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Stan: Kyrgyz

Bishkek, Burana, Lake Sol, Tash Rabat

From Dushanbe, I 'cheated' a little and flew to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. I enjoy overland travel, but the land route would've taken nearly 3 days, and, in terms of Tajikistan, would have meant substantial backtracking north through Khujand again. So I chose to fly and maximise more time in Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek is a fairly well developed city, with much modernising going on. It has great resources - including excellent coffee - partly because Kyrgyzstan is the base for a lot of NGO, charity and international organisations in the region, as well as tourism.

I spent a couple of days relaxing in Bishkek, and seeing the sights, and I was also very lucky in meeting up with Steven who, along with his partner Saule, runs the amazing Central Asian travel website Caravanistan. Steven had actually been liaising with me prior to my trip and it was great serendipity meeting him in person in Bishkek. I was able to get a few more tips for my remaining time, and he introduced me to the unusual but tasty Kyrgyz stringy cheese snack enjoyed with beer! The beer consumed also.

Ruling the road

Ruling the road

Rather than negotiate multiple daily forms of transport around the country, I took the more convenient and efficient option and made travel arrangements with a company that took me on a big loop from Burana Tower in the north, to Lake Sol for two nights, and lastly down to an old stone caravanserai near the border with China. There was no hiking this time, but was a wonderful complement to Tajik scenery because Kyrgyz is also mountainous, but green. So very green. Lush valleys throughout, and equally pristine beauty.
Just beyond Song Kol lake

Just beyond Song Kol lake

Yurts nestled together

Yurts nestled together

Lake Sol is dotted with yurts, and I stayed in a yurt each night of this trip. The first night I did wake up extremely cold, but I learnt my lesson after that, securing plenty of blankets the next two nights. There were more tourists in Kyrgyzstan, although not overly busy when I was there. The Kyrgyz host families were all very lovely and accommodating, not to mention that the freshly baked bread on the first night was one of the most delicious breads I've tasted. Meals were simple but tasty: usually bread, jams, eggs, noodle soups and a plate of sliced tomato and cucumber. The drive itself gave stunning views, for example, during the drive to the caravanserai in the south, the dramatic, ice-covered Tian Shan mountains penned us in on the east like a giant wall, the natural border with China.
Tash Rabat caravanserai

Tash Rabat caravanserai

Valley of Tash Rabat

Valley of Tash Rabat

Koshoy Korgon fort

Koshoy Korgon fort

After the tour, I had one more day back in Bishkek before continuing to Kazakhstan.

Posted by ksbacon 01:58 Archived in Kyrgyzstan Comments (0)

Stan: Kazakh

Almaty, Shymkent, Turkestan, Astana

From Bishkek I caught a shared mini-van across the border to Kazakhstan, to the city of Almaty. And Almaty...wow. What a stunning city. Tree-lined boulevards, an incredible backdrop of gorgeous and accessible mountains, modern, cosmopolitan, with amazing sights, and mouthwatering food and coffee options. The architecture ranged from crazy creative Soviet designs, to pastel Orthodox churches, to intimidating dark WW2 monuments. I went into the mountains one day and after a cable car through the mist arrived at the top to find a Paul Cafe! Anyone wanting to fly into Central Asia seeking a relaxing and delicious yet fascinating visit, this is definitely the place. This was perhaps the only city I could imagine living in in the region.

Zenkov Cathedral, Almaty

Zenkov Cathedral, Almaty

Almaty

Almaty

Almaty's mountains

Almaty's mountains

I was of course sad to leave Almaty so soon, but I flew to Shymkent, and then again to Astana. Kazakhstan is so huge, and with flights heavily subsidised by the government, it makes flying an easy choice. To be honest, I did want to train to Shymkent, however, the day I needed to travel was the one week day the train didn't run at the useful time. Drat, but at least flight was cheap and easy. Shymkent is back south, near Uzbekistan, and was a great base for me to visit the main historic site of Turkestan (an ancient mausoleum the main sight) as well as the even older mud fort site called Sauran.

Mausoleum, Turkestan

Mausoleum, Turkestan

Sauran

Sauran

Kazakhstan has less of these ancient physical sites, so it was great to see those that are still standing. I then flew north to Astana, the (new) capital city. This city was yet another massive change of scenery, with the nation's oil money funding a massive centre of quirky, crazy, ultra contemporary buildings and sculptures. In contrast to Ashgabat, the new architectural designs have been much better handled in Astana, with the area feeling more open, welcoming and integrated. Some of the buildings, such as the Opera House (a design based on an opening flower) and the shopping centre Khan Shatyr, which lights up at night like a giant illuminated yurt, were fantastic.

Central Avenue, Astana

Central Avenue, Astana

Opera House, Astana

Opera House, Astana

Shan Khatyr, Astana

Shan Khatyr, Astana

Kazakhstan is easily the most developed of the region, and the most Russian. People were always very helpful, in fact even on my bus into Kazakhstan a local woman took time out upon arrival to help me buy a local transport card and showed me how to top-up the card. My cheap hostel in Astana was at the top floor of a highrise (I think the 19th floor) and my view from my bed was literally a vista of the whole city. A wonderful way to end my journey of Central Asia.

Room with a view, Astana

Room with a view, Astana

To think there's still sights I'd love to return to see in the region! One day.

Posted by ksbacon 02:09 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (1)

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