There are “five Stans” – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan –
And on this journey we are visiting two – Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
We will do almost all of our travel by road with the exception of the flight from Bishkek to Tashkent, and two rides on the Talgo fast train, between Tashkent and Samarkand and then Samarkand and Bukhara. This means we will see more of the country up close; and the tour provides lots of opportunities to meet and talk with local artists and crafts people as well as visit some of their homes and workplaces. We will mostly be in a minibus, as there are only 10 or 12 on each trip, but we will also have the experience of a sedan car ride (on a section of not-yet-completed highway) and a converted ex-Russian army lorry (for a mountain climb where the going apparently gets tough0. As someone who is not keen on heights I am planning lots of deep breathing exercises at such times.
Penelope is clear that this is “not a shopping tour”, but her plan is to show us as much she can of two countries that she loves very much, and to introduce us to the company of people who live and work in these magic faraway places.
I do have a shopping list –
- Felt slippers for me (for me)
- A silk and felt scarf (also for me)
- Silk embroidery threads for my sisters, and sister in law
- Perhaps a piece of porcelain – or two
- A wooden book rest called a Lauh – a marvel of the woodworkers art
- Something special and different for two boys, and their parents – I have no idea what these items will turn out to be
- Christmas presents
As Penelope suggests we bring our own bubble wrap I am being careful about what I plan to buy, and my main passion will be attempting to capture on film the images that will be all around us. There will be amazing mosques and city squares built hundreds of years ago, and a yurt we will help to build in a day. There will be the people in the streets and on the buses, for whom this is just the normal setting for their life and work. There will be amazing mountain passes, and beautiful art, remains of civilisations that are now simply archaeological sites, so old are they. There will be music and hard work – carpet making, felt making and woodwork. There will be meals with flavours I have not tasted before, and perhaps flowers I have not seen.
The lake called Issyk Kul is an endorheic lake in the northern Tian Shan mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume, and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea, and shapes our route through Kyrgyzstan. It seems we will be able to swim there, and a fascinating fact – for me – is that once I have visited I will have been to the two largest mountain lakes in the world. The other is Titicaca which I sailed on when I was in Peru a few years ago.