We spent two weeks in Bishkek mostly staying at the Tunduk travellers hostel which was right up our street. There was a constant flow of travellers with bikes, back packs and with vehicles. Some were on a two week whistle stop tour and others, like us had more time and were travelling far and wide. It was fun passing on tips and receiving recommendations in return as some of us were travelling East and others West.
Whilst there we took ourselves off for a walk in the city outskirts to see the Ala Archa waterfall and we were amazed by the beautiful flower meadows and enjoyed chatting to local people on the upwards journey.
Although we saw quite a lot of heavy rain, when the sun came out in Bishkek, it was really very hot and the only way to get comfortable was in their small pool. What a delight. The local children were delightful and happy to pose for snaps! Some had Russian features and others Kyrgyz.
We sometimes slept in the car and sometimes used one of the air conditioned rooms. Others had tents on the lawn or slept in a shared dorm.
Sometimes Landy had a friend parked up alongside and other times we were alone in the parking bay, with clean facilities within reach. One small problem we had before we left was, when a large truck was alongside and the owners went for a three day trip without the truck and Landy could not pass out of the gate!
Still any excuse to lounge around and buy souvenirs from Osh Bazaar (Bishkek) for the guys and gals back home! The ever popular Kyrgyz hats were much fancied.
It was as well we stopped in Bishkek because my back took against lifting our pop top and needed a week or two to recover.
(Unbelievably, Jim managed to push it up without me today.)
Landy had some work done again on the clutch and gear box, but our troubles are not over as we can’t get into 5th now! So we will head back to the Toyota garage in Bishkek in a week to get that sorted out before China and it’s long motorways.
Our first destination away from Bishkek is to be Issy Kul Lake where local vendors were selling smoked fish along the lakeside road. Also underneath are another local delicacy, cheese balls made from cow or goats milk. They are definitely an acquired taste!
This massive lake looks to all intents and purposes like a small sea as you cannot always see the other side, as it is so vast. It is bordered by large mountain ranges on both sides. As we look West we see the range sitting between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and to the East the Tien Shen range leading into China.
On route we passed many many graves, which were either positioned along the road or perched on the side of the hillside. They are all pretty elaborate and this one is nothing special.
The first night we stopped at a homestay with a TV so we could watch the last England World Cup match against Belgium. (It did not work but we caught the tail end on Jim’s laptop with a downloaded VPN). They had a fine selection of felt slippers for guests!
The family were Russian speaking Kyrgs with blond curly hair and European features who worked with children and families with social problems. They plied us with stories of extreme poverty and infanticide where unmarried mothers are shunned by their villages.
Their homestay was immaculate with no trailing leads or loose or broken light switches or the cracked tiles that we had rather got used to! Their partisan view was that the Country had gone backwards since the Soviet Union has disbanded and their children planned to emigrate either to Europe or the US and two were now at University in Prague. They did not speak the Kyrgyz language but only Russian and European languages. It was a point of view.
We left and continued along the shores of the lake and pulled in to Bokonbaevo and found the local CBT office which helps tourists spend their money on local Tourism and Homestays. We found that there were Nomad games going on that day nearby and we could catch the second half if we wanted, tickets were duly purchased.
We made it and watched bride chasing, horse games with a dead goat carcass, tug of wars and arm wrestling on horses, all on a site overlooking the lake and surrounded by mountains amidst a cluster of yurts.
The bride chasing game was weird. A woman sets off on her horse followed shortly after by a burly bloke going massively faster. He inevitably catches her and plants a jovial kiss. The return route, he leads and she follows and when she catches him up she pulls out a lash and wallops him - all on horseback.
I guess this is probably the place to tell you that bride kidnapping is also common in this country. It has now been made illegal but is still common. If a young man fancies a woman, he recruits mates to help him abduct her. Once away from her village and family he takes her as his ‘wife’ and then she feels that she has no choice but to stay and become part of his family as she would be regarded as spoilt goods if she returned home. Most people we have spoken to are against it, but they all tell us it is still common. I guess bride chasing, although just a bit of fun, mirrors this barbaric approach to taking a bride - literally.
One of the other horse games involved a headless dead goat and two teams of 4 on horse back. The idea was to rip the goat away from the opposing team and to drop it into their goal, comprised of a large tractor tyre. This went on for some time and was incredibly rough. Every now and again the loud hailer gave updates on casualties and how they were doing in hospital!
The horse back arm wrestling was equally violent and I was amazed that the arms were not twisted off as huge blokes tried to wrench each other off their horses by the arm. The horses seemed to join in too, giving the opposing horse a good shove when the opportunity arose. It was amazingly physical but all seemingly in good sport. Horses are everywhere and central to the culture. Whether participating in the games or just turning up people are killing around on horseback.
The local dance display was curtailed at the end as one of the young dancers was taken off to hospital when her horse reared and threw her off! It seemed like there was a steady stream of ambulances back and forth!
The event was well attended by local participants offering food, involved in displays or sports or selling traditional goods from yurts.
There was a Yurt building competition which inevitably broke all known records in the speed of construction. (10minuyes and 15 seconds).
A selection of crafts were for sale and the event was colourful and ethnic to the delight of us visitors who probably outnumbered the locals to add to the festival atmosphere.
However we had missed the Eagles and Jim really wanted to see the Eagles after we had seen the Eagle Huntress film showing a young nomad girl living in a village Yurt, become an award winning Eagle Huntress. So we decided to stay and try and book an eagle display the next day.
This gave us time to explore the sunny lakeside beach in Ton and we had fun having supper in a beach restaurant where local food was prepared in a Yurt, all before kickoff.
This necessitated staying in another homestay yard and we started watching the World Cup final on a TV in the garden until it poured with rain! Tomorrow the Eagles and probably more rain.