Having spent one fleeting night in Osh (Bosh), following our crossing of the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border, the first place on the list for our brief foray into Kyrgyzstan was Arslanbob. Described by the guide book as one of the highlights of the whole Central Asian region, we had also heard from one of Jon’s friends, Hugh, that it was well worth a visit. This desire was only enhanced when we realised that we would be visiting in walnut harvesting season, which is rather a big deal when you consider that Aslanbob has the oldest and largest walnut forests in the world.
Despite best intentions, once again we arrived in failing light with nowhere to stay. Some gentle off-roading around the village trying to find the CBT (Community based tourism) office eventually paid off, and we walked in on a bit of a party! Having returned from an expedition of their own the CBT guys were mid celebration and insisted we join them in some welcoming shots of Vodka (Even the driver was expected to partake, well done Jon for stealthily swallowing Toms shot) Explaining that we were looking for a homestay, the CBT found us a host already in the room and happily we gave ‘Boris the bee-keeper’ a lift to his home, where we were invited to spend the night. (NB Boris was sadly not actually called Boris, his real name was, to our shame, unpronounceable and immediately forgotten, therefore we christened him Boris, which was close enough!).
After driving up the steep muddy track (more on that to come) we arrived at his beautiful home buried in the walnut forests to be welcomed by his wife Louisa who after rebuffing his amorous advances, set about making us a delicious meal, as well as insisting that Boris opened a bottle of excellent Cognac whilst we waited..! Despite some language barriers, we managed through the medium of mime to establish that they kept bees for a living, that Louisa was a language teacher and that Boris was a Soviet Afghan War veteran and less through the use of mime that Boris was likely to outdrink us all that evening.
When indeed ‘out drunk’ and heading for bed Boris delayed us to show us the beehives in the trees. We were delighted although confused when he explained that when the bees got cold they went into the barn. When awoken at 0500 by an obnoxious cockerel and looking into the trees we discovered that the beehives were in fact daring chickens – you have to love the amusing mistranslations of a good language barrier!
Emerging the following morning to torrential rain (the start of a theme for Kyrgyzstan) and excited for the horse trek we had arranged with our drunken friends the evening before, the first challenge of the day was to tackle the slippery death trap that had been the muddy track the evening before.
Tom conducted the decent admirably and thankfully he and the land rover remained in one piece, so over to him to pen the finer details…..
The Muddy Flume:
When just doing a three point turn in the drive (with 4WD engaged!) still ended in a skid and considerable wheel spin, we realised we may be facing a challenge. Eventually pointing down the hill, we had about 100 yards of muddy track to negotiate before the road, with one 90 degree corner on a steep slope causing us all to have slight palpitations in anticipation. Inching forward in low range, we immediately slid sideways off the track into Boris’ gate. Not a great start!! Fortunately, only minimal damage was done, and we continued on. Despite trying my hardest, I was unable to prevent the Land Rover from sliding on the mud just before the steep corner, and then proceeded to do exactly the wrong thing – BRAKE (and emit an involuntary high pitched scream!). We were now teetering at an angle, facing horizontally across the track, and ready to roll. With an exasperated shake of his head, Boris (still wearing brogues!), followed swiftly by his son-in-law and Jon, hung on the side of the roof rack to weigh us down in an effort to stop us rolling over whilst I regained my composure, grew some balls, and revved her successfully down the hill leaving a trail of bodies who had dismounted with varying levels of elegance in my wake.
Safe and on the road at last, we were late for our 0900 departure on horseback. No matter, it appeared that arranging a horse trek late at night with our none too sober facilitator was not the wisest of plans! The beasts and our somewhat enigmatic guide arrived for us at 1200. Happily this had given us the morning to get the Beaut into a garage to fix the results of a bump in Osh.
Precariously installed onto our ponies and informed of the words for stop and go (immediately forgotten by most) we were off for a trek to the waterfalls and amongst the walnut forests. Happily the rain had stopped ……well eased ……well it fluctuated from torrential, to showers, to brief pauses for the rest of the afternoon (mad dogs and Englishmen and all that).
The walnut forests made for beautiful scenery though the waterfall, lined with the unoccupied stalls and cafes that are clearly full of life in high season were a somewhat forlorn scene. The main event for our merry band was really the novelty of being on horseback, the first real time for Coby and Kat, although Tom dazzled us all with hitherto unsuspected talent, breaking into trots and canters that the rest of us could only watch as we tried to urge our own steeds to stop eating the grass and go in the direction we desired rather than their own meandering paths.
When we had all gotten a little more used to the controls (or lack thereof) and Jon had swopped his stubbornly slow mule with the wild grey of the guide, the afternoon was filled with laughter over the loud and putrid smells being made by various horses. Inevitably, competitive natures reared their heads, races were run and playful locals with sticks spurred our horses onto speeds that we weren’t altogether comfortable with.
None of us unsaddled and thoroughly pleased with the days events we returned to our friendly bee keeper for ‘Plov Thursday’ and as the boys were not offered the fat to drink, we each slept soundly in our single beds!