I finally managed to go on holiday, like a real legit holiday type thing and the destination that beckoned was the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. This was my first official holiday in twenty years (the last time being in Ibiza during which time the Twin Towers came crashing down in 2001). Yes, I’ve lived abroad for 14 years now, and yes I’ve been quite busy these last two decades (and no, the ludicrous journey for the 48 hours in Berlin, or trips back to the UK simply don’t count).
Why Kyrgyzstan I hear you holla. Well, it’s open. It’s easy to reach from Dubai (a 4-hour flight). I’ve never been there. It’s cheap (with beers costing around 8 AED / £1.50 / $2). I know the basics in Russian. And, why the fuck not?
Landing around 2pm local time, the air struck me as incredibly clean (especially coming from somewhere as polluted and dusty as Dubai) and the city is surrounded by rugged snow-capped mountains of every shade of green and brown imaginable. Many buildings are old soviet-style council housing (a familiar sight in China too) that probably should have been ripped down after the fall of the USSR. It also has a haphazardness that reminds me of the Middle Kingdom too, entrepreneurship here is also more possible than some countries and, with it, a mish-mash of businesses haggle for attention with dated techniques of advertising.
Dumping my bags at the hotel and after a quick shower, I jump in a car (of a local taxi driver who befriended me) and after a brief 45-minute drive we arrive at the 12 Fireplaces Rest Complex (located in the picturesque Alamudun gorge), at an altitude of more than 1600m above sea level. Nudging away some locals from the best table in the house, my ‘host’ Dastan, insists we take this table. The roaring sounds of the rushing water is a constant reminder of the power of nature – I wouldn’t fancy the strongest of swimmers’ chances in those rapids.
My first beer in the country is a fine one… shortly afterwards the first local dish arrived: a delicious chicken and vegetable number with a very similar sauce to my all-time-favourite Chinese cuisine – a dark honey-scented sauce with peanuts (reminiscent of the legendary gong bao ji ding).
The highlights arrive and it's another local speciality called Gulchatay (a lamb and carrots/pepper dish), with Chuchuk (a suspicious-looking sausage – I later learn is actually horsemeat). Despite the unattractive nature of it, it did taste quite good to be fair (although I’m glad I didn’t realize what I was eating at the time). This was followed up with some incredible kebab meat too.
As we ate, white and freckled butterflies and bright green grasshoppers flirt around us. It’s all very tranquil and I get the immediate impression that meals here can last for hours and ordering too much food to finish (as it is in China) is another common trait of local culture.
Back in Bishkek, that evening I explored a few of the cities craft beer bars. Save the Ales was first on the list. It’s a tucked-away gem – hidden off a main city centre street with 6 draught taps (I think), I took an American Pale Ale and grabbed myself a spot in the garden area (sadly not so much greenery out here though). After a couple of beers (ales actually) and some samosas I headed to the legendary No Name Bar. Just 5 minutes away from Save the Ales I found it fairly rammed – even on a Monday evening (albeit in the EID holiday). Also, they have a few craft beers (canned) so I sampled a Puzzle IPA (single-hop citrus) at 6% and plonked myself at the bar reading a book.
Having only slept a few hours since leaving Dubai the night before I called it a day and headed back to the ranch.
So far, I think I like this place a lot.