How do Kirghize villages look like ? Some snapshots

The Kyrgyz are outnumbered almost two to one by their livestock and about two-thirds of the population lives in rural areas. The above video gives a good idea on the villages set along the main roads.

And here are pictures shot in small towns.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.58.34At the bazar.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.58.47Two women shopping at the bazar.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.59.30A “real” shop, called “Magazine”.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.59.08A shop looking like a kiosk, as it is in Russia.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 18.00.43A street stall, where women usually sell fruits and vegetables.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 18.00.02The mosque. Every single village has one, many of them are founded by Saudi Arabia.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 18.00.12 Men and boys watching a football game on Friday.

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D353. May 12. On our way back to Bishkek… Portfolio

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I’d recommend you go through this post while listening to this piece, song by our driver…

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Capture d’écran 2014-05-14 à 09.08.29What I like in this picture is the cow attitude : )

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Capture d’écran 2014-05-14 à 09.09.33“Al Kalpak” : this is the name of Kyrgyz men’s hats, made from white felt.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-14 à 09.10.10This woman is selling jenny milk…

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Capture d’écran 2014-05-14 à 09.10.36Chinese are building good roads in Kirghizstan, so that their truck can make it through the new “silk road’.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-14 à 09.11.03And this is the last time I’ll see the Issyk-Kul lake, the second highest lake on earth, after the Titicaca…

D352. May 11. The snow is coming…

On the day when we visited the Tash-Rabat caravenserail, we left Naryn under the sun (should you wonder where are Naryn and Tash-rabat, please click here).

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Quite an arid land, though, isn’t it ? After an hour of ride, we get a glimpse on the white mounts, in the horizon…

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Then, as we get up in altitude, snow covers the floor. It gets colder and colder.

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We meet a shepherd on his horse. As I get off the car to take a picture of him, I freeze…

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I couldn’t be a Khirgize shepherd, that for sure… As I walk alone on the road (the car parked behind a tree), a car stops: a nice couple asks me if I want a ride. Here, hitch-hiking is pretty common, as many people don’t have a car.

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And my horseman disappears in the white mountains…

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Animals seem to cope pretty well with the climate : yaks of course, but also marmots, and, more unexpectedly, chicken !

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This was before the rain falled on Tash-Rabat. We met a group of students, living in Naryn, who where coming here to visit the caravenserail with their classmates. Like us, they were wearing warm clothes.

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As we left Tash-Rabat and our cosy trailer, snow became intense…

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Sheeps were struggling, and cow as well.

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Only their shepherd seemed placid, in the eye of the storm…

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… And we had a very interesting chat…. Worse watching, really !


D252. May 11. Inside a nomad trailer

As snow is starting to fall on Tash-Rabat, a woman offers to shelter us in her trailer…

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Thousands of abandoned train wagons like this one have found a second use in the middle of nowhere…

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The trailer is split in two rooms. Kitchen, stove and table above, bedroom below.

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She will cook for us.

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Capture d’écran 2014-05-13 à 14.07.19 Frieds donuts. They are empty but you can fill them with jam. On every table in the country you will find two cups filled with jams, generally made from red fruits.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-13 à 14.06.57A delicious potatoes salad.

And of course the tea. We will have here a delicious, precious, unbelievable moment.
While Nick and David warm up and dry, I learn to the little girl how to watch pictures on my LSR camera she catches it very quickly, in a moment she won’t need me anymore. Then, we watch different videos on my phone. The touch screen has no secrets anymore.

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I don’t remember their name. I don’t think I even asked I must confess, knowing that anyway I wouldn’t remember, but I will never forget the couple of hours we spent together.

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D252. May 11. Reportage from the Caravenserail…

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The above sketch is Tash-Rabat imagined by my Dad, while reading my stories…
On my side, I think of Ella Maillart, a traveller born in Switzerland one century ago.

Her book, “Des monts célestes aux sables rouges”, made me discover Central Asia twenty years ago – English translation of the book : Either “Turkestan Solo, One Woman’s Expedition” or “Turkestan Solo, A journey through Central Asia”.

In 1932, she passes through Turkestan and Kirghize lands on a horse, she climbs the “Celestial Mounts” (Tien Shan) on skis, next to China. She visits Tachkent, Samarcand, Bukhara, before dealing with the “red sand desert”, East of the Aral Sea, on a camel….

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I am now walking on the very places she passed by, in places that have amazing names : Silk road, caravenserail, Celestial Mounts (Tien Shan), Pamir… Next time I’ll go to China and will pass through Turfan, Uruqmi, Kashgar, and the Tacla Makan Desert. And next week, I should discover the “Red Sands), next to the Aral Sea…

Coming back to my story, I’d like to encourage you in downloading the following videos. It might take some time but it’s less than 10 minutes watching, and, frankly, what you will see is worth it…

D252. May 11. The Tash-Rabat Caravenserail…

Tash-Rabat… A stop on the silk road. Let me remind you what where those roads in a few paragraphs, and you will understand how mythical this place is…

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Parthia, on the Iranian plateau, was the most voracious foreign trader and consumer of Chinese silk at the close of the 2nd century BC, having supposedly traded an ostrich egg for its first bolt of silk. In about 105 BC, Parthia and China exchanged embassies and inaugurated official bilateral trade along the caravan route that lay between them. With this the Silk Road was born – A fragile network of shifting intercontinental caravan tracks that threaded through some of Asia’s highest mountains and bleakest deserts.

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The network had its main eastern terminus at the Chinese capital Ch’ang-an (Xi’an). West of there, the route reached the oasis town of Dunhuang and exited China through the Jade Gate. Here it divided, one branch skirting the dreaded Taklamakan Desert to the north through Turfan, while the other headed south via Khotan. The two forks met again in Kashgar, from where the trail headed up a series of passes into and over the Pamirs and Tian Shan (two such passes in use today are the Torugart and Irkeshtam, on the Chinese border with Kyrgyzstan).

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Traffic ran both ways. China received gold, silver, ivory, lapis, jade, coral, wool, rhino horn, tortoise shell, horses, Mediterranean coloured glass (an industrial mystery originally as inscrutable to the Chinese as silk was in the West), cucumbers, walnuts, pom- egranates, golden peaches from Samarkand, sesame, garlic, grapes and wine, plus – an early Parthian craze – acrobats and ostriches. Goods arriving at the western end included silk, porcelain, paper, tea, ginger, rhubarb, lacquerware, bamboo, Arabian spices and incense, medicinal herbs, gems and perfumes. 

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In the middle lay Central Asia, a great clearing house that provided its native horses and camels to keep the goods flowing in both directions.
Rabat (caravanserais) grew up along the route, offering lodgings, stables and stores.

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The Silk Road was delivered a major body blow when China turned its back on the cosmopolitanism of the Tang dynasty (618–907) and retreated behind its Great Wall. The destruction and turbulence wreaked by Jenghiz Khan and Timur (Tamerlane) dealt a further economic blow to the region, and the literal and figurative drying-up of the Silk Road lead to the abandonment of a string of cities along the southern fringes of the Taklamakan Desert. The metaphoric nail in the Silk Road’s coffin was the opening of more cost- effective maritime trading routes between Europe and Asia.

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So here I am, entering the Tash-Rabat caravenserail, 25 km from the Torugart pass, on the boarder with China, at 3000 meters of altitude. When entering the place, going through this corridor, entering the different small rooms, the three of us were very moved.

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The snow is starting to fall. From the caravenserail roof, I have an amazing 360° horizon view. a few hundreds meters from here, a yurts camps. The snow is starting to fall…

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D251. May 10. Waking up in a yurt on the Issyk-Kul shore

Yesterday, we left Karakol and followed the South side of the Issyk-Kul Lake.

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Overgrazing and soil degradation are major problems affecting all the Central Asian republics. The steady rise in livestock grazing has unhinged delicate ecosystems and accelerated desertification and soil erosion. From 1941 to 1991 the population of sheep and goats more than doubled to 5.5 million in Turkmenistan and quadrupled to 10 million in Kyrgyzstan, while a third of Kyrgyzstan’s available grasslands have disappeared.
Since the end of the Soviet era, land has been privatized and divided. Economic hardship, a loss of effective management and a lack of governmental infrastructure have seen flocks numbers dwindle to about six million (for 5 million inhabitants).


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This being so, landscapes are stoning and the three of us feel like we have never seen sheeps before !
After a few hours of driving, he get to our night camp : yurts !

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We will meet there one guy from SIngapore traveling on his own and a French couple, visiting their cousin who works at the French Embassy in Almaty, Kazakstan. He will give me many advice for the rest of my trip in Central Asia, what roads I should avoid for safety reasons, where would be the best location to get a visa, etc. An unexpected briefing in the middle of nowhere, on the shore of the Issyk-Kul lake.

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.54.01 The toilets

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The kitchen and stove

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 16.55.26 The inescapable samovar

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.54.15The dining room

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.53.51My yurt

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.55.57My bedroom

Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 17.55.49My bed and lovely linen… I slept like a babe.

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D250. May 9. A prayer in Karakol

Under the Soviet times, of nine mosques (founded by Tatars, Dungans and various Kyrgyz clans), all but the Dungan’s were wrecked. And its elegant Orthodox church lost its domes and became a club; only one small church on the outskirts was allowed to remain open. Of course, since 1991, everything has changed. And today is Friday, a holy day for Muslims.

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What looks for all the world like a Mongolian Buddhist temple on the corner of Bektenov and Jusup Abdrakhmanov is in fact a mosque, built without nails, completed in 1910 after three years’ work by a Chinese architect and 20 Chinese artisans, for the local Dungan community.

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Like the Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz adopted Islam relatively late and limited it to what could fit in their saddlebags. Northern Kyrgyz are more Russified and less observant of Muslim doctrine than their cousins in the south (in Jalal-Abad and Osh provinces). One consequence of this is the high number of young women boasting hip-hugging jeans on the streets of Bishkek with nary a head scarf between them.
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Not far from the mosque, the holy trinity cathedral, an amazing piece of art.

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The yellow domes of this handsome cathedral have risen from the rubble of Bolshevism at the corner of Lenina and Gagarin.

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Karakol’s first church services were held in a yurt on this site after the town was founded. A later stone church fell down in an earthquake in 1890. A fine wooden cathedral was completed in 1895 but the Bolsheviks destroyed its five onion-domes and turned it into a club in the 1930s.

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Serious reconstruction only began in 1961. Services are again held here, since its formal reconsecration in 1991 and again in 1997.

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But here in Kirghizistan, Friday is not only the day for prayer, it is also a day when pupils don’t have school. Everyone goes on picnic around, and on our way back from the mountains we’ve met many groups of teenagers having fun, and asking me to take pictures of them.

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D250. May 9. A night with Kirghizes in a mountain hut

Our mountain “resort” is next to the Arashan River, 20 km southeast of Karakol mountain, situated in a picturesque forest landscape at an altitude of 2350-2435 metres.

The resort has numerous wooden sheds which contain hot sulfurous pools to cure various ailments… The baths look creepy, I’m not sure I’m gonna plunge my body into that… Well, after a couple of hours, quite cold after a nap, I will finally try it. And it’s gonna be great.

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Even the moment when I discovered that a local shepherd was spying on me at the window was entertaining !

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Though, I’ll make my best not to go to the bathroom over the night, far too demanding ride… And the water from the ‘sink” is like ice on my hands…

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Our cook. Tonight we will have a bouillon with noodles and sheep pieces. Tomorrow morning we will have three salty grilled eggs. Like every other morning during this trip in the mountains.

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We will have a candle dinner, a very nice atmosphere, next to the samovar… Over the night, I will not be cold, as the stove is just on the other side of our bedroom wall. Nice to wake up in such surroundings.

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While Nick is packing and David watching birds with his binoculars, I try to interact with the owners of this place…

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As I try to thank Bartagül for her hospitality,  awkwardly repeating my “spasiba” (thank you) with a smile, she answers as awkwardly with a “cream, cream”, showing me her dry face, burnt by years of sun and cold. I give her my moisturizing cream and she introduces her entire family.

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Capture d’écran 2014-05-10 à 16.48.59Tabulde, her father, who doesn’t want to speak Russian. Though, when Nick and David tell him they come from England, he answers “football, Arsenal, Arsenal”.
As we shake hands, about to leave, he suddenly raises his arm and chants, out of the blue : “Heil, Hitler”.

Waouh… how does he know that sentence ? Does he know what it means ?
During the Soviet era, Kant and its surrounding area (20 km East from Bishkek) were home to a large number of ethnic Germans who had been forcibly relocated to Central Asia in 1941 from the Volga region when the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was abolished. Could he know from them ? I will never know. Though, it leaves us with a weird impression…





D249. May 8. Trek in the Altyn valley, an alpine paradise

map trekThe Altyn-Arashan valley is set in a postcard- perfect alpine valley at 3000m, with 4260m Pik Palatka looming at its southern end…

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At the end of the day, we should reach our destination : a mountain hut for the night, and hot springs as a reward for our efforts.

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An avalanche-prone road, strewn with rocks and winter debris, makes for a slow crawl up to the springs by 4WD.

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It’s a steep six-hour (14km) climb south on the 4WD track beside the Arashan River, through a piney canyon full of hidden hot and cold springs.

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On my way, I meet Dorek on his horse. His friend would like me to give him water but I don’t have any left. I give him an empty plastic bottle, that should at least help him in storing additional water when he will pass by a source.

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Indeed, when we stopped for lunch, our guide and cook used the river water without even boiling it.

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Six hours later, birds of prey seems to show the way.

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Around Five, we catch sight of the Arashan camp…

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The white summits seemed so far from us this morning, and now we are only a few kilometers from them.

The night is gonna be cold though, so let’s hope the hot springs are real…

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