A Video of a Silk Road journey: The tale of the Three-Must-Have-A-Beers

Matty has made a video of our trip so far… It’s been on his website for a little while now but I wanted to share it with those of you who don’t follow him too. So, without further ado, in the words of Matty himself…

Here it is. The ups and downs of the last three months have finally been cobbled together into 3.5 minutes of celluloid gold.

It’s been gritty.
It’s been emotional.
But it has, quite simply, been the time of our lives.

Trekking from Karakol to Ala-Kol, Kyrgyzstan

I want to see the world. Follow a map to its edges, and keep going. Forgo the plans. Trust my instincts. Let curiosity be my guide. I want to change hemispheres. Sleep with unfamiliar stars and let the journey unfold before me.

I do, I really do. Although I started to question it as the thunder clouds rolled in, I challenged it as the lightning illuminated the sky and then, when we realised we had lost our way up the mountain, I wanted to rip up the map and go back home for a cup of tea.

You see I was taking part in what turned out to be the most gruelling 48 hour trek of my life – to the high altitude lake of Ala-Kol in Kyrgyzstan. And, carefully folded up in a waterproof folder in the depth of my soaking wet bag, was a single sheet of A4 paper that carried a pledge with the words above written on it.

It is the manifesto of Maptia, a new organisation which plans to help people create their own personal maps of the world, and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to sign it. And, by a rather strange coincidence, I used to wait on tables with one of the founders of the group… almost proof that the world is small and I can follow it to its edges.

So, off we set on our two day trek from Karakol in Kyrgyzstan to lake Ala-Kol, equipped with a hired tent, roll mats, sleeping bags and everything. The sun was shining.


Check out my bag. At least 20 kilos we think.*


And the boys carried a few bits too.

We strolled along a raging river, surrounded by lush green hills dotted with horses and cows, and after about four hours or so, stopped for a tuna, cheese, bread and biscuit lunch that we felt quite proud of.


Wiping the crumbs from our mouths, we set off again (with Matty’s bag two whole tuna-tins lighter). It was here we began the ascent. Over the two days we were to climb (and then drop) 2,000 metres, reaching a maximum altitude of 3,900 metres.

Inevitably the higher we climbed, the shorter of breath we became. I staged plenty of: “Wow, look at this scenery,” stops so I could catch my breath.


And it was pretty spectacular.


But it was after about seven hours of trekking (three hours of climbing), when we were on the side of a bare, rocky mountain, that the drizzle started. At first it was just a smattering of inoffensive rain drops, not worth shaking an umbrella at, but they soon started to fall harder and faster.

Lunch felt a long time away, Matty’s feet had begun to resemble something of a dead person’s (take note: bring waterproof shoes for this trekking malarkey), and as the temperature dropped dramatically, I lost all sensation in my fingers.

We looked up to the rocks above us that we still had to climb, blinking away the freezing raindrops from our eyelashes. I put my white fingers under my armpits in a desperate attempt to warm them up, and even The Mongoose (aka Mountain Boy) seemed to jump from rock to rock with less enthusiasm.

I’m not sure what came first, the huge clap of thunder or the four small words from the Mongoose’s mouth: “We’ve lost the track.” Both filled me with an immense sense of dread and a strong urge to cry.

The rain turned into hail and as I pulled the hood of my jacket over my head tighter to shield my face from the hard pellets of ice falling from the sky, Mongoose ran up a few different rocks in a bid to find some red painted stones that might indicate we were back on track. He would return to us, shake his head and try another route.

Headlines ran through my head. None of them were good. I tried to focus my efforts on warming my hands up instead.

And just as I found a small piece of grass, jutting out form the mountain that may just have served as a campsite for the night, I heard, “I’ve found it, the track is this way.”

The Mongoose was standing at the base of a steep, gravelly route up the mountain with solid rock to his right that he was gripping onto. We still had a way to go. An hour to be precise – although I didn’t know it at that point.

I gave my hands one last rub and began the steep ascent to the sound and light show of the Gods above us, muttering darkly under my breath. I don’t remember the detail. Only that my feet went numb, the peak felt endless, the thunder got louder and the rain got heavier.

And then suddenly I had reached the top and the lake came into view. And the rain stopped.


And it stopped long enough for us to take this picture, get our tent up, and get dinner going on the stove.


These chilli super noodles tasted better than anything I’ve had in a long time. Yes, we even chopped up frankfurters for a bit of protein. Get us.

And as we layered up in our remaining dry clothes and huddled in the huge (and now slightly wet) goose down sleeping bags we’d* hauled up the hill, the rain and thunder began again. Our tent was one of those odd ones where the metal roads are on the outside of the canvas, making for a perfect lightning conductor.

While we slept the rain fell heavily and the wind blew furiously – but somehow, in the morning we were all still there. But so was the rain. We woke to a fearsome storm that appeared to have got angrier as the night progressed.

So we sat in our little tent, waiting for it to pass. By this stage I had written the entire front page of our tragic demise. The boys handed me my Kindle and told me to be quiet.


They ventured out to inspect the situation when the rain quietened.


There is a lake beyond that mist I promise.

Eventually at about 10.30am we made a run for it. The rain had eased a little so I strapped socks to my hands and with an air of (perhaps dampened) determination we left the comfort of the tent.

We had our final climb of the trek to complete from 3,500 metres (the height of the lake) to 3,900 metres across the lake and over the mountain behind it – before beginning a long descent.

(Me and Matty having a morning pep talk).

Then, just as we turned a corner, which revealed the rest of the previously hidden lake, the sun came out.

And as it shone down on the lake below us, illuminating the icy glacier behind it, it was as if it also opened my eyes for the first time since the rain had begun. It was stunning, it was beautiful, it was so isolated and rugged and I was incredibly privileged to see it.


The Mongoose turned around and grinned. “Nobody said it was going to be easy,” he said with a wink.

No, travelling a map to its edges is not meant to be easy, I thought as I unfolded my Maptia manifesto. But it’s going to be beautiful.



*That isn’t really my bag, that’s Matty’s (although it does contain a lot of my stuff). I might have carried a 7kg day pack instead… for reasons discussed here. Oh, and for the record (because this blog speaks only the truth), Clinique moisturiser is an essential trekking item.

Kyrgyzstan Food… and trekking in the Valley of the Flowers

It’s not very often you hear your boyfriend skidding down a sheer rock face.

I couldn’t look down, I was loosely gripped to the mountain myself and one false move could result in me tumbling down on top of him. Instead I gripped harder and yelled something nervously. I can’t remember what.

The Mongoose was below me and I heard him skid down to Matty, who it transpired was holding on by one rock. Somehow he managed to pull himself back on track and then it was my turn to try and shift my sweaty right hand onto another rock.

But I didn’t know how to move. The only two stable stones to my right held my right foot and right leg in place, while my left foot and hand refused to leave the comfort of their sturdy stones.

“Delia, move your left foot to where your right foot is and your right to the red stone to your right,” I heard the Mongoose instruct me.

It was like playing a really bad game of high-altitude, vertical Twister. But the mat was made of gravelly rock and it was constantly moving. Mini avalanches cascaded down the mountain below us with every unsure-footed step we took.

None of us could lose this game. We had to stay ‘in’ until the top. And so we continued to clamber (refusing to look down) – and a few times the Mongoose just sort of pulled me across grip-less sections.

Until suddenly we were at the top and the gravel beneath our feet turned into a more secure grass. We span in circles, we hugged furiously – and then we saw the clear, easy track to our right that we should have taken for this eight-hour trek. Mongoose muttered something about going back to orientation school.

But it was ok because we were in the Valley of Flowers, Kyrgzstan and it was BEAUTIFUL. Bizarrely, perhaps even more beautiful for the arduous route we had taken.


That’s me with the graze to prove it. (Yes, I’m wearing pyjama shorts on my head. That’s what happens when you forget to take a hat travelling).

And we were just about to eat the best packed lunch EVER. Mothers across the globe – take note: this is what a packed lunch should look like:



For the record it contained: A cheese sandwich, a salami sandwich, a hard boiled egg, a bag of cooked chips (yes, my friends I had egg and chips in a packed lunch), two pancakes, a delicious pasty filled with spiced mince meat and onions, a bag of nuts, raisins and sweets, a Milky Way, a cucumber, a tomato and a fruit drink.

That’s me with my egg and chips.

Oh, and some wonderful biscuits that tasted just like Rich Teas but looked much happier.


And then, sitting in this glorious spot with the sun beating down on my shoulders, it dawned on me just how much my life revolves around food. There I was in some of the most stunning scenery we have seen on the trip so far, and I was photographing smiley-faced-biscuits – and raving about a packed lunch.

That box of goodies had given everything a slightly rose-tinted filter (a bit like I was looking at the world through a cool Instagram filter). With that in my bag I could climb any mountain, reach any star, run at any flock of sheep (this might have happened – I blame the biscuits), I was invincible.

And so we scoffed our fabulous packed lunch at our fabulous picnic spot and then climbed another two peaks before heading back down to our yurt stay for dinner.





And I knew dinner was going to be great. As a significant addendum to my recent rant at Central Asian food, the grub in Kyrgzstan is bloody good. Clearly influenced by its Chinese neighbours, the traditional Central Asian dish of laghman (noodles, bland sauce, and unidentifiable pieces of fatty meat) has been transformed into a delicious tangy tomato dish, ladled with roasted vegetables and chunks of tender meat.


Plus, on every table salt and pepper shakers are joined by a delicious chilli and garlic paste that has the ability to make even the blandest dish come to life.


But in Kyrgzstan the food isn’t bland. This, my friends, is the flavour island in a bland ocean of slop and oil.

And some of the best food we’ve had in here so far has been at this fairly remote Yurt Stay in Valley of the Flowers, just 40 minutes or so away from Karakol. It was the folk here that whipped us up the fabulous packed lunch and where we were returning for dinner.

And if anything will get me back down almost 1,000 metres altitude in just one and a half hours it is this:


A delicious stew of vegetables, potatoes and tender beef steak cooked in a rich, spicy tomato sauce with a huge bowl of tomato-pasta soup on the side. Oh, and warm freshly baked crunchy bread on the side – and more happy biscuits.

And that is why I know tomorrow is going to be another great trekking day. I’ll be starting it with rice pudding (a common breakfast in Kyrgzstan – yet another reason to love this beautiful country), continuing it with another packed lunch and finishing it with a scrumptious hot meal back at the yurt stay.

And then I shall brush my teeth under the stars and dream about walking up salami and cheese mountains with cucumber rocks. I blame the biscuits.

Cyclone restaurant, Bishkek Kyrgyzstan: How to bribe your friends into buying you a Champagne dinner

I had been warned about bribery and corruption before coming to Central Asia. Travellers along the Silk Road regaled horror stories of being pulled over by police and being forced to pay $100 before they could get away.

But I just never thought I was the sort of person to be dragged into that sort of business. Until I saw my prize, that was, glimmering and shining before my eyes, and I suddenly knew I would go to any lengths to get it.

You see, in true Hansel and Gretel style, I’ve sort of always left a trail behind me… of snotty tissues. They just seem to fall from my pockets, run out of my hands, jump from my lap. It’s not really my fault – just a combination of hayfever/allergies and some runaway tissues.

But The Mongoose and Matty took a dislike to my ingenious methods to ensure we never got lost.

“We’re in a bloody train carriage, we’re not going to get lost,” they would scream, pointing at my lovely white, soft, scrunched paper that was lying on one of their beds.

Eventually I gave in.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll stop leaving snotty tissues around if you pay me.”

They looked up in surprise. They hadn’t expected that.

“Pay you?” Said The Mongoose with one eyebrow raised.

“Errrm yes,” I confirmed. “I will also accept a champagne dinner.”

They quietly nodded to each other.
“Fine, if you don’t drop a single tissue for two months we’ll treat you to a champagne dinner,” said Matty.

We shook hands. The deal was done. The bribery had been committed. When in Rome and all that… Actually, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure who was being bribed and who was the briber but either way I had a prize to claim.

I upped my game a few weeks later and demanded small fortnightly prizes for my efforts. This largely came in the form of chocolate, which was most satisfactory (I can heartily recommend Alpine Gold if you find yourself engulfed in some kind of chocolate bribery on this side of the world.)

And so as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months I became scrupulous about tissues. I even binned other people’s tissues in case they were accused of being mine. I was the mad woman walking down the street in Samarkand picking up dirty tissues from the floor.

But the more Central Asian food we ate the more determined I became to succeed – to get my posh meal out and pretend for one night only that I was not really a dirty backpacker. I could almost taste the Champagne.

As the night drew closer Matty and the Mongoose starting researching the best kebab holes in Bishkek, Kyrgzstan, claiming they had secretly found six tissues over the months so I would be taken to the sixth best kebab joint in town.

“They’re joking, they’re joking,” I told myself. But I became less and less sure each passing day.

Until finally the night arrived. I got all “dressed up” (aka wearing a boob tube with my everyday travelling skirt and battered Havianas), and was pleased to find the boys both wearing shirts they would not want to get kebab juice down. It boded well.

And so it was that we strutted out of the guesthouse (after queuing to use the loo) with the air of three people who were about to embark on an odyssey of good food.

The boys were still making mutterings about shashlyk kebabs as we made our first stop for the evening: Coffee Shop in Bishkek. And while there was coffee on the menu, the name is somewhat misleading. The place resembled more of a swanky bar with spirit-laden shelves on the back wall, shiny glass-topped tables and swallow-me-now leather booths to slide into.

And, to my amazement, there was GIN on the menu. Coffee shops around the globe – please take note, gin should always be an option alongside your Cappuccinos and Lattes. Hell, if you can have whiskey in your coffee you should definitely be allowed a gin chaser. Or two.

It had been almost three months since my last gin. That’s like 90-something gin free days. Not a sip. Not an iota. Not even as much as a sniff of a gin soaked slice of lemon.

“Gin?! Gin?!” I cried, stabbing the menu with my forefinger.

“They have Beefeater gin. For less than £1. And it’s a double measure.” The words just sort of flew out of me while the waiter looked on in amusement. Matty raised his eyebrows to the waiter and whirled his finger around his temple (doing his new favourite ‘she’s crazy’ imitation that unfortunately appears to cross all language barriers.)

The Gin arrived. It was served in tumblers, with a pot of ice and a bottle of tonic on the side so we could make the perfect mix (about 50:50).


As I held the ice cold glass to my nose and allowed the herby scent of the spirit to fill my airways I announced that kebab would be fine for dinner, I needed no further reward.


But a couple of gins later I found myself (somewhat reluctantly) being dragged off for dinner. We wandered down Chuy (the main street of Bishkek) and came to a stop outside an Italian restaurant called Cyclone with posh looking beige canopies hanging down over the alfresco seating area.

“Oooh, is this us?” I asked, taking in the polished wooden tables, leather-bound menus and heavy linen napkins. For a moment I felt like I was back home, reviewing a restaurant that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford for my local paper.

We were shown to our seats and while I perused the extensive menu of pizza, pasta and meat dishes, a glass of sparkling wine was poured to my right.


The boys glasses were filled too and as the three of us raised our bubbling flutes to the warm evening sky we toasted the demise of snotty tissues.

The menu was excellent with great variety and in the end we agreed to share a bruschetta and carpaccio to start, followed by Penne alla Matriciana for The Mongoose and I, while Matty chose the spinach and chicken fettuccine.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get much better, a bottle of Chianti was ordered. I hasten to add we have not had decent European wine since leaving Paris on day one of the trip.

The food shortly followed and our Western-Food-Deprived stomachs almost doubled over in pleasure at the sight of the starters alone.

(Bit of both on my plate).

Served on crusty triangles of toasted bread, the bruschetta’s tangy, peppery tomato topping caused my tongue to quiver in delight. That happens to everybody else too, right?!

Meanwhile, the Carpaccio was dressed in a lime infused, slightly sweet dressing on a bed of crunchy lettuce and topped with huge swathes of mature Parmesan shavings. The raw meat absorbed the flavours around it, and almost melted in the mouth on the first bite. I might have spooned up the juices left on the plate once the meat had disappeared. Terrible behaviour.

The mains did not let the side down. I normally steer clear of creamy dishes in Italian restaurants but Matty’s chicken and spinach dish proved me wrong. Rich and peppered with garlic, the sauce was thick and flavoursome – almost as if it had been minced with mushrooms before being tossed together with the fettuccine.

The Mongoose and I were just as pleased with our own penne pasta, which was peppered with good quality thick bacon slices (no fat), chunks of onion and a healthy smattering of Parmesan. The thick, rich tomato sauce clung to the al dente pasta rather than drenching it. Naturally we had asked for extra chilli and the chef had generously obliged, leaving us with chilli-induced running noses.


As I blew my nose heavily, I gave a satisfied sigh to my empty plate before screwing up my tissue and absentmindedly placing it on the table.

The boys looked down at it, frowning.

“I’ll stop if you buy me a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon,” I offered.

Watch this space folks. Ahem.

What to Pack: Women travelling Central Asia

“You’ll need to be covered from ankles to wrists,” said the Mongoose as I quizzed him about what I would need to pack to travel the Silk Road.

“And we need a plug and a Lada car window handle,” added Matty somewhat unhelpfully.

I sighed, looking at my wardrobe in despair. The bottom rail of office clothes were definitely redundant, so seemed my skinny jeans, long sleeved tops and the optimistic rail of summer dresses and little flower printed skirts and vest tops.

Nothing seemed to cover me from ankle to wrist, and also be cool enough for 45 degrees plus weather.

Truth be told, I had no idea of what to wear as a woman in Central Asia.

And so it was back into town again to look at Britain’s winter/early spring range, trying desperately to find a sort of Dalai Lama outfit that Topshop just doesn’t stock.

Somehow over the months I managed to cobble together a new Silk Road wardrobe of sorts and now, after more than three months on the road, I thought I’d let you know what works and what doesn’t so if you too are planning a trip across Central Asia it may be of some help with your packing.

First things first, you do not need to cover from ankle to wrist in most parts of Cental Asia. The Mongoose has spent the last five years working in Afghanistan, and while that completely is the case there, I found most parts of Central Asia surprisingly liberal. I’ve jotted down a brief dress code for the different countries at the bottom of this post.

Fortunately I failed on my mission to find really conservative summer clothes so as a result I feel like I have a good balance for most places we’ve visited.

So, without further ado, here’s my essential packing list for a woman travelling Central Asia:


Long skirt (I bought an American Apparel double-chiffon ankle length skirt from eBay – light material, flattering but loose and has an elasticated waistband, which is ideal for the kebab and fat diet you are about to embark on!)


A pair of baggy cropped trousers (as donated by my wonderful friend Nicki – amazingly lightweight in hot weather and like the skirt, if teamed with a little black boob tube, can feel quite dressy in the evening. Incidentally I actually wore these trousers for the entire duration of Nicki’s hen weekend. But that’s another story (and maybe best saved for a post on not losing your luggage on trains.)


Trekking trousers – These geeky trousers are an essential part of my new wardrobe. I’ve never really owned any trousers with pockets before, which I can confirm are extremely useful. (I opted for some lightweight North Face trousers that can be rolled up and kept in place with tabs, ideal for hot hikes).


Short baggy skirt – Not worn this out a great deal but handy to have and wear around the hostel/more liberal cities like Baku and Bishkek. (Picked this up at a Thai market years ago and takes no room at all).


I also have a pair of black skinny jeans but I have not worn them since leaving Europe… Just can’t bring myself to chuck them.

2 black vest tops – I have felt comfortable in a surprising number of places in Central Asia wearing a vest top, and when I am in more conservative areas they work great with a pashmina wrapped around my shoulders.


Black boob tube – perfect for turning my cropped trousers and long skirt into an evening outfit.


(Cue: cringe at cheesy, posey picture).

3 capped sleeved t-shirts – Make sure one of them is baggy and high necked but you will often feel comfortable wearing tighter t-shirts too.


2 baggy shirts – I bought a peach and white shirt as an attempt to cover up, but don’t really think they are that necessary. In saying that I love the peach one as it is nice and light, the second one is white and makes me look like a school teacher so I’m saving that for Vietnam… when I will hopefully be teaching English.


Morino Lamb Wool Baselayer (long sleeved) – Amazing for the rare chilly nights, and NEVER smells! I wish I’d bought the t-shirt version too.

North Face Tri-Climate Jacket: a fleece and detachable waterproof/wind proof jacket – This has spent most of the time in my bag as we are travelling Central Asia but needed it through Europe at the beginning of the trip. It also came in handy for chilly evenings in the high altitude Pamir mountains.

(Here we are in our matching Northface jackets with our matching tablets.)

Other bits
Kikoy – An amazing wide scarf that might look like a bit like a pashmina to the untrained eye but as a kikoy it is designed to be worn dozens of different ways. Personally I tend to use it as a shawl and a blanket.


(I’m frowning at another breakfast of bread and cheese here, not my kikoy).

Pashmina/head scarf – Great for Mosque visits etc

Jewellery – I was blessed with some lovely gifts from my friends and family before I left… From beautiful pandora charms to my St Christopher’s necklace and even a silver oak leaf (see above)… Oh and a fab broach for my pashmina. They all help glam up my backpack and remind me of my bestests.

Sports bra and trainers – With just these two items I can exercise anywhere and everywhere. Morning runs have become a lovely way to soak up local life here. We actually also brought Ripcord resistance bands for confined-space hotel room workouts, which are fab.

I came away with three different types of flip flops (two dressier and a pair of Haviannas) and a pair of trekking shoes. I now have just one pair of flip flops (my Havianas) after the other two broke, my trekking shoes and my running trainers (after I got my mum to post them out to me).

My stumps in all their glory.

Wish I’d bought
A hat – but I steal Matty’s at times.

At least you can’t accuse me of only putting photos that make me look good on this blog…

Baggy, light knee length skirt – For when I don’t want to wear my maxi skirt.

A pair of pumps or something in between trekking shoes and flip flops (my poor toes are stubbed to pieces).

A collapsible cup – Would be perfect for train journeys and many a wine swigging moments. Matty has one and I get VERY JEALOUS.

Water purification tablets – Why isn’t we come away with these?! An absolute must for treks in Tajikistan and Kyrgzstan where you will be drinking from streams every day.

Other helpful things to pack for travelling Central Asia

A plug… And of course travel wash. Yes, Matty was right.

Beanbag/blow-up pillow for those long bus rides.

A mini fan – preferably one of those battery powered ones. What I would do to get my hands on one of those right now…

Hand sanitizer – almost everyone we’ve met so far has got quite ill at some point but this could help. And it will definitely make you feel better after walking out of the many TERRIBLE Central Asian toilets that you will be frequenting.

Bikini – Despite the lack of sea, there are often pools and lakes to dip in!

A multi-plug adapter – often the rooms only have one socket but this means we can still charge all our devices.

A torch/mini battery lantern – there are a lot of power cuts on this side of the world.

Sleeping bag liner – An essential packing item as many hostels don’t provide top sheets.

Earplugs – Because men here snore as badly as everywhere else.

Hanging washbag – Makes me feel like I’ve brought my bathroom cabinet to every grubby Central Asian hostel bathroom… Priceless.

Trekking towel – takes up no room and dries quickly.

Medical box – Immodium (trust me, you’re gunna need it), Nytol (works wonders on the sleeper trains) and all the usual pain killers. You can get all these things over the counter here too.

A Spork – An amazing piece of plastic that is a knife, spoon and fork all in one go. Another genius purchase by Matty that I questioned at the time… Yes, yes, you were right.

Gaffa tape – WTF?! Another Matty purchase, if we get holes in our clothes he offers to ‘gaffa tape’ them up. Personally, I’m glad I also brought a needle and thread!

A ‘secret supply’ of chocolate – For my ‘Easter present’ I asked Matty to take some chocolate travelling so that when the choc cravings came in hard and fast on the road he would have some Green & Blacks at the ready. Best move yet.

How conservative are the countries of Central Asia?

Turkmenistan – Women here wear fabulous, long, printed, figure hugging dresses with either short or long sleeves. Headscarves are not worn by the majority. Initially I felt more comfortable in a t-shirt and long skirt but our guide insisted that vest tops were also fine and that the long dresses are a cultural choice rather than a religious one. When I did wear vest tops I did not feel uncomfortable (but always had a pashmina to hand for certain sites.)

Uzbekistan – Surprisingly liberal. I felt comfortable wearing vest tops with my long skirt/cropped trousers almost everywhere. However we did not visit the Fergana Valley, which is meant to be much more conservative.

Tajikistan – Easily the most conservative country we visited in Central Asia. The women wore long, baggy clothing and many wore headscarves. I did not wear my vest top once here, even in Dushanbe – it just didn’t feel right.

Kyrgzstan – In contrast to the above, Kyrgzstan is easily the most liberal country we’ve been to. Girls in hot pants in the supermarket, thong bikinis at the outdoor swimming pool in Bishkek, it was like we’d crossed a border into Europe 🙂

Through the Keyhole: A typical Kyrgyzstan city flat

As I walked into the hallway of a four-storey block of flats in Osh, Kyrgyzstan I was instantly transported back to Nottingham – specifically to a run down estate in the St Ann’s neighbourhood where I had been sent as a reporter to find the owner of a dangerous dog.

“Errrrm, is the dog still alive?” I remember asking my newsdesk at the time.
“We’re not sure,” was the reply, with an encouraging off-you-go-then-nod.

I remember walking up the concrete stairwell, trying not to breathe through my nose to avoid the stench of urine seeping in, wondering if a huge beast with a frothing jaw lay behind each door as I tentatively knocked it. I tapped a tad lighter on those with the ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs.

The memory flashed vividly as I walked into the Osh building, only this time it was minus dog threats and urine stains. But the chipped paint of the bare hallway, the rickety, tiny lift that left me running for the concrete stairwell all smacked of a British council estate.

We were staying at Osh Guesthouse, on the top floor. Three days later, in an almost identical building, we were staying at Bishkek Guesthouse, on the seventh floor. Fast forward three days and we were staying in our very own apartment in Bishkek, in yet another low rise block of flats.

But it was this apartment, that inspired me to launch a new ‘Through the Keyhole’ picture series on this blog. Because once we left the communal concrete lobby of the seemingly soulless building, we entered a new world of wonderfully kitsch, retro decor.

A world where the windows are framed with carpet lined hexagon borders, where the shower is really a ‘mini swimming pool’ with steps going down into it, and the ceilings are wooden panelled.

And that is what makes blocks of flats so intriguing to me (as previously mentioned here). They are like big boxes of drawers – each one holding its own stories, secrets and style when opened.

And that’s what Through the Keyhole is going to be all about… Just as Lloyd Grossman did all those years ago, I hope to show you little nuggets of life behind doors across the world.



Travel Tips

If you a backpacker or travelling and want to rent an apartment in Bishkek for a short-stay then contact Zaqir at Bishkek Guesthouse at bishkekguesthouse@gmail.com or call +996552152207.

This apartment, as pictured, is very centrally located at 41 Manas Street, Bishkek. It has a double bedroom, a very large lounge with another double bed in it, a bathroom, kitchen and ‘smoking room’ (!). It cost 1,900 Kyrgz Com per night between us – about £25.

Instagram Images: Sun City outdoor swimming pool in Bishkek, Kyrgzstan

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