Weekly Photo Challenge – Solitary

Sometimes a way of living is very solitary. These photos were taken at the mountain plateau of Son Kul in Kyrgyzstan. Families spend the summer months living in yurts and grazing their livestock. There is no electricity, no running water, and from what I observed the only way to get to their home village would be on horseback through the pass and down the mountain. They move here in a hired truck.

To view more posts on the subject of solitary visit http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/weekly-photo-challenge-solitary/

Travel Theme: Red – Decorative Arts in Kyrgyzstan

For this week’s travel theme of red, I chose to focus on the decorative arts in Kyrgyzstan. A lot of their creative work is done through weaving and patch work quilts using wool. We visited a family living in the suburbs of Bishkek and Shereen shared the work that she and her mother had finished.

The inside of yurts are also decorated with woven strips and hangings – with the main color also being red.

This was the yurt my daughter and I slept in when visiting Song Kul.

To see more posts on the travel theme of red, visit http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/09/07/red/

Biskek: The People


I spent a lot of time walking around Bishkek, which has lots of green space and parks. The Kyrgyz love the Russians because they provided the infrastructure to make life much more enjoyable. This is an arid country with lots of water so irrigation ditches were built throughout the central part of the city that allows water to flow on schedule to irrigate the trees that the citizens value highly. The walk from my daughter’s apartment to the American University of Central Asia was along one of these tree-lined streets.

Where we saw trees, they had been painted with a white stripe. We don’t know why and would love to know if anyone has an explanation.

The population of Bishkek is relatively young so you see a lot of young people in the parks in the evening. There is also a small amusement park that is very popular.

It used to be that young people could not take a potential mate home to meet the family until they were engaged. Consequently courting needed to take place in the parks. I understand that the social rule for taking lovers home is changing but obviously the park is still a place for passion.

And a place to hang out and be seen.

The roses were blooming when I was there and they (the roses) demanded that I take their picture. I didn’t want to offend.



My last post of Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek will be on family life.


Glimpse of Life in Bishkek – Shopping

I spent a wonderful 10 days in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. My daughter had an apartment on a road called Jibek Jalu, which translates into Silk Road. This would have been one of many silk roads going between east & west and every morning my daughter would ask if I heard the camels going by in the night. I missed the camels but I did have the joy of seeing the above view every morning and evening outside her southern windows.

Because my daughter was living in Biskek and has always wanted to immerse herself in the culture of the countries she has lived in, she doesn’t live in expat communities. This allowed me to meet her Kyrgyz friends, be invited to their homes, and experience her neighborhood. I’ll be sharing bits and pieces of my experiences in future posts – today is about shopping.

This is the market that was a block from her apartment where we bought our fresh fruits and vegetables brought in from the farms. This is an area that doesn’t see tourists and one day I ventured there alone to get some tomatoes for our supper. I smiled and raised up three fingers as I pointed to the beautiful red spheres. The woman looked at me really funny and started to put one in a bag. She raised up three fingers with a questioning look on her face. I nodded – and she started loading tomatoes into the bag. I registered a look of shock and quickly pointed to three tomatoes with three fingers in the air. She thought I wanted 3 kilos. We both broke into laughter and I could feel her wall of uncertainty about this “stranger” go down.

By far the best purchase was the fresh strawberries. They are small, about the size of a large thumb nail, bright red, and with such sweet, intense flavor that I am letting out a moan of pleasure as I write. They are so delicate that I have to very carefully carry my plastic bag home, not letting it bump against any other purchases. They need to be eaten immediately 🙂 saving just enough for supper, because they disintegrate into juice within 24 hours.

At a kiosk next to the market we buy our fresh yogurt that comes in a recycled Coke bottle and at the kiosk next to that I pick out a loaf of bread. That afternoon we cook a vegetable soup to go with my purchases of the day.

The appliance next to the stove is her washing machine. We hung our clothes out on the line outside her 4th story window in early morning or late afternoon to avoid the high altitude sun. They dried fast because of the arid climate – and I only lost one clothes pin to the bushes below.

A couple of times we walked several blocks to the large supermarket that serves the foreigners who work at the many NGOs that operate out of Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan has a relatively stable government so there are large numbers of humanitarian agencies centered there that serve the less stable countries of Central Asia. Just like shopping in the US except I can’t read labels – made even more difficult by the different alphabet. Makes me appreciate the hardship of being illiterate.

On Saturday we took public transportation to the Osh Bazaar. Wow what a feast for the senses.

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rows of bins of spices, nuts, multiple types of raisins, different types of flours & grains, spices, beans, dried fruit – all measured and bagged for us. Stoves, irons, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines (all black reconditioned Singers), stalls with toiletries, household items, fabric, baby clothes, hats, clothes of all descriptions.

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several times we walked to the shopping mall where electronics of all types are sold and I was able to buy felt souvenirs. My daughter also showed me a couple of shops that sold hand-crafted textiles, paintings, and pottery by Kyrgyz artists. Items I purchased are displayed in my home and bring back memories of my introduction to their culture. I smile when I look at them.

Issyk-Kul lake

Thus far I have shared my experience in Kyrgyzstan of spending a couple of days at Son Kul where I slept in a yurt and learned how to milk a mare. We also traveled around Issyk-Kul lake. It is believed that the Chinese traveler Jan Chan Tzan explored this lake in 128 BC as part of his 6-year travels. The lake is a tourist area in the northeast corner of Kyrgyzstan, close to Kazakhstan and China.


English: from cia wfb

English: from cia wfb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now a little information for those of you who like numbers. It is 668 meters deep at the deepest point making it the 5th deepest lake in the world. It is the world’s second largest mountain lake at 1606m above see level.

Issyk Kul is Kyrgyz for “warm lake” but it isn’t! We sat on the south side of the lake and put our feet in the water – for a little while. The only thing that made it tolerable was the very hot sun. The real reason why it is called warm lake is that it doesn’t freeze in the winter. It is probably due to the fact that it is at the bottom of a drainage hollow and has no outlet so the only way water is lost is through evaporation. This gives it a slightly salty composition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASharon and I were able to hire a driver with a van and a guide for 5 days with accommodations in homes that provided supper, B&B and a picnic lunch each day for a total of 777 USD – what a deal. This is our tour guide, Azamat, who is Kyrgyz and is decedent from a khan. And he likes Kumis!

Here are some of my favorite pictures and stories from our trek around Issyk Kul.



In the town of Karakol our driver let the three of us off at the mosque and then we walked through the town to the Orthodox Church. We were able to go inside the Orthodox Church to see the paintings and to purchase icons.



My picture of the inside of the church isn’t real good but I always feel like I’m violating the sanctity of places of worship by taking pictures of the interiors.

The walk to the Orthodox church was uphill and about half way up we came upon the town market. Sharon pointed out that the woman sitting on the steps was a beggar. I was intrigued so, being tired, I sat on the step a ways from her and we smiled at each other.

Aug08 00036After a couple of minutes I moved closer and because she looked Russian, Sharon asked her in Russian if we could take her picture. She seemed pleased to oblige.

Her family is local and we learned that she has grand children and a new great grandchild. She was very proud of them – they were all well established but there isn’t a pension in Kyrgyzstan so she was begging to bring in a little more money. Azamat was somewhat bewildered as to why I would speak with her and concerned – or just curious so he sat behind where he could hear our conversation.

I thanked her and paid her for the privilege of taking her picture and sitting by her on the market step.

On the edge of Karakol was the town cemetery with the beautiful backdrop of mountains that were visible from everywhere.


The landscape changed frequently as we rode along the southern side of the lake.




Our driver took us to an area along the lake that wasn’t developed and to get there we drove along the floor of what they described as motley clay mountains. This was an extremely rough ride over boulders and through ditches with high canyon walls rising on either side. Even with seat belts on we were thrown around the back seat. I thought my all my insides were going to be shaken loose and my spine broken apart. He went through places that I didn’t think possible – and he was loving it.

But we were rewarded with a time to look for beautiful stones along the beach, sit and cool our feet in the water, and a picnic lunch – in the usual tail-gate style.


This is the market square in the village of Kochkor.


On this square was a shop where they made felt and quilted handicrafts and had a store where their crafts could be bought.

I bought some wonderful felt craft objects and a pillow cover made of antique embroidery.

After a supper of soup and bread at our B&B we went for a walk in the neighborhood. These young boys were more than eager to pose for us.



The next morning as we were leaving for our trip to Son Kul, we asked if the owner of the B&B would pose with us for a picture. She said yes but asked us to wait for a moment. When she reappeared she had on her traditional attire

This was a Kyrgyz woman of prestige and social standing which she was very proud of. Her deceased husband had been a doctor and a director of a hospital so he would have been trained in Russia. She had large portraits on the walls which is fairly uncommon in Kyrgyzstan and enjoyed using her nice table service when she served us our meals.

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