> On The Silk Road - Bishkek and Dushanbe


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These few days are the ones for appreciating the subtlety and gentleness of Soviet Architecture.

After my brilliant days in the high Jailoo (or pastures) - I headed for Bishkek - capital of Kyrgyzstan and largely a Russian creation.

It takes 4 hours by road from Naryn to Bishkek - which is actually not bad. This is one of the main routes of the country - so as you would expect the road is in good condition - hah! This only means that road is wider and roughly of the condition of Feidr Felin at its worse. As you head for Bishkek - the land gets dryer and the mountains get lower until finally you get to the Kazak border - A wide river valley with border restrictions (the CIS works a bit like the EU when it comes to Borders - the Russians maintain the outer borders and no one monitors the internal ones too much - just dont caught on the wrong side of a border without the appropriate visa!).

This is also where we meet the railway again - one end of the Russian TurkSib line. I will not be doing too much train travel - mostly because of the visa problems (the road and rail routes were deliberately made to intertwine the Soviet States and make it difficult for them to seperate.

Ultimately - the road becomes the M36 - the main road from Almaty (capital of Kazakstan) and Tashkent ( capital of Uzbekistan) - which of course runs through Kyrgyzstan! Unfortunately - I cannot take this route for the about 300 klicks to Tashkent since it runs through Kazakstan!

All this actually means is that there are roundabouts at every junction (Kyrgyz {and russian} approach to a roundabout is hand on horn, foot on gas and hope like hell that everyone gets out of your way).

So finally in Bishkek - as I say a totally soviet place with all of the charm of Northampton on a rainy day (and it was)! You cannot even see the mountains from here - and it seems strange that the only thing in the sky is th clouds.

I busied my self makeing travel plans to get around what I now call "the uzbekh problem". Flights to Tashkent from Bishkek are still ok if crowded - the Uzbekh problems are currently limited to the Ferghana valley - so the plan is fly Osh - Bishkek and then Bishkek - Tashkent. The trouble at the moment is that the only available Tashkent flight is on 1 June and this will mean that I will have to bypass Samarkand to get to Bokhara on time! Bummer! Hopefully - they are working on an earlier flight.

After that - an early dinner of sandwich and beer (which unfortunately did not agree with me) and then into the soviet era hotel to get some sleep before my 0420 flight to Dushanbe.

One thing that I can say about Bishkek is that there are some extraordinarily beautiful russian/kyrgyz women here - all or whom seemed to have knocked on my door or tried to phone me as I gripped my complaining stomache and tried to get some sleep. Very surreal "Taxi girl - 1 hour 50 dollar - I am sorry - I have to go and throw up". All I can say is that the rumour that there was a new westerner in town spread very fast. This was also true when I tried to get my previously arranged 0200 taxi to airport. My arrival caused a fight amongst the waiting taxi drivers - I dont think 10$ fares in the middle of the night are very common. I slipped away with the one who did not fight - leaving the others too it.

The flight was soviet era as well - one of those russian planes with circular windows and doors that look like something from 50's science fiction. However - it took off on time - gave me space to lie down and then landed ok.

I have since found out that Tajikistan got about 2000 foreign visitors last year. That is a shame - as Dushanbe, despite being another soviet invention is actually nice. Originally a small market town (Dushanbe means "Monday") - it was developed on Milton Keynesian scale in the Stalin era (I think he moved some group or other here but I cannot remember the details. Lots od tree lined boulevards with some reasonable buidlings and friendly people and impressive mountain views! My only problem is that I cannot find anyone to do some laundry at the moment - I am more used to the rest of Asia where the problem is usually to find someone who does not want to do your laundry!

Yesterday - went to Hissar fortress and madressa. This is the traditional centre of Tajik nation (and the place where the Khan of Bokhara was defeated by the Red Army) and I was given a lecture on how the local witch king was defeated by Ali and the nation made islamic - by an itinerant mullah. He also prayed for me - I may need it. There was a very good museum of Tajik life and I also went to the Musuem of Antiquities where there are a lot of finds from Oxus and other Sogdian and Bactrian cities (these are both part of Tajikistan) as well as a statue of Alexander (Takijistan is where his wife Roxelana came from) and a large buddha.

I am heading off for the Afghan border and the the Pamirs on Saturday - the Pamirs are the bit where the Tian Shan, Karakorum and Hindu Kush all meet and are supposed to be truely impressive. It also the inspiration behind "the man who would be king" and all that other kiplingess great game stuff.