Arriving from Osh, changing shared taxis in Jalal Abad and Bazar Korgon and thus having to deal with the dreaded Kyrgyz taxi drivers three times, I stepped out of the last car on the square of Arslanbob in the early afternoon. The air was fresh, the people were Uzbek, and as I crossed the river and walked up to find myself a guesthouse, men were just coming out of the mosque. The woman of the guesthouse told me I was the first visitor in a month, and she excused herself before starting to clean up the verandah which is where food and tea are being served and which is one of the main attractions of the guesthouse. Indeed, when I finally settled to top myself up with yet another round of green tea, I realized that this was a beautiful place to do so. The verandah is actually constructed right on top of one of the valleys surrounding Arslanbob, sticking out a little bit for great views towards the walnut woods for which Arslanbob claims fame, as well as the plains below from which I had just come. I could not wait to finish lunch in order to be able to start exploring the area. Only thing of concern was the darkening skies over the town. The friendly woman who prepared me lunch added that something strange was happening with the climate lately, and that it would rain again that afternoon.
After lunch, the skies miraculously cleared, so when I left for the small waterfall, it was getting warm. I was happy that the woman of the guesthouse seemed to be wrong with her westher forecast. After a much shorter than expected walk, I reached a lovely spot at the end of the valley where water was coming down in abundance. A long line of empty souvenir stalls was the grim reminder of the immediate effects of the conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan: I was to hear and see over and over again that tourism had virtually disappeared after the troubles in Osh and Jalal Abad shortly before. I decided to first go to the upper part of the waterfall, and when I reached the edge of the cliffs, had a great view over the water rushing down to its fall some twenty metres below. Waterfalls always have a mesmerizing effect on me, and this one was no exception. On the other side of the valley: one of the famed walnut forests. According to legend, these valleys were once empty, and when a messenger from the Prophet Mohamed looked for a paradisical place to plant the walnut tree, he chose Arslanbob. Later, when Alexander the Great passed here, he took a liking of the nut, had it sent home - after which the nut for some reason achieved the name "Greek nut". A short hike down the souvenir stall lane took me to the base of the waterfall, where the water was sprayed around with force and I got wet at once. The angle with the sun was right: a small rainbow formed right at the base of the waterfall. I could have easily stayed here in this quiet place, but also wanted to explore more, so I walked up again, felt obliged to buy some small souvenirs from the only vendor open for business and talked a little bit about the situation of the country before heading through the village towards the higher mountains which still had a layer of snow.
A pleasant walk through plantations, tree-lined roads, and colourful farmhouses, where I had to ask several times for directions, took me along the eastern side of the main river to the end of Arslanbob. I got closer to the main river, which seemed to be flowing in full force. In a matter of ten minutes, the skies has changed once again, and had now taken away the sun completely. Near the top of the mountain chain right in front of me, in which I could already see the long waterfall, the sky was almost black, so it seemed the woman of the guesthouse was going to be right after all. Then, a totally unexpected encounter with the first foreign traveller I met in Kyrgyzstan: one of the guys I had met several months earlier on a river boat in Bangladesh - soon the other guy showed up as well. Sometimes, the world seems incredibly small. Rain had started to come down hesitantly, so I had to say goodbye and start the most difficult part of the climb up to the waterfall. The first challenge was to cross the river that came thundering down here. I did not feel to take off my shoes, and therefore continued searching for a place I could jump using the many rocks in the river. I finally found one such spot, where a small islet in the middle of the river made it a little easier to cross. Rain had now started to come down seriously, and I covered my backpack before I started the real climb. While rain was coming down liberally now, and thunder and lighting were coming closer, I negotiated the steep hill of loose stones, trying not to slide down too much. When I finally reached what seemed the top, I could see a small path leading further up through a gully, and while reason would have dictated to have a look at the waterfall and go down before the weather turned even worse, I could not resist to work my way up on slippery rocks. Indeed, after walking, hiking, climbing and sometimes pushing myself up, I reached the very top of the waterfall from which I had a vertiginous look on thie 80m-tall waterfall. A few quick shots, cleaning my lens, and then I knew I was in a hurry to get down as lighting and thunder were getting always less separated. I managed to find a way down avoiding the steepest part, and thought I was in for a fast walk back to Arslanbob. However, I soon found out that I still had another river to cross. With rain coming down in large quantities for some time now, the rivers were swelling. Where once had been a path, a wild stream of water came rushing down, and I desperately searched for a place to cross - but could not find one either upstream or downstream. I ended up opting for a spot where I had to jump, grab a root of a tree sticking out of the earth, and pull myself up on the muddy earth. The jump went well, but as I grabbed a big stone, I found out it could not offer me the support I hoped for, and for a second, I feared falling into the river below. Fortunately, I was able to get hold of another strong branch of a tree, and continued my way up covered in mud. I walked as fast as I could, and when I reached Arslanbob, some late afternoon rays of sun were coming through and I was almost dry when I reached my guesthouse for a much needed dinner on the verandah from which I could see continuous lightning above the walnut forests.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Arslanbob (Kyrgyzstan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Arslanbob.
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