Tag: Kyrgyzstan

Osh Observations

The flight to Osh was magic! I did get a window seat, and the overcast clouds lifted long enough for me to see the majestically mountains! I now also want to go to Switzerland! Osh was sunny, friendly and outgoing. My hostel is clean, simple with incredibly friendly staff. I had a free pick up from the airport. Fabulous service.

The first place I visited was the centuries old Silk Road markets. Trading still goes on along the river banks, like it has done right through out the ages. People were keen to communicate, with their English and my Russian and a lot of charades, we all managed quite well. The questions, of course are always the same, where are you from? How come you travel alone? Do you have children and grandchildren? What about your husband?

My apologies to my ex husband, nothing personal, but he is always dead! ( simplifies matters, due to language barriers) My new found friend stuck her tongue out, crossed her eyes and dropped her head! This was to show she understood! Also cracked all the market sellers up big time!! So she kept repeating it over and over! Why haven’t I found an other man? Ah, well, shoulder shrug, patting my heart, sad face, oh, so the love was too big. Understood. Move on. In a country were divorce doesn’t seem to exist, a woman’s sheer existence depends on having a husband and children. In a country were having grand children is a must, one can not explain the delights of solitude and liking ones independence.

The young women often gaze into the distance, dreaming of travelling, but always mentioning straight after that they will do so on their honeymoon. The young guide I had in the museum had it all planned out. She would marry the man her parents choose for her, have the two grandchildren her parents wanted, then leave them all behind to go and travel the world. Dreaming lay she told me all of this. I smiled and wished her well. I didn’t point out that she wouldn’t want to leave her children behind. She would find out soon enough. People volunteered their children to me, to be my grandchild! A twelve year old boy told me in his best English, he was studying English to go to Australia. My new found friend suggested I take him with me as my grandson.

One of the market sellers offered me his friend’s hand in marriage. The man in question had a mouth full of golden teeth. Golden teeth are very popular here and I must admit, that I have difficulties looking away.

Teeth are in very bad condition, could be all the wonderful cakes and sweet breads, and copious amounts of sugary tea, that disintegrates their teeth. Where the people get the money from to buy the golden teeth, remains an utter mystery to me. My own teeth are crumbling on a daily basis. I have cut out all sweet drinks, and to my deepest regret, their wonderful cakes.

The sweet bread, however, I the main staple of my diet here. Almost all the food has meat in it. I have tried, but my body violently rejected that idea. So meat free it is. This cuts down nearly 90% of my choices. I do like the noodles with chicken and vegetables. However, most of the time I have terrible stomach troubles after! So no blogs about the food. Boiled eggs, sweet bread and bananas is my staple. Very boring, but necessary.

Taking the local bus has been a delight. In Bishkek, a much bigger town, people wouldn’t even look at me. Here I am the entertainment centre. Often, one teenager, who speaks English, gets the task to interview me. The whole bus throws questions to her, and after I answer them, she repeats the answers. Often I get so involved that I miss my stop, or even forget to pay. It doesn’t matter where you need to go, the entire trip is ten cents. You get on through the backdoor and pay when you leave through the front! Unlike Italy, where I was taught to escape payment on buses, here everybody just pays.

The other, very noticeable thing, all the young people offer a seat, to anybody older then them. Every man offers a seat to a woman, and everybody, old women included, offer a seat to pregnant women! There might be a small prompt if young people are too engrossed in their gadgets, to notice, but it all happens, easily and fluently. Standing up for mothers with small children I do automatically.

Nearly most people are attached to their gadgets and run on batteries. ( i pods plugged in!!) even small children walk around with gadgets! People are shocked and stunned to see me draw, watch or just sitting. Not possible! I have NO smart phone?? Unbelievable! My phone doesn’t work here for one reason or other. It doesn’t matter as I used to travel without a phone for years. Having said all of the above, I am now going to contradict myself! Parks and playgrounds are everywhere, and kids play! Elastics, skipping, snap, tag and just games they have invented themselves. The high apartment buildings are set in a U shape. Inside is the playground with lots and lots of benches. Cars park at the front, the rest is traffic free.

Motorbikes are a novelty here. You don’t see too many. Kids have space and equipment to play on. No safety mats, no helmets, no helicopter parents here. Often it is grandmothers sitting together, either on their gadgets or gossiping with the other babushkas. Babies are adored, hugged, kissed and looked after by a whole community. It reminds me of Latin America twenty years ago. The children are shy, not open to outsiders, secure in the knowledge of their family and community’s love. They are not too impressed by my Nemo impression, may be they haven’t seen the movie, or it is Nemo with another name. The babies stare at me, solemn, unsmiling, with a look of slight distrust on their gorgeous Buddha faces. I will not give up! I will smile, talk and coo to every child I see, with or without a reaction from the child itself!

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!!

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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