So Long, Kyrgyzstan

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:

If you are ever in Bishkek, I know a guy who has the best used pitchforks.

These apricots looked pretty good, but I was a little more interested in the apples, which are native to Central Asia, and were brought to the world by the Silk Road. They didn't look so good, though, presumably because it's way too early for them.

What can't be found at the bazaar?

Just in case you happen upon a body of water on the way home, they sell pool toys pre-inflated here.

There is no shortage of carrots in Kyrgyzstan.

The bazaar is like one enormous bulk foods section.

I could smell these strawberries from about twenty feet away. I immediately began salivating, and I had to put in a lot of effort to stop myself from getting them. Berries are too hard to clean here because I have to go through an elaborate ritual to soak them and rinse them in sterilized water a couple of times. These looked like eating berries, and they probably would have turned to mush by the time I made it back to my hotel in the blazing sun.

There's always a bargain to be had, and deals are made with a handshake.

If a fruit can be found in this region, then they've found a way to dry it.

This was the fried food section of the bazaar.

For those who like it spicy, this is evidently the section of the bazaar to visit.

After that whole trip to the bazaar, this is the lunch with which I walked out of there. Bananas are the easiest fruit for me to eat here because they require no cleaning. These pockets are sort of a mixed bag, but everyone seems to eat them here. I never actually know what I'm going to get inside. This one had meat and onions.

2 thoughts on “So Long, Kyrgyzstan

  1. 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?

  2. 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!

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