On to Kyrgyzstan

A Return to Tashkent

We came back to Tashkent on the high-speed train and it is much cooler here.

As hot as it gets during the day, you can sleep with the windows open at night as it drops into the 60’s and there is no humidity.

It’s easy to see why silk road travelers of centuries past chose to travel at night when the weather was tolerable.

Hottest so far was Bukhara, far south and of low elevation, while Samarkand is half-way back to Tashkent and at about 2,500 feet.

The city is green with pleasant hills and could be mistaken for parts of California.

The food has been amazing, it’s all fresh and very tasty.

We ate at Restaurant Samarkand yesterday, a beautiful building with delicious food and impeccable service.

While awaiting our lunch, I watched a very young table assistant meticulously reset a table, making multiple adjustments to ensure perfection.

Salads seem to be a specialty here and we had 71 to choose from on the menu.  You could have a different one every day for two months and then start over.

Or you could ask them to prepare a special one, which we did, and they will: cucumber, tomato, dill and yogurt.  Wow!

By the way, yesterday’s lunch for three, including a dessert of melons was all of $20.

It is also a fruit lover’s paradise, they have nectarines, grapes, plums, figs, apricots, apples and 22 different kinds of melons.

There seems to be very little processed food here.

Our guide, Surat, has been superb–very experienced and a wizard on world history, he comes highly recommended.

He switched effortlessly back and forth between explaining contemporary Uzbek culture and 3,000 years of Silk Road history.

Surat, master of his universe.

Of Pittsburgh, London and Beijing

We flew from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, up to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a short flight of 50 minutes on an AirManas 737-400.

At the Tashkent airport, I spoke with a grandmother and her three delightful grandchildren as they went through the same security checks we did.

She is Uzbek, her daughter, the mother of the children, is also Uzbek while her husband is British, the kids are British though living in Beijing as their father is posted there in the foreign service; the kids attend an American school in Beijing and speak, at least, English and Russian; to top it all off, Grandmother spends most of her time in Pittsburgh with another daughter and her family!

As we boarded, I spied in the near distance an Uzbekistan Airlines 787 Dreamliner, one of four they own, they have among others, a direct flight from New York to Tashkent, so no reason not to visit.

The 787 is primarily constructed of composite materials and is able to calculate its own airspeed within six knots without the use of pitot tubes using computer technology, very cool.

The Bishkek airport is well outside the city but the road is expressway-like and off in the distance are some stunning peaks, signaling the nearness of China and the eastern terminus of the great Silk Road.

A Land of Nomads and Yurts

Bishkek

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, is the capital of a country with a population of six million and which is about 94% mountainous.

Because of the nomadic history, Bishkek has few ancient monuments, those that are here are largely Soviet-era as are most of the buildings: drab apartment blocks mostly, with the occasional building from earlier in the 20th-century.

But the downtown area includes a beautiful network of tree-lined walking paths with families out on a quiet and cool summer evening playing, napping and chatting.

In the Park

Kyrgyzstan petitioned to join the Soviet Union and Bishkek has more of a Soviet “vibe” with a monumental statute of Lenin and posters celebrating Red Army (and presumably Kyrgyz soldiers) who were heroes during the conflict.

Kyrgyz was originally a nomadic culture, (in fact Kyrgyz means “forty tribes”) with herders and families seeking verdant pastures high up in the summer while moving down to the valleys when cold weather, as early as September, arrived.

We headed out in a Toyota Land Cruiser, with our Russian driver Ivan, to see two famous mountain lakes, Issyk Kul and Song Kul, about 8 hours away up in the mountains bordering western China.

Issyk Kul

Because of the lay of the Tian Shan mountains separating the two countries, we wound up farther east than Kashgar, China, without crossing the border.

Issyk Kul is said to be the 10th largest lake in the world and slightly salty as it has no outfall despite being supplied by many glacial rivers.

The area, some of it over 9,000 feet, is well above the treeline and serves as summer pastureland for tens of thousands of cows, sheep, goats and horses, ranging free until sundown approaches when they are gathered in for the night.

Our guide, Begaim, mentioned that there are wolves higher up but they seldom venture down unless the weather turns bitter cold.

We arrived at Song Kul, at about 10,000 feet, in the midst of a pea-size hail storm which quickly passed off to a peaceful and quiet sunset.

The traditional nomadic home is the yurt, a circular structure with a sophisticated and sturdy wood frame, covered with felt and then canvas.

A yurt, 30 feet in diameter, can be fully assembled in about 30-minutes or so by a team of trained hands.

(We were shown how the wooden frame is created and I will share it later.)

We spent two nights in yurt camps.

At the second one, a delightful Kyrgyz couple wanted a photo with the American and I was happy to oblige.

Families from villages near the lakes have begun to operate yurt camps for visitors and it is a welcome source of income.

They come up when summer begins and stay through about mid-September.

It’s truly a family operation including making cream from cow’s milk every morning, hand churning, of course.

In the picture below, if you look closely, you will see a goat sitting astride the rider, he is the evening’s dinner whether he knows it yet or not.

Kyrgyzstan is indeed a beautiful and majestic place with stunning mountains, broad valleys, and friendly people, too.

Other posts from this trip:

Road Trip: Welcome to the ‘Stans

Uzbekistan: On the (Rail)Road to Bukhara

Bukhara: People

Uzbeks and the Bear