I have been back from Central Asia for a few weeks now and have had some time to think about my time there, look through my photos, and generally process the things that I experienced. I will post a more thorough country overview in the “Country Opinion” section of the site as I always do but first I just want to share some thoughts with you about the trip.
The food in this part of the world was generally nothing special which is why I was glad I was on a Dragoman trip where many of the meals are cooked by the group. This gives us a chance to source local ingredients but to make meals that suit a diverse group of people from all over the world.
I did personally enjoy the food, such as Camca and Shashlik, and thought it was tasty but I will not be thinking about it for years to come or making any of it myself in the future.
The people in this part of the world were really friendly. Being former Soviet countries, and with not much western tourism, I wasn’t sure what to expect but they were great. Maybe not as open as in Central America or Africa but I had some great experiences interacting with local people.
The main experience which will stand out for many years to come, and which I am still in shock about every time I think about it, is in the Uzbek town of Kolkand. As mentioned in my blog we stopped here for a little while to look around a former palace which is now a museum and while we were there we generated a lot of attention.
A lot of the attention was due to Sam and his blonde dreadlocks – at one point we had several hundred people surrounding us wanting a photo with him which was just incredible. I’ve never seen such interest from people when travelling and we just kept saying things like “what on earth?” and “this is completely crazy” to each other as the numbers kept growing and growing, but the people were really friendly. Now I know how famous celebrities must feel if they travel and people continually ask for photos with them so I’ll never be asking anybody again!
I did personally generate a little bit of interest and had three small groups of people ask if they could take photos with me. I never mind this sort of thing, especially in places that I travel, as they’re doing it to have an excuse to interact with you. I would probably have found Sam’s level of attention overwhelming but the people meant well – Jalal, our local guide in Uzbekistan, said that a lot of the people in the square had travelled down from the valleys due to it being the last day of school and that they wouldn’t have spoken to many westerners before.
The kids I interacted with at Lake Issyk-Kul were adorable too and were so happy just when I made a simple gesture of giving them some printed photos of themselves that I made using my Polaroid Pogo printer. If you like to go on this sort of trip then I would recommend that you invest in one – they are worth their weight in gold for memories like mine has given me.
Finally I just want to mention something about the scenery in Kyrgyzstan. I can’t really comment on the scenery of Uzbekistan as I was only there a couple of days but the scenery of Kyrgyzstan is so beautiful and divers as to almost be unbelievable.
The scenery is one of the main reasons I went there and I was definitely not disappointed. I couldn’t believe the richness of the colours, the diversity of the landscape and indeed how quickly the scenery changed. One day we went from a beach at the shore of a lake, to red rock which looked like the Badlands of the USA combined with the Red Centre of Australia, and finally to mountains that reminded me of the Alps of Europe. In addition to that there were lush valleys, mountainous regions, farmland, so many rivers. The country is heavily mountainous but there are so many lovely valleys and plains too. Just have a look for yourself at some of my favourite scenery photos below, and the read my blog entries for more.
I had wanted to visit Kyrgyzstan for some time and it was worth every penny, every sleepless night, the sub-zero temperatures at Song-Kul Lake and the long travel days. I would highly recommend a trip here if you love natural beauty – I have never seen such diversity in one small country before.
If you do go then please go on a trip like the one I picked with Dragoman, or alternatively go with one of their competitors, as it really allows you to get under the skin of the country and see so much more than if you travelled around from hotel to hotel by sterile tour bus or train. You could do the area yourself and use public transport, indeed many people do, but group trips like the one I went on combine security and organisation with seeing some amazing off-the-beaten-path locations.
So many experiences, so many memories. I’m not sure if or when I’ll be back but it’s definitely a destination that I would visit again if everything worked out like this time. There are a number of places I want to see first but I thoroughly enjoyed Central Asia, even if I did have to return home a few days early for personal reasons.