Tag: Bishkek

Beyond Bishkek

When I first arrived in Bishkek, I have to be honest, I was not too impressed. It is grey, cold and buildings are crumbling. I found it depressing and after Iran, very un- inviting. It is amazing when one arrives somewhere with expectations. It took awhile. Slowly the weather warmed, the clouds lifted, the trees started budding. Like Camelot, the snowy mountains appeared! Stunning! I walked, a lot. The city is full of sculptures, statues and empty water fountains. Parks, full of blossoming trees, crooked footpaths, and crumbling walls. The birds singing, the bees humming and those stunning snowy mountains in the background. Majestic, silent and very impressive.

Walking around town became an adventure, which I saved for the weekends. During the week I was immersed in 160 minutes a day of Russian. Too exhausted to do more than go to the supermarket, homework and a lot of sleeping! But on weekends I went walking and exploring.

I booked a one day trip to Burana tower. In the fields near Kegeti, there stands a tower which is about 24 meters high. It leans slightly, like the famous Pisa tower. It used to be twice as high, but lost half to the invading Mongols. There is a grassy mount, which used to be an ancient citadel, Balasagun.

There is also a collection of 6th to 10th century balbals, Turkic totem like stone markers, which according to my guide, were portraits of killed warriors! They didn’t look to happy, about having their portraits carved into stone. Each of them holding what looked like a wine goblet. That however, could have been wishful thinking on my part! ( have not had a drink for over two months now!) There were also some mausoleums, but only he foundations were left, all the rest was destroyed.

Horse sports are very popular in Kyrgyzstan. The most favourite game is called Kok boru, ulak-tartysh or buzkashi, which is a Kyrgyz term that means ” grey wolf”. It started as a hunting exercise. It is a full on team sport in which riders and horses can get hurt. The object is not a ball, but a headless goat whose body needs to be thrown into a circular ” goal”. I was fortunate enough to come across a game in full play. Danar stopped and explained the game to me. Yes, it was gruesome, but it is a tradition that goes back all the way to the time of Ghenis Khan. The goat was already dead, so there was no blood flying around. I was mightily impressed with the horsemanship, e backdrop of the stunning mountains and the beauty of these magnificent horses.

There was also a Muslim cemetery. This was not that old, most graves were around the nineteen fifties, but interesting enough they were also built like towers. Influenced may be by Burana tower? On the way home Danar stopped at a zoo, which wasn’t in a very good condition, which always depresses me. It had some funky sculptures though, which I greatly enjoyed. We had a traditional lunch Danar a meat based potato, while my soup was broccoli with my favourite bread. It was an absolutely magical day which we both enjoyed very much.

Danar’s English is fantastic, so he could explain a lot of the Kyrzyk customs. The main one is, that the youngest son ends up living with his parents and looks after them in their old age. The other main one is that he has time until he is thirty to find himself a wife, failing that, his parents will find him one!! He MUST be married by thirty. Girls get till twenty five, and then parents will interfere. The youngest son and his wife will move in with his parents, and look after them until they die! No old folks homes here, utmost respect and the tradition is NOT questioned! Parents just tell you from an early age on how it is going to work out for all of them! Hm! What about rebellious natured sons?? What if the son’s wife doesn’t like his parents? Eh?? Not possible! The parents ALWAYS come before wives or husbands! What I want to know is HOW do parents do this?? Pure brainwashing?

I am on the way to Osh now. Where I will spend the last seven days! I so hope I have a window seat, and that it is clear enough to get a view of the spectacular mountains! On the first of May I will go to Uzbekistan, and so the adventures go on, and on, and on!!

More Bishkek, Kyrgyztan

It is said that learning a language alters your brain! Indeed this is so true! Learning a language ” fries” your brain! So I suppose that you can call that altering! It has been a week now, that for some reason or other, I thought it was a good idea to learn Russian. Why not? I thought, since I can’t go on a horse riding trip, I can’t go and sleep in a yurt. The main mountain passes in the country are still closed. They will not open until the end of May. So what to do? This is my best planned vacation! Hm! I think I am going back to UNPLANNED vacations!

I need to get a visa for either Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, and as the Pamir Pass, my reason for going to Tajikistan, will be closed till the end of June, it looks like it is a much better idea to go directly to Uzbekistan. I need a visa. Normally a very straight forward affair. You go to the embassy, you fill out forms and you receive your visa for normally a minimum of thirty days!

However the Uzbekistan embassy has made this visa application into a special art. First you go to the embassy, the application is filled out on line. It has compulsory questions, well, the questions are compulsory but your answer are! So letter of invitation MUST be answered, except that as an Australian you no longer NEED a letter of invitation! Photo needs to be downloaded onto the form, except it doesn’t work! How many days do you want? Except that nowhere is indicated how many days you will receive!! All very complicated and totally unnecessary.

Finally you hand over your form , one photo and are told yo come back three days later by a young woman who obviously spends every spare moment sucking lemons! When you come back, the same sour puss gives you a bill. Go and pay it at this bank! Which bank? Luckily, Johannus, the German man who was here on Friday as well, and I were able to share a taxi to the bank. We paid, were charged a bank commission, and received a receipt. Back to the embassy, handed over our slips and received our visa for Uzbekistan! A process, that is normally rather simple, believe me, I have collected enormous amounts of visas in my time!

Egypt is the fastest, simplest and cheapest! Than there was the visa for Mauritania, which took three days and was made outrageously complicated. Let’s not forget the year I needed to go yo Sri Lanka to renew my Indian visa for six months, and the day before I flew out the Sri Lankan president was killed! Oops!! It took me over a month to get my Indian visa! Alt hose are exceptions though. It is a very simple procedure made terribly complicated. This is totally unnecessary!

In the mean time I have spend two weeks learning Russian. Very complicated language! Needed to learn a completely new alphabet , then remember this abc, then do my homework, study and cope with rainy and cold weather! I had two lovely young teachers, I was the only student in the class, and we ALL know that teachers make the worst students possible! My self contained apartment was only U$9 per night! Cheap as! Even the 160 minutes a day was just U$20! There is a very cheap canteen which cooks local food, and hot soups for lunch. Most of my Russian practice was done in this place! The first sentence I learned was ” no meat, please”! The local food is simple, but delicious. A lot of soup, stews and pasties. I specially like the potato pasties, or “самса” as they are called. I did get an upset stomach, as my body is obviously not used to the oil, butter nor milk products. Most of food comes from the local supermarket! Although today’s potato and cabbage mash was delicious and very reminiscent of the food in Holland. ( in winter)

 

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Early in the morning, the dawn had not yet made up its mind to rise, I arrived in Bishkek,Kyrgyzstan. It had obviously been raining all night, and it continued to do so all day as well! It was Easter Sunday in Australia. Here, because of the Russian Orthodox church, Easter will be next weekend! This was great, I crawled into bed, determined to sleep most of the day away, feeling secure in the knowledge that life would go on with or without me!

It wasn’t until the next day, I felt human again, ready to explore the city centre. My Ultimate Adventure hostel is in walking distance of all the important aspects that Bishkek has to offer. The only thing I had not counted on, is that on Monday everything is closed! No art gallery, no museum, only the free parks full of sculptures. I walked around for as long as my body would allow, then found a rather expensive looking restaurant, five star for sure, crawled in a corner, ordered a fabulous cappuccino and national cake, and entertained myself with the free wifi for the rest of the wet afternoon.

I have decided to curb my sweet tooth, and from now on, no more cakes! Life has been a little too good lately, and I am determined to leave a few more kilos behind while travelling. Iran, with their fabulous sweets was an exception. Here the traditional dishes are all diary related, which I don’t want to eat too much of. I spend a whole day at the markets, looking at traditional dresses, wedding dresses, and local produce. A lot of horse hair is turned into felted products. Lovely and not at all over priced considering all is hand made.

I have to change my sort of pre planned trip, well, nothing is really pre planned, really, but I had imagined myself tracking through the mountains, hiking up snow capped peaks, sliding down the mountain sides. Well, the mountain passes are not open!! Not until the end of May or during June, when buses go to the lakes and tourists come! Should have been a dead give away that I am the only tourist in my guest house! So NO horse riding, staying overnight in yurts. No travelling with e nomads eating horse flesh around the campfire while drinking horse milik.

Such a shame, but not too worry, flexibility is my middle name! While I sort of planned my trip I was going to spend the first three months travelling through China, then cross into Kazakhstan, and travel down. Today I have decided that I will cancel Tajikistan, not because I don’t want to go there, but because the famous Pamir pass will be closed till July!! Instead I will study Russian for the next two weeks, booked accommodation at the language school, and fly to Osh on the 23th of April. Osh is on the border of Uzbekistan, where the weather is more pleasant and the snow will mostly be gone! Uzbekistan gives a forty day visa if one pays money, and so the month of May will be spend there.

One of the lovely Dutch women I met, told me that an Australian passport let me into over a 170 countries visa free! I laughed, thinking she was misinformed !! Today I googled it and she is quite right!! All those thousands of dollars I spend on visas, is no longer necessary! I can stay up to a year, visa free, in Georgia, so after Uzbekistan, that is where I will go for the month of June. Azerbijan gives e visas, so after a month I will go down there and go back to the north of Iran, Tabriz and may be Mashad. I might not have the energy to get to Tehran, it will be hot, but as I am flying out of Oman, I might have to! Why I never plan before hand is beyond my understanding, but I must admit, it is not really in my nature!

Bishkek is lovely in Spring time, but the broken up, uneven footpaths are hell to walk on. I walked more than four hours yesterday, and didn’t eat cake! Yes! This is how it will work! The buildings are not really remarkable, being, grey, square and Russian looking. But the trees are in flower, people dress colourful and the birds are singing. Spring is here!

People are friendly, but language is a barrier. After the overwhelming attention in Iran, this is is not a bad thing. The hundreds of selfies with unknown people, has come too near standstill. Only three new friends on Instagram, in a WEEK! Iran would have give me that within an hour!!

Trying NOT to compare the two completely different places. Although, the traffic here is AWESOME! Cars actually slam on their brakes for pedestrians AND red lights! There is a strong element of police presence, so maybe that has something to do with it!! Strong rules, which are being followed!! Life is cheap here, my daily expenditure far below my budget. Going to be even cheaper while studying and living at the language school. Sitting here in the sunshine, eating my traditional potato and bean soup! No cow, only chicken! Menu in Russian, so ordering with sound effects! Ah, life is so good!

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