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Part 2 – Anatomy of a Solo Female Backpacking Adventure: Coping with the Unexpected

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(Back to Part 1)

How quickly things change.

I’ve been hesitating about buying that Kyrgyzstan ticket. Buying now locks in a low price, buying later gives me greater certainty and flexibility around travel dates.

Many things aren’t certain in the wake of the just-imposed state of emergency in Turkey, one of the main gateways to Kyrgyzstan. I spent hours on the phone trying to find an open Turkish consulate in Europe: I wanted to make sure travel to and through Turkey hadn’t suddenly become difficult or impossible, or that new paperwork was needed, or travel restrictions imposed. This kind of hitch along the way could land me significantly short of my destination.

Relief! I got the green light. Well, greenish.

“We have not been informed that anything has changed,” a Turkish consular official told me.

Now I don’t mind the unexpected – in hindsight, it’s often the most memorable part of an adventure and plenty of lessons can be learned as a result. I’ve been caught in an attempted coup (Philippines), shot at (Beirut) and lost in the rainforest (Amazon) and in a minefield (Mozambique). I make as few plans as possible and then see what happens, because something usually does. But getting caught up in a state of emergency is pushing adventure a bit beyond my comfort zone.

What about… a potential change in destination? That would fall somewhere between adventure and unexpected, wouldn’t it?

And there I was, busily juggling dates and checking prices, when… Uzbekistan happened.

The two countries are neighbours so during my initial Kyrgyzstan research, Uzbekistan hovered in the background. But two countries in a month seemed excessive for someone who loves slow travel.

Still, you can’t throw words like ‘visit Uzbekistan’ at me and expect silence.

And those two words appeared on my screen today, an unexpected (here we go again) opportunity to go somewhere unplanned.

I could ignore it. Or not.


No, I couldn’t pass this up. The Silk Road has always held magic for me, visions of turquoise mosaics and camel caravans laden with bolts of cloth. More than two millennia ago, the Chinese and Central Asians traveled along it, trading silks and rice for furs and cattle (and slaves). Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan had strong links with the Silk Road and shards of its history are to be found in both.

The two countries would be perfectly complementary.

In Kyrgyzstan I could enjoy the natural beauty and nomadic culture. I could visit ancient walnut forests, walk along (the valleys of) the soaring Tien Shan mountains that border China, stay in a jailoo yurt and (not) try mare’s milk. I could attend the Nomad Games (and undoubtedly be upset by them) and visit the animal bazaar. I could trek amble around the edge of crispy mountain lakes and take extraordinary photographs with my iPhone 6 because the scenery is so breathtaking I couldn’t possibly mess it up.

In Uzbekistan I could marvel at extraordinary Islamic architecture and experience a fascinating mix of cultures. I could walk through history and enjoy the wonderful carpets and crafts fashioned by women (of course). I could eat shashlik and explore fortresses and ride the trains, my favourite form of transport.

Two weeks in each country…

None of it makes much sense yet. I’m in touch with tourism companies on both sides of the border but communications aren’t always clear and it’s too early for any firm planning. I may end up with something highly structured, or I may land in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, with only my first night reserved.

It’s a gamble. Nothing organized, no plans, and plenty of anticipation. I’m feeling excited, the kind of energy that starts to whirl when a trip is in the offing and I begin coping with the unexpected.

Time to run out and get some guidebooks.

Part 3: Security Concerns in Central Asia


  1. Ann on July 23, 2016 at 4:12 am

    I love Krygizstan, have been there 4 times….once during a political revolution. The people are lovely. Make sure you see Osh and do drink the fermented mares milk at least once.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 23, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      I’m definitely going to Osh but the mare’s milk… I don’t drink alcohol and I believe it IS alcoholic. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!)

  2. Anita on July 23, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Both countries are wonderful! Kyrgyzstan especially holds some fabulous surprises…will send you a bit of info separately. Have a wonderful trip!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 23, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      Thanks Anita – I’m trepidating!

  3. Anne Morgan on July 23, 2016 at 10:01 am

    How exciting. These are places high on my wishlist. Can’t wait to read about your adventures there. Have you watched Simon Reeves’s ‘Meet the Stans’ series? It’s available on YouTube now.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 23, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      I haven’t – thanks so much for the tip!

  4. Claire Doole on July 29, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    I have been to Kyrgyzstan twice for work. Do visit the market in Osh – wonderful teahouses (chaikhanas) and less wonderful horse sausage meat. I tried a slither but am too British to admit that it was quite tasty. I await your next blog.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 30, 2016 at 8:29 am

      The French of course eat plenty of horsemeat and it may be hypocritical of me (meat-eater that I am) but I can’t eat animals I’ve had as pets… so I’ll pass. But I am going to Osh and that’s something I look forward to!

  5. Serena on March 23, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    Hi, I’m planning to be in Bishkek in August 2017. Any recommendations for a travel agency to visit the country? Also, any info on shops selling felt wearable art garments or rugs would be appreciated.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on March 23, 2018 at 9:26 pm

      I hope you mean 2018! I can recommend CBT – community based tourism at http://cbtkyrgyzstan.kg/. As for shops – ask them directly. I visited a woman who made carpets in her house and several shops run by local artisans – but again, I couldn’t tell you where they were and I was taken there by CBT. I loved Kyrgyzstan – but if you could stretch your stay until early September you could see the World Nomad Games – not to be missed!

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