Sunday, March 19, 2006


The construction season is beginning. With the arrival of spring, the construction material market on a March weekend is jam-packed with action.

Preparations are underway for Navruz, the Muslim festival celebrating the spring equinox, which will take place on Tuesday. Colored flag are appearing around the city and the central road near the White House has been closed to traffic for the past several days.

Preparations may also be underway for the one-year anniversary of the revolution, now declared an official holiday. One of my co-workers heard that the owner of the Dordoi Plaza, a large shopping center looted during the last revolution, urges it’s renters to have their goods ready in boxes in case of an attack.

“I don’t expect any major revolution,” my colleague said. “If anything, it will just be some bandits and hooligans acting up. But if they do, they are going to have a tough time. All the shopkeepers have bought guns by now and they are ready to fight to protect their property, after they’ve seen what can happen.”

Today I took a day trip with the hiking group to Issyk-Ata, a sanatorium about an hour and 20 minutes from Bishkek. With the unfortunate early end to the ski season, Sunday hikes are starting up again.

We piled into an old green and white bus with green hubcaps. On the way, our leader, Boris, told us some of the local history.

As we went through Kant, a city of 65,000 on the edge of Bishkek, he told us about Kyrgyzstan’s first sugar industry, located there, and the Russian military base.

We traveled along a flat, tree-lined road toward the mountains. The village people stood and watched the bus go by as though it was the most interesting thing they’d seen all day I alternated my attention between watching the scrub-filled land turn a hesitant green and watching Boris’s videos of previous hikes – filled with waterfalls, flowers, canyons and mountains. Several people had picked up hot, fresh lepushkas (round, flat loaves of white bread) at our stop in a village. Steam rose from my neighbor’s lepushka, like a gaseous sun.

Due to the snow, even at low levels, we couldn’t take our usual long, intensive hike. That allowed us to move at a slower pace, to be more like tourists for once. Boris showed us a rock that, if you put your bare leg into its depression, guarantees either a wedding or the birth of a child within a year.

From there, we moved to a holy Buddhist rock that emanates energy. A carving of Buddha in the lotus position and a Tibetan text were covered in bronze.

“See, this is from the 2nd century and it’s still here,” Boris told us. Whereas a carving of Lenin on the opposite side of the rock, done within the past few decades, had almost been erased by the elements.

We drank from curative waters that smelled like rotten eggs and washed our eyes in a fountain where the water is used only to cure eyes.

Then we took a walk along a snowy path to a frozen waterfall hidden in the mountains. Much of the water had frozen on the way down, forming an ice cave through which the rest of the water flowed.

Before leaving, we paid a dollar each and took a swim in the thermal pools. The 52 degree Celsius water comes out right from the mountains into the swimming pool. Despite the lack of indoor changing rooms, which makes for a frigid entry and exit, it is such a fantastic experience to jump into the steaming waters on a cool day, to vibrate as the massaging waters pour out of tubes onto your back, and to look up and out at snow peaked mountains and a wide, wild sky. I can’t imagine more amazing scenery for a swim anywhere in the world.

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