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The 5 Stans of the Silk Road

RooFlyer

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Overnight in the town of Ferghana and dinner over the road where JohnM and I were served by a delightful young girl - it might have been her first night waitressing, with little English, only to be confronted by a us and a bunch of other Anglo dudes. She handled it well :)

Borscht for me to start

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Mains proved a bit tricky; several items we wanted weren't available (with the 'new' server, this took some time to establish!!), but in the end I went with 'French steak' - a nice tender steak topped with tomato and cheese:

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The Ferghana Valley was pretty disappointing for me. the guide's poor English didn't help, but the 'crafts' we were shown just weren't exciting. The pottery was very good quality but might have been anywhere and the silk factory just disappointed in the sales area.
 

RooFlyer

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Onward we went. Destination today is the mountain village of Arslanbob in our fourth country, Kyrgyzstan, or, as our country guide always called it, the Kyrgyz Republic. This began a week or so of more 'rustic' accommodations and food!

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The border crossing was another easy one (in as much as the walk across no-mans land was short and the border posts uncrowded).

The Kyrgyz Republic is another 'crossroads' country and only really became an independent state after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, when it became a parliamentary republic. It is possibly the most 'democratic' of the Stans, although freedoms are still restricted. Our country guide described the Kyrgyz people as 'nomads' and 'mongols' and they certainly are of a greater 'Asian' appearance than the people of the Stans we have encountered to date. The language is still of the 'Turkic' type and we were able to keep our basic vcabulary of greetings and thank-yous from the other countries. Like Tajikistan, Cyrillic script is used. the country is mountainous and we will experience the mountains very soon.

On the way to Osh, a stop for toilet. Mostly he stops featured a 'western' toilet, where you had to pay (usually the equivalent of about 10 cents) - this was a restaurant, with locals'tables and the toilet money put on a nearby table.

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Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyz republic. We had to miss the Osh Bazaar unfortunately and went straight to Sulayman Mountain, a holy Muslim pilgrimage site (and burial place of the prophet Sulayman (Solomon)) and the central point on the Silk Road. Its the only World Heritage site in the republic. The circular thing is a exit from a museum in an excavation within the mountain.

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RooFlyer

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On the road to Arslanbob, we definitely got the feel of being in a country dominated by the horse. This mob were being driven along the road - right in the middle, between the 2 streams of traffic:

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The country became hilly, and grasses predominated in the hills, with crops in the valleys.

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There were also cattle and sheep being driven along the road. We are undoubtedly in the country, dominated by grazing animals.

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ric_melb

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Really enjoying this trip report. Many thanks to Rooflyer for the commentary and excellent photos.
 

RooFlyer

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Arslenbob is a village - more like a small town - spread down a valley of a river draining one of the 4,500m+ peaks in the area. It has embraced 'community tourism', where a local body encourages individuals and families to provide facilities suitable for western tourists. Is pretty remote and as a result is well off the beaten track, but with this tour and similar ones getting more and more popular, it will see more. Its main claim to fame s that it is surrounded by the world's largest remaining walnut forest - over 600,000 acres.

It is also our first homestay and turned out to be the place with the most basic facilities of the trip. Our group of 18 (including the 'western' guide and the country guide) were spread over two adjacent places. Our place had basic rooms and a shared eastern and a shared western toilet ('drop' types, a bit smelly) and a shared shower, which had to get fixed before we used it the first time. I think the other place was a bit better fitted out.

The owner's house in front and the garden (growing lots of fresh veges) and the rooms, over 2 levels, on the right.

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Place to relax and enjoy the vodka / beers we brought with us! We were here for 2 nights and 'borrowed' some fridge space in their store room. Our hosting families here and later on were all Muslim, and we always checked whether it was OK to consume alcohol on site - it always was, but we were careful not to leave empties about.

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Dinner was provided by the hosting families both nights. First night it was plov (pilaf rice with lamb and veges), plus bread, salad, watermelon, biscuits etc.

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Most of the group had beer or (very cheap) vodka, but JohnM and i invested in some Kyrgyz wine - which in this case was handily sold with its own plastic corkscrew! Here, we began to get the impression that the local wine wasn't too good (the impression would persevere!!). One bottle we had here tasted more of cherry juice than wine; the other was a passable Merlot, but only passable.

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Salad (tomato and cucumber - like every other time!)

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The plov.

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RooFlyer

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We had a full day in Arslenbob the next day to relax and have a day not be constantly on the bus. It was good in theory but I was wondering what on earth I'd do all day.

We started off with an optional group 'hike' to see the 'little waterfall', some views and some of the walnut forest.

Some nice textures of the mud brick buildings that constitute most of the town.

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Part of the range that looms over the town:

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The 'little waterfall' was indeed little and we hoped for better sights later on the hike.

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There was a row of mostly deserted market stalls; this lady was selling fruit 'jerky' - dried and rolled out chewy fruit - its produced lin large, folded sheets and she cuts off what you want with some scissors.. It was Ok but I suspect it also gave me a mild dose of the runs later. The other stuff are balls of dried cheese.

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RooFlyer

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From the rest of the walk, which ended up being about 15km, I think, with some steep climbs on bush paths.

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Locals rent out plots of the walnut forest from the government (owner) - maybe 3 ha or so, marked out by these brush fences. They graze animals on the grasses below. Now, with winter approaching, they are cutting the grass for straw for the animals over winter. usually using hand scythes. this is pretty typical of the walnut forest. Not huge trees, but they are old. Harvesting is done by someone going up them and shaking the branches. this is a very bad season apparently, due to some badly times snow. We could hardly see any walnuts!

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Usually no problems taking pics of locals as long as you asked first.

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Breaking out of the forest, with views of the town - its really spread out up and down the valley. The walnut forest continues on the other side and the town goes well up to the right.
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We begin our descent down the track, watched by some locals:

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Unfortunately, the locals were intent on going the same way, and there was a grave risk of an 'Arslanbob running-of-the-bulls' event:

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We chickened out and let them pass. they were on the trot, not ambling!

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RooFlyer

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Lunch provided at the home stay ...

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After lunch, I and a couple of others (including @JohnM , natch) paid for a 4WD trip to the 'big waterfall' and a deeper look at the Walnut forest.

The wheels turned up, with Russian-speaking driver, and it looked like being an interesting trip!

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The guy 'angel-geared' it down the hills. We gave way to cows on the local bridge ... Arselanbob is that type of town!!

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We ploughed along really rough tracks for about 45 mins, and then parked. The driver then got out and encouraged us to follow. We didn't know what was going on, but we gathered that he was leading us to the 'big waterfall'.

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A creek crossing was required:

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We went on a bit and then we realised that he was leading us up a track to the top of the falls - quite a steep way. After our morning hike, I and a couple of others didn't feel this was really necessary, so we admired the view from below.

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RooFlyer

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We then went into the walnut forest and were supposed to go to the 'small waterfall' (apparently - communication wasn't the driver's strong point). As we had been there, instead, we just had a pleasant walk through the walnut forest for a while:

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On the way back we came across these kids netting for trout - they had a couple about 30cm long.

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Back home we relaxed in the back yard over some beers. This is the youngest boy of the family, and when he discovered our chips, we were best mates!! We restricted his intake though, as it was obviously not approved by mama. We didn't see her, but it was made obvious by young Islam, as he was called, constantly making 'ssshhh' type expressions, finger over lips. ;)

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More wine with dinner - I don't recall if this was a good or bad one, but JohnM worked hard on the cork!!

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Cossie

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I posted something similar over on the chit chat thread, hopefully you can let me know a bit more.

Very envious! I've wanted to go to the Stans for a long time, (I have been to Afghanistan and Iran, but it was along time ago). I remember listening to shortwave stations from there, like Radio Tashkent and looking them up in an atlas and of course sending off for a QSL card, probably still have it somewhere with all my other crap.

I really wanted to do the whole shebang and go to Kashgar and then the whols old silk road, but I do not want to go to communist China again.

What would you change, if anything from your Stan trip? Was it too hot at that time of the year? Would you consider a different provider?

Needless to say I've I have really enjoyed this tr as per usual from you or Johnm.
 

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Just read from the first post - excellent as always.
Ta. I'm looking forward to 'The Point' :)

What would you change, if anything from your Stan trip?
I think its hard to do the whole silk road ... as in, going into western China, as that's the now-sensitive territory. Joanna Lumley's "Silk Road Adventure" ended at the China border.

You could do the tour in, say, June when its cooler in the west, but then on the Kyrgrz highlands (still to come in my TR), its early, and cold. We were 'lucky' in that it was a cool summer in Turkmenistan - it should have been in the 40s. Check the temp profiles in the Exodus trip notes.

I see Exodus is pushing these tours out every 4 to 7 days during the season next year ... its obviously incredibly popular. The price has gone up about 40% too, Still really good value. I have heard they are improving some of the accommodation options in response to feedback (they only started the tour last year).

I'm not aware that other tours do the whole 5 Stans (without a flight in the middle), but there probably are (eg US or other countries). Exodus suits as its UK based with an Australian office. I wouldn't be surprised if Intrepid (Aussie based) don;t do it soon.

I have no hesitation in recommending this trip - as long as you don't travel on your stomach, and the odd smelly toilet isn't a deal breaker. If you haven't done a group tour before, this might not be the one to start with ... its a long one, and too late to pull out if the environment doesn't suit.
 

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Another day, another drive ...

Today we went to the Chychkn Gorge, essentially just a stop on our way to Kyzyl Oi. Bu I guess you would have realised that :rolleyes: :p

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Our drive out of Arslanbob was the first day of the school year, and we were delighted to see all the kids decked out in their 'first day' finery. We realised later, when we had seen a few school days, that the kids are always dressed well for school. Girls in pressed and pleated dresses in school colours, +/- ties, often with an elaborate white bow or frill in their hair (see below - what would you call it?), boys in long pants, ties, vests and often caps.

I missed the best shots as we drove past, unfortunately, but some to give you the idea:

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Group of young blokes with hands in their pockets - scene from anywhere!

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We skirted the fertile Ferghana Valley again, and then started a slow climb into the main mass of the Kyrgyz mountains. It soon became obvious that one thing the Kyzgyz Republic has lots of, is water. We stopped by this river impoundment, one of seven small-ish dams along it, all generating hydro power. From the rivers and gorges were were to see over the next few days, the potential for hydro power here seems almost limitless. Colour of the water again influenced by glaciers upstream, and was typical of the whole damn country that we saw.:oops:

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But no vegetation on the scree slopes, and only grasses on the other slopes as far as we could see.

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RooFlyer

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The road took us initially through many km of narrow gorges through barren landscapes. The road quality was good, however - as it was through most of the country we saw - in contrast to Tajikistan!!

A photo stop at the Toktogul hydro impoundment.

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Then we continued along hills and low mountains - fertile valleys with grassy hills - perfect for horses and grazing stock.

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We entered some more gorges, impossibly to photograph out of the van, but quite dramatic. Then reached our destination, a lonely motel, but it was comfortable enough with en-suite facilities!!

Right on a nice burbling river:

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Just reminding you where we were:

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RooFlyer

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Climate-friendly way to chill the beers and vodka:

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JohnM and I moved onto our wine ... it was OK-ish ... continuing our run of OK-ish wines in the Kyrgrz Republic.

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It rained overnight, the first rain we've seen in the 18 days of the trip so far. The clouds in the morning presaged a change continuing, which was unfortunate, as we were heading further up into the mountains in the next few days.

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The drive the next day looks short, and only times a few hours by Google, but as usual that greatly underestimated our time, being in several 14 seater vans at this stage, and the south-eastern oriented leg to Kyzyl-oi was on dirt roads. The lake on the right was our following day destination, at 3,000m.

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From the motel we immediately started climbing up into the mountains, to a pass at about 2,400m (Mt Kosciusko is 2,228m). On the way we got excited as we passed our first yurt ... but it would be one of many!!

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True nomad country. They stay in their yurts and some modern equivalents while they graze their stock over summer on the alpine pastures, and then strike camp and head into the valleys for winter. The season has about a month to run at this time, early September. It was getting cold for the first time on the trip.

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RooFlyer

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Some more pics of the scenes from the high country.

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Then, in the middle of no-where a petrol station and mini-mart .. and I bought an iPhone lightning/USB cable for A$5 ! Even Apple is cheap here!

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Also came across some guy taking pictures.

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Horses everywhere ...

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RooFlyer

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We descended off the high meadows into a wide valley through some small, rough villages that are home to the nomads during winter. They were pretty grim, and we were desperately hoping the van wouldn't be stopping at any of them!! But even here the school kids looked spiffy:

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Then a narrow valley, following yet another rushing river of turquoise water, we were back in the mountains:

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Amazing to notice that even from the dry, barren-looking hills, there was a abundant, green water spilling out:

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Until, finally, we arrived at Kyzyl-Oi, where we were home-staying for the night. It has ??traffic lights?? o_O o_O o_O Well, you can see the typical traffic load ...

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Obviously for the benefit of the likes of this young bloke, who is wearing a traditional Kyrgyz hat:

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