Monthly Archives: August 2012

Rider leaning on the side of his horse to grab the carcass

Kyrgyzstan Audio Feature: Kyrgyzstan Independence Day

What a day!

By chance I was in the capital for Independence Day, on the 31st of August. Twenty one years of independence. I decided to do my first special audio feature. I’m not entirely happy with it, but it’s my first one, so be indulgent! But if you want to make comments or give advice, your are more than welcome!

Seperating the cream and the milk

Kyrgyzstan Hike and Yurtstay at lake Kul Ukok

From Kochkor, there are two main options for trekking: Lake SomKul or Kul Ukok. The first one is rather large, and further out. It’s possible to go by car, horse riding, or trekking, by the long road, or the short trail, from the Kyzart pass reached by car. Smaller, more isolate Kul Ukok can be reached in one day from Kochkor on foot.

SomKul seemed to touristy to me, and I didn’t want to set off for a long trek, or anything costly (taxi to Kyzart). So I decided to go to Kul Ukok!

The road out of Kochkor to the next village, then the track, the trail up to the lake… it was a really long day. I walked for about 8 hours. I was totally exhausted when I reached the lake. The yurts were on the other side… Two kids on horses came to meet me, and I rode a horse for the first time of my life to the yurt. I witnessed the life of nomads, milking the cows, herding the horses, sheep, and goats, preparing dinner while the sun was going down with the temperature! After dinner, I went straight to bed, buried myself under tons of blankets in the cold yurt. Very bad night.

The next morning, after a simple breakfast, I took some pictures while desperately trying to wake my body up. I really had to leave, thinking I could not face a second night by the lake. Too cold, too dirty, too expensive (see the article CBT greenwashing of tourism).
Although my body was tired, and lacking vitamins (or just proper food), I started ascending the 3500m pass to the next valley, back down to Kochkor.

Long way up, I was struggling. I started to fell altitude sickness. By the time I reached the pass, my legs were shaking… I took only two pictures, one to each side of the pass, and started going down. Again, very long trail down, for long hours. I made stops and naps on the way… I reached the first village after 6 or 7 hours walking. I was lucky to be able to stop a van with a family going to Kochkor, and I got my free ride back. I went straight to bed…

Pegman also did the trek with me, but he decided to stay...

Kyrgyzstan Trekking to Lake Alakul and Altynarashan

I arrived in Karakol with the idea of trekking for just a few days. Not being properly equipped, I had to find a tent, and be able to leave a baggage somewhere to leave with only the minimum necessary. But most importantly, I needed to know WHAT to do, and HOW, and was hoping to find people to do it with… this means: information, a map, a trail, and company! Continue reading

Kyrgyzstan The Gay Situation in Central Asia Today

My trip took me to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and to central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and I’m now in Kyrgyzstan.

Homosexuality was legalized in 1998 in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, then followed Georgia and Azerbaijan in 2000, but is still illegal in Uzbekistan. To be more specific, what the law from the former Soviet Union mentions is anal sexual act between men. Women are not concerned. Today, Only Georgia has a law specificaly banning discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. Continue reading

Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyzstan waives visa for 44 European and Asian countries!

Since 28 July 2012, 44 European and Asian cities no longer need a visa to enter Kyrgyzstan for tourism.

When I heard the news in Uzbekistan, I decided I would visit! I had just heard so much about Kyrgyzstan (the mountains, the lake, the people…) that I changed my plans to see this.

So I went to Kazakhstan for a quick visit of Almaty, that also seemed attractive for its close mountains. And indeed it was really nice. I also met a really nice couple of guys while couchsurfing!

But it felt weird to take the direction of Kyrgyzstan without visa. I feared a misunderstanding, an error, communication problems with customs authorities.

When I presented my passport to the Kazak customs, they asked me about the Kyrgyz visa when they saw I hadn’t any. I said I didn’t need one, but they apparently didn’t know about it… then I was a little worried. I took my pack, and walked the few hundred meters to the Kyrgyz side. And then… relief! they just stamped a new page, and that was it! Marvelous! No paperwork, no waiting at a consulate, and no charge!

Yey!

Kazakhstan From Almaty Kazakstan to Bishkek Kyrgyzstan

The mini buses to Bishkek leave from Sairan Bus station. I don’t know how frequent they are because I had the chance to get one immediately as I arrived at the station around 10am. There is no need to go to the main KACCA (cashiers), but there is a special enclosed area with a gate within the terminal, just opposite the cashiers. Payment is made on board, the cost is 1300 Tenges.

The road takes about 3 hours to the border post at Georgievka. The mini bus drops everyone with luggage on one side, and picks up those are patient enough on the other. It’s indeed tempting to take a taxi for a few hundred SOM not to wait and get straight to destination in Bishkek instead of ending at the Western bus station in Bishkek.

Passport control was pretty smooth. On the Kazakh side, they just stamped my visa with the exit seal, but asked about the non existent Kyrgyz visa. I just grabbed my passport back, and wished what I heard was true and applicable: Kyrgyzstan had waived the obligation of visa for 44 countries including France just two weeks ago. But still, I was a little scared something would go wrong…

On the Kyrgyz side, the officer who controlled my passport sent me to another office outside which other people were already waiting. This wasn’t very reassuring… But someone came out the office, took my passport and disappeared again. After another few minutes, they handed me back my passport, and I checked for a stamp. The entry seal was there, all fine!

Good, this was the beginning of my 60 free days in Kyrgyzstan, yey!

 

Kazakhstan From Tashkent Uzbekistan to Almaty Kazakhstan by bus

There is one weekly train from Tashkent to Almaty. It’s actually the train from Nukkus to Almaty, leaving Nukus on Wednesday night. It stops in Tashkent (not the main train station, but one on the outskirts apparently, but I didn’t research) on Thurdays night and gets in Almaty on Friday night.

But I had to leave Tashkent on a Saturday morning so decided to take a bus from the border post near Chernaevka.

I left Tashkent around 10ish, took the metro to the northern most station. The current station is Habib Abdullaev although it seems there is a extension project to go beyond Yumusobod (and was announced at least three years ago). But I had to take a short taxi ride to Yumusobod. I could have got a bus, bus the bus station was of course not close to the metro station.

Yumusobod is the spot I was interested in. I thought I could get a Mashrutka from there to the border in Chernaevka, but eventually, I had to take a shared taxi. I paid 5000 SUM.

The border area in Chernaevka is rather nice, with eateries and stalls along the street leading to the border post. This is were I indulged in a my last Uzbek Plov to spend my last SUMs, and it was probably the best I ever got…

This all came at the right time. Walking to the post after lunch, I realized it was closed from 12pm to 1pm. I arrived just on time a little after 1pm, right before the big rush.

The Uzbek side (exit) really started to get busy while I was filling out my customs form. By the way, people in Chernaevka will try to sell you those customs form. It’s just a scam, they are given for free at the border post of course.
By the time I passed the scanner, the post was really getting chaotic, and I had to fight to get to a window to show my passport. Mums with kids, elderly, or just the commoner would pass in front of you, so you really have to stand up and resist… and hold your passport at the window, occupying as much space as possible to hold your position… don’t be afrais to be rude, this is the way here! I was even greeted with pleasant smiles and ‘where from? what is your name?’ questions.

I had to give out all my registration slip, and the officer seemed to have looked through them carefully. They seemed to be all fine despite the few suspicious sticky notes or other random bits of paper on which the were scribbled. But they were indeed checked indeed! Only one night was missing, so they complied with regulations, and passed control.

Once passed through the jungle, I got to the Kazakh entry side, which was far less busy, slightly more spacious and clearer. It was also better organized, signed, and equipped.
The form to fill out is small if insignificant, but it gets stamped when crossing in, and you have to keep it untill exiting the country when it’s collected.
Once passed passport control, the officers at customs only asked me very informaly the reason of my visit, and the amount of foreign currency I was carrying with me.

If the Kazakh side of the border post was more pleasant, there is nothing once in the country apart from abandoned buildings and annoying taxi drivers and money changers. I really took my time with the latter, and could change USD to KZ Tenge at the excellent rate of 160 tenge per dollar. Then an old lady insisted to take me to the bus to Almaty, which was a just few hundred meters away because she probably got a commission on my bus ticket.

I realized when I asked the time of departure that KZ is one hour ahead of UZ.
The bus leaves at about 7pm, and seats cost from 2500 to 3500 tenges depending on placement from back to front. I got the cheapest one, and was quickly invited by the drivers for a chat in the haul(!), and later for tea. This was a great moment, as the waiting was a few hours, and I got this nice picture as a souvenir!

The bus arrived around 9am he following morning, but this was really not a nice ride.
Of course I was crammed in a seat with absolutely no legroom, next to another tall Uzbek, but hopefully I had the aisle seat to stretch my legs a little. The bus was an old French coach, and I noticed later that all buses and most lorries were recycled vehicules from western Europe (mostly France and Germany).

The road is paved all the way, but in very poor condition, and it was like trying to sleep on a roller coaster for 14 hours. There were a few stops for convenience and food along the way, but neither the food nor the toilets looked any good…!

The bus gets into a new Bus station way outside Almaty, much further out west than the main Sairan bus station where most buses and shared taxis to Bishkek can be found. From those two different places, bus 16 goes to the centre.