25 days - august 2004
of travel: alone in a wholly independent travel
july- august 2004 (25 days)
I moved (in Kyrgyzstan): mainly by bus, minibus (marshrutmyy),
jeep, shared taxi and (I cheated) flying
I slept: in cheap guesthouses/hotels (5-20$), in yurts
and private houses contacted through Shepherds life
and Community Based Tourism (CBT) associations
I liked:staying in the yurts in Song Kul, the
mongolian lineaments of the people, the colorful lada cars, the
wonderful mountains, how fresh it's also in summer and the whole
country still to be discovered
What I dislike:
the irritating police in Bishkek and the visa hassles to
travel between the stans
How much daily:
(for a lowlow budget travel) sleeping 5-15$, eating
2-5$, rent a jeep (3 hours two ways 50$, 4 people) also flying is
really affordable (40$ Osh-Bishkek (1 hour)). What will take most
of your budget will be the visas (40-80$)
or baking?: even in the heart of august in Bishkek it wasn't
so hot, in Kochkor the temperature was perfect (18-22C), while
in the high lands (Song Kul 3000m) I froze up (0 C in the night,
5-13 C in the day)
irritating policemen in Bishkek interested in your
money, some drunks and thieves in Karakol, but anyway I would say
it's a safe country
What you do need:
bring a sleeping bag if you want to sleep in Song Kul and
some trekking gears because not everywhere is possible to found
gears to trek or to climb, on the opposite....
(common part for Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan pages)
in Central Asia?
my travel in Iran in the 2000, that part of world south of Siberia
and encompassed between the Caspian Sea and China, in my mind has
always been a mysterious jigsaw of countries rarely mentioned. Im
not speaking about pure desert, but about an area as big as Europe
containing a meaningful percentage of the world energy resources,
exactly as it happens for most of Africa. However what definitely
attracted me was the curiosity about which kind of ethnic groups
live there, if exists and where is the "ethnic border"
between Asia and Europe. Travelling in Iran let me to focus the
southern border of this area, while being in Russia the northern
Once chosen the
Central Asia as target I realised its really huge and it hasnt
been easy to select which among the five "stans" was worth
to be visited. The must was not more than two countries for my 25
days trip. Turkmenistan seems too hassling to get the visa and travel
freely throughout the country, furthermore too hot in summer, and
baking my brain definitely is not my passion. Kazakhstan is hot
as well and a lot of people warned me as the least interesting among
the stans. Uzbekistan was a kind of must to be seen and Kyrgyzstan
seemed to fit better with travelling by public means of transport
than Tagikistan. Hence there I ended up!
I flew from Italy stopping over in
Istanbul and then to Tashkent. It was deep night (1.00 am) when
got my luggage and I definitely started my travel in Central Asia.
Lonely Planet warns about taxi drivers hassling at the airport,
but frankly I didnt see many of them. Anyway I had no accommodation
booked, so, rather them trusting alone any uzbek taxi driver in
the middle of the night in a totally unknown place, I follow a french
couple to the hotel where they had already reserved room, and did
my first central asian bargain.
The next day I woke up quite dizzy in
my gloomy room and started walking to the centre. It was a super
hot but dry sunny day, as all the other ones turned out to be during
my travel in Uzbekistan. I wanted to apply for my kyrgyz visa at
the embassy, and luckily paying an extra I got it on the spot (details
about visas). Then I went to the unmissable Tara Hotel in the
southern outskirts of the capital.
Tashkent is not that much nice, in fact
apart from the police stopping you to swindle you and a small waterpark
where I spent my last day, youll just yearn to flee asap.
So I did and the next day I got to the wonderful Samarcanda.
It took 6 hours by bus where once again travelling by public means
of transport let me to know the locals and have fun. I was eager
to test my russian and for sure any passenger could be aware of
the torture could mean sat near me for hours :-)
Therere no words to describe how
was pleasant my staying in Samarcanda; not only for the beauty of
the town itself with all its highlights, but mainly for the travellers
and the locals I met there. I settled down in the Bahodir guesthouse, a small but cute place where
I spent 4 days hearing travelogues and exchanging opinion about
journeys in the furthest corners of the world.
Here I met Olga and Nick, the russian-american
couple with who I travelled for one week in Khiva and Buhara, Martin
the crazy german biker Id have met by chance two weeks later
in Kyrgyzstan spending a bunch of days and a danish couple who helped
me to get to the Song Kol lake at 3000m in the hearth of Kyrgyzstan.
One of the four days I did a day trip
by a shared taxi to the small but worthwhile town of the Uzbek hero
My next leg turned out to be quite tough:
it took 16 endless super tiring hours by bus to get to Khiva,
and I promised you, Id not do such trip again. It took one
full day to rest and to forget about all those hours spent pushing
away a sucker Uzbek who though I was his pillow on an Africa style
I didnt expect Khiva to be such
nice place: the old town is small but concentrated inside high and
thick fortifications. I slept in a private house after a whole morning
bargain (thanks Olga!!!!!!!) and wandered inside the old town exploring
most of its "labyrinth style" narrow streets.It reminded
me the city of Bam (Iran), those who managed to see it before the
earthquake will agree.
After few days through in the endless
corners of Khiva, we (me, Nick and Olga) took the way back to Buhara.
No way we still got the supertiring bus!!! So we found a guy who
brought us by car for 40$. I promised you that such journey has
been one of the most interesting of the whole travel. First of all
we diverted to the ruins of the old fortress of Topraq-Quala. It
was not just for the highlight, quite interesting anyway, but mainly
for the landscape. It was amazing watching the green cotton fields
grown along huge artificial lakes and canals turn into desert covered
somewhere by a layer of salt. Then the whole journey was 400 km
done in 9 hours through a sandy white desert along the Amu Darya
River. I still remember the feeling of being in a huge hair dryer
due to the hot air coming from the car window. Definitely the hottest
leg I did in the whole trip, but it was absolutely worthwhile. In
fact on the way we found one yurt of a family living in the very
desert, as I got closer three children come out staring at me like
I was an alien; frankly Im still wandering how they could
stand to live in such climate. Unfortunately the man who gave us
the lift was in hurry and didnt let me to try to communicate
with them, and I had just the time for some shots.
Buhara is worth its fame: definitely
the most soviet of the uzbek city that Ive visited in Uzbekistan,
but around a nice and well-maintained historical area, although
being quite touristy.Here we sadly split and I proceed alone back
to Tashkent by train; I recommend you as the best mean of transport
connecting Buhara to the capital.
From Tashkent I got a shared taxi to
Fergana (6 hours). For the first two hours through the Tien Shan
mountains to reach the Kamchic pass theres
a very nice landscape and its as fresh as I hadnt felt
for the last 2 weeks!!!! The only incredible hassle were the endless
checking points on the way that oblige the car to a continuo slow
down and speed up. I hope youre not prone to motion sickness
:-)After the pass the landscape gets boring and anonymous for the
whole Fergana Valley. As LP claims, the first sentence you say getting
there, is: "wheres the valley??". In fact theres
no really any valley or since it is very wide you dont notice
it, but at least it is fresher than the rest of the country. Although
from this point of view I got disappointed I think its worth
travelling there since its so culturally different from the
rest of country that you cannot have a general idea of Uzbekistan
if you havent see Fergana Valley.
I visited the interesting silk factory
in Marghilan and then I entered in Kyrgyzstan sleeping my first
kyrgyz night in the supersoviet and "really not uzbek"
city of Osh.
From here I was to lazy to spend 15 hours
on a bumping jeep to get to Bishkek and, shame on me, I flew: 40$
for 1 hour flight plus the wonderful view of the mountains: sorry
but I think Id do it again!!
My primary task in the kyrgyz capital
was to get the kasakh transit visa. I got immediately disappointed
knowing that on wensday the embassy was closed and 2 whole days
were necessary to have it. Obviously I arrived at the embassy on
Tuesday just after it had closed. No way to wait four days for it,
" Ill get it in the way back!". Then I left by minibus
to Kochkor. 6 hours packed in a super uncomfortable kind of tonne
can, moreover later I found out I didnt paid so much less
than taking a faster shared taxi. Just to make my travel better,
the road snakes at the feet of the mountains and the driver probably
was feeling like Schumacher :-) so I spent part of the travel trying
to avoid to throw up on the people around me!
Kochkor is a small town, but I found
it more than a starting point for the trip to the Tien Shan mountains.
Luckily I found a so nice danish guy, known to weeks before in Samarcanda,
who was leaving for 3 days trip to the lake Song Kol sleeping the
the yurt of the herders at 3000 meter. To share the expenses of
the jeep I joined the group (him and some other travellers) and
at the end such trip turned out the most interesting experience
of the whole travel.(read about it)
Back to Kochkor I reached Karakol by
minibus in 7 hours; there I hang around for two days visiting the
animal market and the crowded beaches of the lake Issuk Kul. It
was time to start my way back to Tashkent: I got to Bishkek where
I freaked out for 3 days to have my kazakh transit visa but enjoying
a lot to stay at Sabyrbek's B&B guesthouse with nice family of
Then by bus I entered in Kazakhstan and
I stopped in Shymkent. After wandering in the town for few hours
I easily got in Tashkent where I spent my last afternoon at a water
entertaiment park relaxing and trying to gather thousands of impressions
of my last month through Central Asia.
ABOUT KYRGYZSTAN AND KYRGYZ
Laos of Central Asia", this is how Id define this small
forgotten country plunged among the Tian Shan mountains. For sure
its not its history or its culture that led you there and
once back nor Bishkek, nor Osh will belong to your memories. What
can push you there is the curiosity to explore the wildlife and
how the inhabitants manage to live in this tough land. In short
I think that Kyrgyzstan is more a target for travellers than for
I spent some wonderful
days living in a yurt of the summer herders at 3000m near the lake
Song Kul. Washing in the lake, riding horses (or better trying),
speaking with the people in such relaxed atmosphere made me feel
like on another planet.
very mountainous its possible to travel by public means of
transport; connecting the main towns therere comfortable buses,
while coloured "marshrutnyy" (minivan) go almost everywhere.
Obviously it takes times and Kyrgyzstan, unlike Uzbekistan, its
not the right place for a few days trip. What more charmed me was
to see the change in the lineaments of the people passing from Uzbekistan
to Kyrgyzstan; from a not identified strange ethnic mix like its
in the first country to a clear mongolian appearance in the last
The whole country,
more than the neighbouring Uzbekistan, preserves a russian influence
and also the attitude of the people in the main towns sometimes
is close to the russian roughness; youll feel it in particular
coming from Uzbekistan.
the irritating police in Bishkek and the drunks walking in the evening
Ive not had any particular problem, as anyway in the whole
trip in Central Asia.
I loved Kyrgyzstan, and its one
of the rare countries where I would come back, maybe taking the
chance to travel to Tajikistan.
What I liked mainly was the simplicity
of the country and also how much it is still to be discovered. If
you havent planned particular excursions or climbs, 15 days
its an enough amount of time for visiting the country. You
dont need special organisations: on the main ways therere
many public means of transport and meanwhile so few tourists around.
Kyrgyzstan is definitely a place for
people fond of the mountains or generally speaking of the nature,
but not only. In fact how the locals manage to live in the mountains
was one of the things that mainly charmed me. The days in the yurt
near the lake Song kul observing the people living there were amazing.
Moreover entering in Kyrgyzstan I felt entering in Asia, due to
the mongolian-like lineaments of the people who looked so exotic
to me: if you are a traveller hardly youll get disappointed.
|KOCHKOR AND SONG KUL
KOCHKOR AND SONG KUL
ABOUT KOCHKOR AND SONG KUL
|Where I slept:
||Kochkor: private house
(Shepherds life and Community Based Tourism (CBT) associations)
Lake Song Kul: yurt tent (Shepherds life and Community
Based Tourism (CBT) associations ) 10$/night
|Getting there and
||From Bishkek to Kochkor:
minibus (about 4$, 5 hours), its not convenient, take
a shared taxi!! I hope you dont suffer the motion sickness.
From Kochkor to Karakol: minibus (7 hours). theres
not direct connection!
Kochkor - Lake Song Kul: private jeep (3 hours, 50$ two ways)
find somebody to share the expense or hitch hike, on the way
back I walked half of the way and the few cars that passed
stopped offering me a lift (of course you have to pay something)
||in Lake Song Kul:
horse riding or trekking
Kochkor is mainly considered a starting
point for the trekking in the mountains of central Kyrgyzstan, but,
although quite a small town, I found it interesting. They looked
exotic all its bright green and orange Lada cars, and the old men
wearing their typical high caps sat on the benches and answering
so politely to my greetings. In the town therere the Shepherds
life and Community Based Tourism (CBT) associations, thatre
a no profit association whose aim is to connect the people who travel
in the region with the locals. I used them either to find a private
house where I slept in Kochkor either to know how to get and in
which yurt sleep at 3000m near lake Song Kul. They are well organised,
and I really recommend you to drop by there, moreover its
the best way to let your money spread in the community.
There are 3 categories of private houses where
you can sleep in Kochkor according to the price. The house I slept
belonged to the middle one, it was clean and the housewife was nice,
taking for granted bathroom its a hole outside in the garden,
but this is a standard in Kyrgyzstan.
As concerns the trip to the mountains therere
an endless number of different opportunities: from one day to one
month, by foot, by jeep, or by horse
. I think you could trek
for months without stepping on the same trail.
I was lucky, because as soon as the minibus
dropped me off I found a so nice danish guy, known to weeks before
in Samarkand, who was leaving for 3 days trip to the lake Song Kul
sleeping the yurt of the herders at 3000 meter. To share the expenses
of the jeep I joined the group (him and some other travellers) and
I spent three wonderful days in a kind of heaven on the lake bank.
The herders were settled in group of few yurts spread on an endless
relative flat green area. All around were just free horses and the
white smoke of some far yurt lifting to the sky. The lake is extremely
big to be an alpine one: about 30 km long and maybe 10 km wide.
An old herder convinced us to swim saying it was warm: my god how
much I suffered to enter in the water; only the swedish girl felt
at easy, but Sweds dont count in such thing ;-) Apart from
this painful experience the lake was perfect in the morning to rinse
the face feeling fresher with all the horses wandering around me!
The place is perfect to ride horses, in fact we rented some (7$
all the afternoon) and had a great trip towards the other herder
camps. As concerns the food you dont have to bring from the
civilisation, they have the essential you need: as soon as we arrived
they killed a calf (poor animal, I felt guilty :-( , we had with
bread and rise for the dinner. While for breakfast there was bread
My only regret was first of all not to have
a sleeping bag, in fact I literally froze during the night when
the temperature outside the yurt dropped some degree below zero.
Then not to have time for a long trekking trip in the area, as it
would have deserved.
POLICEMEN IN BISHKEK
MAIL SENT WHILE
POLICEMEN IN BISHKEK
It was my last day in Kyrgyzstan while I was in Bishkek
and I saw two policemen walking annoyed. I immediately tried to
divert from their way, but they stopped me. I was very calm since
my passport was at the kazakh embassy and given I would have left
the country the same evening I had really few money in my pockets.
Otherwise I don't think they would have managed to take me inside
a room as they did. They seemed very nice and smiling asked me about
my documents: I gave them the ripped photocopy of the passport with
the kyrgyz visa, then they wanted to check my pocket and my bag.
I took out the money I had (of course not the dollars hidden in
the money belt), one started to count them while the other was asking
me a lot of questions. Frankly I didn't think they would have stolen
such few money, but after a while when they let me free recounting
them I founded out there were some missing. And the funniest thing
has been that, before leaving, they kindly asked me the money of
the coffee and when I answered that I needed them for the bus ticket
(it was true!!) they almost apologised for having asked: assholes!!!!
SENT WHILE TRAVELLING:
Oramai sono in giro da un 20ina di giorni, ma mi sembra
di essere partito l'anno scorso, come se fossero passato due stagioni:
una in cui mi sono stato dal caldo (40-45 C) nel deserto del Kyzylkum
(West Uzbekistan) fino al punto di fare retromarcia, l' altra in
cui mi sono congelato come un tacchino in freezer in un campo estivo
degli allevatori oltre i 3000m nel cuore del Kyrgystan. Dopo la
prima email ho continuato a viaggiare in Uzbekistan verso ovest
per un migliaio di km mentre la temperatura saliva e i campi di
cotone scomparivano per lasciare posto a dune di sabbia bianca e
sassi addobbate qua e là da bassi cespugli verdoni. Sono
arrivato fino ad una città (ex fortezza) che mi ricordava
la Bam Iraniana (quella rasa al suolo dal terremoto). Stavo tentando
di scendere dalle mura della città in un punto non propriamente
adatto, mentre un anziano mi sollecitava ( del tipo "ke sei
scemo??) a tornare indietro, ma alla fine ce lo fatta e lui tutto
esaltato manda fuori la figlia con una bacinella per farmi lavare
le mani invitandomi in casa. Una casa poverissima, due stanze di
cui la prima e la principale ricoperta di tappeti, con al centro
una colonna di legno intagliata che sorreggeva l'alto tetto e un
piccolo televisore in un angolo. Questo era tutto quello che c'era.
Mi (anzi, ci, perchè all'epoca stavo viaggiando con una russa
e un californiano) fa accomodare e tira fuori tutto quello che ha
da mangiare e da bere (probabilmente la cena dei giorni successivi),e
inizia a raccontare la sua tortuosa vita. Non c'e' stato verso di
rinunciare al mangiare per non privarlo, in quanto lui era semplicemente
commosso dal fatto che noi accettassimo e io ogni "piroghi"
che ingurgitavo mi sentivo a disagio.
Niente Mar d'Aral: il tempo scarseggiava, il caldo aumentava e ho
deciso di puntare verso il montuoso e piu' fresco Kyrgystan, ma
non senza aver stupidamente accettato un invito in una "banija
"E' come una sauna con un massaggio e c'e' anche la piscina"
mi era stato detto!
Il posto era nella periferia di Buhara in perfetto stile supersovietico
ultra decaduto : praticamente come una prigione: porte in acciaio
supercorrose. La custode, tipica russa super cafona, non credeva
ai suoi occhi che una straniero entrasse lì dentro. La sauna
era una stanza di cemento in cui entravano due grossi tubi che,
dopo aver girato due altrettanto corrose valvole, buttavano fuori
vapore a temperature insopportabili. La piscina era una vasca 2x2m
profonda 1 m completamente spiastrellata e cmq vuota. Io che di
caldo ne avevo eccome, non ho osato metterci piede, ma la parte
migliore è stata il massaggio: entra un serio russo, con
il quale prima avevo lungamente contrattato. Si spoglia in costume
e mi fa sdraiare. A quel punto inizia a tirarmi dolorosamente la
pelle, io mi contorco," e' per tirar vita lo strato morto della
pelle" mi rassicura, mentre continua a ripetere ad alta voce
" RILASSATI, RILASSATI, non sei rilassato!!"
sfido che non lo ero. E non vi dico quando e' arrivato ai capelli:
ha iniziato a tirarli, sempre per la stessa storia di tirar via
quelli morti. La tortura e' durata 20 min e ho dovuto pure pagare
(l'equiv di 1.2 euro) per farmi strappare i capelli. Morale della
favola: ho meno capelli di prima.
Passano i giorni, passano i km e arrivo nel cuore
del Kyrgystan, dove ho avuto l'esperienza piu' incredibile di tutto
il viaggio. Premessa: il Kyrgystan e' una specie di Nepal al confine
occidentale della Cina dove ci sono piu' di 4 cime sopra i 7000
m ed e' un paese molto rurale. Una specie di Laos dell'Asia Centrale
Arrivo in un paesino piccolissimo e appena scendo dal pulmino dopo
non so quante ore schiacciato come una sardina vedo uno straniero!
e' un danese, molto vichingo, che avevo conosciuto in Uzbekistan
due sett prima. Lui stava partendo verso un lago d'alta montagna
dove ci sono degli accampamenti estivi di yurt (grosse tende) degli
allevatori. Da solo non me lo sarei mai potuto permettere, perche'
il costo del mezzo per superare il passo non e' una scherzo, ma
con lui, un giornalista inglese che lavora a Mosca, e un Australiano
che lavora all'ambasciata a Mosca si poteva fare. In quel posto
che già mi sembrava alla fine del mondo, figuriamoci proseguire.
Dopo aver riempito le taniche di benzina siamo partiti con una vecchia
jeep russa (guidata da un Kirgiko) su strada di montagna per 50
km fino a 3400m. Poi la strada finisce e per altri 20km fino ad
un lago in mezzo alle vette, con sterminato prati, gruppi di tende
degli allevatori lontani vari km tra di loro, e cavalli, cavalli
e ancora cavalli sparsi ovunque.
La mattina e la notte faceva un freddo della madonna!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Il max che potevo fare era mettermi addosso tutto quello che avevo:
le T-shirts, la felpa, i pantaloni..... in quanto non ero certo
attrezzato per una cosa del genere. Per pochi dollari ci siamo piazzati
in una tenda. Subito ammazzano e scuoiano una pecora per cena, non
si butta niente: le viscere raccolte non so per cosa (spero non
per la zuppa della colazione) e il sangue da bere ai cani. Quando
pulivano la pelle dalle carni e gironzolavo con fare un po' impietosito
e schifato non avrei mai pensato che la stessa notte l'avrei desiderata
piu' di ogni altra cosa. Alla fine ho passato 3gg in questo posto
lontano km e km da ogni avamposto civile e accessibile solo pochi
Mi hanno dato un cavallo, tre spiegazioni su come fare e a disposizione
almeno 50 km di altopiano , e devo dire che queste bestie corrono:
eccome se corrono (peccato pero' solo quando ne aveva voglia).
Per lavarmi c'era il lago che era freddo da impazzire ma lo scenario
faceva dimenticare un po' tutto. In giro per l'accampamento tutti
i bambini che giocavano con gli animali, mentre la madri, (tra i
16 e i 20 anni) a lavorare dall'alba alla sera. La sera dentro la
yurt (fuori non se ne parlava proprio) a lume di candela con questi
grossi uomini Kirgiki dal volto bruciato dal sole a bere vodka.
Bisognava brindare dicendo qualcosa, rigorosamente in russo, (anche
il Kirgiko era accettato).
Io di quelle sere non ricordo molto......
Adesso sono tornato alla civiltà, e dormo a casa di una sciura
(non c'e' altra scelta) che mi tratta come un re: la casa e' pulita
e molto carina, anche il bagno (una tavola di legno forata dentro
una casetta in giardino) ha a suo modo il proprio orgoglio. E quando
sono entrato ho notato pure una lampadina che penzolava dal soffitto.
Ieri sera stavo cenando e stava facendo buio, quando il figlio entra
con una candela e mi dice che e' meglio del lampadario; poi quando
torno in camera per leggere e provo ad accendere la luce mi accorgo
che in casa non c'e' energia elettrica. Probabilmente l'unione sovietica
nella sua ritirata si e' portata via anche quella............
POLICE IN BISHKEK
KAZAKH VISA IN BISHKEK
STUDY SOME RUSSIAN
WATCH IN KARAKOL
IN BISHKEK: I hanged out in the town for three days and they stopped
me only once, but they manage to steal me some money, even if absolutely
harmlessly. (read the story)
COMMON HASSLERS: I met people stopping
me (in Karakol), saying they belong to the police showing some strange
card. They wanted to see my passport. NEVER SHOW IT, USE ALWAYS
A FOTOCOPY saying the real document is at the embassy for the visa.
KAZAKH VISA IN BISHKEK: it's a pain
in the ass. The embassy was opened only in the morning on Monday,
Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and it takes two full days for your
72 hours transit visa. Go there early because you have to pay in
another part of the city (40$) and then come back to apply for it.
You do not need any ticket to proof you are in transit, anyway I
showed my plane ticket from Tashkent.
STUDY SOME RUSSIAN: travelling in
central Asia is definitely worthwhile regardless your knowledge
of Russian, but surely your entertainment will be proportional to
it, hence I suggest a minimum of preparation.
CASH: dollars are more accepted than
euros, moreover you can use dollars as cash almost everywhere.
WATCH IN KARAKOL: I
walked in the evening without having any bad experience but other
travellers haven't been so lucky. Pay attention especially to the