Joined June 2017 Message
  • Day15

    Tashkent

    July 16, 2017 in Uzbekistan ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    We leave Khojand City and drive a few hours to the Uzbeckistan border crossing. A short line and the only hassle being the need to roll our luggage approximately 5 football fields in length to cross the border and pick up our new transport on the Uzbeck side. A few hours later and we arrive at the Hotel Uzbeckistan, a Soviet era concrete hotel that faces Tashkent's central square. At 6 we head out for an orientation walk and pass by many monuments starting with the statue to Amir Timur in the park across from our hotel. The city has a collection of 19th century Cszarist buildings from when Russia initially arrived and used Tashkent as an Outpost. We pass by the house of an exhiled Romanov Prince, the statue of the weeping mother, a WW 2 memorial, the statue of Uzbecks's symbol, other monuments, wide boulevards, beautifully landscaped and then we go to an outdoor restaurant that is lively with local families, they even have a projector and start playing an outdoor movie. One of the house specialties is rose shaped potato dumplings with tomato sauce, which turn out to be huge plate filling monsters. The next day is a free day, so I head out with Canela and Chris and we take a taxi to the Russian Orthodox Church. Minor problem as our non English speaking driver takes us to the Catholic Church (who knew there was a Catholic Church) , I show him the picture and we set out again and enjoy a moment of camaraderie when we arrive. We enter the church with a service in progress. The music from the choir is very spiritual, there are a few woman in the main sanctuary, devotedly praying to icons with the service proceeding on the side sanctuary. We sit in the courtyard and listen and are joined but a Russian women who seems fascinated by us. Eventually we leave and play taxi roulette again to head to the Musuem of Applied Arts, set in a 19th century Romanov mansion, the stunning interior has a display of quilts, ceramics and other local artisan creations. A few of the interior room are simply stunning in their tile work. Next we walk the ten minutes to the metro and experience the Musuem quality Cosmonaut Station. The metro is wonderful, clean, beautiful stations, not overcrowded but filled with locals who all offer us their seats. We get off by Choszu Bazaar and check out the Madrrassa that is now used as a learning center. We head back by metro to our hotel and a young women offers to guide us through the train transfer. She is studying English and when I tell her I'm from NY, she says that's her dream - to visit. This is a response I got through out Tashkent when telling people where I'm from. After a rest, we head for a session with students from the elite English school, where they tell us about their program to supplement their English education. The students average age 16 and are all eager to show their progress. We return to the hotel in time to witness the entrance of a wedding, a huge affair that is taking place in the hotel ballroom. Beautiful seeing how stylish everyone looks. Dinner for some of us at Assorte restaurant - choices of Sushi, Korean, European and Uzbeck.Read more

  • Day14

    Fann Mountains-Khojand City

    July 15, 2017 in Tajikistan ⋅ ☁️ 20 °C

    We head a short distance from the guest house to the bigger village and enter a first house with several local women who are there to give us a cooking demonstration. We sit on floor mats and the first woman gets on her knees and starts rolling the dough for dumplings. She expertly rolls and stretches it till it is quite thin. Then we take turns filling the dumplings. Next up, bread. Again mounds of dough are kneaded and plumped into individual loaves. A series of women and children alternate into the room we're in, then we go outside and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the valley of the mountains. A separate room holds the tandoor over. Our host dons potholders made from the legs of jeans, builds the fire in the oven, tamps the flames down once the proper temperature is reached, and sticks the loaves to the side of the oven to bake. The perfect loaves that we sample after a few minutes. Next, we have the pleasure of going to the village school and meeting 7 of the 10 faculty, all men who have come out on a weekend afternoon to greet us. We learn a bit about their school that serves k-8 grade, with bigger kids having to leave the village to continue their schooling. It is clear the teachers take a great deal of pride in what they do and are highly respected by the community. We leave the next morning for the drive down out of the mountains. We, blissfully stop by the lake with the sun at the perfect angle, unobstructed by clouds, creating a magnificent set of reflections of the mountain ranges that ring it.Read more

  • Day13

    Fann Mountains

    July 14, 2017 in Tajikistan ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    Words and pictures cannot convey the experience of leaving Dushanbe, entering a toll road and literally driving through tunnel after tunnel ( the longest being 3 miles long) as we snake through mountain passes and watch the rivers by our side running parallel for a time of the road. The first 60 or so miles are on a well paved road, built by the Chinese with the long tunnel built by an Iranian company. After some photo stops, we reach a turn off and leave the paved road for a 24km stretch through a narrow rock/dirt road with switchbacks and other assorted hazards. We eventually reach Iskadurallake, named for Alexander the great. It is glacial turquoise, and we go for a short hike along a path that is next to a river, with the river eventually developing into rapids. There is a waterfall up the path but the path becomes quite rocky, so I turn back, satisfied with the walk. We get back in the van for the last 8km stretch that borders the lake, then seems to head straight into the mountains on narrow switchbacks. Thankfully, we have excellent drivers. We drive through a small village and then reach our guest house, a castle in the sky surrounded on all sides by mountains and rivers. It is stunning and remote. I ask Farid, our local guide about who lives in such a remote place. They are farmers who produce some crops, milk and cheese and then transport it back down to Dushanbe to sell. We enjoy dinner in the communal room of the guest house, tomato salad, satisfiying chicken noodle soup, and a dish of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and meat. We turns in early. The next morning we wake up to a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, bread with fresh made butter and homemade jam. We then start out on a hike to the summer village, where a handful of families live in original mud, stick houses. We start out walking but the road is very rocky and a light rain has started. Some of us opt for SUV transport that winds it's way further into the mountains until we reach the point where the vehicles can't continue, as there is just a handmade set of bridges , up a rocky, mud hill to a collection of small huts and wonderful women who welcome us into their homes. The children sing their national anthem for us. We spend some minutes trying to express gratitude for being welcomed into their community.Read more

  • Day11

    Day 9-10 Dushanbe

    July 12, 2017 in Tajikistan ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Enjoy a relaxing morning in Bistek and leave for the airport for our flight to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Airport is very smooth, get through security and spend remaining currency on massage chairs, about 20 cents for 2 minutes. We are flying Tajik Air, other than obviously old planes very professional. We are served dates and then a sandwich lunch and drinks on our 70 minute flight. We drive a short distance to Hotel Lotus, a brand new, business class hotel. The green market is a short walk from our hotel and I head over with Canela. As we've entered Tajikistan, we have noticeably moved away from the Soviet influences. Tajikistan is 95% Tajik / Uzbeck. Many more people are in traditional garb, women are wearing head scarves. The look is less Asian, more Persian. This green market is considerably more exoctic feeling too us, there is still a mix of fruits, breads, meats, Chinese imports. It is quite a sprawling market, and quite hot outside. I opt not to take pictures as we are the only non locals within eye sight. We walk into one building and it is literally a giant table filled with carrots and women shredding carrots. We make our way back to the hotel and rest for a bit before setting out in our SUVs for a delightful outdoor restaurant on top of hill with a panoramic view of the city. It's magic being outside as the sun sets and the lights come on. We can see the 2nd largest flagpole in the world towering over the city. The food, shish kebabs, french fries is delicious. A wonderful nights sleep with air conditioning. We wake up to a deluxe breakfast waited on by our handsome Tajik young men. Then we set out in the morning for a city tour. First stop, the Musuem of ethnography. We are given a tour and taken through 3 to 4 thousand years of history with an amazing set of relics, tools, jewlery, statues, . On the second floor, taking up an entire room is a reclining a Buddah - restored. There is much on the history of the movement of the different tribes and the silk road. From there, we drive to the main square of the city with a towering statue honoring King Solmone - the 10 th century king who united all the tribes and was the father of the country. Close by, there is another statue honoring Rumi - the poet and storyteller. We have seen many statues honoring him in other countries. Through lovely plazas and the national monument surrounded by fountains, we then reboard the SUVs and drive to the Central mosque. While only a few decades old, it has an impressive courtyard, lovely interior. We are given an informative tour by a local guide. Off to a local supermarket to replenish our snack supply and we get ready for our drive to the Fann mountains.Read more

  • Day11

    Bishtek

    July 12, 2017 in Kyrgyzstan ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    After checking in at our hotel, we leave for a 5pm city tour, the heat of the day now diminishing. We start at victory square and see the eternal flame for fallen soldiers. Many of the memorials use women figures, here a woman holding a cup representing a mother servicing the nation's sons. We walk a few minutes to TsUMs, the famed Soviet national department store. We rode the escalator 5 flights to the souvenir level. It's hot, with a bunch of stalls selling Soviet kitsch, felt products, t shirts, slippers, and other underwhelming choices. I head out to the plaza in front for a lovely street scene of fountains and people enjoying the afternoon. I'm shocked to see several of the Soviet era drink machines, with plastic cups, still in use, dispensing drinks. We walk through many more monuments, past the Kryg Queen who made the original pact letting in the Soviets in the mid 19th century, past the women's liberation monument dedicated to when women freed themselves from wearing the head scarves in 1917, past Lenin, relegated to the back of the State historical Musuem which is under renovation, past the monument to the student uprising of 2010, past stately buildings and wide boulevards, eventually stopping for dinner at a beautiful restaurant with very slow service.Read more

  • Day10

    Chong-Kemin to Burana Tower

    July 11, 2017 in Kyrgyzstan ⋅ ☀️ 33 °C

    We leave Song-Kul and retrace our steps down the switchbacks of the mountain. The wildflowers are stunning and we come across a herd of yaks getting out for a photo-stop. We stop at a roadside cafeteria that has a huge assortment of hot and cold selections. I opt for lentil soup, yogurt-compote and moussaka like dish. We then drive to our guest house in Chong-Kemin, a national park area. It is delightful with a second floor terrace that feels like a tree house, cool breezes, surrounded by green mountains, and a courtyard that our room opens onto that is populated by Turcic Balbas - gravestones. We take a quick walk but otherwise relax the rest of the day, eating dinner on the terrace. The next day we are off to Bishtek - the capital of Krygstan, by way of the Burrata tower. The tower dates from over a 1000 years ago and originally served as a lighthouse - guiding the way for those going between kharavistas - trading outposts. The original tower was reconstructed by the Soviets. More interesting to me is the gathering of Turcic gravestones that are placed near the tower, not original to this site but dating from the 5 - 9 centuries. The gravestones have faces and are holding cups that symbolize what kind of life they lived. They're also all male. Then off to Bishtek.Read more

  • Day9

    Song Kul

    July 10, 2017 in Kyrgyzstan ⋅ ⛅ 5 °C

    Happy Birthday to me. Wake up after a night glamping in Yurtville. Quite comfortable mattresses on the floor, coal stove and blankets. We gather for breakfast of porrige and fried eggs. A short rest then time for horseback riding. We saddle up and stay closely together to the guide while heading through the Meadows towards the hills through fields of wild flowers. Our horse Shepard dog trots ahead of us and circles back for us. We circle back and do a short stretch along the beach. Relax until lunch. After lunch, we take the short walk to the lake and pop in for a quick dip. The sand floor of the lake is like quick sand, and each step you can feel you for sinking in. The rest of the time in by the yurts is delightfully relaxing, watching the horses migrate along the pasture, a rainstorm blows in for a few hours then clears spectacularly. Another spectacular sunset.Read more

  • Day7

    Kochtar

    July 8, 2017 in Kyrgyzstan ⋅ ☀️ 7 °C

    Wake up in our multi share. This is more house like, with a series of bedrooms and one bathroom for the ten of us. We have a quiet morning to relax, then head out at 11:30 for the market and then our women's co-operative felt making work shop. The market is a bit chaotic, almost like a Manhattan supermarket with crowded narrow aisles and locals trying to push you along so they can finish their shopping. From the market, we drive a few minutes to the co-operative and are shown to a shared area outside in the back. First a women with sword like instruments shows us how the sheep's wool is sliced down, almost like fruit ninja to tame it. We all give it a go round. Next, pulling the tufts, it is pulled in horizontal rows to make a rectangle. A set of vertical rows of tufts is layed on top of that. Then pieces of colored wool are layed on top to make a design. The design is rolled up like a sushi roll. A burlap cloth is rolled onto the roll and a strap tied around it. At this point we have been joined by a smiling, cherubic older woman who hugs each one of us. She demonstrates how water is poured on top of the roll, then picture Lucy and Ethel in the grape vat, we alternate dancing on top of the mat to squeeze out the water. This goes for a few rounds until the flattened felt is laid out to dry. We are then served a delicious lunch inside a yurt, soup, eggplant and tomato, dumplings, other courses. It's time to head up to Song Kul. We start up a mainly narrow dirt road, dodging pot holes and motorcycles and start through a series of switch backs as we climb from 5000 to 12000 feet. We take a few photo stops, see a few yaks, before reaching the yurt camps, preceding to ours at the base of lake song kul.

    Stunningly beautiful and peaceful, surrounded by yurts, horses and cows, wild flowers covering the Meadows in purples and blues and yellows. We divide into 2 yurts and are given some free time to wander and take pics. We have afternoon tea in an elaborately set table that we've become used to, with candies, dried fruits, breads and jams, cookies yak butter, honey and other assorted goods. More free time to wander then dinner and time to watch a spectacular sunset and rise of a full moon.
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