ Cz adds. I burst out laughing. We continue pointing out ‘afghan house, afghan washing clothes,’ Just a river away. So near in distance, but so distant nonetheless.

A typical plate of Tajik biscuits / sweets placed before and after each meal
Reaching Dushanbe -in the squeezy car
+10 hour drive from Khorog to Dushanbe, a conclusion that wrapped up some uncomfortable events.
 
Bye to the Pamirs and rural villages! On to Dushanbe and the city!
(the city’s hot showers and consistent electricity supply, the cars and the shops and the people, the wifi. not that i necessarily prefer so, but the absence of them during the week made these comparisons of facilities more pronounced. actually yes la i prefer so la HAHHA but i also love the nature and the quiet here but perhaps not forever, not for life)
 

 

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

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

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. 😀

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