Into Kyrgyzstan

Part 7 of the Silk Road journey

Posted 25th May 2017 by David McGuinness

“Conor McGregor”, the customs official beamed at me when he learned I was Irish. Conor McGregor is a low brow Ultimate fighter from Ireland who has made it big on the world stage in this sport, including, it seems, in Kyrgyzstan. It wasn’t the last time I heard his name in my short stay in Kyrgyzstan. Almost the first person I met in Iran many years ago, said “Robbie Keane”, an Irish footballer. Irish sportsmen of note appear to have switched sport.

The three and a half hour wait on the Chinese side of the border was for no reason other than the ill-mannered and ill-educated Chinese soldiers wanting to demonstrate their power. After an “extended lunch” they sat in their cars and played with their phones for a further half hour. At the very fringes, China Inc, which has done much to deter this type of behaviour and operates mostly as a slick machine, still betrays elements of what was once much more common. The much hyped “Belt and Road” initiative, which dominates the English language news on Chinese TV, has been given a lot of personal attention by president Xi Jinping. It is intended to re-launch the Silk Road in the modern age, but the very first border on the Silk Road is beset by pettiness and completely unnecessary delay. A cursory glance at the paperwork and they finally wave us through.

Sasha, waiting patiently only metres away, picked me up in his car and we picked up Regina, my guide for the next several days, just past the customs post. We drove alongside frozen lakes, with snow-capped peaks all around. Marmots dashed along the road, yaks and sheep dotted the landscape. Newly-born lambs, unsteady on their legs, took their first tentative steps. The road for the main segment was decent and we made good time to Tash Rabat, a very remote 15th-century caravanserai at more than 3,500m. Some believe that it was built as a Nestorian church. Remarkably well-preserved and almost completely intact, it was easy to imagine the legions of traders that would have taken shelter here, the kind of wild stories and rumours would have bounced around inside these walls, which deals were made and what scams were perpetrated.

We stopped for a picnic dinner by a river as the sun went down, eating cheese, bread, jam, tea and fresh fruit. Sheep, even the shaky lambs, clambered the impossibly steep mountains beside us. We drove on by the At Bashi range, a branch of the Tien Shan mountains, passing shepherds, a boy leading a cow along the road, men on horseback. A sense of peace seemed to descend over everything. We reached our simple hotel in Naryn.

This blog is part of an Off-The-Beaten-Track Travel Diary. Click on the links below to navigate through this journey.

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Five Stan Odyssey (along the Silk Road)

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan
Culture | Silk Road

Get under the skin of all five 'Stans'

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30 days
2024: 31 August
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