On 8 Sep 2005 after breakfast we assembled for the morning briefing by Convoy Leader. Soon after we left the hotel and drove north to the border. To our delight we had no problems with Immigration and Customs on both sides. And I was really looking forward to this experience of travelling in a former Soviet republic. For one thing they still speak Russian, so our Russian-speaking handler that met us at the Immigration was very much needed.
Our stop for the night was a camp site at Tash Rabat on the way to Naryn. We were to stay in yurt tents, a legacy of Genghis Khan, I think. Well it was a nice experience to feel like a nomadic Mongol.
The yurt camp was in a valley that facilitated a fertile grazing ground for sheep. Zaki made friends with the shepherd and was allowed to mount his horse and trotted around. Nearby was a caravanserai, a roadside inn for weary travellers/traders and their caravans of the Old Silk Road to bed down for the night. It even had a few cells obviously to accommodate rowdy quarrelsome drunks and thus maintain the peace. Wow, I was really re-learning a lot of history!
The next day we drove on northward to the next yurt camp site by the shores of the Issykul lake. Along the way, I can’t help but notice that dying must have been quite an expensive business in Kyrgyzstan; considering that their cemeteries had very elaborate structures with varying degrees of opulence to reflect a person’s wealth or station in life. This is a bit surprising because Islam discourage such extravagance (Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim-majority country.)
Some of the women participants must have had enough of the hardships of the trip. Two yurt camps in a row so soon after the rugged living during the 2,400 km trip from Tingri to Kashgar, must have broken their adventure spirit. So, as soon as we checked into the 3-star Dostuk hotel in Bishkek, they decided to break ranks and went to stay at the 5-star Hyatt hotel. This upset the Convoy Leader (and rightly so) and the women got a dressing down. What these women didn’t realise was that should something happen to them in this foreign country, it was the Convoy Leader that would have to sort things out; not to mention the delays and hassle it would have caused.
We had two days in Bishkek. We spent it sightseeing and shopping. I bought some change in clothing because they were irresistibly cheap. The city appeared modern, very much “Soviet-styled” with boxy low rise buildings along wide boulevards. Monuments were everywhere; an interesting one being Stalin’s statue which was turned round to face south. At night we had dinner at a good restaurant with superb entertainment dedicated to us. And the girls were beautiful.
We left Bishkek for Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 12 Sep. We left early so that we could be ahead of the queue at Immigration. Unfortunately other people had the same idea. We were told that it was going to be a long day; and indeed it was. We had to cross into Kazakhstan to get to Uzbekistan because the Soviets took the easy way out by building the highway through Kazakhstan to avoid the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. So we had to go through Immigration/Customs formalities four times before we were in Uzbekistan. All in all we spent the whole day loitering at the Kyrgyz/Kazakh Immigration; cars cleared only around 6:00 pm. So it was a night drive to Uzbek Immigration which took eight hours on the good highway. We got to the hotel in Tashkent at 2:00 am on 13 Sep.