Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan



Having not slept on my overnight flight from Moscow to Osh, I was well and truly ready for a good, sound sleep last night, and I managed it without any effort whatsoever.  When I woke at 6:45am, the sun was up and the lake of Toktogul Reservoir was looking magnificent.

Meals at the Kok-Bel Guesthouse where I was staying were a strange, uncommunicative affair.  For last night’s dinner, it was explained that I should go to an outdoor area under a willow tree at the appointed time (6:30pm) and wait there.  I did so, and waited, and waited, totally alone.  For half an hour I waited, and then I saw a person for the first time as a woman came down a narrow pathway from an anonymous building that was apparently the kitchen carrying my dinner on a tray – some soup, bread, a plate of sliced salted tomatoes, and other plate with some beef stew and couscous.  By this time, some others had also arrived, and about ten minutes later, they too were rewarded with identical fare.  I guess that explains why no menu cards were deemed necessary.

Following that experience, I thought I should allow plenty of time for breakfast – a wise move as it turned out.  I arrived in the same open area overlooking the lake at 7:20am, and two others joined me at 7:40am.  At 8:10am, we saw the first signs of life as a woman came down the pathway with some pancakes, honey and cherries.  By the time they reached us, it was difficult to see any of the food as they were covered by swarming yellow-and-black flies.  The woman with the tray helpfully suggested we move into a large open shed nearby away from the insects; strangely the insects didn’t venture into the shed.

I shared my breakfast table with three other guests, all engineers who were working on the hydro-electric dams that I was looking at yesterday.  They visit the region periodically from their normal places of work in Europe, so breakfast conversation was a most welcome discussion about dams, hydro-electricity, water quality, Soviet planning, water management, and so on.  Although this conversation was interesting and stimulating, communication with the guesthouse staff was less effusive; indeed not a word was said by any of them as they simply placed items on the table – a pot of green tea, two fried eggs each, a shallow bowl of porridge and a basket of bread to share – this time without the honey or cherries.

Given the prolonged nature of breakfast, it was 8:45am before I headed off with my driver.  We drove east from Kok-Bel, continuing yesterday’s drive away from Osh on the road towards Bishkek along the southern side of Toktogul Lake.  The lake looked resplendent in the morning light, with some wonderful coloured weathering in the rocks on the far shore and some well-formed alluvial deltas extending into the water.  With the green colour of the irrigated crops set against the pale grey backdrop of the rocks across the calm reflections in the blue waters of the lake, this area was perhaps the most scenic I had seen on the entire drive.  until we reached the entrance to the Kambar-Atinskiy hydro-electric dam and power station.

Like the road to the Toktogul Dam, the road to Kambar-Atinskiy was closed for security reasons, but we were able to get a glimpse of the power station (or at least the dense network of high-tension power lines emanating from it) from a low bridge that crossed the river immediately downstream.

Kambar-Atinskiy was as far from Osh as I was venturing, so although it was just mid-morning, we started the 400 kilometre-long journey back to Osh, a trip that would take until 5:00pm.

Although most of the route travelled was simply the reverse of yesterday’s trip, seeing evening from the opposite direction and in different lighting conditions meant that it remained fascinating, with planet of opportunities for photo stops.

Highlights of the return trip for me included the spectacular steep sides of the Naryn River Gorge, with many examples of rockfalls and landslides, the bright turquoise water of the reservoirs (which my engineer friends told me was because the water was so clear that the light coloured rocks on the bed were reflecting light), several examples of siltation in the reservoirs, and some great examples of Soviet-era concrete irrigation channels near a fish-breeding lake.

The least interesting part of yesterday’s journey was the initial drive out of Osh north to Uzgen.  I suggested an alternative way back to Osh from Uzgen which was a little longer, as the road curved around to follow the border with Uzbekistan much more closely.  As things turned out, the road was also in poorer condition than yesterday’s main road, but it was worth it as the scenery was far more interesting.  A highlight was the small city of Kara-Suu, nestled right against the Uzbek border.

A key town in the Fergana Valley, Kara-Suu has a population of a little more than 20,000 people.  After the dissolution of the USSR, the Uzbek authorities destroyed the main bridge across the river that linked Kara-Suu to Uzbekistan, but local people built improvised ropeways to ferry goods and people across the river, enabling cross-border trade to continue.

Much of the town is fairly decrepit, especially the huge market area which is constructed of double-deck layers of shipping containers covered by a sloping corrugated iron roof.  In stark contrast with the run-down markets are the government buildings a few hundred metres to the west with well-maintained flower beds, wide streets, and a well-maintained statue of Lenin in front of what appears to be a school.

Entering Osh and driving to my hotel, the city continued to impress me by its plain unremarkableness.  I noted a few interesting (but ugly) features, such as the overhead pipes that carry gas and hot water, features that I thought were mainly built in Soviet cities situated on permafrost.  I’m surprised that Osh would get cold enough to warrant these features, but of course, I’m visiting in late summer.

My hotel in Osh is a far cry from last night’s guesthouse.  Boasting four stars, the Classic Hotel is located in an unremarkable section of Osh (of course), but unlike Kok-Bel, it has plumbing that works, sheets on the bed, internet, staff who speak (and who do so in English!), lights in the corridors, coat hangers (useful for washing one’s only set of clothes), and it provides toothbrushes and shampoo.

All of which serves to remind me – there’s still no news about my missing luggage.

Day 2

Toktogul to Osh


17 August 2018