Sheryl Shapiro is a freelance writer and photographer based in Boulder, CO.
Greetings from Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
It's been a while since my last installment.
From Khojand, when i last wrote, we flew via Tajik Airlines to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The flight went right over the Fan Mountains, beautiful, rugged snow-covered peaks. Surprisingly, the 1/2-hour flight was on time and the Russian Tupolev jet didn't fall out of the sky.
Dushanbe was lovely. It happens to be the sister city to my city of Boulder, Colorado. The main thoroughfare is a broad, tree-lined street lined with lovely, well-kept Greco-Russian buildings mostly painted in pastel colors. Dushanbe gave Boulder the gift of a lovely Tajik teahouse, which was built by traditional craftsmen. I didn't see anything resembling it in Dushanbe, though we did find a restaurant/teahouse with a similar feel. The city is fairly cosmopolitan; there were more foreigners and NGOs working there than we'd seen elsewhere. Dushanbe was the only place we haven't been able to drink the tap water, as the ancient Soviet water treatment system is on its last legs and the water is full of rust from the old iron pipes.
We left Tajikistan and arrived in Kyrgyzstan the same day, transiting once again through the Ferghana Valley of Uzbekistan by car. That's a couple more sets of border crossings, all of which went smoothly.
As you may recall, Kyrgyzstan was in the news recently as their president was overthrown. For a time the border at Osh was closed but things are calm here and there is no indication of any trouble.
On our first night here in Osh, we were having a snack in a park when a nice young man introduced himself to us as a guide who was listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook. We arrange an overnight trip with him from which we just returned.
We drove about 4 hours to Arslanbob, part of which was over a dusty road being constructed by the Chinese. Apparently they put it out for bid and selected China over Turkey. The scenery was magnificent green pastures, cotton and wheat fields, and herds of cows, sheep, and goats. Lots of horses and donkeys here too. Many people have cars in Kyrgyzstan. Our guide explained that over the last 5 years, the number of cars has increased substantially. Lots of VWs and Audis and of course Mercedes. Several times we had to stop and wait for herds of animals to be driven across the road.
The village, Arslanbob, is a lovely, picturesque village about 5,000 feet in elevation. We stayed at a homestay run by a family. Here in Kyrgyzstan, there is an active Community Based Tourism (CBT) organization, which helps locals build and provide accommodation for tourists. This family had a really nice guest house with several rooms, beds, and heavy quilts (it was pleasantly chilly). They had electricity and running water of sorts, fed by gravity from snow melt and springs. The outhouse was about 100 meters from the main building. We brought our own food, which our guide had picked up at the market in Osh. The family prepared it in their outdoor kitchen and we ate outdoors at a low table with cushions all around. In less than 24 hours, we had dinner, breakfast, a picnic, and lunch.
In the morning, i awoke to snow-covered peaks, which had been obscured by low fog the night before. After breakfast, we hiked through the village to a waterfall, then up and up following the animals who were going to graze and people heading to work in their fields. After a nice picnic of bread, canned fish, cucumbers, peanuts, and tea sweetened w/cherry jam, we hiked through a beautiful walnut forest. Because it snowed late into the spring, the trees hadn't yet leafed out, but the natural forest was beautiful nonetheless. During Soviet time, the government owned all the land. Within the last 5 years, each family has been allocated a substantial plot of land which to farm, as well as a portion of the walnut forest. We managed to find a leftover walnut on the ground and it was delicious.
Our guide spoke great English. He's an intelligent, ambitious young man of 26, trained as an attorney. He works with NGOs and also runs the guide service and a guest house, which is busiest in summer during the primary tourist season. We had several involved discussions about religion and politics, the usual taboo subjects. He asked that i send him a Torah so he can continue his religious education, which is a special interest for him. He happens to be a devout Muslim, praying 5 times a day. As is the case with all the places here in Central Asia, the population is primarily Muslim, but some people are devout and some are not.
We got back to Osh around 7pm and had dinner with the partner of our guide, another bright young man. It's very rewarding and eye-opening to spend time with people from whom we can learn about the culture. When we find English-speakers, we are eager to make friends.
Tomorrow we fly to Bishkek, the capitol, on Kyrgyz Airlines. We've been able to arrange plane tickets easily enough a day or two prior to our desired travel dates.
Off to do some laundry, as i'm covered in dust from the road construction.
Thanks for all your emails.