Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Walnut forest of Arslanbob

After Peak Lenin I was completely exhausted. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep. After such a limited diet I thought I would crave fresh fruit, vegetables and bread but actually my body wanted protein; meat, fish, eggs and cheese. Luckily this isn’t a problem in Kyrgyzstan as kebabs are sold everywhere. We spent a couple of days in Osh, gorging on kebabs and staying with Matt and Maggie, an incredibly hospitable American couple with whom James had already spent the last 3 weeks whilst I was in the mountains.

James had itchy feet, and I want to visit Arslanbob, so despite still feeling unable to brave another long journey we decided move on. Arslanbob is a village in the largest walnut forest in the world spread over 60,000 hectares. It has several waterfalls nearby and most tourists in Kyrgyzstan visit at some point.

We travelled with two Dutch women from Osh and together headed straight to the trusted Community Based Tourism (CBT) office when we arrived for information. The friendly manager came to open it up after we telephoned him and helped us organise a homestay. He informed us that there were currently only another 7 foreign tourists in town. However, whilst visiting the closest waterfall that evening, it was apparent that Arslanbob was extremely popular with domestic tourists. Soon the waterfall became a side show and the foreign tourist were the main attraction. After posing for many photos we managed to escape and head back.

The homestay we were staying in was an Uzbek-style house which was home to an extended family. That evening we ate dinner on the large topgen (covered seating area) with fantastic views over the valley towards the forest. As an aperitif we were given yogurt balls. These are firm little white balls which seem to have been made from old rancid mare’s milk. There really isn’t much that I can’t force myself to eat but these are one. We discreetly throw them into the trees and imagined a pile of yogurt balls gathering at the bottom of the hill from foreigners unaccustomed to this taste.

Every morning and evening our hosts would ask us what time we would like the next meal. However, the meals were never served at the time we specified. Instead they just came when they came. This was fine by me as I still wanted to just sleep and sleep. After a late breakfast we explored the walnut forest. I enjoyed getting lost in the leafy forest. The walnuts would not be ready to pick until October but the trees offered cool shade from the blazing sun. Sometimes the forest opened out into a meadow or field with someone cutting hay but otherwise we were completely alone.

Neither of us wanted to leave, as we felt so relaxed, and I still hadn’t fully recovered, but we needed to continue north to Bishkek for a few days. This would enable James to finish his Winston Churchill Fellowship research in Kyrgyzstan. Eventually we managed to drag ourselves away to endure another long journey.

Dinner at Maggie and Matt's

Relaxing at our homestay in Arslanbob

James makes friends with the toy sellers

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