Kyrgyzstan – from asceticism into the oasis

Km 5039 – Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

WEATHER & GENERAL STUFF

Kyrgyzstan (officially Kyrgyz Republic) really turns out to be our oasis in Central Asia. It is the only country in this region we don’t need a visa for. Here, there are no dress codes or registration rules and with just one single stamp in our passport we can stay for two full months. Besides that, the availability of goods rises exponentially (e.g. milk products) – but more about that later.

In Kyrgyzstan about 80 ethnos are living together. Most of the people are Kyrgyz (65%), Uzbek (14%) or Russian (13%). The country is known for it’s breathtaking nature: there are many mountains, glaciers, mountain lakes and canyons as well as some hot sources. Moreover, many nomads still live in balance with nature (only about one-third of the population lives in urban areas). The weather is – because of the height (in average 1000 meters) – a lot cooler as in Uzbekistan. However, the temperatures still reach summerly 30 degrees and more.

OSH

  • Also in the border town Osh we feel welcome. The border officers greet us with „welcome to Kyrgyzstan“ and several pedestrians call „welcome to Osh“. One man overtakes us with his bike and gives us – without descending of his bike – some sweet peaches.
  • Osh has Soviet charme. In contrast to the Uzbeks the Krygyz kept the Russian alphabet. It drizzels lightly as we roll through the city – and we enjoy the cool weather to the fullest. Osh is another meeting point for travellers of the region. In the „Osh Guesthouse“ we meet five cyclists, because Osh is close to Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway, is the last bigger city before the Chinese border crossing and the most frequented crossing to Uzbekistan. In spite of the many cyclists, we are happy the hostel turns us down, since all beds are taken. 17 beds were squeezed into the tiny appartment and there is only one bathroom.
  • Two blocks further we check in at „Elmira’s house“. Same price, five times the comfort. Dana and Eran, our Israeli neighbours, spontaneously invite for dinner into their room. This is the perfect moment for such an invitation, because we still didn’t manage to withdraw Kyrgyz som. We are served vegan soup garnished with bean sprouts. The two of them are hardcore vegans and would for example never ride a horse. The main reason: it is not neccessary to (ab)use the animal, because there are other possibilities (for transport, sport, fun, etc.). This mental attitude is generally right, I think. The human being doesn’t reflect enough about his supremacy in the world. Without thinking twice, we slaughter and use environment, nature and animals.
  • After two nights in the hostel we are allowed to move to the house of Umar’s parents. Umar himself cannot host us, but he liked our request so that he asked his parents. They agreed immediately and for two days they spoil us with Kyrgyz deliciousnesses. Again we experience the big difference between street food (=always the same) and the versatile cooking at private homes. A good overview about the Central Asian cuisine can be found on Will’s blog.

OSH – BISHKEK

  • We stay two nights in Arslanbob, a likeable little mountain village at 1600 meters altitude which is around 50 km off the main road. It is a little touristy (e.g. entrance fees for waterfalls), but all in all has a pretty setting with a lot of green and majestic mountains.
  • We keep on hitching towards Bishkek: a truck full of onions stop and I have to balance all of our stuff behind an onion mountain. Later we regret this laborious action a little, because it already got late. In the dark we get off the truck and search for a camping spot. Exhausted and sweaty we sink into the tent. Nevertheless, the truck ride was great, because it lead along a kilometre long canyon with a small dammed river and we were soaking in this amazing view.
  • The next day Bachtir takes us up to the first big mountain pass (3100m) in his truck. As we get off the vehicle right after the pass we are filled with wonder. Before us lies a green valley of endless extensiveness, surrounded by high, snow covered mountains. Galloping horses drinking from clear, cold rivers next to which little yurts are standing come with this setting. Here the traveller can get Kymyz (a sour drink made out of horse milk) and Kurut (small dry balls out of yoghurt respectively some kind of hard cheese). The world still seems to be in order here. Clear air and clear water, almost no trash at the side of the roads. The only civilisation are the yurts, those white and round tents in which the nomadic family sits, sleeps and lives on the floor.
  • In front of this setting we cook an eggplant-tomate-egg dish that Umar’s mum taught us. Later we camp at a beautiful location, right next to the river with a view of the extensiveness, the mountains, the nature. Far away, we see two horse riders round up their sheep in the evening sun. This simplicity and virginity leads to an undescribable feeling of happiness.
  • Ca. 60 km before Bishkek a big supermarket suprises us. After a longer while Jana comes back through the glass door again being all smiles: with two big bags full of delicious things. We cook semolina pudding – right in front of the supermarket and are happy about yoghurt, milk, cheese, dark bred, chocolate, oat flakes, cereal bars and sparkling water – we have missed these things for weeks!

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT CONSUMPTION

No, we do not know the meaning of life. But both our reason and our heart tell us that the accumulation of material things don’t make you happy. On the contrary, they turn into ballast. This is one of the uncountable paradoxicalities of modern affluent societies: shopping (=consum) as spare time activity. This is totally absurd, but gives the meaning evacuated life of the poor souls a rapid feeling of happiness – just like a piece of chocolate. When the mini intoxication is over, then next one has to happen. There is enough money for that.

That’s how the mass stays high, day by day, year by year and accumulates large amounts of ballast. It becomes even more absurd when the little human soul eventually gets overwhelmed by the ballast and starts to throw it away, solely to make space – for new ballast.

The money for this circuit (consumption of material things, feeling of happiness, things turn into ballast, throwing stuff away and new consumption) is earned well-behaved in full time jobs. Working as an ideal! This is more important than environment, health, peace. These thoughts actually only show where I don’t want to queue in. (That way) I don’t want to support this system (living to the costs of our environment and future generations).

BISHKEK

  • Many people had warned us about Turkish and Iranian traffic. But for us Bishkek definitely is the most dangerous place for cyclists so far. An examplary but unfortunately daily experience: a very expensive car coming from the opposing traffic abruptly stops at our side of the road. Jana has to break sharply and manages to stop some millimeters before the car. There is a lack of respect towards cyclists here. The car drivers often just take our right of way.
  • In Bishkek we would like to take a longer break. We move into a super small room with nice sounds from the street outside. The advantages are a good internet connection, a spacious recreation room, the supermarket in front and the close location to the centre and the bazaar.
  • On Jana’s 30th birthday we enjoy a big breakfast in the morning and are invited to Maria and Zigor at night. They are an adorable cycling couple from Spain that we had already met in Tehran. Those two cook us a delicious dinner and even managed to bake two birthday cakes. We spend quite some time together with them during our time in Bishkek.
  • Our time in the capitals goes by fast: especially during the first days we find our way through some restaurants, but we also cook ourselves (often with Maria and Zigor), check out the bazaar, organise some things (lance the Kazach visa, update the blog). Besides relaxing we even find time for a nightly café meeting, a shared flat party and a short excursion into the climbing forest.
  • In Bishkek as well, we meet many new travellers and cyclists, but also some old friends. Besides the already mentioned we meet Manu and Jonathan again: our Austrian cycling companions in Turkey. They had cycled until Georgia where they left their bikes and are now travelling as backpackers.
  • Many travellers, many stories and infos – many inspiring conversations! Because all of them have unglued from social conventions, from the ideal to create a CV as straightforward as possible – not to say a CV that has been sucked smoothly! The cyclists’ community also influences a questions that we have asked ourselves during the past weeks: shall we continue to travel the way we have travelled so far? The travel during the last time was beautiful, but also streneous and laborious and sometimes all the stuff we have gets on our nerves (= BALLAST). Furthermore, the relation of „cycling“ to „other means of transport“ has changed in the meanwhile (overall covered distance: 13000 km, thereof 5000 km cycled). Why then do we keep carrying all the special equipment (tools, spare parts, etc.) with us? On the other hand, during a conversation with Maria and Zigor, I became clear again and realized: travelling by bike is something really special. The independence, the proximity towards the people and nature, the slow and therefore naturally seeming changements in the culture. This is a lot more difficult to experience when travelling by other means. Manu and Jonathan confirm this as well. They are experiencing it right now and are annoyed by overpriced taxi rides for example – the bike gives freedom!

As always, the corresponding PICTURES as well as our ITINERARY of this blog article can be reached by clicking on the two links (just click on the respective word)!

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