Sunday, 19 October 2008

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

We are just back from a weekend in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, a small, mountainous country bordering Kazakhstan. It is only a 3 hour drive from Almaty to Bishkek and since husband was working down there and already had a room in the big Hyatt there, we drove down on Friday afternoon. 

Baktiyar, our driver, hates Bishkek. He hates going there, can't stand the Kyrgyz people, thinks that Bishkek is a dump and could not comprehend why on earth we would want to go there at all. 

But we always like to visit new places and since it is close by and we had not been really outside Almaty, we decided to go and have a look. Driving out of Almaty we passed wide expanses of flat grassy land leading to snow-topped mountains on the left hand side, and on the right, just stretching away for what we know is absolutely thousands of kilometres, a big expanse of flatness. There are heaps and heaps of new homes being built, even quite a long way from the city. An awful lot of them have the look of have-a-go-hero about them and are still unfinished, sitting in the middle of kind of wasteland ground with their new blue or red corregated roofs shining in the sun . 

After a while we started driving across a semi-desert landscape, still with these terrific mountains down the left hand side. Then we drove through rolling grassland with flocks of sheep being herded by people on horse back, and it was all very atmospheric and steppe-like (except for the Disney film of Robin Hood blaring on the portable DVD player in the back with the kids). We drove through a mini-gorge/canyon area where the road twisted and turned through rocky valleys, half expecting a mujahadeen to pop his head out from behind a stone, but instead finding goat herders and the odd cow wandering along the road. 

After three hours, we arrived at the border. Baktiyar drove the car through and we all got out and went through the two passport points: one to leave Kazakhstan and one to enter Kyrgyzstan. To actually cross the border, you have to cross a torrent of a river on a rickety old bridge where half the railings are missing (worrying if you have Sasha, one of the most accident prone people on the planet, with you.). Making it into a new country was exciting, and we all took our photo in front of the Kyrgyz Flag, then the kids went for a pee behind a pile of rubble and off we headed to Bishkek, which stretches almost to the border. 

"Here, Bishkek!" said Baktiyar, and laughed in his usual, slightly hysterical way, as we drove along a dusty road, lined with tiny tumbledown cottages. 

It is really a run down little town,the little hutslining the road, all of which you can see through glimpses between them, have long gardens out back full of cultivated vegetables and fruit. It is perhaps an availability thing, but turquoise blue is the colour of choice for painting anything in this part of the world. Houses are fenced in with wooden fences, painted turquoise, with white diamonds in a line along the front. Wooden houses are painted anything within the spectrum of light blue to greeny, darkish blue, some with interesting upstairs balcony features that include stars, circular windows, or ornate finishing around the roof - everything painted blue, green or turquoise. 

We arrived at the Hyatt which is a massive modern building next to the town theatre and with full on "make the americans feel safe" security (a man with a mirror on a stick to check under your car, and a tank-stopping metal plate that comes out of the ground to stop cars entering the grounds). Right next to the drive is a pleasant area of grass and trees that a 4WD of evil intent could just drive through, if they did not want to do the courtesy stop for the mirror treatment, but at least the security is in place. 

And apparently, Kyrgyzstan has a fairly fiery history with power alternating between the two main tribes in this area, one from the South and one from the North. Three years ago there was a revolution when one lot grabbed power from the other lot (lots of well-researched historical info on this blog!), and the story goes that the angry mob in the street were fully intent on burning the Hyatt down. The hotel had to fence itself in, and it was only because there was a really heavy rain shower which then turned into snow that this did not happen. The protestors found their revolutionary zeal deserted them as they got colder and wetter, and in the end went home for a bowl of plov (a kind of long-cooked rice and raisin dish of the area)! Rumour has it that there is a revolution brewing again, with a newly- and openly-formed opposition party setting up shop in town. Just hope that husband is not there when it happens, although the hotel is only about 10kms form the border, and hopefully, with the car, he could make a quick break for the border and get out. 

7 comments:

  1. I find your comments on Bishkek incredibly offensive. Just after spending a few days in the city at what is essentially a Western compound (the Hyatt) I do not think that it is fair that you disregard the entire city. Before judging a place, try meeting with the people of the country to see what it is really like.

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  2. I've always really liked Bishkek. I'm sorry you had a bad time!

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  3. Hi megan
    I didnt have a bad time. I actually quite enjoyed being in Bishkek, just thought it was a weird old place! What was so offensive in my comment? Sorry I cant reply to you but there is no link to you from your profile.

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  4. dont worry about it gail - megan is obviously a bit of a nutter. ed

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