Day 454: Unpronounceabilistan


Wasn’t too happy when the guy from Vladivostok whom I was sharing the taxi with (and someone I thought was a friend) whipped out my passport and claimed I had dropped it in the night and he had ‘found’ it for me. I would have been happy if a) I believed him or b) he hadn’t demanded $100 for ‘finding’ it. A very awkward conversation later, I got away with giving him about $10. It was a nasty trick to play and hasn’t lifted my (I have to admit) rather negative view of Russians, but that’s all by-the-by.

We had got to Bishkek for 9:30am and I got to the Tajik embassy in good time to submit my application and what’s even better, is that instead of the four days waiting time suggested by my Lonely Planet, I only had to hang on until Thursday morning. I could be back in Tashkent for Friday!


I took the trolley bus (a bus with powered by overhead tram wires) to the city centre and got off when it felt right to do so – which happened to be slap bang in the middle of the city. Like Tashkent, Bishkek is a rather charmless place, all concrete and concrete and buildings pretending not to be made of concrete by the enterprising use of shiny tiling which would not fool the even the dullest of minds. But again like Tashkent, the warmth and hospitality of the people makes the place completely awesome, despite the rotten government and even rottener edifices. Strangers will strike up conversations with you in the street, not because they want to screw money out of you, but because they are genuinely interested in why you have come to visit them – and because they also wish to feed you.

You’ll probably be invited for tea and will no doubt end up staying the night if the matriarch of the family gets her way. These guys take hospitality VERY seriously and by jingo it’s refreshing for one who comes from a country in which people are terrified to make eye contact on the train lest your co-commuters regard you as a sex pest or serial killer in waiting.

So I had a brisk and invigorating walking tour of the city centre. I decided that I really like the Kyrgyz flag (red with a yellow sun in the centre) and that the chicken-and-cheese samosas rocked my world. On my ramble I got rambling at a girl called Aima who is studying English at uni and wanted to practice her English on me. So Aima joined my impromptu tour of the city, she got to point out the okay-but-a-little-sterile state buildings and explain what a yurt was.

A yurt is like a tent made of wool and sheepskin that the nomadic shepherds of the Pamir ranges have used for centuries as mobile homes. Modern Kyrgyzstanis still like to get in touch with their shared past by heading up to the mountains in the summer and breaking out their family yurt. I intend to do a bit of yurting in the future, and I’m seriously considering taking one to Glasto next year.

Anyways, Aima had stuff to be getting on with and we arranged to meet up the next day for tea and biscuits. I then sought out my couchsurf contact for the night, a delightful girl named Nazik who lived with her mum on the eastern side of town. I met up with her after she finished work and before I knew it I was sitting down for dinner, stuffing myself with surprisingly yummy Kyrgyz food.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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