|A mural on Kurmanjan Datka Avenue in Osh|
We are walking down a nondescript corridor on the American second floor of a building that has seen better days. The building is two storeys high, so there is no British second floor. We are seeking the Osh CBT (Community Based Tourism) office which the guidebook says is located in this building on the American second floor. But it is nowhere to be seen. Eventually we knock on a door to make enquiries. The door is opened by a middle-aged lady in surgical whites, behind her is what appears to be both a doctors' and a dentists' surgery combined. The bright light emanating from the room is glaringly painful in the stygian gloom of the corridor. She looks at us, impassive. Max enquires:
<<Excuse me, would you be able to tell us were the tourism office is?>>
She responds, blank faced:
<<The place you are looking for is on the second floor.>>
and closes the door, plunging us back into semi-darkness. If at this point a dwarf had meandered down the corridor and begun talking to us backwards, I would not have been surprised. This is the first, and hopefully the last, time in my life that I've felt like I've stumbled unwittingly into the dark recesses of David Lynch's psyche.
We make our way out into the light of day and the bustle of Osh's Kelechek Plaza. Max does what he always does at such moments (and indeed at every available opportunity), he gets out his i-phone. Now, Max is truly obsessed with this piece of kit, and with all the other gadgetry he has in his i-collection. He mentions them so often, and with such regularity, that I am beginning to believe he's been sent undercover by Steve Jobs to singlehandedly expand Apple's influence in Central Asia. A little bit of conspicuous i-phonic internet surfing locates the CBT website and confirms that the office has been moved to the first floor (British) of a hotel nearby. When we locate said office however, it turns out that nobody is in. Max rings the number written on the door to be greeted by a chap called Talant who tells him that everyone is on holiday but he could certainly arrange a new year's trip into the mountains to stay in the Alay Valley if we wanted. We agree to call back tomorrow morning to finalise the details.
Job done, we hop in a taxi to take us to the town of Ozgon, 55km north-east of Osh. Our taxi driver is a cheerful Uzbek chap who happily points out the various sites on the way. As we are passing through an area on the outskirts of Osh still derelict from the June riots, he shows us in an equally offhand way the enormous scar he has on his belly from being knifed during the troubles. The amiable manner in which he does this somehow makes the whole thing more, rather than less, shocking. <<What's the situation like now?>> Max asks. <<Back to normal.>> he replies. Long may it remain that way
|A merrily harrowing taxi ride to Ozgon|
|The three Mausolea - with inscriptions in Kufic and Naskhi script|
|An 11th century minaret also found onsite|
The central of the three Mausolea was probably built for Nasr Ibn Ali, the founder of the Karakhanid dynasty, who died in 1012/13.
|The proprietress posing proudly|
|The gates of Ozgon Bazaar|
The following day finds us in a taxi bound for the small town of Gulcha in the Alay valley. An hour and forty minutes of wending our way through stunning mountain scenery on a route which would eventually take us into China and we are there.
|On the road to Gulcha|
This is true rural Kyrgyzstan, cows roam the streets, you can hear the bleating of sheep from every homestead and the backdrop in every direction is a stunning panorama of snowcapped mountains.
|Roaming the streets of Gulcha|
|Chilling, waiting for lunch to be served|
|Walking the mean streats of Gulcha|
|The Yolka in all its glory|
|Posing with Djed Moroz and Snegoorochka|
|The New Year's family gathering|
|Our genial hosts - Alaybek and Alynkan|
|Alaybek pours the champers|