A long weekend and rare break from Kazakh lessons and archive work for Women’s Day turns into a weekend getaway to a deserted resort town in Kyrgyzstan.
International Women’s Day, marked worldwide, is particularly marked in the former Soviet Union. Although it takes on forms more akin to Valentine’s Day than a somber recognition of just how far women’s progress lags in most of these countries, it goes without saying that women at least merit a day off. For everyone. And if you’re working in the archives, maybe even two. Women’s Day fell on a Sunday this past year, so the holiday was marked on Monday, but the archive closed by mid-day Friday, in order to properly celebrate their female employees, a celebration which seemed to involve loud music, flowers, and quite possibly champagne. Obviously not invited, I hopped a bus home, packed lightly. By early evening, Maki and I found ourselves in Bishkek, in time to catch up with a friend of his and grab a nice dinner at a local restaurant. The next morning, we strolled around the city a little.
We leisurely found ourselves a cup of coffee (mine came with a flower, because Women’s Day), breakfast, and finally, a car to Cholpon Ata, a small town on the shores of Issyk Kul.
We picked Cholpon Ata largely by chance. The town is allegedly a hopping scene, full of mostly Kazakh tourists, but the town was deserted in winter, as I had discovered during my first trip to Central Asia in 2008. And of course, I can dig up pictures from those days. Oh hey, Matt! Oh hey, 21-year-old Anna. We had much nicer weather that time… But I digress.
Although I didn’t have a particular need to go back there, it was easy to get there, and Maki’s friend had a brother who would be willing to host us. By mid-afternoon, we found Maksat and settled in for an evening of simple home-cooked food and Soviet cinema in his living room.
We called it an early night, bundled up in our warmest sleeping-appropriate clothing, and cuddled close in his spare room, heated only by a space heater against a cold, cold evening. The next morning, we set off to enjoy the scenery. First, we headed down to the shores of the lake, which were not nearly so convenient to the town as I remembered.
We saw countless more sheep than people, though we did stumble upon a lady finishing up a yoga routine, who wished me a happy holiday. Otherwise, we were mostly to ourselves. It took us several tries to find a place open for lunch (most hotels and restaurants close for the winter), but the place we ultimately settled on surprised us with excellent fried fish and other food. Then we set off for the town’s most noteworthy attraction, a series of petroglyphs that date from 800 BC to 1200 AD.
Like most of the town, the petroglyph site was entirely deserted, other than another group of young Russian outdoorsy tourists — no one to collect the alleged admission price, no one to make sure we treated the monuments with the proper respect. Just a lone herder, who asked for a little money for cigarettes after making small talk for a while as he herded his sheep.
After we had seen our fill of petroglyphs, we meandered back towards the town, just taking in how utterly abandoned it felt.
We headed back towards Maksat’s place, where we serendipitously discovered the big fancy house next door seemed to have a Wi-Fi network that could be reached if you stood just at the edge of his house. Though we were relishing feeling a little separated from civilization for a few days, we were not above putting up a few Instagram posts.
Since we were dreading possibly another long evening of Soviet films (we had watched three the night before), and since dinner wasn’t yet ready and we were kind of being ushered towards the TV, we decided to take another round through the neighborhood.
We even found Lenin, which, I suppose, is hardly an accomplishment. He was pretty diminutive…
But soon enough, we figured dinner would be ready, so we settled in for another cold night, warmed by healthy portions of plov, copious amounts of tea, and our lone space heater.
And the next morning, sadly, the first pretty day of the bunch, we headed back to Bishkek, where we took a quick stroll downtown to pay our respects to Lenin (pictured above), and caught a car back to Almaty, just in time to have dinner with a friend who was in town. A lovely, quiet weekend away.