Steve Watson


      Information: Travels: Turkestan: Gansu & Xinjiang, Kyrgyzstan & Uzbekistan







Not much of interest today. I spent a restless night in the Urumqi hostel waiting till 5:45 to check out and go to the airport. In fact at about 3 I decided it would be easier to just rest in the reception area. That worked out ok, but I don't feel that I got much sleep.

No real dramas on the plane, and got a 250KGS (US$5) shared ride into Bishkek.


Map of Kyrgyzstan

Not a large country, but very hard to get around in.


Map of Bishkek

Taken from my guidebook. Why is it so hard to get a map of these places?
My hostel is at the intersection of Chuy and Gogol at the far right.


The place I'm staying is a bit odd: it's like a normal house that's been opened up for paying guests. there is no place to socialise with the other guests, but I did have a short conversation with a Thai girl who'd come here via Irkutsk (! Of all places !) on the other hand, it's by far the most comfortable bed I've been in for two weeks. It has a real pillow and not a bag of sand! Bliss!

I walked about on Chui Prospekt for a bit. There's not much of interest on it, but I have been struck by the number of very pretty girls. I wasn't expecting that. And the mores here seem a good deal more relaxed with respect to the relations between the sexes and women's position than in many other Muslim countries: especially compared to the not-very-distant Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran . I suspect that they owe this to a couple of things: primarily the relentless secularism of the soviet period, and their identification with Turkish culture in general whose principal power and greatest cultural champion is Turkey itself and the secular culture of that country produced by Ataturk. On that latter point, the men I shared a ride in from the airport with we're telling me that the various Turkic languages were mutually comprehensible, and more like dialects than real different tongues. Turkish they see as the old style language that they might read in old books - something like Classical Arabic - it's the normative version of their 'languages'

There's a nice little cafe around the corner which has a decent cafe americain for 69KGS (US1.4), and I found a nice restaurant, the Manti, where I had a manti dinner. These mantis are a speciality of Kyrgyzstan , I'm told: in fact they are perfectly normal Chinese baozi. That and a coffee and a coke cost 350KGS (US$7). I'm probably going back there tomorrow.

I spent quite a while trying to arrange an interview at the Uzbek embassy for tomorrow. The woman on the phone was incredibly unhelpful: she's lucky I don't get angry any more. I also found more difficulties in getting to Tashkent: there are no train or bus direct routes: rides can be had by arrangements made ad hoc at Osh market, but they'll take all day to get you there; planes to Tashkent cost ~US$800 and also take a day because they all go via Moscow. I eventually discovered that there are flights to Osh for ~US$30 and that there is plenty of public transport on both sides of the border to get you to Andiron and presumably to Tashkent too - but I'd better check that latter. In fact the internal air fares are incredibly low and can well be the basis of some speedy touring of the area.

I've managed to put a photo on Facebook, which is now accessible.







Not a great day. I spent most of the morning sorting out my onwards movements from Bishkek. The visa application went quite smoothly and I had it in hand by 10:40. I went back to the hostel - breaking for a hamburger in the park - to organise flights and accommodation. Both turned out to be harder than I thought, but the accommodation was eventually done. Unfortunately none of the flight websites would work - or they sent me off to a Russian-language only website. I didn't dare proceed on that site. So I had to walk around to find a travel agent and I was lucky enough to find one that actually had a little English. Unfortunately the flight leaves at 06:10 and I have to be at the airport at 04:30. Bloody hell.

On the other hand, when I got back to my hostel, the owner's sister (who met me on arrival and has little English) was waiting at the door, so I got into a 3-way conversation with her and the owner with the aid of a phone about how to return the key, and wound up arranging a $15 transfer to the airport with the sister at exactly 4am as I wanted. I can give the key to her then too. This means I'll be able to get some sleep tonight and won't have to worry about catching a taxi on the street at 4am, getting the driver to understand where I'm going, haggling over the price, and all that stuff.

I thought when I was in China that my language skills were next to useless, but when you come to a place like this where you really do have no ability at all, you learn the meaning of helplessness.

Anyway, after getting the visa I walked about a bit looking at the sights that there were, but there weren't many. I tried the museum, but it had no English labels at all, and seemed to be exclusively concerned with the Soviet period. There was a display of the space program featuring photos of Valentina Tereshkova as we are, I guess, celebrating the 50th anniversary of her flight, and a set of very sad model Russian rockets. There didn't seem to be anything concerning pre-soviet peoples or cultures. I thought it odd. As I sat in front of the parliament looking at my book to find other things to see, I was moved on by a friendly soldier. Oh well. So I went back to my local cafe for a bite and a coffee and it proceeded to rain hard on me. When I got there, I couldn't understand the menu and ordered a burrito to be safe, but that's off. A pizza? That's off. Oh, how about a medallion? Ok. But when it came it was just 3 slices of meat in a sauce. Very nice, but not really 385KGS (US$7.70) worth. My hamburger was quite substantial and just 60 KGS (US$1.20).

Statue of Manas in Ala-Too Square

Outside the museum.


Changing of the guard

A fine display of soviet goose-stepping. Oddly, once they get to the end of their formal march they just stroll off to their change rooms..


Memorial to a Massacre

I'm not quite sure, but I think the massacre took place at the end of the Soviet period as part of the unrest that accompanied the collapse of that unlamented (by rational people) empire


Detail of the Memorial

Despite its unoriginality and its obviously manipulative intent, I actually find it quite affecting.


Mosque Repairs

Seen from my window. 


Since it was raining I didn't do much in the later afternoon, but I went out again to the Manty for dinner. Soup, basically a vegetable and pasta like Wattles used to make, and beef manty again, with a coke and a coffee americain to finish. All that for only 512KGS (US$10). And I made sure that the manageress who had been looking after me knew that I appreciated it.







For some reason I still wasn't able to get a good night's sleep knowing that I had to wake up at 3:30, so I'm feeling exhausted today.

The promised ride to the airport didn't go without a hitch: it was raining and we got a flat tire before we even got off the main road. We had to change it in the rain on the side of the road. Lucky he had a spare. Bishkek's airport is a bit disorganised so that was more stress than was necessary, and of course the boarding system is a shambles of pushing and shoving. I did immediately fall asleep on the plane though, so that was good. 


And So I got to Osh


My hostel is to the north of this on the middle road shown.. 


Arrived at the airport, I got into a mashrutka and struggled to see where we were going through all the standing people. Eventually I realised we'd gone past the hotel drop off area and I got off and caught a quick taxi. Not much problem really.

The hotel is nice and the manager and his helper-lady are good. They speak proper English and are very helpful. I was having no luck finding hotels across the border, so I went to see if I could get. Another night here to gather my wits. Instead he spent about an hour hunting down a suitable hotel in Qoqand (Khokand) for $US35 per night.) so now I have to look forward to getting up tomorrow, getting across the border, and somehow organising myself onto a shared taxi to that city. This isn't much fun really.

Went for a walk about town, but there really isn't much to see, and after some adventures in the 122 mashruka (I got into one going the wrong way at first) I eventually got home. (I also had to buy a new toothbrush and toothpaste. The paste I'd left in Bishkek, and the brush is somehow broken - it bites me.)

I suppose I should note that the town is odd for having a mountain in the middle of it. The Suliman Too, which is revered because Mohammed (not Solomon) visited there. This is quite impossible, but it's just one of those stories. They've got quite a nice park alongside the river, but so much more could be done with it. And there's a sort of fairground arrangement in it looking a bit the worse for wear. The sideshows are very sad. There's a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a shooting game, and that sort of thing. There's also a small old passenger plane of soviet vintage on display. It should be made into a cafe or a children's playground; instead it's a graffiti target. Another notable nonsense is the 3-storey yurt. It's just a shop in the park.

This bed is the most comfortable one I've had yet. I slept soundly, knowing I had the day to get to Khokand tomorrow.