Monuments in the Mist – and Monsters (2019)

A mid-January tour to the Surva Festival in Bulgaria caught our eye – a three day festival featuring monsters clad in fur, feathers and cowbells that would chase away winter’s demons. We’d not heard of it before. It sounded like fun. It was an 11-day trip altogether and there were, of course, other teasers in…

A Tale of Two Chinas

A Tale of Two Chinas It had looked good on paper when we booked the tour, but a few weeks before we were due to go, a revised itinerary arrived. No longer would we be visiting Hangguoshu waterfall, one of the largest in SE Asia and possibly the most famous one in China (entrance fees…

Going South

Mid-November: early summer in southern latitudes – right? So we booked a cruise. That’s what old folks do, isn’t it? But this was no ‘dowagers, dewlaps and diamonds special’. Luxury was not high on the list: icebergs and penguins were. We were heading about as far south as we could go, south to a landscape…

Silk Road Odyssey Part 9: Uzbekistan

Small villages morphed into small towns and back again into smaller villages. We drove past fields of cabbages, cotton and corn and other fields just greyish clods of earth ready for replanting. One or two cows grazed at the roadside and in quite a few places huge mounds of those delicious melons were piled up…

Silk Road Odyssey Part 8: Samarkand

Samarkand. It’s one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and even in its earliest days, together with Panjikent which is now in present-day Tajikistan, Samarkand was renowned for its beauty – in particular, its splendid murals. Samarkand. It’s a name that cannot arouse indifference. (Yes, I do know that’s an oxymoron!) It’s a name…

Silk Road Odyssey Part 7: Tajikistan

This section of the Silk Road was wider, dustier, less well maintained and perhaps remarkable only for the number of filling stations that lined it: one after the other, side by side for miles on end. How ever do they all manage to stay in business? Perhaps the answer has something to do with all…

Silk Road Odyssey: Part 6 Uzbekistan (briefly)

Our road took us through the wide Fergana Valley: past cherry and fruit orchards, past fields of cotton, sunflowers and maize. In some places, corncobs had been spread out to dry at the sides of the road; in others, melons were piled up for sale. The cotton was just about ready for harvest and we…

Silk Road Odyssey: Part 5 Kyrgyzstan Again (briefly)

We stopped at the confluence of the Noma and Kislu rivers – one river blue, the other red – and Tatiana produced more lunch boxes. It was cold despite the weak sunshine as we were again at altitude, but the mood was relaxed. We were out of China, finally free of all that officialdom and…

Silk Road Odyssey: Part 4 Out of China

Breakfast was a bit of a rush! We set off at 7:40 ready to take on the day’s checkpoints and re-enter Kyrgyzstan, this time at Irkishtam pass. Would it be as hard to get out of China as it had been to get in? At 9:10 we had our first check: 5 minutes. Twenty minutes…

Silk Road Odyssey: Part 3 Kashgar

We had left behind the mountains, the wide-open spaces, the remoteness and solitude of Kyrgyzstan: multiple lanes of traffic streamed down the streets of Kashgar and overhead cameras flashed at regular 2 second intervals. We had left behind the chilly days and chillier nights of Kyrgyzstan: it was warm and sunny in Kashgar. We had…

The Silk Road: Part 2 Into China

Tatiana handed round packed lunches (I managed a small chocolate bar) and we settled down, making ourselves as warm and comfortable as we could – which was not very – inside our two minibuses. Qasim, our Chinese guide, did of course turn up – eventually – together with our new driver and bus. Qasim said…

The Silk Road: Part 1 Kyrgyzstan

The Silk Road: a name that has resonated down the ages; a name that evokes scenes of camel caravans plodding steadily through the deserts and harsh weather of Asia while bearing cargoes of rich fabrics, jade and spices. We wanted to see it for ourselves – well, part of it anyway.  It’s not a single…