Osh, Kyrgyzstan: Pizza California
Trip Start Jul 28, 2013
76Trip End Feb 06, 2014
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Having paid a premium for our own driver I wasn't keen on having three in a row, especially two burly men on such bumpy roads, but Ergash motioned for one of them to sit on a seat in the back which appeased me somewhat. Turns out they were customs officials and we were dropping them at the Tajik border.
The drive was as beautiful as ever. Sometimes there was no snow at all, just rocky mountains with landslides dripping colours as if to imitate the panes of glass you turn upside down to watch the water and different coloured sands fall. During other parts the world turned white and a winter wonderland was born.
An hour or so into the drive we joined the Chinese border - a barbed wire fence zigzagging through the terrain for as far as the eye could see. There were sections cut away, presumably to allow shepherds and animals through, and the occasional gate left wide open. Kind of defeats the purpose of building a fence in the first place.
On reaching Lake Karakul Sam insisted on getting out to walk down to the water's edge. Once again I made it half way before calling it quits and running back to the car to warm my numb fingers and toes. Cameraman Sam braved it on to capture the azure waters, lined with snow and ice and nestled in the palm of mountains. Definitely one of the prettiest parts of the trip. On reaching Karakul town we stopped off for lunch. Sam opting for his two eggs and me bread and coffee.
We drove over a few 4000m passes on the way to the border where thick snow lay heavy on the ground. We spotted bouncing rabbits, some yaks and a snow fox which darted in front of the car. On reaching the border I kept myself entertained by playing with two puppies whilst Sam entertained the border officials by throwing snowballs at me.
Getting out of Tajikistan and into Kyrgyzstan (entry point Bor Dobo) was painless. Mainly because we simply sat in the car whilst Ergash took our passports and sorted it all. It was probably a good 30 min drive through a snowy no mans land between the two posts. Kyrgyzstan offer a free 60 day VISA on entry. Provided you give them a little bit of money under the table. We gave Ergash TJS 20 (US$5) each which seemed to do the trick. Certainly a lot cheaper than any of the other VISA's we've had to pay for.
On leaving Tajikistan we were met by a raised road covered in snow stretching for miles across a plain. On the far side we could see another mountain range rise up and looking behind us we caught our last glimpse of the stunning snow covered Pamir Mountains. Regardless of the cold nights and lack of showers, the past few days in Tajikistan have definitely been a trip highlight.
On reaching our first town in Kyrgyzstan, Sary Tash, we picked up another passenger and started the first of many climbs over a mountain pass. Grey skies sank closer to the ground and soon we were slipping in and out of fog. The road was heavy with truck traffic but well maintained. Unfortunately that didn't stop one truck and it's cargo of coal flipping over and spewing everywhere. We passed as the twisted cabin was being craned off the road. The driver's side looked relatively unscathed but the passenger's was completely crumpled.
The drive to Osh turned out to be a lot longer than expected due to snow blizzards and darkness setting in. We eventually arrived at 1945. Ergash didn't want to drive through the city so he parked up and made us walk 28 god damn minutes with our packs on (yes I counted). I was furious!!! Lucky for him Sam's in charge of the money otherwise his tip would have shrunk straight down to zero. After a short goodbye we climbed the stairs to our new abode, Osh Guesthouse, which appears to be housed in a council estate. Sam takes me to all the nice places.
Comments on Ergash: Would I recommend him? Yes and no. Yes if you are looking for an excellent driver and like to listen to Tajik music all day every day. No if you hate Tajik music, want easy flowing conversation and someone who is enthusiastic about doubling as a guide. He had no interest in pointing out places or getting off the main route - we did so once on the whole trip. To top it off one of the first things he said to us was "I hope you don't like taking lots of photos. I had one couple who always wanted to stop for photos. Very annoying". Right, and we're coming on this trip to what? Sleep the whole way. Of course we asked him to stop for photos but much less than we could have or would have liked. He was also extremely bitter about being talked down from US$1300 to US$900 for the trip, which we ended up doing in 5 days and not the initial 7 we had arranged. Definite pros and cons. We still had an incredible time though.
As for Osh, the locals say the city is older than Rome. It's a pretty place with a wonderful bazaar that winds it's way inside and out for miles. We're particularly fond of the sheep heads, trotters and offal that sit in the sun on tables between the fruit, socks and clothes. Once again the locals are incredibly friendly and so attractive! Very well dressed too.
We've discovered a nice place not far from the hotel where we go to each night for beers and shashlyk. They love to party here. Monday and Tuesday night the music is blarring and people are stumbling around drunk as skunks. We watched one lady walk into a door and another elderly gent pick up the pepper shaker to drink. Highly entertaining.
Both lunch times we've opted for some home style cooking and gone to a place called California for pizza. The first day I made the fatal error of ordering a greek salad which didn't sit at all well with my stomach so day two I made the conscious decision to stick solely to pizza and beer. Why I ever stray from this winning combination I don't know.
Today we walked into a park and were entertained by two lads busting some epic moves to some equally impressive music. Not sure what was going on but there was a guy on a microphone and large group of people milling about. The unemployment rate is obviously very high as there always seems to be a lot of people out for pleasure.
To get an overview of the city we climbed aboard a ferris wheel which looked in similar condition to the one we saw in Chernobyl. Having made it around one full circuit and got our photos we jumped off. Next to it was a plane covered in dust and rust. Not sure how it came to rest in an inner city park.
Thinking we had arrived in our first city without blackouts we were treated to one on our last night. Sitting in our little cafe enjoying beer and shashlyk BOOM all dipped into darkness. With mini flashlights pulled out we made it back to the hostel to find they had no power either. By the end of this trip I shall be a professional at packing my bag by torchlight... or using it as an excuse to not do so.
Distance travelled (Murghab - Osh): 415km
Hostel: Osh Guesthouse - KGS 400 ea (US$8). One shared bathroom between 8 guest plus staff.