It is a beautiful Spring day here in Almaty, and I decided to take a break from reading through vast piles of reports on the educational system and take a walk. Normally, I explore different parts of the city or go to one of the many parks around my house. Today I decided to do something a little different and took the bus to the base of Kok Tobe (literally, Green Hill), which is where the television tower is located. It is about a 20 minute walk up a rather steep slope to reach the top, and I spent about an hour walking around and taking pictures of the city. It is amazing to see the mountains rising above Almaty while a layer of smog hovers over the valley! As I was wandering around (clearly looking like a foreigner in an outfit thrown together solely for the purpose of walking--since it was early and no one was likely to be around on Kok Tobe), one of the security guards insisted on taking my picture with some of the more popular statues in the area--the rather effeminate looking Beatles.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
In Central Asia, there is no such thing as too much of anything. Especially when it comes to color. At night, major monuments usually are illuminated by differently colored lights--it is definitely something to see. But I have yet to see anything that can top the lights on the Arch of Neutrality!
After leaving Osh, we traveled up to Lake Issyk-Kul in the north of Kyrgyzstan. These pictures are of the regional capital, Karakol, and of the area surrounding some hot springs high in the mountains. We hiked up to the springs and spent a wonderful day relaxing and enjoying the snow that unexpectedly fell.
Here are a few pictures from Southern Kyrgyzstan. The ones from Osh were taken on Navruz, the Islamic New Year, while the remainder are from our trip to Kara-Alma (pronounced Karalma). These include a game of buzkashi, where men on horseback chase after a goat carcass, as well as a view of where we stayed. Our sink is clearly visible in one of the pictures. Needless to say, it was a little bit cold!
These are some scenes from the bazaar in Termiz, right on the Afghan border. There are significant numbers of German Luftwaffe in the town, as it is a staging post for operations in Afghanistan. The town itself wasn't particularly great--in fact, it was probably the worst place we saw on the entire trip. But we got to see Afghanistan! The picture I was able to take of the border isn't that great, since it was taken from inside a moving car. But since we technically weren't supposed to take any of the border, it was the best I could do!
The last picture is of the water in our hotel. Tea, anyone??? There is a reason I stick to bottled water in these parts of the world!
Here are a few of the more interesting (or unusual) things I was able to see and do in Uzbekistan. In Tashkent, we stumbled across Shrek Foods. The interior was all decorated with different animated characters, so there was at least something interesting to look at while (not) enjoying some pretty bad food. The picture that looks like it could be a scene from Macbeth is making sumalak in Ferghana--sumalak is a traditional food made during the Islamic New Year celebrations in the region, and is a paste made of newly sprouted wheat. The final picture was taken at Independence Square in Taskhent, and shows a globe with Uzbekistan at the center of the world. Supposedly it is it up in neon lights during holidays and other celebrations.
These are from Tolkochka Bazaar in Ashgabat. By far it was the most fascinating bazaar I have seen, and it was also the first opportunity I have had to see an animal bazaar. When was the last time you saw a camel pushed into the back of a truck and driven away??? People also just loaded up the trunks of their cars with goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and just about anything else you can imagine. The sheep that we saw were all Marco Polo sheep--a variety described by Marco Polo on his travels through the region, and which are known for their very large hindquarters.
These pictures show some scenes around the animal bazaar (how many goats do you think you can fit in your Lada? The count in the picture is 4 kids and 2 adult goats). There is another shot of the food bazaar. Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures in the main bazaar where they have all of the carpets. Probably because my hands were full with the carpets I bought!
A note on the camels--they are all dromedaries (one humped), which was rather surprising. The area was once part of a region known as Bactria, and bactrian camels have 2 humps (we rode bactrians in China). Today, most of the camels you can see in Turkmenistan are dromedaries, while the much hardier bactrian camels can be found in much colder climates to which the dromedaries are poorly adapted.
These are from the ancient cities of Merv--where Alexander the Great once passed through--and the modern city of Mary (pronounced Mar-i). The series of arches say "Halk, Watan, Turkmenbashi", or "People, Nation, Father of the Turkmen People". These signs were ubiquitious throughout Turkmenistan prior to the death of President Niyazov (or Turkmenbashi). We only saw a few of them while we were there, but at least there were these arches right outside of our hotel!
Here are a few pictures from Ashgabat. They include the Arch of Neutrality, the Earthquake Memorial (the city was destroyed by an earthquake in October 1948, killing over 110,000 people including the mother and 2 brothers of the late president), and the largest mosque in Central Asia (the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque)
Some images of Bukhara--at the Ark (the old citadel of the city, dating to the 5th century, which was later used as a residence by the Emirs of Bukhara), the throne of the last Emir of Bukhara (who was deposed in the early 20th century), and a view of the ancient city. These pictures don't even begin to show all of the many, many madrassas throughout the city. Bukhara is an absolutely beautiful place, and the people we met were incredibly friendly. Definitely someplace I want to return to!
Pictures from Samarkand--the Registran, which consists of 3 massive madrassas, the inner courtyard of the Ulegbek Madrassa at the Registran (the building on the left in the picture), and in front of a statue of Ulegbek, near his observatory.
Ulegbek was the grandson of Tamurlane, and was more interested in the arts and sciences than he was in ruling. He was eventually assassinated (beheaded). His Sher Dor Madrassa in Samarkand is famous for depicting a human face--which is very unusual for Islamic art.
Here are a few of the different ways we have traveled in Central Asia--rickshaw in China, horseback in Kyrgyzstan, and camel riding in the Taklamakan Desert (also in China).