Sorry about the lack of blog updates this month – I’ve been hammering the website to make it all fabby and groovy for when the telly show starts in July and people pop in for a visit!
So, where I was I? Oh yeah, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!! So I was up and at ’em at the crack and to the Tajikistan embassy. Visa in hand, I raced over to the bus station to pick up a shared taxi back to Osh. My taxi driver, Rustlan, was a wonderfully friendly guy and the little old ladies in the back didn’t complain too much that I wanted to stop every ten minutes to take a photo of the INCREDIBLE scenery.
It was a long drive through the mountains to Osh, but the hours seemed to fly by and, once again, I got the feeling that this wouldn’t be the last I’ll see of Kyrgyzstan. This feeling grew when Rustlan the driver offered to have me round for dinner with his wife, his young son and his mum. I can’t overstate this enough: this part of the world is the most hospitable you will ever visit. As well as feeding me some slap-up scran, Rustlan also organised for me to take an overnight taxi through to the border with Tajikistan.
Sounds easy? Ah, but there’s a problem. If you zoom into a map (you can use the Google map to the right if you like) and look at the wacko messed-up gerrymandered borders of the Fergana Valley area, you’ll see there is a small enclave of Uzbekistan called Sohk that’s complete surrounded by Kyrgyzstan. And guess which way the main road to the Tajikistan border goes? Yup…! Right through Sohk!! And do they allow free transit through this tiny spot of bother? Like buggery they do. So if I was to enter Sohk I would lose my second entry on my (incredibly expensive) visa for Uzbekistan… and then I’d have to get a brand new visa to get back into Uzbekistan proper. Madness, they call it Madness.
So I had to slip my taxi driver a few extra Kyrgyz sum to take the dirt track that goes around the enclave. ATTENTION ALL NORTHERN STANS! Listen: I have an idea – why don’t you make it so you have to get one visa for all five of you? Your borders were meant to be regional, not international and up until 1992 you were all one country anyway! Nutters.
By 5am I had made it around that pesky enclave of Sohk and had arrived at the border of Tajikistan. Chances are you know Afghanistan and Pakistan rather well, and Kazakhstan too thanks to a certain Mr. Sagdiyev, maybe you’ve noticed Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan while glancing over an atlas, and maybe once you pulled 10 letters out of a Scrabble bag and they spelt out KYRGYZSTAN by sheer luck, but I’m guessing you know nothing about Tajikistan. Well, don’t feel bad, neither do I. For instance, I knew nothing of the brutal civil war that raged here during the 90s and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. I didn’t know that until 1991 Tajikistan was completely closed to foreigners for over 100 years.
In fact, the amount I don’t know about Tajikistan is only equalled by the amount I don’t know about the history of the world tiddlywinks championships. And, I’m sorry to say that my knowledge was not exactly increased by visiting the place. Okay, so it wasn’t a quick hop-over-the-border-and-back as I did in Zimbabwe or Chad, but still I’m left bereft of anything interesting, amusing or philosophical to say about the place. All I can tell you is that it exists, it has a seat in the UN and it used to be a region of the USSR. It offers some excellent hiking opportunities and, well, er… that’s it. Even the photos in the Central Asia Lonely Planet are just of people walking in the mountains with backpacks on.
I’ll be the first to admit that I raced across Tajikistan. In my mind what was critical was that I got back to Tashkent in Uzbekistan today, picked up my visa for Turkmenistan and then I could be in Iran by Tuesday. So a quick peek at the northern Tajik city of Kungrad was all I really got. But, you know, I have every intention of visiting Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan again, and maybe if the visa situation has become a little more relaxed I might be tempted to get under the skin of the place.
However, after waiting TWO HOURS (thanks a bunch Uzbekistan) to get across the border out of Tajikistan and hurtling back to Tashkent like a man possessed I arrived to find the Turkmenistan embassy closed for the day. Come back on Monday you silly ginger tramp. I need not have rushed – I could have stayed the weekend. Sorry Tajikistan.
But on a plus note, I did manage to pick up my replacement camcorder (naughty Javier, that temperamental wee beastie) and my second passport so I need no longer worry about running out of pages. I also had time to see my friends at the Afghan embassy and sort things out so I could pick up a new visa (they mucked up my first one) on Monday.
Monday, then. Ahh. My second wasted weekend in Tashkent. Well then, let’s get wasted! It cracks me up that these Central Asian states purport to be Islamic – they are about as Muslim as an atheistic Eskimo. When you walk into (one of the many) shops that only sells booze, pork sausages and –ahem- gentleman’s periodicals, it’s hard not to do a double-take. Taliban territory this is not.
I met up with Younne and Cloe – a couple of CouchSurfers from France who, like me, had arranged to stay with Rafael, the king of the Tashkent CSers. Rafa works late so we cooked him dinner (well, to be fair, the Frenchies cooked him dinner, I just watched) and before long we were enjoying beers and DVDs and looking forward to a groovy weekend in my new-found favourite bit of the world.