Monday, April 28, 2008

Three Stans - Arrival Bishkek, Kyrgystan

Bishkek Monday morning April 28 80F

Deep in Central Asia, I am in Bishek the green capital of Kyrgyzstan, a nation which I award the kudo of being the "hardest to type" of any of our nations! It almost seems in some ways be Oz, to fly nonstop for five hours east from a darkening Istanbul....night falls over the Black Sea and the captain announces that the bright almost-full moon is making the shrinking ARAL SEA, the best example of ecocide on earth, is in eerie view abut an hour and a half before arriving in Bishek. With three hours time difference (later here) it was close to 200 AM when we landed.

Twenty-odd minutes later the bags show up---voila---and we meet Valentin our Russian driver....a young fellow I'd age at about 30 who has two children and a wife and rudimentary English but who somehow I like. We drive down a darkened expressway: Bishkek is having a usual power outage and various raions (or districts) are in Oz-dark...twenty MILES to the Ak Keme Hotel, a high-rise looking like a possible escapee from Dubai where the registration has never heard of us (now 300 AM) a situation which we eventually righted. I was too keyed up to sleep and today, Monday the 28th of May I have been led around like a slightly addled bull with a ring in its nose.

Today bright and early at 900 AM Valentin shows up after Aysegul and I have eaten a Kyrghyz breakfast which consists of several types of limpid rolls, delicious honey, a vaguely Nescafe hot drink, odd juices (apricot looked the least lethal) the whole thing rescued by a succulent homemade yoghurt. It's off first to meet our guide Svetlana, who is a 20 plus year old Russian-Kyrghyz dish. We like Sevetlana. She will travel with us tomorrow for our two day sojourn east.

Bishkek is an immensely green city, once a mostly treeless steppe which has proved that even a largely Soviet city can be made into a bit of a sow's ear. To the south are Innsbruck-massive and snow capped mountains, looming and beautiful....we drive through avenues of Lorraine poplars and elms and oaks and still blossoming fruit trees. We see the requisite sites, pretty much like seeing the requisite sites of Wichita...and yet a day which turned magical; proving indeed again that we were in Oz. On a Stalin-vast square in front of the nation's massive history museum (looking like a slightly soviet Memphis Airport) a great jamboree is going on....among yurts put up to hawk "crafts" (mostly Tahitian painted-on-velvet level but then rescued by the region's famous felt not only molded into yurts but into clogs and boots and headdresses complete with prominent hawk fathers. To a cacophonous blaring of over-amplification we see groups of school girls, elderly grizzled old guys who play weird stringed instruments; one looks like a huge stalk---or whatever one should call lit---of okra, elderly AARP types of Russian folk singers having the times of their lives; many with gold teeth above old fashioned prom dresses, accomplished ballerinas doing interpretive dancing; one seems to involve an endangered mountain sheep being attacked by a hawk.. At any rate you get the picture and Aysegul and I delight in two solid hours of home made fun...innocent, the entertainers having a guileless and joyous time under clear skies.....Ted Mack's Amateur Hour (for those who can remember it) come to the Steppes of Central Asia. We definitely are in Kyrgyzstan: the entertainers' families, three or four thousand of them, busily snapping photos of their loved ones who were dancing about as mountain elves or forest ogres and ogresses. We stopped then at the fuss-feathers Stalin baroque opera house though nothing is scheduled during our stay: I had quite looked forward to something like La Boheme in Kyrghyz having "done" Aida in Kazahk lo those many years ago in Almaty---with my late, dear friend Hella on the trip on which we met.

This city has a quite astonishing swatch of physical types. The pure Kyrghyz looks a bit like a young Patrick Swayze to morph into a heavy jowly eyebrowed and large-headed older man very reminiscent of Brezhnev though I don't think he had an ounce of Kyrghyz blood. The Russian minority is about 40% and the street signs are all in Cyrillic letters for them...they look like Russians....and the two majority groups seem to get along splendidly and naturally. There are others: Chinese who have escape the Cultural Revolution and wandered in over those 16,000 foot passes to the east, Germans, resettled here from the Volga by Stalin in the late 30s and 40s, Tajiks who are the Asians often with blonde hair and blue eyes and yet "something" genetic which sets them apart from your typical Dutchman......there are Kazahks and Uzbeks (I used to be able to tell them apart)....and about every other neighboring person that a Kansas-like tornado could sweep together here in Frank Baum's Asian kingdom. There is a fair sized American airbase here but these warriors are simply not seen on the streets.

I am having a hell of a good time. We set out (Valentin, Svetlana, Aysegul and I) in V's lovingly kept '94 Mercedes to drive the whole circumference of Lake Issyk Kul, the second largest ALPINE lake in the world (Titicaca is larger and Baikal is not an Alpine lake) no doubt odd ethnographic and geological pearls of reflection will ensue. We'll spend the night tomorrow at Karakul, a little Russian-mostly (and Chinese Muslim) town at the very east end of the great into which scores and scores of rivers and streams wash but nothing flows out.....could it be possible? Yes, for we are in Oz.


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