Traveling from the edges of Kyrgyzstan to the western frontier of China is for those looking for beautiful scenery and unique experiences. Flying is just too easy. But, be aware. There is a mental and physical price to pay. Many foreign passport holders are still required to hire a private escort to take them through the area south of the border and then on to Kashgar, The journey usually requires a long wait at the top of a chilly mountain and a possibility that a truck full of uranium could be sitting next to your car the whole time. Start the journey from Naryn before dawn, bring some snacks, maybe a face mask and a whole lot of patience. Border guards usually have no knowledge about what’s going on and take a large break at lunch time. Remember, this border is primarily used for shipping goods back and forth between the two countries. No warm welcome here.
Of course, there are rewards to all the aches and pains. Endless views of barren pastures featuring packs of wandering wild horses, playful yaks, remains of ancient Caravanserai’s and occasional sightings of a local family packing up their yurt as the sun comes up. This is probably one of the best ways to experience this part of the ancient Silk Road. Now, it’s really all about the journey.
There’s just one word to describe the Celestial Mountain region in Kyrgyzstan – heavenly. The sweeping valleys are full of playful yaks, wild horses and yurts set up at the foot of the hills.
Traders, spiritual nomads and adventurers trekked along these ancient Silk Road passages for centuries. Today, the dirt roads get more traffic, but their appearance on the western side is still stunning. The heavenly vision sadly vanishes at the gates of hell or what is known as no man’s land on the Chinese side of the Torugart Pass. It’s a bit startling to find a rather large group of young Chinese border guards, some feral dogs and a group of decaying buildings. Don’t expect a huge welcome wagon here.
The American University of Central Asia is housed next to a phantom shadow of the Lenin. Its main building was once headquarters the Kyrgyz’s communist party and supreme council. Eager students here study journalism, law and politics as the larger than life Lenin statue looks on with disapproval.
Soviet history hasn’t been tossed away here in Bishkek, but stands proudly on display in the National Historical Museum in the city center. The mural on the top floor pretty much sums up the whole Soviet mantra – from its celebrated beginnings to its bitter Cold War end.
The signage is mostly in Russian here, but most displays at the Lenin Museum are easy to comprehend.