Sunday, June 1, 2008


Many apologies… long time no post. I didn’t expect to find myself adjusting so quickly to life in Kyrgyzstan, but I have, and I don’t feel touristy enough to write about things in Bishkek. But bug me about it enough and I will.

A brief description of what I’m doing currently:

I’m going on my 4th week of living in an apartment with another student (Chris) from the London School. I left my homestay after 5 weeks because I wasn’t getting much conversation practice out of it, wasn’t being fed very well, and didn’t ever really feel at home. The apartment is only a 10 minute walk from school (compared to 45 minutes before) and has a breath-taking view of the mountains (we’re on the 8th floor). Pictures soon.

I’m still studying at the London School, where I continue to be impressed by the quality of teaching. The three teachers I’ve had (Sveta, Kaira, and Olga) have really pushed me and, though I wouldn’t quite consider myself fluent yet, I can now speak Russian with much greater ease. My two hours of reading/listening Russian literature (Nabokov, Bunin, Aldanov…) with Kaira each day has helped me the most. I chose to only do 16 hours a week (4 hours/day, Monday – Thursday) for my most recent contract which began 3 weeks ago so that I could use the three day weekend to make more substantial trips out of the city…

…Such as going to Tajikistan. This is not a three day trip—it’s a 12 day one on the Pamir Highway, the second highest highway in the world (most of it is well over 4000 meters or 13,200 ft with the highest pass at 4,655 meters or 15,360 ft—that’s higher than any mountain in the lower 48). Chris, Rory (another London School student), and I decided only last Sunday to go to Tajikistan. The conversation pretty much went like this: “Hey, let’s go to Tajikistan next week!” “Sounds cool! Let’s do it!” Since that conversation, we’ve applied and received our Tajik Visas and GBAO Permits (necessary to travel the Pamir Highway), bought one-way tickets from Dushanbe to Bishkek, reserved land transportation, and contacted a community based tourism (CBT) agency in Tajikistan to arrange our home (yurt) stays.

Here’s the plan:

Tuesday (3 June) morning, we’ll leave bright and early from Bishkek, probably hiring a taxi from Osh Bazaar, for the 10-12 hour drive to Osh, the largest city in Southern Kyrgyzstan. Arrive in Osh in the evening, see if we can get a few supplies, exchange money, and spend the night in the Osh Guesthouse.

Wednesday (4 June) morning, we’ll again get up quite early for the ~7 hour drive from Osh to Karakul (a Tajik lake formed by a meteor impact) where we’ll stay in a house or yurt. Karakul is almost at an elevation of 4000 meters, which means we won’t be acclimatizing to the elevation gradually, as we should (oh well…).

Thursday (5 June) we’ll get up from our smelly yurt, see Karakul properly before getting back in the car for the 5+ hour drive to Murgab. Murgab is home to META (Murgab Ecotourism Association) which can arrange amazing things like staying in yurts. Hikes between yurts. Camel trekking through the mountains from one yurt to another. But seriously, we plan to stay in the Murgab area for at least 3 days doing all of the above.

Saturday/Sunday we’ll leave Murgab for another yurt/home stay in Bulunkul (probably).

Monday-ish we’ll head for the next yurt in Ishkashim, a small town that is interesting because it borders Afghanistan… On the way, we’ll be sure to stop and admire the Hindu Kush Mountains and maybe see a snow leopard or some Marco Polo sheep.

Tuesday-ish we’ll make it to Khorog. Not sure what we’re going to do there.

Wednesday-ish head for Dushanbe, most likely breaking up the 21 hour drive with a night somewhere in the middle.

Thursday-ish be in Dushanbe. Eat at the Georgian restaurant. See what else there is to do.

Friday-ish, go to Khojand in the north. Drop off Chris, who’ll continue his adventures by making a land-crossing into Uzbekistan.

Saturday-ish, Rory and I will return to Dushanbe. Eat at the other Georgian restaurant.

On Sunday we kind of have to be in Dushanbe to catch our flight back to Bishkek (but our tickets are refundable…).

As you’ve seen, our itinerary quickly becomes quite useless after Murgab, which is fine by us—as long as we’re looking out of a yurt at the peaks of the Pamir Mountains.


laura sue said...

Wow Georgian restaurants?! Let me know how they are. Give the camels a big kiss for me! Ha! Have fun and BE CAREFUL!

Anonymous said...

Hey Xiao Ma,
Some news from you at last and exciting news at that. You are already on your journey as I write this, so you'll see it when you get back. I'm wondering how you found the Georgian restaurants, but I'm sure you'll make good use of your Georgian when you visit them. If you see a snow leopard, you'll be doing much better than I did during my time in the Himalayas. In fact, you'll be doing better than a lot of people who set out specifically to find one, ready with high-powered scopes and all. But I bet you'll find marmots, pikas, and hoopoes and maybe foxes or even wolves.
I'm looking forward to your next post and hoping to see you this summer!

Austin Charron said...

I hope you don't read this too late, but you should plan on that trip between Dushanbe and Khojand taking way longer than you expect. I took a shared taxi along that route, and I thought it would take around 8 hours or so, but it took 24, including having to spend the night in the the shared taxi with four other guys while we were stuck on a traffic jam on the top of a mountain pass. The road is little more than a rocky dirt path barely wide enough for two cars. The views are great and it's a great adventure, but since you're heading to Khojand and back to Dushanbe you should realize that it'll probably take longer than you bargained for. If you end up needing a hotel in Dushanbe, I'd un-recommend the Hotel Vaksh. It's way over priced, especially considering the conditions of the rooms and the shitty beds. The Hotel Dushanbe (As it's listed in the Lonely Planet guide, but it has a new name) was much better. The dorm rooms upstairs are fine, and the shared bathroom wasn't too bad. I was lucky and didn't have to share a room with anybody. Anyways, just thought I'd share some knowledge based on my own experiences in Tajikistan. I hope your having a great time. I really wanted to do the Pamir highway, but didn't have enough time. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Xiao Ma,
Are you coming to see us this summer? We're all eager to see you. Whatever dates you can manage will be just fine.

Ruzana said...

Hi. I noticed you mentioned Fr. Theodore in your stories. I am originally from Georgia, but live in US now. I have met Fr. Theodore (American who became a monk in Georgia) in Georgia, but unfortunately lost his email address. One of my coworkers here in the US is thinking of becoming a monk and I wanted to share with him Fr. Theodore's email address. If possible could you please send me his email address? please email it to Thanks a lot.