Monday 4th September (Jillie's birthday!)
Jillie not at all well last night. It is such a pity. By 10.00 a.m. seemed a little better.
Today we flew from Uzbekistan to Bishkek to begin our journey through
The plane was 2 hours later than planned and by the time we got there it was really time to eat and go to bed!! Not much of a birthday for Jill, but the rest of us enjoyed the birthday cake at the close of the evening meal, Jill being in bed feeling no better. In fact she and 2 others saw the hospital nurse that evening.
Tuesday 5th September
Jill really no better. Difficult as the whole day was road travel. We started with a visit to the main square to watch a low key, goose stepping change of the guard. Of more interest was the sound of unusual music close to a cluster of yurts, some being in the course of erection. It seemed to be a Mongolian exhibition of yurts, carpets, crafts and music. In fact we were told later that this was part of the independence celebrations, so there must be a lot that is similar between the 2 nations. This increasingly proved so as we travelled. People here seemed much poorer and the transport reverted to the soviet era small cars. Then the country changed to more rolling grassland.
On the way, we stopped for a while at a tower that pre-dated the Iranian conquest in the 11th century that brought with it Islam. The previous animism was destroyed. Nevertheless, some pre-9th century gravestones existed in some quantity near the tower. These took the form of human shapes or heads. They are in amazing condition for their age.
We continued up into the mountains, crossed over the pass and descended into a narrow valley shared with the railway and river. A rather ugly town was passed through before more open grassland and eventually our hotel which proved to be an ex-Soviet holiday resort set in woodland and comprising rather grim blocks of rooms. We should have been staying at another but it was purloined by Government officials for a meeting and our booking counted for nought. Our replacement hotel is also situated beside Lake Issul, the second largest mountain lake in the world (after Titicaca). It is at 5000 ft, is fed by 8 rivers but has no outlet.
The drab corridor of "Block Number 4" did little to raise our expectations but the room proved large and had a 3 piece suite. Apart from the furniture, things were rather basic and tired. However, the lunch (at 3.30) was quite acceptable - potato dumplings preceded by a white milky soup of cucumber and sweet corn. We had both decided to go vegetarian for the moment and this was the first food Jill had eaten in 3 days.
Wednesday 6th September
Left 2.30 a.m. but had to wait to be let on coach in dark - had been knocked up at 1.10 a.m. instead of 1.30.
We chose what turned out to be the wrong side of the coach as in fact we were travelling south and not east as we'd anticipated. So, having suffered full sun yesterday, we had the same again today!
The coach had no air conditioning and quickly proved unequal to the task. We had to proceed extremely slowly over the unmade roads - through steppe land - beautiful mountains often snow clad; past yurts each with their own pre-prepared heaps of dung pats for winter fuel. These they must take with them as they travel down to the villages in mid September. We stopped to visit one family and were given curd cakes - hard and sour - and a milk drink which we did not take.
Fabulous mountain scenery as we climbed to 12000+ ft. Some large areas of steppe on the Kyrgystan side, but steep sided narrow gorge on the Chinese side. We stopped for lunch high up in the mountains with good long views over the steppe as we headed for the Torugat Pass. The road was a dirt road most of the way.
We think that the coach suffered suspension damage part way through as from then on we travelled at no more than 20 mph - whilst the road was rough, it would normally have been possible to go faster. Occasionally we would find a little clutch of 2 or 3 lorries travelling the other way taking Chinese goods to Tashkent. One had overturned and apparently this is not uncommon.
For the first time in ages Adrian felt hungry and ate a good lunch.
The journey went on, and on, and on. We had hoped to reach the frontier by 11 but it was 30-45 minutes later before we did so. Then we found that this was just the first of 3. A few minutes of passport inspection and then on for another 70 km to the next frontier. Much more serious this time with exit customs forms, long delays and warnings by Angie that we needed to be quiet. The border post was (obviously) extremely remote. It had been built (once!) but nothing had been done since - everything was broken and filthy from the broken flight of steps into the building onwards.
We then changed coaches to the CITS coach - the driver and guide had bee waiting for over 6 hours for us! We went "like a bat out of hell" to reach the border. We were all pretty scared as we moved so fast on the unsurfaced road with some occasional skidding.