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:
You now have enough information and experience to write a spy movie. What an ordeal!
I hope that Tashkent, Uzbekistan will be friendly. Do they have US embassies in these countries?
Eh, I would have gone with the strawberries. What’s wrong with a little food poisoning every now and then? (Can anyone say “bread pudding”?) 😉
I think you got lucky with the whole police bit…they very easily could have taken your money. They at least seem to be fairly honest cops, despite the shake down. I imagine there must be a fairly big drug trade in the area due to it’s proximity to Afghanistan, the opium capital of the world. Try not to look at it as a bad experience, since it ended in a very friendly manner. These things used to happen to us all the time in Poland. I can definitely understand that it was scary and violating, don’t think I’m trying to diminish that bit.
I’ll bet the little kitten from the mountains that you are carrying in your pocket enjoyed the meat pockets you had at the bazaar!
FYI – I’m sending you an email about a really significant archeological site in Turkey from the latest National Geographic. It is supposed to be an amazing example of very early, early religious architecture, far earlier and much more intricate than Stonehenge. Stay safe!