Road Stories #33: A Game of Visas in Bishkek and being invited to Kyrgyz a yurt
A Game of Visas in Bishkek
Bishkek might very well be pinpointed as the moment that travelling for such a long time caught up with us. We knew that it would happen eventually, tiredness would slow us down and we would have to recharge our batteries, and Bishkek seemed like as good a place as any. Especially, as we really needed to organise visas for the upcoming countries and we had heard that is was possible in the Kyrgyz capital.
In total, we stayed in Bishkek for over two weeks but we did have some success. First, we managed to organise our Kazakhstan visas (link) which took 1 week. As soon as we got the passports back we set about organising the China visas. That took another week but it’s a results business as our passports had two new additions and the trip could carry on (yay!)
In between, we occupied ourselves the best we could. We couchsurfed in a couple of hostels which was pleasant enough but did involve moving quite a lot. We also stayed with a fabulous Turkish guy called Abdullah. For those of you paying attention to our previous posts, his girlfriend was a Korean girl called Sonia. Small world, isn’t it? With a collection of our hosts and their acquaintances we also went to an electronic party Central Asian style. Needless to say a lot of alcohol was drunk and memories are blurry. All I remember is telling a taxi driver in Russian ‘What are you doing?’ when he tried to charge us too much money and we all refused to leave the taxi. Good times!
Apart from the odd party and sitting in Sierra cafe drinking copious cups of the brown stuff, we summoned up what little energy remaining to visit the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek is a likeable enough city even if it lacks the big draw monuments and sights. Less green than Dushanbe, prettier than Tashkent, it struck me as the most Russian influenced of the Central Asian capitals we had visited so far. That being said though, in truth there was very little to do. So, instead of watching the clock tick away we made a little plan.
Hitchhiking to a lonely yurt
While hitchhiking into Bishkek we were intrigued by the odd yurt dotted along the roadside. Kyrgyzstan is famed for its yurts and everyone we met on the road seemed to have stayed in one. The problem for us was that these ‘yurt camps’ just seemed created for tourists, cost money we weren’t willing to pay and offered very little insight into why and how people actually lived in them. The ones we had spotted on the road didn’t look part of any tourism industry crap so we wagered that if they see a couple of foreigners approaching they might invite us in.
As we were planning to spend only one night out of Bishkek we had managed to leave our luggage with a CS host and would be travelling light to the yurt. It made a refreshing change not to be weighed down with all our gear. Like most hitchhikes in Kyrgyzstan it wasn’t too difficult, two men took us a little of the way, a family a little further. Then an old man but his tyre burst so despite our willingness to stay and help he waved us on saying he could deal with it. A young guy and then finally another couple. The real difficulty was in trying to explain where we were going.
‘To find a yurt.’ seemed a little strange to them but they didn’t question us too much.
The moment of truth
The first yurt we saw looked so isolated we were not sure if it was occupied. We asked the driver to stop and the couple laughed at our intention. No matter. They wished us good luck. At least, they had a story to tell their friends.
We clambered off the road, up a dirt track and the yurt came into a view. A dog barked and we stopped. We had come all this way so we had to go and see who was there.
At first sight the guy must have thought we were mad. Two Europeans, one heavily bearded, approached. We had come armed with a small bottle of vodka in the hope a little liquid bribery might get us inside. It wasn’t needed.
A man in his 50s, his wife and another man, whose relationship to the couple we never established, were just getting ready to eat and they invited us in with smiles. Over dinner we learnt that the yurt was a kind of summer retreat for them, a bolt hole to escape from the village in which they normally lived. It was our first experience in a Kyrgyz yurt and it made a good impression, more modern than we expected and extremely homely. Sitting inside and looking up at the so called ‘crown’ of the roof through which you could see the sky also made us understand what the Kyrgyz flag depicts!
After dinner we asked if we could set up our tent near the yurt and they indicated that they were OK with it. We took a little walk to a waterfall a kilometre away before polishing off the bottle of vodka ourselves as they didn’t drink. We then climbed into our tent and promptly fell asleep, the closest we would get to an authentic yurt experience.
written by: Jon