The road from Irkeshtam Pass to Sary Tash, the first Kyrgyz town of any size, twists and groans up the Pamir Alay. The Pamirs in Tajikistan are visible on your left, the Tian Shan on your right. On the day we passed there was no line between earth and sky, the clouds and the snow just shifting shades of white and grey. We climbed into the clouds and back down into a world of color, the Alay Valley a flat, worn carpet of greens and browns. On a clear day you can see Pik Lenin standing tall over the valley, but not today.
Sary Tash is strewn along the main road, hunkered down against the wind. High in the mountains of Central Asia it’s eerily reminiscent of grey stone Irish villages on the Atlantic coast equally bleak, harsh and mean.
Our homestay welcome was as forbidding as the town itself. This being our first homestay, we were awkward and unsure of expected behavior so I’m sure that didn’t help. The hostess showed us the three-room concrete building where we were to sleep and disappeared. Given the shimmer of heat coming from her small house I couldn’t blame her. The colorful wall hangings in our rooms screamed color but the manufactured reds and oranges made a mockery of the notion of any real warmth.
There was a knock on the door. One of the kids told us to come for tea. We followed into the yurt, as you do, you know, in Kyrgyzstan.
The fresh baked bread, homemade preserves, cookies, and chay laid out on the low tables inside the yurt were the real reason for our hostess’ speedy disappearance. On cushions inside, shoes off and tea in hand the world was a warmer and better place.
BigB wriggled himself out of his jacket and sweater and commented, “It’s so warm in here”.
“It is, isn’t it?”
Four heads swiveled around looking for a heat source and finding none but noticing the lattice wood frame of the yurt, the felt and canvas cover and the carpeted felt floor. The yurt looked and felt like an oversized tea-cosy keeping us warm and cold winds out.
We shared our meal with a Turkish-Swiss couple on a second honeymoon going the opposite direction – from Kyrgyzstan to China. I struggled to remember enough high-school German so that we could share travel stories back and forth.
Our boys ate quickly and dashed back to their room, bored with stilted English-German small talk.
“Oh to be young and not feel the cold”, Murph joked.
With a grin, R, the Turkish man, said “My wife and I were wondering how anyone macht sex in this cold”.
Murph got the meaning without any translation and laughed.
“We were thinking the same thing.”
We buried ourselves under our layers of quilts early.
It wasn’t a surprise to find snow on the ground in the morning. There’s nothing like a walk across the snow – even if it’s just a little snow – to a bare pit toilet to shock you into wide awake and alert. We stood in the snow brushing our teeth at an outdoor sink. Less than a day before we’d been worried about sunburn in Kashgar. Unbelievably neither of my children complained, they were too busy gathering up snowballs.