We were up bright and early (well, about 9am – that is very bright and early for us) to start our journey from Khojand to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. We had a quick look at Alexander the Great’s first settlement, the 10th century citadel, and enjoyed a little sunny morning hustle and bustle with the locals while lamenting that we couldn’t stay longer and had missed most of our planned stops in Tajikistan because of all of our mishaps. We had enjoyed our brief time here immensely and promised ourselves we would be back to do the country justice at some point.
Used to it by now we shook it off and then jumped on a marshrutka to Istaravshan bus station. There we were TAXITAXITAXI-ed from all angles. We’d planned on getting the marshrutka (which involved changing in Bakan near the border) but we ended up finding a shared taxi with a few other people all the way to Osh for a very reasonable price. It took an hour or so to get to the border, by which time we’d polished off the leftover vodka and sock from the night before, so we were pleased when the driver stopped to refuel at the first garage we got to in Kyrgyzstan and although we didn’t have any Kyrgz money yet – lo! It had a visa sign! So we headed in there for some beers and snacks. We were very impressed by the entire fridge dedicated to vodka, including a shelf full of little plastic shot glasses covered with foil lids (perfect for the thirsty motorist!) and then were gutted when neither of our cards would work in their machine. Susan took a long shot and asked if she could pay in dollars, and amazingly they said we could!
It took around 5 hours for the drive but again our driver was very good with our needs and wants, allowing us to drink our vodka and sok, giggle and try very badly to speak chut-chut Ruski with our fellow passengers and as ever, obliging us with frequent jumps out of the car and into bushes to have a wii (during one of which Susan was so entranced by the view and the tranquility of the place that she stood in some puu – what appeared to be human puu so must of been a popular random stopovo). After the beautiful drive flanked by snow-capped mountains, we arrived in Osh at 2 or 3ish in the afternoon (the only ones left in the car – all the other passengers had all been dropped in little villages en route).
We got the driver to drop us next to Sulaiman Too (Solomon’s Throne – the massive craggy 5-peaked mountain and UNESCO world heritage site that sits in the middle of Osh), as we hadn’t decided where we were staying yet but it looked from the map in the Lonely Planet that most of the hotels/bars/restaurants were clustered around there. It was a glorious day and Osh seemed like a really canny bustling little city centre, so we made a beeline to the nearest bar with a terrace in the hope of some beers and food (we’d only had a bag of crisps between us in the car and were starving), while we had a look at the Gannet to decide where we were going to stay. Unfortunately the bars were very hard to find so it was a bit of a wander to locate one. We finally found a terrace next to the park and eventually managed to procure some beers and menus, which took us ages to read (it had no pictures on this one and while our reading Cyrillic/chut-chut Ruski was definitely improving in regard to foods and drinks, it still took some serious concentration – especially to identify which dishes were vegetarian for Susan) and when we’d finally decided on something, the waitress had given up coming and asking us what we wanted. It was a nice little terrace that had these weird table bed things (and posters advertising the nightly roller disco next door which we made a note to get among later!), and we had a lovely sit in the sun with our beers toasting that we’d FINALLY caught up with our itinerary! Yes, we’d spent too much time in Uzbekistan and still managed to see NOTHING apart from dodgy border towns, and skipped over awesome Tajikistan in a day, but hey! We made it! We had a flight booked to Bishkek in the morning, so were determined to make the most of our luxury afternoon/evening in Osh.
We decided on the Hotel Sanabar which was just around the corner, in a little back alley above an internet café (with massive signs for “World of Tanks” which we were disappointed wasn’t the theme of the hotel). It did take some finding and after going round in circles for a while we had to have a stop off to drink some beers in the park and eat some delicious street food (Jill got an amazing kebab burger thing and Susan was forced to eat a sweet pastry as all the street food seemed to be either meat or confectionery). The hotel itself was a bit odd with no obvious reception so we made our presence known by being loud and a staff member finally appeared from behind a locked door. It was a lovely ramshackle little room with two single beds, an en suite with the world’s tiniest bathroom door and a nice rickety balcony that would have had lovely views of Sulaiman-Too and the mountains in the distance were it not for the massive banner hung across the rooftops of the street advertising some mobile phone company, that totally blocked it all out.
We dumped our bags and headed off in search of a nice sit down meal, only to find our first restaurant of choice “Osh Ordo” (which boasted a nice terrace and pavilions with rocking chairs) was booked out with a wedding party (that we were sorely tempted to gate-crash, as it looked like there was lots of crazy dancing going on to Boney M’s “Rasputin” but we decided that we weren’t drunk enough yet and we might come back after dinner) so we ended up at “Tsarskii Dvor” once we finally found one of its million doors that was actually open. It was a nice huge wooden lodge type place with big throne chairs, a man playing the saxophone on the balcony and an impressive barbeque menu. Or should we say, it would no doubt been impressive if we could have understood anything on it (yet again wishing that the Google translate app where you can scan things didn’t need wifi in order to do so!), but thankfully the waiter spoke a tiny bit of English so could point Susan to the fish section of the menu (vegetarian was non-existent and she was sick of eating a plate of dill). Jill chose at random from the “Kebabs” section and we managed to identify a selection of sides. The food was delicious (the random kebab turned out to be beef by the way) and despite the grand surroundings the entire meal (including a bottle of vodka, some sok and a couple of beers) came to 2200 som which is just over £20! We were loving these crazy ‘Stan prices!!!
After lunch we wandered (via a shop for cigarettes and some vodka and sok for the room later) towards Sulaiman-Too as we’d read about a three storey yurt where you could dress up in traditional costume and have your photo taken – of course we were all over that! It was supposedly open until 9pm according to the Lonely Planet, but this must have been in the summer season as everything was shut when we got there so we wandered about the nice park, tried in vain to get on the free wifi next to the museum (a gift from the American government apparently!) and had some civilised drinks on a bench before heading back down towards the other park near the river where the roller disco was. We got there and that looked closed too but we heard some banging tunes coming from “Parliament”, which turned out to be a night club actually inside the park. It was a maze of dingy little rooms and we were drawn to the one with the blaring music that was full of young Kyrgyz ladies in their best Saturday night finery, dancing away without a care. We decided we’d go in and have a dance (despite feeling a bit grubby in our clothes we’d had on for a few days), and were immediately welcomed with open arms by one of the groups of girls who invited us to dance with them and we had an absolute hoot cutting crazy shapes. They were so lovely! Two of the girls, Aiko and Aisande (probably totally the wrong spelling), became our new best friends for the evening. It was Aisande’s birthday (I think she was 18, bless) and when we found out we offered to get her a drink, but she was Muslim and didn’t drink so we’d got ourselves a beer each from the bar and a big bottle of cola for the girls. They had asked for chocolate which Jill thought she had misunderstood until she later saw a huge hot chocolate bar – what a good idea for the non-drinker! We ended up (after lots of very sexy dancing) in the karaoke room, where we were the only people in, screaming along to Celine Dion “My Heart Will Go On” (this was the girls’ request, and we were happy to find that their singing was just as bad as ours). The lasses went back into the main room for a bit more dance, while we decide to check out the karaoke selection and found a lot of it to our liking! Sam Fox, Madonna, Kate Bush, Metallica and A-ha were all yelled along to and Jill and the lad manning the karaoke desk did a fabulous rendition of “Bring Me to Life” with him doing the rapping. It was a thing of beauty and wonder. After we had lost our voices completely and Aiko and Aisande were worn out dancing, we just sat around in the karaoke room chatting (with the occasional karaoke duet of some Kyrgyz song from Aisande and the karaoke lad who obviously had a bit of a fancy for her). We swapped details and demanded that they contact us before their planned trip to London next year as they were amazing and we’d love to meet up. Sadly we have no photos of the crazy park night club or the girls as we were just enjoying ourselves too much to think about getting the camera out.
Eventually it was time to call it a night (as we needed to be up early for the Bishkek flight in the morning) so we bid our new friends farewell and wombled off back to the hotel in really good moods as we’d had such a lush night. It’s unusual for us to end up talking to girls on our travels (notwithstanding our sister’s fom other misters Audrey and Janine who we met in Honduras of course – so it does happen but it’s rare… not due to any particular preference or effort on our part – we think that in countries where women usually act a bit more conservatively, they don’t quite know what to make of us. ) and Aiko and Aisande had been such good craic. As we turned down the dark little alley to get to the hotel, there was a group of lads lurking around looking nefarious on the corner so we gave them a nod of acknowledgement and continued up the street. Jill was half way up the stairs to the hotel door when she heard Susan yell out from behind her – the blokes had come down the street after us and were trying to take her bag! Susan, being the feisty little anger ball that she is, hung onto her handbag for dear life (despite being knocked onto the ground and kicking them in their faces while she was down there) and as Jill ran down the stairs to try and help her, one of them grabbed her bag and legged it off down the street with it! We tried to run after them shouting “HELP! STOP! THIEF!” and all that jazz (and “PASSPORT! PASSPORT! PASSPORT! – everything else was of little consequence but we NEEDED Jill’s passport back!) , but we aren’t the best runners and couldn’t even see them once we’d made it to the main road, and it was around 2am so there wasn’t really anyone about. A car with a few lads in pulled over, having seen us yelling and running, and we explained what had happened. “Get in! We’ll try to find them!”. So we did. I know you’re all thinking “aye, really wise that lasses – you’ve just been mugged and then you get into a car with the next load of strange blokes you meet?”, but we felt really helpless and frustrated and going looking for them with the lads made us feel like we were doing something a bit proactive.
The lads seemed genuinely upset and ashamed that this had happened to us in their town, and did their best to scour the streets to find the bad’uns to no avail. We gathered from their attempts at English and gesticulating that they had an idea of who mugged us (these few rare bad lads were probably well known in the area) and they took us (also to no avail) to have a look in a few random hedges where they thought they might have thrown the bag. It was getting very late by this point and we didn’t have the energy for continuing the hunt so we asked the lads to take us to the police station, which they did. While in the police station, Susan rang Howie (her torrid gay affair and reliable ICE contact as he has his head screwed on and won’t panic) to get the number for the British Embassy, which we rang and they were absolutely no use at all.
“You’ll have to go to the British Embassy in Almaty to get an emergency passport”
“But we’re in OSH, Almaty is in Kazakhstan!”
“Yes, you’ll have to go on Monday”
“Osh is in KYRGYZSTAN man! How are we meant to get across the border with no passport??”
She also tried to give us a lecture on how we should of read the travel warnings before we went there (she must of finally looked up where we actually were), to which we indignantly replied “Erm, we DID but the only warning there was is about Bishkek bazaar which is at the other end of the country!” (her whelk location unit was definitely malfunctioning by this point) and it’s not as if we were kidnapped to be someone’s bride (a tradition known as Ala Kachuu which is still practised in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan today), it was just a simple mugging and they happen EVERYWHERE you go and a) they were even gentlemen muggers and didn’t try to hit us at all even when Susan was on the ground kicking them in their faces they didn’t kick back or anything, in Sunderland you would of been kicked all ower b) at least the Police in Kyrgyzstan were actually trying to help us and not just telling us to fill a form in and adding you to the statistics like would happen if you got mugged in the UK and c) The Pickwick Papers. Fortunately Howie had also found details of the British Embassy in Bishkek (the Kyrgyz capital) so we reckoned we could just go and sort it out there.
Jill ended up having to sit in a little room giving a statement to the police, with the help of this poor young lass who had been dragged out of bed in the middle of the night as she could speak decent English – we’d thought she was a proper translator but she later told us that it wasn’t her job! In the meantime Susan had gone back out with one of the policemen in the car to investigate more wooded areas around the town where Jill’s bag could have been dumped if all they were after was the cash. They hadn’t explained where they were going when they’d asked her to accompany them (only indicated to look for it) and the well prepared Policeman only had his phone to use as a torch and Susan had nowt as she’d left her phone and Big Tasty (best purchase ever huge power bar with a torch on it) with Jill in the station in case she needed it. So of course nothing was found by the light of a tiny no-brand phone in the pitch black.
We then got bundled back into the police car and taken to some kind of Doctor’s office into a little room, where they wanted to take our blood and get us to sign something to say that we were drunk! Of course we refused as it was TOTALLY IRRELEVANT how drunk we were – we were the victims here!! Yes we WERE drunk, and had got considerably drunker after the event, knocking back a lot of our vodka in the police station to steady our nerves. The doctor was horrible – he was an elderly man and we deduced a devout Muslim who blatantly thought that it was disgusting that two women were out enjoying themselves at night time and we obviously deserved everything that we got and worse. After a good while arguing with them and refusing to sign anything or let them stick needles in us, with Susan at one point threatening to stick the needle somewhere the sun don’t shine in the Doctor instead, they finally gave up and let us go and the policeman took us back to the hotel where we went straight to bed and fell into a drunk, fitful and troubled sleep worried sick about what on earth we were going to do from here on!