Monday, November 05, 2007

Osh, Fergana Valley, Kyrgystan

Osh is what a Central Asian city should be. None of this rundown Krakow look. Here it's all chaos, commerce and cacophony. More about this place in a later post.

I had a nice 11 hour share taxi drive from Bishkek to Osh. We passed high peaks at dusk and then skirted reservoirs whose clifflike banks were made eerie by very strong moonlight before getting in the breadbasket that is the Fergana valley. Overall a nice trip but slightly marred by the fact the driver and another passenger decided I should be the judge of what was the best song out of an album that sounded like a playlist for mid eighties action flicks. The other drawback was the driver got there 4 hours earlier than expected so that my masterplan of arriving in Osh at dawn went tits up.

I got to Osh at stupid a.m, found some old Soviet hotel, crashed then spent the next day walking about the place trying to work out how to get to Arslanbob and having sullen teenagers in internet cafes telling me there was nyet internet in Osh today. Crashed again and set off bright and early to Arslanbob.

Though it's not far on the map, getting to Arslanbob was a half day trip consisting of taking ever worsening tranport. I grabbed a standard Merc 16 seater to Jalalabad then made my way to Bazaar Korgon (the names are fantastic) on some sort of ex-soviet truck/bus and finally spent 2 hours getting up into the mountains in a Daewoo micro combi designed for 6 people but ended up holding 7 adults and 5 kids. The arrival in Arslanbob and the disembarkation had an element of a clown car act.

In the interest of fairness I feel obliged to mention that Kyrgyz hospitality means that I often get to bagsy the best seat in whatever transport I take. My paranoid self thought that this was compo for being royally fucked on the fare but everyone else was handing over the same sums. Maybe the Kyrgyz are genuinely nice people. Central Asia is indeed a strange place.

So here I was in Arslanbob to experience what most people go to Kyrgystan for; bucolic mountains. I am too late in the year for yurt time but I got to stay with a family through some homestay programme. The house was a 3 klick hike up the hill but has a great view of the huge wall like mountains to the north. A nice stroke of luck was that the grandaddy of the house had learnt some German in his youth so my first afternoon there was a pleasant affair of drinking loads of tea, eating assorted dried fruits and nuts, and mangling the language of Goethe and Hitler.

The next day I trotted down to the village centre and pottered around the place and a few surrrounding promontories. I then returned to the main square where I had a pleasant hour or so watching folk, having bloes coming up to me for a "salam" and a handshake and getting the elders to teach me to crack walnuts with my hands. To be honest I don't really like walnuts but since they had sent a 5 year old up a tree to breakleg heights so that the little urchin could shake the branches I felt obliged.

I should mention that walnuts are a big thing here. The founder of the place Arslan Bab Ata apparently set up the huge walnut forests that surround the village before snuffing it and getting himself a small mausoleum where locals go to talk to his bones. It's also walnut harvest time so the unpaved streets of Arslanbob were full of donkeys carrying huge sacks of the not so tasty treats.

My fave moment in the hills came the next day when I followed the riverbed up to a holy waterfall. It was at the waterfall that I had a seriously cool experience that made all the arsing visa probs, vodka hangovers and shit transport of Central Asia worthwhile.

The last leg of the walk to the waterfall is a 500 metre ascent up a steep scree slope. One of the plus sides of being plump and wheezy is that once you get to the top you get a nice endorphin buzz. I was enjoying this as well as the view of the valley when a huge eagle flew past 15 metres to my left and 5 metres below. The scenery, the sound of the waterfall and the majestic birdy all came together in a truly great Wow moment.

I gingerly descended again and had a nice rest in yet another stupidly bucolic spot. It was all gurgling stream, shade from trees and wonderful calm. As the sweet melody of water over rock lulled me I had a quick thought for those I know still stuck in the job and smog world. Of course I gloated internally but now I want to share the feeling.

He He He.

Anyways, I am now back in Osh enjoying the blackouts and working out the cheapest way to get to Tashkent. I will do a post on this place before I sod off to Uzbekistan and hopefully put down some thoughts on Kyrgystan.

Take care,



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