|On Tuesday Hamish, Kim and ourselves set off to the west bus station to catch a shared taxi through to Naryn. The previous day we had booked a 6 day trip through CBT - Community Based Tourism. Essentially it meant we would be staying with local families for the next week.
The shared taxis here are really pretty good value. They go when they have filled up with passengers and it cost us $11 each to drive through to Naryn - about 5 hours away.
Naryn itself is a fairly non-descript town with not many people about which is unusual given it supposedly has a population of 50,000. We had a quick laghmann lunch here before catching our transfer through to Tash Rabat for the night.
The drive through to Tash Rabat was pretty stunning really. We drove up through a valley with the snow capped peaks of the At-Bashy mountain range on one side and very dry sandy hills on the other. This is also the main route through to China over the Torugart Pass which we were originally supposed to be doing with the truck.
Tash Rabat is up a hidden valley in the mountain range and it is covered in green pastures and smooth rocks - beautiful. It is essentially a fortified caravanserai which supposedly dates from between the 10th and 15th Centuries and is partially sunk into the hillside. Marco Polo also supposedly stayed here on his travels. There are a few yurts set up in the valley next to the caravanserai - one of which was to be our home for the night.
As we got out of the car, our host Mama came and met us and showed us to our yurt for the evening. Yurts are basically round tents made with woollen felt and are traditional in this part of the world. They are basically set up on the grass and felt rugs with applique coloured panels in bright colours (called shyrdaks) cover the ground and make the floor. It is all very cosy - especially as our one had a pot-bellied stove in it!
After wandering around taking photos in the last of the sun and catching up with Doug and Amber who were already there, we were called in for dinner by Mama. She had cooked us up some fantastic fresh bread with plenty of bowls of homemade jam on the table, as well as fresh cream and butter. Kyrgyz families set up their yurts in the summer months when the grass appears beneath the snow to feed their animals. This meant that Mama was out every morning milking the cows and making fresh dairy produce (much to Heidi's disgust)! We also got huge bowls of soup and plov.
By this stage it was very cold and dark (well we are up in the mountains again), so the only thing to do was to go to bed. Mama had laid us out our beds in the yurt for the evening with plenty of thick blankets and mattresses (basically thick blankets). She also came in with the pet lamb (which follows her around everywhere) and lit our fire for us - very cosy!! I think we were all asleep by 9.30pm that night!
We woke rather early as the animals were making lots of noise so got up to watch the sun rise over the hills and caravanserai - very photogenic so of course we took loads of pictures. On the way back down the hill we had to cross a stream which Shaun managed to do in one huge jump but which I managed to fall into which Shaun thought was hilarious.
We also got to see lots of marmots on the hills in the area. These kind of look like fat red puppies and they live in holes on the hillside. The locals actually eat them in the autumn months when they are at their fatest - I reckon they would probably be quite tasty!
After another cream laden breakfast we set off to look inside the caravanserai which was a maze of covered rooms and hallways and even had a large mosque. However to us,it was the outside that was the most impressive.
We said our goodbyes to Mama and her family and made our way back to Naryn for a quick manti lunch in a local cafe before heading on further down the valley to Kurtka. This is where we were to stay in a local homestay.
Despite having just had lunch, when we arrived we were told to sit down and out came bowls of cream and jam and bread - as well as some fairly rancid looking butter and the ubiquitous chai tea. We did our best at eating as much as we could to appear polite before setting off for a walk through the village to burn off some calories.
On our way we saw a group of local men on the side of the road - basically sitting in a ditch. They were all drinking vodka and promptly invited us to join them. It took us five minutes to realise they were all completely plastered and having kissed both Kim and I several times and having picked us up for photos, we made a hasty departure - not before Shaun had drunk a lot of their vodka however!
We then continued walking to a local graveyard which had some huge mausoleums - very picturesque especially set against the mountain backdrop.
It was then back to the homestay for yet more plov, cream, bread and chai.....