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Entries about centralasia

The Final Accomplishment: Almaty

Central Asia - Almaty

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And here it was, the final day of the tour! Almost two weeks after having met everyone for the first time back in Ashgabat, it was almost all over! Waking up in Bishkek we got onto the minibus to make our way to our final and fifth stan - Kazakhstan.

Just an hour from the Kyrgyz capital, the border was the busiest by far of any we had previously crossed, and after a bit of confusion we had entered the largest country in Central Asia.

Crossing the edge of the steppe we then made the three hour journey across the country's south eastern corner to the country's largest city and the former capital of Almaty.

Medeu

Medeu

After picking up our tour guides and dropping our bags off at the hotel we made our way into the mountains to view the Medeu Ice Skating rink. Almaty was the runner up in the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, and Medeu would have been one of the key venues in the mountains. The Ice skating rink is the highest in the world and was built in 1949 making it one of the most iconic in not just the region, but also the world.

Mountain backdrop over Almaty

Mountain backdrop over Almaty

After running up the hill to gain a back view of the stadium we then made our way back down the valley and into the city. After fixing a puncture, we arrived in Republic Square, where the Independence Monument stands across from the local government building shadowed by a backdrop of the snow capped mountains.

Ascension Cathedral

Ascension Cathedral

Our final destination was the Panfilov Park, visiting first the Ascension cathedral - one of the largest wooden cathedrals in the world, before we walked around the corner to the war memorial.

War Memorial

War Memorial

And that was it. The last sight on the 4000 mile trip complete. Arriving back at the hotel we had a little rest before going out for our final meal as a group in a local restaurant to say my goodbyes to everyone before bed and the journey home the following day via Istanbul.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Kazakhstan Tagged mountains cathedral olympic centralasia Comments (0)

The not-so-invincible Kevin

Central Asia - Ala Archa

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After another night in Biskek we were coming towards the end of the trip. Tonight would be our last in Kyrgyzstan, and tomorrow we would be headed for Kazakhstan. In just two days I would be back at home!

Waking up, I had quite a dry mouth and with just dry wafers to eat I had a relatively light breakfast before joining half the group downstairs to grab the minibus for our excursion to the Ala Archa mountains.

The valley bottom

The valley bottom

Upon arrival Noel was shocked to discover we were going hiking - despite this being on all the literature and in the announcement the previous day, and so with him staying in the restaurant and enjoying the views the rest of us made our way up the mountains, past a sign informing us that it was "prohibited to disunity and mangal". That's me not mangaling here then!

Informative

Informative

With it being the autumn, as we had made our way north through the region it was becoming colder and colder, and so by now the north facing mountains were already starting to become covered in snow, although it was a fine temperature for hiking.

Making our way up the mountains quickly became a hard task, and with many of us exhausted from two weeks of non-stop travel it was unsurprising that the majority of the group had already turned back before the halfway mark.

Ala Archa

Ala Archa

As we proceeded towards a flatter part of the hike I could see where we were headed, and with a dip before another climb, the thought of an incline on the way back sealed my decision to start my descent - for I had already gained beautiful views of the Tian Shan mountains on foot.

Taking a leisurely walk back down I met the rest of the group in the restaurant and started to enjoy the warmth of the room as well as the sit down. Hoping the rest of the group would soon rejoin us, I started to feel physically drained, and before I knew it my eyes were shutting and my head was feeling heavy. And then....bash....

A short time later, I awoke to find myself lying on the tiled floor with my fellow travellers panicking around me as I had just fell off my chair and fainted. Now with a bruised head and a bruised ego I had to explain that I was in fact fine, just completely exhausted - the hike having finished me off.

By this point everyone was making their return and so getting onto the minibus we headed back to the hostel. Once we had arrived I was then able to get into bed and try and recover from the physical draining of the morning. With Richard having also had an accident the night before - tripping over a wire and cutting his face, our room might as well has a red cross placed upon it!

As I had already seen much of Bishkek, I spent the rest of the day in bed, popping out only for a short walk to the nearest fast food restaurant - "Big Mack" in order to replenish my calories. However as the exhaustion was so great it was still a struggle to eat the entire meal and not long after I headed back to bed for another rest and sleep before the final full day of the tour.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Kyrgyzstan Tagged nature mountain forest centralasia Comments (0)

We've got your name and DOB

Central Asia - Bishkek

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After 12 days of continual travelling we were finally basing ourselves somewhere, and after a lovely lie in I awoke in the mid morning and got myself ready for a light day exploring the capital of Kyrgyzstan - Bishkek.

Shortly before starting my job back in 2014 I had planned a quick holiday, having looked at cheap last minute flights. Eventually opting for Gibraltar, at one stage Bishkek and Almaty were serious contenders.

Nevertheless I eventually made it here, and after leaving the hostel I quickly bumped into my travel family - first Daniel, and then Jim and Christine. After having a catch up and getting the tips for exploring the city, I then made my way to the main street, where the majority of the city's sights are located.

Philharmonic Hall

Philharmonic Hall

Underestimating the daytime temperatures due to the coldness of the previous night I quickly removed my winter anorak and waked around in a small jacket, starting at the Philharmonic and City Halls before heading east along Chuy Prospekti towards Ala Too Square.

City Hall

City Hall


Parliament

Parliament

Passing the Parliament, as well as revolutionary statues I arrived at a large flagpole overlooking the Stalinist buildings of Ala Too Square.

Flag at the State History Museum

Flag at the State History Museum

Walking behind the State History Museum, I then saw the statue of Lenin - another removed from it's original position, before walking through Oak Park, towards the Tsum Centre which I had already researched as the best place to by tatty souvenirs.

Obtaining Yurt Magnets and a naff T-Shirt I then headed back down to the entrance where I grabbed a burger before heading back towards the hotel for a chill.

After walking back past the sights and stopping off to grab some cash and snacks from the supermarket I arrived back at the hostel just as Ian was just leaving. As I told him about the souvenirs I had bought, he was devastated to find out that he missed out on buying the same tat, as he didn't go to the top floor of the Tsum. Impressed by the souvenir T-shirt emblazoned with the Kyrgyz flag and "Кыргызстан", he went off back to the Tsum to buy his own "Kick The Bitch" T-Shirt for all his family.

After a nice afternoon rest I then joined the group for dinner at a local restaurant in the evening for what would be Daniel's last meal with us. With a large number of the group missing us by meeting downstairs an hour later, the seven of us who had heard correctly eventually made it to the restaurant, having originally headed the wrong way through the city. Despite us tourists being totally out of place with our dirty T-shirts and trainers, we were welcomed into the posh-yet-cheap restaurant.

Ala Too by night

Ala Too by night

After a second night of downing shots, we then headed back towards the hostel past the night-lit city sights, and left half of the group to go off for drinks in a local bar.

As the Turkmens had helpfully provided us with everyone's personal details, we told Daniel we'd stay in contact as we had his name and DOB, and with that we said our goodbyes - with me now heading for bed before tomorrow's hike in the mountains.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Kyrgyzstan Tagged city parliament centralasia Comments (0)

The Tian Shan

Central Asia - The Tian Shan

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Much like the previous day, today's journey continued the skirting of the Fergana Valley borders, before we then ascended into the Tian Shan mountains that transverse Kyrgystan.

With a very early start, we boarded the coach before sunrise - and as everyone by this stage had got at least mild diarrhoea, the thought of spending twelve hours on the coach wasn't exactly filling everyone with total excitement. Although quotes like "Treated myself to an immodium this morning" and "You know you're better when you can trust a fart again" did lighten the mood.

Uzbek Border Fence

Uzbek Border Fence

Whilst we skirted the Uzbek border passing through more villages with Afghan War Memorials, I continued to nap for a while before waking up to enjoy the views of the scenery.

Wild Horses

Wild Horses

We then began climbing the mountains, passing numerous flocks of sheep and horses as we reached Lake Toktogul.

Lake Toktogul

Lake Toktogul


Stopping off en route many times for views of the rivers, lakes and hills, we then eventually made it to the highest point of the trip where the ground and hills were covered in snow.

Snowy Tian Shan

Snowy Tian Shan


Yurts

Yurts

After a mini snowball fight, we made our way down the northern side of the mountain range, passing yurts and more fantastic views before landing in the valley and making our way to Bishkek just after nightfall.

Meal Time

Meal Time

After a long busy day's travelling we checked in to our hostel and then headed out to a local pub for dinner. Although with it being so late, the number of us making it out was quite small. However the next day was a free day and thus we could finally have a lie in!

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Kyrgyzstan Tagged mountains snow border centralasia Comments (0)

Border hopping the Fergana Valley

Central Asia - Fergana Valley

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Part of the reason the trip lasted and travelled as much as it did was due to the complexities of Central Asian political geography. Whilst the whole area was part of the Soviet Union, moving between different republics wasn't particularly difficult. However upon independence, these new countries suddenly had some very complex boundaries.

The divide and rule policies of Moscow meant that many of these boundaries were arbitrary - simply there to make sure no one could survive on their own, intertwining the republics with each other. Whilst Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan contain the energy reserves, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan contain the water reserves. Unfortunately, the countries have not been able to work together and thus one of the consequences for travellers are complex borders they cannot easily cross, and the Fergana Valley sums this up most.

The upper Fergana Valley is controlled by Uzbekistan, whilst Tajikstan controls the lower part. Meanwhile Kyrgyzstan surrounds the entire valley, controlling the mountainous edges. As Uzbekistan has a difficult visa policy, compared to the almost visa free neighbours, not to mention difficult customs, we had to circuit the territory around the Fergana Valley itself to reach the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.

Driving to find....

Driving to find....

Lenin

Lenin

We began our day by having a short tour of Khujand, beginning with the statue of Lenin - who had been replaced on his plinth by Somoni, and moved to a 'park' located off a side road and down a track into a conspicuous looking cemetery-like area for Soviet memorials called Victory Park.

Historical Museum

Historical Museum

After taking a look at the massive statue and the Afghan War Memorial located a few metres away, we then headed to the Historical Museum of Sughd - detailing the ancient empire of the Fergana Valley; before heading to the Panjshanbe Market.

Indoor Market

Indoor Market


Unofficially entering Kyrgyzstan

Unofficially entering Kyrgyzstan

Making our way towards the Kyrgyz border, we had already skirted and unofficially entered several times through the republic's villages and past some of it's enclaves. On arrival we had a relatively relaxed and easy process leaving the Tajik side, and on entry to Kyrgyzstan our border guard was even having a joke with us - what a change it was to actually be welcomed in!

We continued in our new minibus, having obtained some local notes and still skirting the border, stopping for lunch on the border town of Kyrgyz-Kyshtak, where all local traders provided shoppers with old-logo branded Morrison's bags.

Uzbek Border Fence

Uzbek Border Fence

Our final travels today took us past the Uzbek border fence, and then de jure into Uzbekistan itself before reentering Kyrgyzstan and making it to our bed for the night - Osh.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged statues borders centralasia Comments (0)

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