My stay in Kyrgyzstan has been short-lived, and today was my last day. I took a long walk out to the Osh Bazaar on the western side of town. I seemed to be having a great day until things went a little sour.
I had was having a good time walking around and snapping photos, when I was suddenly surrounded by three men in plain clothes who claimed to be police. One of them showed me his badge, and demanded to see my passport. My guidebook had mentioned that people have had some difficulties with shady police at this market, and said that I should hand them a photocopy of the passport, and not let them search me. Neither of these two tactics worked, as they were very persistent, and insisted that I follow them into a back room for a search of my bag. They got hold of my passport, and there was nothing that I could do but follow them.
Two of the police officers led me into the basement of one of the market buildings, and one of them, who spoke a little bit of English, proceeded to take everything out of the bag that I was carrying, feel it in his hands, and then sniff it. Meanwhile, the other guy who had followed us down there got busy patting me down, and inspecting my arms to see if I had any needle marks. I had a scratch on my upper right bicep from putting on my backpack, which he found suspicious. They then demanded to see the narcotics that they claimed I was carrying. I told them that I didn’t have any, and then they started asking about counterfeit money. I figured this was their way of asking for bribes. They then went through every note of currency that I had in my money pouch, and I’m not sure exactly what they were hoping to find, since they weren’t making a very thorough search of watermarks or other telltale identifiers. When, they had finished looking through everything, they got friendly, and started shaking my hand, telling me that everything was OK, and that I was clean. After handing me back all of my stuff, they each gave me another hearty handshake, and sent me on my way.
In all, the incident only lasted about ten minutes, and I don’t know if the police really were looking for bribes, or just checking out foreigners. Needless to say, though, the whole episode left me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. I’m glad that nothing came of it, but afterwards, I was thinking that there was the potential for everything to go very wrong. I had just been thinking about what a great experience I had enjoyed in this country, and how hospitable the people had been, but I have mixed feelings about the place now. Of course, the countryside is a completely different place than the city, and I would not have had any kind difficulties like this in Kochkor (or any other village, for that matter), but I think that I will definitely avoid the Osh Bazaar if I ever come back to this country.
I feel conflicted about leaving this place because my trip to the mountains was definitely the highlight of my journey so far, and I would have loved to spend a couple of weeks exploring the high pastures. It’s time to start the next chapter, though, and I will arrive in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in the morning. I’m planning on following a similar, but extended schedule there. I’ll arrive in Tashkent tomorrow, spend a night there, and then spend over a week exploring Samarqand, and Bukharra before heading back to Tashkent to catch a flight to Istanbul.
Here are a few pictures from today: