Why? How?

London Travel Blog

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I have to admit that until 2003 I had never heard of Kyrgyzstan. My acquaintance with that beautiful but neglected country came about by purest happenstance.

One day I was alone in the computer lab of the Institute of Historical Research in London, wandering around trying to find a terminal that showed some sign of being on at least nodding terms with the internet, when another student came in and told me that the main server was down. I thanked her for this depressing news and made a polite enquiry about her own work, after which we finished up chatting for about half an hour. In the end we became good friends: I discovered that her name was Irina and she was a Kyrgyz, although ethnically Russian; I became acquainted again with my old school atlas. All too soon she had to return to Kyrgyzstan, but we kept in touch by email; and last year (2005) she invited me to stay with her family in Bishkek, the capital (which was formerly known as Frunze, in case you were wondering). I was delighted to accept.

However, it was by no means certain that my trip would go ahead, because (as you may recall) there was a revolution there in the spring of 2005, when President Akaev was overthrown. There was a good deal of civil unrest over the whole country, particularly in Bishkek, where the Presidential Palace was overrun and shops looted and destroyed; consequently the Foreign Office advised against non-essential travel. There was also a very tense situation in neighboring Uzbekistan, where hundreds of Uzbeks had been shot by government forces and hundreds more fled across the border into Kyrgyzstan, thus increasing instability in the already unstable south-west of the country. Ethnic tensions are endemic to the region: Stalin deliberately drew the borders of these Central Asian republics so as to foment local unrest, thus precluding the possibility that a unified Islamic movement could pose a threat to Russia's southern borders. So confused is the situation that Kyrgyzstan actually has holes in it - enclaves that are legally part of the territory of other nations. Divide and rule!

However, the situation became calmer, the Foreign Office rescinded its advice, and we decided that my visit would go ahead as planned. I applied for my visa at the dinky little embassy near Baker Street, and was pleased when the helpful and charming consul, on perusing my form - on which I had given the Bishkek address - remarked that he knew Irina! When I expressed surprise at the coincidence, he just shrugged and said that Bishkek is not a very large city. Inexplicably I found this exchange very comforting: I think it was the feeling that if anything went terribly wrong in Kyrgyzstan, Irina at least had a friend in the diplomatic service who could help to get me out of trouble.

So I booked my flight with Aeroflot, an airline which in the Soviet era had an extremely bad press, but which has much improved since then. More to the point, it was a good deal cheaper than BA which, rather to my surprise, also had flights to Bishkek. And I bought my guide book, which is a superb read and is apparently the only one in English dedicated to Kyrgyzstan - otherwise you have to make do with a section of some larger guide to Central Asia. It's entitled 'Kyrgyz Republic', by Rowan Stewart, but amazon.co.uk have miscatalogued it with the title 'Kyrgyzstan Republic'; so as a punishment I'm giving a link to Stanford's of Long Acre: Kyrgyz Republic - Stewart.

At last the day of travel dawned with all my packing done; but I began to sense that having ibuprofen as my sole cure-all medication might prove to be unduly optimistic. Consequently I had a last-minute dash to Boots to stock up with all sorts of expensive goodies such as imodium, rehydration sachets, tropical-strength insect repellant, water purification tablets, allergy tablets, and antiseptic hand cleanser. Subsequent events were to prove this to be an exceedingly wise precaution.

Finally at 4 o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday 4th June 2005 I locked the front door behind me, trekked down to the bus-stop with my enormous backpack, and - repeating to myself over and over again the Russian for 'please' and 'thank you' - began the big adventure.
londonstudent says:
We aim to please :) But it's so good of you to say so!
Posted on: Sep 23, 2006
lisalush says:
Great blog! i really enjoyed it! Thanks xx
Posted on: Sep 22, 2006
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photo by: ulysses