Bishkek 49

So on the road again and ever onward we are off to Kyrgyzstan or to be correct The Kyrgyz Republic


This will be our last border crossing and we need a few hours to get there (and a few to get through it if recent history is to be repeated) with some interesting scenery as we travel through some quite barren areas.


The road to the border takes us through vast plains of nothing punctuated with a few stray horses dotted around. There is literally nothing going on here but given we are in the ninth largest country by size with a population which is 63rd at 16.4 million which means they have 6 sq km each which is more than enough for anyone and probably too much if you want to go next door and borrow some sugar.
The Border which is our last on this trip is only marginally different from all the others. We have as usual to decamp from the coach and drag our cases with us over some shoddy paving into a room with 4 border guard stations. The difference this time is there is no visa required as this means that the locals can go back and forth at will and they do it constantly mainly be pushing into the queue in front of the more polite tourists. This is fine for the first 10 or so but then I decide enough and place myself and my case in a blocking position and every time someone tried to bypass me they got a leg full of case. Pretty soon they stopped trying and move on to another line with a higher success rate. Once through the Kazakhstan side we walk over the usual no mans land bridge which must be the actual border and congregate in front of the Kyrgyzstan customs officers who appear to be very polite although their boss is less so. Our Passports are collected and taken off into a small room for what ever process the locals use. What ever they are doing they are constantly interrupted by more “none locals” come and deposit their passports. Eventually we get ours back and scramble through the last control point and our coach is waiting although it is in the wrong place and some loud many with a machinegun is insisting it moved before we get on. Now I have a rule the man waving the machinegun is always right so only another 400 meters and we are back on the bus.



We travel for 20 minutes or so and stop for lunch at a place we really should have driven past, The place was rather dirty and the food was poor and I can not describe the toilets. If I can find it on “Trip advisor” then they better watch out.




Onward we travel to Bishkek and on arrival find that for some reason most of it seems shut. We have a list of things to see and all of them are closed.


The town itself is well laid out in grid format so it must be a new place however it does look like it could do with a bit of TLC.


Not one of the fountains (and there are many) are working and by the look of them have not worked for some time either. Now to be fair we are in the poorest of the Stans and it is possible that the only reason there is anything here is the Russiand used this area for lots of things they did not want people to see or know about.

Given we can not visit anything we have a stroll around and we see some more buildings which are in a much better state and more in keeping with a capitol city.



This parking I though was funny.We got embroiled in a wedding which was going on close to one of the monuments and we got roped in as guests for the photo shoot.

and I could not resist these shots.


Almaty 48

The hotel we are staying at is full of boxers as Almaty is hosting the AIBA World Boxing Championships


Boxers aged 19 to 40 are united every two years to compete against the best in their division from around the world In a stunning final day of boxing, we had an incredible array of talent on display. With some nail biting final rounds, sudden reversals and shock finishes, today was THE day on the 2013 boxing calendar.

The host nation dominated the medal table with eight medals, which included four golds. They were closely followed by Cuba, who won two golds and took a total of five medals. Azerbaijan took third spot (two golds, three medals). Russia was the second European nation, while Italy and Ireland also had good tournaments. Algeria was the top African nation with a silver earned by Mohamed Flissi.


The hotel is providing breakfast for all these people in a rather grand room with a domed ceiling which has huge murals painted on it panels and it is really a joy to behold and it is also interesting to see the different nationalities and how they react and respond to the quite extensive buffet which has been laid out for them (and us)


The ambiance is somewhat destroyed by the 8 man PDRK team who are first in and are actually filling their pockets with lots of the food and I mean filling everything trousers, shirts and jackets, anything they can lay their hands on is going in, boiled eggs buns, yoghurts, cakes cheese sausages the list goes on they walk slowly to a table pockets bulging so much they can no longer put their hands in them. At first I though how uncouth but soon I realize that back in North Korea they are unlikely to have ever seen anything like this which is a little sad really given they are representing their country at boxing so they are probably better looked after than most of their people


Of course the devastation to the buffet table is profound and the next group to enter has to ask the staff to replenish items whilst the staff are wondering where the 60 boiled eggs they put out ten minutes ago have gone and how come the 8 people in the room have managed to consume the 40 yoghurts. The teams come in in dribs and drabs. Hungarians, Germans, Jamaicans, Faro isles, Poland, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile all file in and as we are about to leave Bosnia & Herzegovina, Belarus, Croatia turn up and one of the largest men I have ever seen who turns out to be Chinese. Not sure what weight he fights at but there stands a mountain of a man and who ever gets to face him has little chance if he can land at least one punch (he might have to stoop to do so)


I am loath to leave but I am only watching not eating as I thin the Walnuts in Apricots did for me last night and not much sleep was had anyway there is a tour waiting and there is always another adventure down the road. 

On the way out I try once again to perloin a tshirt from the people at the Boxing organization desk but to no avail.

Almaty 47

There and in an instant we have changes countries, we sort of flitted in and out of Tajikistan no sooner were we there than we left.

Mike and I did manage to go to a coffee shop and sit in the sunshine for 30 minutes with a little walk either side using different routes (Well Mike did have a map and a compass)


Anyway we are now in Almaty in Kazakhstan. A place quite familiar to me as I came here about 3 years ago for a few days, there are some earlier blogs of mine one about a Thai massage which still makes me smile.


Two minute history, given independence by the Russians when the Soviet Union dissolved, it is the ninth largest country in the world the historic capitol was Almaty where we are but the president moved it north to Astana nobody is exactly sure why as the climate around the new capitol can move from +40 in summer to -40 in winter (Celsius that is). The place is overflowing with oil and gas which is piped both East to China and West to Europe.


Almaty means “apples” and they are reported to have originated from here and it still remains the economical heart of the country.


We are staying in a hotel close to the Panfilov Park where there are a few sights we will check out. They have a cathedral which is made only of wood. A monument to the fallen hero’s of the “great Patriotic War” (WWII to us) plus a Museum of musical instruments’ which is never ever open.



There is also one of the finest museums I have ever been in however there are no brochures not photos allowed and no web site so you have to take my word for it however here are a couple of pictures of the toilets 


We are taken up to the Medeu Ice-rink which is rather large at 10,500 sq metre and is the Highest Ice rink in the world at 1,691 mt above sea level.

I am sure it is very impressive but it is rather lost on me (sorry if you are a speed skater and this is your El Dorado)


On the way back we see some people selling apples and the size of some is astounding they are huge and I am sure there would be one as big as my head somewhere in the back of the van.


Not sure we need any of these but it would be rude not to get at least one which will provide lunch for 4 or 55 of us.


We are taken up one slope by bus so that we can come down by cable car ?sounds strange process but when in Almaty etc etc.

At the top is a small petting zoo some old fashioned rides for kids a few souvenir shops and a couple of  bars / café’s.

As one would expect you gat a great view of the pollution from high up.


Dushanbe 46.1 (the escape)

Well what a palaver that was as we try and exit Tajikistan through their main airport in Dushanbe


We arrive and yes there are 22 of us and it is quite early in the morning so we are expected to create a little bit of fuss at the best of times.

Well this time it is almost farcical. As usual before you get into any of these airports you have your bags scanned and you have to be a little assertive to keep a place in what could laughingly be called a queue it is more of a horde or scrum. Anyway we eventually get everyone through and are beside an area roped off on the other side of which is our check-in desk which is not yet open (I said it was early) 


Our guide is attempting to get the guard to allow us to to line up at the desk rather than hang around creating a jam in the main doorway. I should have said it is not a big place I mean really quite small so the 22 of us plus luggage is creating a lot of tension anyway. The guard is not impressed with our guide until he quietly asks if we are “diplomats ?” our guide says nothing but just smiles and stares at the guard who then moves one of the ropes and lets all of us through and we duly line up at the check-in desk waiting for it to open.

Now as to the layout there are 6 desks 1,2,3,4,5,6 ok so far good we are at desk 3 which shows the flight to Almaty fine you might think however the guard is now trying to be helpful and suggests we line up at number 2 as well.

Ok not a problem so we are now split but it is ok.


After a while the desk clerks arrive and open up 3 and 4 so everyone lined up at 2 have to shuffle round to number 4 still with me so now we are at 3 & 4 our guide hands over all the details and passports so they can check our visas and generally stare at the pages. 

One of the clerks then announces that we are not booked on the flight and we need to leave. There is a lot of excited discussions with our guide who is adamant we are booked and confirmed although they still insist that we do not appear on their manifesto. It takes almost 15 minutes before they realize they are looking at the list for the afternoon flight not the morning one and low and behold there we all are on their list.


Ok so now can we check in, well not really they now decide that they do not want to use desk 3 and we have to move to desk 5 so everyone in the line shuffles round.

as the desks are technically open they are letting other people into the queues and there is a small woman with some huge cartons leaning into me every minute of two as if that will somehow speed up the process (I am the last in our group). The lady is continually clipping my heels until I put my case strategically in between us.


Now as the last one in the group to reach the desk I think they will have it all off pat and it should be a breeze but after checking my case they suddenly decide they want to weigh my knapsack as well I tell them it is my hand luggage and going on the plane with me but they insist and what do you know the combined weight puts me over the limit they then inform me I am overweight and I need to pay a fine. I am trying to explain that there are 21 others that they have just checked in all with knapsacks none of which were stopped or weighed and I am reticent to pay any excess. They in turn seem adamant I do so a bit of a Mexican standoff ensues. To break the deadlock I suggest that we should bring back all of the previous 21 people and they can all have their knapsacks weighed and they can all pay the excess so I call loudly to the guide to bring everyone back over.

I turn and stare at the girl at the desk who then hands me my boarding pass and tells me to have a nice flight.


We go through another scanner and into the main terminal hall which might hold a couple of hundred people and the next you know we are landing in Almatymand given what we have been through in the last couple of weeks the arrival process customs and luggage collection are very easy.


Dushanbe 46

Well today we are supposed to be seeing a giant reclining Buddha in the Museum of Antiquities but for some reason we do not, either that or I fell asleep.

Also the burial place of a Sarazm Princess and her burial attire (remind me to show you the Gold suit in Almaty) and the Soghdian murals from Piandjikent, 6th-8th Centuries.


At the time I was not really bothered as it was just another museum but now after reading so much about the history of the area I have to say I am a bit miffed.Maybe it’s a good enough reason to go back sometime.


Anyway as I said yesterday we are off to a market so lots of pictures the town we are in is called “Dushanbe” which in Tajik means “Monday” and the place grew out of a village which had a very popular Monday market.



Now those are big tubs of honey,



Grapes or bread or maybe a grape sandwich


Herbs by the large bunch and three girls modeling what could be bed sheets or something else colorful.


butchers which was a little disconcerting as everyone went and felt the stuff before buying so god knows what germs are around. The candy looks a little more inviting though.


Termez 45

Today we cross into “Tajikistan” which is new country so another one to tick off, The border is long and tedious especially as the customs people decide to stop after processing half of us and go for lunch. Doh!!!

We decide to just sit and eat our nuts and fruit (from the market the other day remember) we strike up a bried aquaintance with a young girl from South Korea who is touring on her own and using public transport to get around, she tells us she went to Afghanistan and Iran a month or so back, she picked up a visa at the border. Have to say she is a plucky soul and we wish her well although she has already surpassed anything I will ever get up to.


Once finished we are off to see another Fort and Madrassa complex. The Hissar Fortress and the Khona Madrassa. Now there are many fortress-related legends which are supported by local residents. On one of them runs that the fortress was built by Afrosiab for the purpose of protection from Rustam’s armies (remember the word “afrosiab” the original town which became Samarkand the other day). The fortress-citadel consists of three parts and is located on the natural hill and dates from the epoch of Timur and Timurids and was considered as the center of Eastern Bukhara, where the representative of Tsar dynasty (son or brother of Bukhara Ruler) was in reign.(Tsar now where have we heard that word before)


We are told that this particular Fortress was captured 23 times which make it a very bad fort, surely the purpose is to repel invaders.

If they got beaten 23 times I think maybe they need to improve the lock on the gates. 


Now we are off to Dushanbe capitol of Tajikistan and from what we see on the way in it is mostly a Russian style town.

We are shown some of their main sights however as this is not particularly rich with the gas / oil of the other “Stan’s” but I am sure it will come soon.  

They still have a few brand new buildings to show off even if you can not actually get close to them.



they do appear to have the worlds tallest flag pole but for some reason not the highest as there is one in Uzbekistan which though shorter is on higher ground.


And the pollution to go with it which is caused by their use of coal as a fuel as well as the cars which they drive without any regard for road rules.

Tomorrow we are off to yet another market but they are so colourful (colorful) that I don’t care they are a great place for photos. 

Termez 44

So the coach just stops and we all get off, now there is absolutely nothing here to see, Serge explains the place is a kilometer away but once we have crossed the railways tracks and the irrigation channel we will be fine.



yes the bridge planks were not secured and in places were missing but in for a penny as they say.


The green bit is Afghanistan (sort of) the river Oxus moves so the border changes sometimes,

Alexander The Great conquered this place in around 350 BC and left some of his staff here to rebuild and occupy the area.

An internet search brought this explanation. Alexandria is situated on the confluence of the mighty Amudar’ya (the ancient Oxus) and the Kokcha.

Across the river is a spectacular wall of steep rocks. The city became rich because it controlled the trade in lapis lazuli, but it was also situated on the Silk road.

One of the Bactrian kings, Eucratides I (c.170-c.145) honored the city by calling it after himself, Eucratidia.

It is about 2 km long and 600 m wide, and was excavated by French archaeologists and looks surprisingly like a Greek city, including temples, a palace, colonnaded courts, city wall, gymnasium (sport school), houses, Corinthian columns, free-standing statues, and a theater wth 5,000 seats. 

The city’s wealth attracted enemies, and it was sacked by Sacae nomads in c.135 BCE, and later by the Yuezhi nomads (who later founded the Kushan empire in the Punjab).

(The site was re-destroyed during the Taliban war so apart from some broken pottery and low walls you see very little)


A very interesting place and I might have said this previously but it may just be the oldest thing we see on this trip (but its not finished yet)


Shakhrisabz 42

Timur’s Summer Palace, the “White Palace” was planned as the most grandiose of all Timur’s constructions. It was started in 1380 by artisans deported by Timur from the recently conquered Khwarezm. Unfortunately, only traces of its gigantic 65 m gate-towers survive, with blue, white and gold mosaics. Above the entry of the Ak-Saray are big letters saying: “If you challenge our power -look at our buildings!”


Today, the towers are 38 m high. The size of the palace is really very impressive the main courtyard was about 120 m wide and 240 m lon (stretching right up to where the modern stature is now)

Calculations from the proportions of the surviving elements lead us to believe that the length of the main portal was 70 m and that the towers at the corners were more than 80 m high. The 22 m wide span of the arch of the main entrance was the largest in Central Asia. The mosaic and majolica work in the niche of the portal is particularly refined. The delicate foliage ornamentation also contains calligraphic inscriptions of verses from the Quran as well as a few secular inscriptions.


Destroyed by the ruler of Bukhara, Abdullah Khan. The legend tells that Abdullah Khan was riding to Shahrizabs and saw the palace at a distance. He sent a messenger to the city as he thought that he was already near of it. The messengers nearly died of exhaustion, but the palace was still far away. The khan got angry and ordered the palace to be destroyed. (fanciful but probably has a ring of truth in it, and they stopped pulling it down when Abdullah Khan died)


I have to say even though most of this is a ruin I think it is the most impressive thing I have seen on this whole trip. There was something about the size and what it would have been like when it was completed. It is also fascinating to thing that 600 years ago that they could create things this big and this well constructed. It just had something about the power and the opulence of a ruler who could command people to what ever he wanted without question.


It really is just a shell of its former self and Shakhrisabz would possibly have slipped back into a sleepy backwater if it was not for this particular building.

The town is small and not really that inviting but is it littered with ruins all of which are historically and architecturally significant. 

To finish off quite a day we visit  the Kok Gumbaz mausoleum complex called Dorus-Saodat (Seat of Power and Might), which contains the Tomb of Jehangir, Timur’s eldest and favorite son.

The adjacent mosque is said to house the tomb of a revered 8th century imam Amir Kulal.


and of course a few pictures of the locals.


We stayed in a “well dodgy” hotel that night






Shakhrisabz 41

So Timur / Tamerlane (some bad-ass)

Info gleaned from various web sources. 

Timur (8 April 1336 – 18 February 1405), Tamerlane in English (from Persian: Timūr-e Lang, “Timur the Lame”), was a 14th-century conqueror of West, South and Central Asia, and the founder of the Timurid dynasty (1370–1405) in Central Asia, and great-great-grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived as the Mughal Empire in India until 1857.

Timur is his Turkic name, which means ‘iron’. In his life time, he has conquered more than anyone else except for Alexander the Great.

Timur was in his lifetime a controversial figure. He sought to restore the Mongol Empire yet his heaviest blow was against the Islamized Tatar Golden Horde. He was more at home in an urban environment than on the steppe. He styled himself a ghazi (warrior) while conducting wars that severely affected some Muslim states, in particular the Sultanate of Delhi. A great patron of the arts while his campaigns also caused vast destruction.

His armies crossed Eurasia from Delhi to Moscow, from the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia to the Taurus Mountains in Anatolia. From 1370 till his death 1405, Temur built a powerful empire and became the last of great nomadic leaders. Those who saw Timur’s army described it as a huge conglomeration of different peoples – nomad and settled, Muslims and Christians, Turks, Tajiks, Arabs, Georgians and Indians.

Timur’s conquests were extraordinary not only for their extent and their success, but also for their ferocity and massacres. The war machine was composed of ‘tumen’, military units of a 10,000 in the conquered territories. Timur’s armies were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which were laid waste by his campaigns. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the worlds population (read that again that is 17,000,000 people killed by his armies).

Timur and his army were never at rest and neither age nor increasing infirmity could halt his growing ambitions. In 1391 Timur’s army fought and won in the great battle of Kanduzcha on June 18. Following his campaign in India, he acquired an elephant corps and took them back to Samarkand for building mosques and tombs. He led the attack and victory on the Ottoman army in the battle of Ankara on July 28 1402

Here is one example from Wikipedia of Timurs style.

Capture of Delhi

The battle took place on 17 December 1398. Sultan Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq and Mallu Iqbal’s army had war elephants armored with chain mail and poison on their tusks. With his Tatar forces afraid of the elephants, Timur ordered his men to dig a trench in front of their positions. Timur then loaded his camels with as much wood and hay as they could carry. When the war elephants charged, Timur set the hay on fire and prodded the camels with iron sticks, causing them to charge at the elephants howling in pain. He had understood that elephants were easily panicked and faced with the strange spectacle of camels flying straight at them with flames leaping from their backs, the elephants turned around and stampeded back toward their own lines. Timur capitalized on the subsequent disruption in Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq’s forces, securing an easy victory.

Delhi was sacked and left in ruins.
Before the battle for Delhi, Timur executed 100,000 captives.

The capture of the Delhi Sultanate was one of Timur’s greatest victories, arguably surpassing the likes of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan because of the harsh conditions of the journey and the achievement of taking down one of the richest cities at the time.

After Delhi fell to Timur’s army, uprisings by its citizens against the Turkic-Mongols began to occur, causing a bloody massacre within the city walls. After three days of citizens uprising within Delhi, it was said that the city reeked of decomposing bodies of its citizens with their heads being erected like structures and the bodies left as food for the birds.

Timur’s invasion and destruction of Delhi continued the chaos that was still consuming India and the city would not be able to recover from the great loss it suffered for almost a century.

He invaded Baghdad in June 1401. After the capture of the city, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him. (Many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur.)

The rulers of Europe were glad that the Ottoman Turk sultan Bayazid had been defeated, but they trembled at the idea that “Tamerlane” was at their doorstep. The rulers of Spain, France, and other powers sent congratulatory embassies to Timur, hoping to stave off an attack.

Timur had bigger goals, though. He decided in 1404 that he would conquer Ming China. (The ethnic-Han Ming Dynasty had overthrown his cousins, the Yuan, in 1368.)

The Timurid army set out in December, during an unusually cold winter. Men and horses died of exposure, and the 68-year-old Timur fell ill with a cold and died in February, 1405 at Otrar, in Kazakhstan really not that far from Samarkand which is his greatest lagacy.

Some Badass if you ask me (pardon my French)

Shakhrisabz 40

So now for a bit of fun, we are told our next stop is over the hills to the South about an hour away but our coach is not allowed to cross the mountain pass for safety reason so we need to use cars, ordinary cars so we pile into 8 or 9 of them and set off. It is reminiscent of the “Italian Job” or “Grant Theft Auto” a snake of cars all far too close to each other going hell for leather up a mountain pass, I wanted to turn my head around and see if the Police were really chasing us but though it better to stay focused on bracing myself for what ever might come.

Mike and I had a car to ourselves and a 6 foot 6 inch drive who had to move his seat forward to get us in so his knees we either side of the steering wheel which could not be comfortable of very safe but hey we had other thinks to keep us amused like trying to calculate how many inched we were from the car in front.


 That is covering the bases a radar detector and religious icons


anyway the pass turns out to be no worse that ones we have been passing over for the last week or two.


Snack on the way down anyone.


Some dried yoghourt balls which actually taste pretty much like sour chalk and one tries not to think of exactly how they are made. 



Now as we descend it is probably time for me to explain why we are going to this place,,,, well it is the birthplace of the guy Tamerlane who has been mentioned often.

So tomorrow is a history lesson.