Guest article by Maciek…
- Silk Road history
Last years we can observe emerging importance of Chinese economy and political dominance in eurasian continent. In 2013 President Xi Jinping announced building the New Silk Road that connects China and Europe for the transportation of Chinese goods. The name and path will reflect ancient road that was used for ages for transport of luxury Chinese silk to European kingdoms.
After USSR breakup in 1991 out of the sudden world has gained 15 new independent countries: (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan). This created necessity for self governing of nations that for years were governerned from Moscow. It was quite sudden change and new countries were not ready for that. What was previously a border roughly drawn by Stalin that seperated friendly internal state, suddenly became official national border. Borders that didn’t reflect that well nations and geography. What was even harder to overcome was mentality of the people. Suddenly they had to self determine their future and present, while being used to just follow orders from outside. This lead to emerged loca quasi dictatorships in almost all post Soviet countries with rulers governing for 30 or so years straight with or without use of democracy.
3. Getting there
We have found cheap tickets of LOT Polish Airlines from Warsaw, Poland to Astana, Kazakshstan. We decided to buy it and then think later what to do with it. When people ask me if it is hard to travel far away, I always answer that the hardest is the decision itself. After clicking “purchase” button, rest comes quite naturally with the flow.
Astana is good hub for connection for Central Asia. We took Air Astana flight to go to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and then come back with Uzbekistan Airways from Tashkent, Uzbekistan to Astana. There are also plenty of domestic flights around Uzbekistan, so when you finally manage to get to Central Asia, traveling around should be quite easy (but with relish of adventure that you always get in non Western countries)
4. Idea of the trip
As Kyrgyzstan is mostly mountains, we wanted to do trekking there and taste what Kyrgyz people are most famous of: horseback riding. Going constantly West we moved to Uzbekistan to dive more into historical centers of ancient cities. Nature from wild Kyrgyz mountains was changing into desert close to remains of Aral lake.
5. Trekking in TienShan
We have started our trip in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan. City was rather non interesting and we decided to head directly to Karakol, on the South-East bank of Issyk Kul lake, where we should start our first adventure - 3 days trek around Ala Kul lake. Weather is completely unpredictable. 4 different weather forecast channels shown completely different forecasts for the same region, and each of it has changed completely during an hour. We could expect sun, rain, snow, wind, storms.. Getting prepared for this trip was definitely not easy.
We could either go back the same way, or go further to make the whole loop. But either way we should go fast, not to get caught by either storm or night.
We decided to go further. But to go further we have to climb higher.
Waking up in the morning we were surprised that everything is dry. When we lift the lid of the tent we understood why. Everything was covered with snow. Surprisingly it was quite warm inside the tent. The only challenge was to get water from the stream into the purifying straw - the hands were instantly freezing.
Going down to the village was the easy and relaxing part. The backpacks were light, the path was easy, views outstanding. That were one of the best moments and views of Kyrgyzstan I kept in mind.
The Kirghiz Dismounts (a horse) by Ryszard Kapuścinski, Polish journalist and traveller, was written just after the WW II. It presented love and passion of Kyrgyz people to horses, that are tightly coupled with their history, tradition and daily life. We could not think that we knew Kyrgyzstan without trying horseback riding there.
Beautiful traditions of nomadic tribes are gathered and cultivated during World Nomad Games, Olympic version of sports and tradition of local communities.
Saying this, you can watch Kok boru, national game of Kyrgyz, mix of rugby and polo, where you play with dead goat.
The official language of Kyrgyzstan is Kyrgyz, that sounds similar to Turkish. The official language in Uzbekistan is Uzbek that for me, is somehow more connected with arabic.
We learned just 2 words in Kyrgyz/Uzbek:
- Salam aleykum - good morning/peace with you - a standard muslim greeting
- Rahmat - thank you
English is almost not existing.
Being from Poland helped a lot. After first confusion, we started talking in slow, mispronounced, old fashioned Polish, just changing the words that we already knew in Russian (around 20 essentials like:
- Skolko - how much
- Corok - 40 - misleading in Polish, as all the number are similar to Polish, except of this one sneaky bastard
- Wsyo - everything
- Kusno - tasty
- Zavtra - tomorrow
- Zavtrak - breakfast
- Chiut-chiut - a little bit, saying “I speak chiut-chiut russian” makes all the people laugh a lot
Meat. Mostly meat. A lot of meat. Beef, mutton and horse.
After 3 weeks we prayed for a tomato. But Central Asia is not a country for vegetarians. We even asked our guides what they do if they have vegetarian tourists. Their answer was something between “what is a vegetarian” and “we bury them in the lake”.
The most famous Uzbek dish is plov. Rice with meat. Sometimes with onion, saffron, yellow carrot (that tastes like pumpkin). But mostly rice and meat. Simply and tasty.
Langman is somehow variation of pasta bolognese. Pasta with tomato sauce and meat.
Manty are dumplings similar to Georgian chinkali, with beef and onions as stuffing.
Samsy are fried version of manty, also with veggies.
Shashliks are pure meat on a looong skewer.
Fruits variety is not too big, but the one that exists are amazingly tasty.
Melons, watermelons and pomegranate are most common ones, usually really big, colorful and really sweet.
- a) Tashkent
Tashkent, for me, was the biggest surprise of all the trip. It is extremely clean, peaceful, well organized and seems easy to live in. Sure, after 2 days spent there, you can not say a lot, but it was first time in my life when I was not overwhelmed by speed of the capital, but rather gently treated by a nicely organized city.
- b) Samarkand
- c) Bukhara
- d) Khiva
After a couple of months, watching pictures from the trip I can not recognize which building was located in which place. But it does not matter at all. For those who love symetry and geometry, mosques and medrasas give amazing pleasure for eyes. Especially the ceilings. Always visit while looking up!
To phrase it most simply, people are simply amazing. In Kyrgyzstan they are more wild, adjusted to their nomadic genes. In Uzbekistan they are more open hearted, with thousands years of great history. People are extremely happy seeing tourists. They wave at us. They say hello. They invite for chai. Western countries can learn a lot about hospitality from Central Asia.
We were especially interesting object for locals, looking like this
- Eastern European potatoe face can be taken as more or less local
- Tiubitieyka - is definetly a local hat, worn by noble older man, specially on bigger occasions (hint: it covers pretty good a monk baldness and doesn’t weigh anything
- Alladin pants - we heard every single time “this is pants for women”, people were truly concerned that some bastard bazaar seller sold us women pants instead of proper gentelmen’s trousers. At the beginning we have tried explaining that this pants are amazing for hot climate and easy to walk in. But it did not work. So then, we started explaining that this is Polish National Hero Pants. If somebody ask you there about it, well it’s our fault.