Bishkek to Osh – Armchair Photography

Sunday 5 to Monday 6 October

Culture was swapped with nature for our drive from Bishkek to Osh. Normally a 12 hour drive, our excursion was broken into two parts with an overnight stop in Arslanbob.

The journey from Bishkek to Arslanbob was more than 600km and took 9 hours. Most of the photos we took, as we passed some of the most stunning scenery I have seen in one day, were taken from the car as we hurtled along at up to 100kph on windy and bumpy roads.

In the true sense this is armchair photography and I guess as we have many more kilometres to travel, it will be the modus operandi.

As we left Bishkek the skies were grey and the air was damp and foggy.  We drove for nearly 2 hours past many villages of Russian style wooden houses. It was Sunday and a popular market day in Kyrgyzstan. We passed a car market, miles and miles of second hand cars. You bring your car along and if you are lucky you will sell it.

As we reached the mountains, the fog cleared to blue skies and light clouds.

Very suddenly we were climbing toward the snowed peaks. Our driver, Vitali, took to the roads like a rally driver. Seat belts aren’t considered necessary in the back seats in Kyrgyzstan, so whilst our driver and guide were safely strapped into the front seats of the Nissan Pathfinder, we were rolling around and hanging on for dear life in the back seats as Vitali passed everything that wasn’t a Mercedes or a Lexus.

We drove to the Tor Ashuu Pass – 3500m and at snow level.

As we descended we passed many yurts and caravans on the steppe. Autumn colours were of bronze grasses and golden trees. As we were told, “Nomads can’t grow crops, they can’t manufacture, but they know how to look after animals very well.”

Many of the camp sites had already been abandoned ahead of winter, leaving just a few sticks and stones to mark the site and a modesty cloth around the drop hole.

We climbed to the Ala-Bel Pass, more than 3100m and down through a rocky, narrow gorge where we had lunch in a quaint roadhouse, complete with indoor toilets.

Goats, sheep, cattle, horses & donkeys were being moved from summer high pastures before the snow falls and our driver had to move through these groups of stock and deal with traffic going the other way.

The Toktogul Valley was green and looked very fertile. Here animals grazed on the stubble of crops, corn, clover, wheat which will be their winter fodder. The Tomtogul Reservoir, built in Soviet times for hydro power, is massive but the water level was very low and the government has already warned there would be less electricity available this coming winter.

The reservoir ran into the Naryn River where two more long, narrow gorges were damed for further hydro power.

Our home stay was at Arslanbob, one of many places that Kyrgys tourism is trying to promote. After a lot of phone calls we finally made contact with our hostess. The home stay was basic, two adjoining rooms for us and the guide & driver, upstairs with a dining area, sitting on the ground style. A drop toilet was outside and wash basin downstairs. We were treated to a meat and potato stew that was excellent with cabbage, apple and carrot salad.

Arslanbob is famous for its Greek Nuts. They are in fact walnuts but the story goes that Alexander the Great took them from here to Greece and so they are called Greek Nuts. Sounds a bit back to front to me.

Next morning we were served a substantial breakfast before driving the few kilometres to the village of Arslanbob, from where we hired a driver and his Russian 4WD Lada Niva to drive us up the hill. It was a bumpy trip.

From there we walked to the 80m waterfall. It was a hard walk, up rocky slopes of many rough steps. The waterfall is long and narrow, not spectacular but the climb was an achievement and the view back to the village and across the mountains was delightful.

After returning to Arslanbob our driver took us to the smaller of the two waterfalls that this area is famous for. It took a few attempts to get the direction right. Once again the waterfall was not spectacular but in very pleasant surroundings. It is obviously a popular spot in the short summer season because there were a lot of abandoned stalls on the path to it.

After a substantial home stay lunch, we drove to Osh. We stopped en route to see the Minaret & Mausoleum at Uzgen. Here we were highly entertained by a wedding party of the Russian style in front of the minaret. While someone played the accordion, various guests danced, then the champagne came out and a speech was made. Somewhere in the middle of this Bruce’s best new friend, with a scattering of gold teeth, insisted Bruce should join the celebrations. There were hugs all around and it came close to Bruce being asked to dance.

We slipped away to check out the mausoleum instead.

Our home stay in Osh was a large family home. We were billeted in the main house whilst our guide & driver slept in another building. This family is obviously geared to home stay tourists.

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