Kyrgyzstan #1: Bishkek, leaving the imperial capital

In Kyrgyzstan, apricot is one of the main fruits of the diet of the Kyrgyz, thousands of them dry in the sun to then make jam. This is eaten daily and it is spread on bread with black sesame seeds.

At our arrival at the Manas Airport in Bishkek around 5 in the morning, taxi drivers give us a warm welcome in a language similar to Russian.
We get into the taxi with two female passengers, and he drives us to our first hotel. That way is noisy, messy and normal.

As we approach the city, the imperial footprint is becoming progressively more and more present.

Kyrgyzstan was placed under the control of the Soviet Union from 1918 (victory of The Russian Revolution) until its dissolution in 1991. As an imperial capital as it was, the city has well-developed country roads, impressive government buildings and memorials that perpetuate power.

As a result of past events, the Kyrgyz inherited the language from the Russians, which is nowadays the second official language in the country.
As Aizada Baiushbekova says (the owner of “Baiysh yurt camp” of Song Kul lake) “Kyrgyz is being lost within generations and we have to fight to preserve it”.

In parallel, Mansur Abylaev, president of KATO (Tour operators association in Kirguistán) and CEO of “Baibol Travel” tour operator, he stated that after Soviet Union’s separation, the gap between the countryside, with more developed agriculture, and the city, more industrial, has considerably grown. Nevertheless, he says, “Russians didn’t influence us with their traditions, but they did with globalization”.

The car slows down, and we realize we are in a street market. Even though it is night now, it is possible to distinguish with clarity the van right in front of us, through the back doors we can see animal bodies hanging upside down, it is fresh meat. Women who wear colored tissues sell species, homemade food, fruits, sweets and that tasty and sophisticated bread. Men with toasted cheeks and white hats set the booth. Everything happens while they scream at each other, talk quickly and laugh.

A woman in a burka walks among people without regard to the vendors trying to get her attention, the elderly man who plays flute and begs for money and a disoriented dog.

As we leave the Osh Bazaar, we come back to the Kyrgyzstan of well-developed country roads garnished with flowers.

Toktogul, on the way to nature

The next day, we went to the “Western Bus Station” and after fighting with the taxi drivers, waiting hopelessly for a bus to fill up and having a good time with the language, we managed to fit in the car of a family travelling to Toktogul, where there were a child, a babushka and a diedushka (grandmother and grandfather in Russian).

The idea was to make the tour around the country, from west to east.

During the 5-hour trip, I spent 4 observing Grandma while she was asleep, fascinated by the features of her sun-kissed skin, her long eyes on her broad face, her silver teeth and her huge earrings bathed in gold and with emerald stone, hanging from his ears that seemed tired of carrying them.

In Kyrgyzstan, married women wear a ring and a single earring on the ear, usually with a stone, put by the husband’s mother on the day of the wedding.

When we arrived in Toktogul, apart from dust and stray dogs, we did not see a single soul. It cost us little to choose our accommodation, unpack and take a taxi to the lake, which we would reach by a wild nature road and majestic views.

In Kyrgyzstan, there are different ethnic groups that coexist. According to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the majority of the population is Kyrgyz, 67.4%, 14.2% is Uzbek, 10.3% Russian, 1.1% Dungan (Chinese Muslims), 1% Uighur (Turkish Muslims) and 6.4% are part of other ethnic groups. As for religion, 80% of the population is Sunni Muslim, 15% is Christian, mostly Russian Orthodox, and the rest is distributed to Shia Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and atheists.

This translates into a palette of varied paintings that touch each other without losing their original color, where in every corner of the country there are different customs, ways of being and relating, skin colors more or less tanned, and darker eyes or clearer.

At dusk, on the shore of the immense Toktogul reservoir, which is delimited by exaggerated mountains, several families enjoy a bath with clothes; who joins our taxi driver, and after us. Brown skins and green and blue eyes attract my attention. However, I lose the attention as soon as I see the invention of the century: children learn to swim with four empty coke bottles tied on each side and joined by a thread from which they tend.

Upon returning, the sun sets among the thousand green silk folds that face the lake.

The day after we tried our first homemade Ploff, a delicious typical Uzbek food based on rice and vegetables which we would look for tirelessly and unsuccessfully for the rest of the trip, we took the bus to Arslanbob.

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