Wife kidnapping has a lot going for it
Leaving China for Kyrgyzstan via the Irkeshtam Pass is a spectacular journey. The poorly sealed bumpy road winds alongside a river up through fertile valleys where we observed the inhabitants starting their day. This meant witnessing many men attempting to supplement the irrigation system or reduce the dust problem. Some modestly turned away. This is a desert region that is productive only with the application of water near the villages. Everywhere else is barren with breathtaking views of the snowy mountains that back on to Everest. The pass rises to 4,500 meters (13,000’) above sea level. We were advised that this could cause altitude sickness. Near the top, Flypaper & Jeanette visited a culvert under the road to add their paltry contribution to the low precipitation. Shortly after, Flypaper mentioned she felt a bit light headed. I explained that it is a well known medical fact that sudden release of bladder pressure at high altitude results in this condition. With this comforting knowledge she had no further problems … and no-one else bothered to complain.
The exit from the big C was, as expected, a couple of hours witnessing a combination of acute paranoia and gross overstaffing by the arrogant gang that controls the country. Our passports were examined by over 30 people at 5 passport controls plus immigration and customs. The cars on the other hand were processed in a few minutes with virtually no examination. Some time was spent examining the photo backup on our laptops. I can’t imagine what they thought of my picture of the local butcher utilizing their road sign a short time earlier. Perhaps it alerted them to the possibility of yet another serving of rice soaked in mutton fat for the evening meal.
With the assistance of an interpreter / guide who was named (by hopeful parents) ‘Talent’ our entry to Kyrgyzstan was quick and easy. The only incident was the blatant theft of a ‘commodity’ from ‘Bilbo’ in full view of the occupants. Their self control was commendable. Perhaps they were influenced by the Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder.
We had heard numerous reports about our first night Kyrgyzstan accommodation at Sari Tash. A recent ‘Intrepid Travels’ program stayed here and the star of the show was seen clutching a bucket containing her head and in intestines for the following 24 hours. As it turned out, we stayed down the road with the opposition guest house. It was an ‘educational’ night in very primitive circumstances living with and as the locals. No luck with the food (which was plentiful, fresh and tasty) – we remained disgustingly chubby and as yet have not been introduced to the bucket we carry in anticipation of a enforced weight reduction program. Sari Tash is a primitive village devoid of street lights, 3,500m above sea level and without neighbours for a long, long way in any direction. The night was gloriously clear and during the long (horizontal) walk to the long (vertical) drop during the night, I witnessed the glorious northern night sky. Stars like a jeweler’s dream – large and sparkling multicoloured gems hanging in a velvet sky enveloped in utter silence. Very few people in the world have ever seen the northern sky as it used to look 7 million years ago before mankind created light pollution. Our hosts and their neighbours lead a hard and primitive existence caring for a small heard of sheep and goats, a couple of cows and a few chickens. Their entrée to the 21st century was a archaic TV made obvious by the Satellite dish next to the dried dung heap. They cared for the world’s most contented wolf whose occasional yawns were a danger to anything nearby.
Kyrgyzstan has a tough history. Virtually everyone who felt the need to ride out and do a bit of raping and pillaging has had their way with this central Asian country. In recent times they have been bullied and ravaged by their northern neighbour, Russia. Sadly it appears that the same thing is about to happen compliments of their eastern neighbour. Already China has taken every piece of scrap metal out of the country and is ripping coal and other minerals out via polluting processes here, there and everywhere. In return China is building large new highways over the Irkeshtam Pass and two other passes. Very good of them – these roads will enable even more economic rape.
On route to the second largest city, Osh, we saw thousands of donkeys valiantly productive in ways that plucked on our heartstrings. 100kg donkeys carrying 130kg fatties uphill at a brisk trot. I was regularly tempted to leap out and reverse the equation.
Kyrgyzstan is 97% mountainous. It has the largest number of goats per head of population in the world. (That fact is bound to come in handy). Many of the country people are semi nomadic. They farm the mountainous valleys during summer and scurry down to their mud brick huts in winter where the temperature only falls to around -20C.
The city of Osh is ancient, famous – and a bit disappointing since the Russians rebuilt it in their inimitable style. On arrival at our guest house we were informed that the city water had been turned off for 3 days - so that the streets could be washed. This begs comparison with our own local body management but I have no access to heart medication (and I’m on holiday). Given we hadn’t showered for a couple of days this was unwelcome news but not fatal. Of interest in Osh was the introduction to a little 4 door, 3 cylinder, 900cc, hatchback car – a Daewoo Tico. It’s surprisingly good. There’s a deluxe model that has hubcaps. The Tico is manufactured next door in Uzbekistan and sells for US$1,500. That’s equivalent to 10 donkeys. While I believe the donkeys would be a better long term investment - consider maintenance, reproduction and dung production - the Tico has created a whole new commercial enterprise. Everyone is in the Taxi business. Given everyone owns a Tico Taxi there is little trade for any of them so they either cruise around hopefully looking for a tourist or congregate in groups smoking and complaining about the lack of tourists – and water. US$1,500 is cheaper than a Chinese electric scooter. It’s impossible to live in a scooter.
We had long and meaningful discussions with ‘Talent’ who is frustrated by his ability to find a wife with similar ideals and interests. (I strongly advised him against such nonsense and suggested he consider their cooking and dung stacking skills). He is about to resort to the ancient and common ploy of kidnapping a girl at random in the hope that her parents will advise she accept the inevitable. This is true. A majority of marriages result from kidnapping and it seems to work well. Flypaper and Jeanette exhibited some revulsion to this system but when one considers it in depth, it has considerable merit. The greatest benefit that Talent confessed is that the ‘bride price’ for a kidnapped girl is considerably less than one chosen by romantic notions. This is pure capitalism. A dopey star-struck guy in love is easily manipulated to pay 6,000 SOM, 10 sheep, 1 cow and a horse for his chosen one. The kidnap price is well less than half that, which is a strong incentive to support this traditional system. Let’s face it; based on Western statistics, at the end of the line you’re buying a very long odds chance of eternal happiness. Taking the cheap option is at least one positive step in the long term view. (The things one learns when it’s too late). I freely gave Talent the benefit of my considerable experience in the marriage business together with my email address requesting he advise me the outcome of his efforts.
Given we travelled right across Kyrgyzstan we claim to have seen a cross-section of the country during our brief visit. I suspect this is a country you will hear more about in the future. Last year there was a brief uprising of citizens impatient for change and annoyed at the blatant rampant corruption that extends through the whole community but gets greedier higher up the tree. They burnt down 1,700 houses and lots of commercial buildings. The houses are being rebuilt by the Asian Development Bank. The Commercial stuff belongs to the corrupt contingent so will soon be reconstructed with inferior materials compliments of the peasants who always underpin every society. I believe this key central Asian country will also feature in arguments between neighbours and eventually become an important trading route between China and Europe – just as it was in the days of the ancient Silk Road. We’ll hereby coin the new name of the trade route – the Synthetic Route.
Exit from Kyrgyzstan was as easy as entry. The small team that we woke up at Customs and Immigration seemed delighted to practice their English and were unfazed by some of the new words we introduced to them. I wonder how the next travelers will respond to ‘Kiora and Kapai’.