Monday, 24 September 2012

Bishkek, part two: in search of the elusive Iranian visa

It's always something of a relief to return to familiar places, especially when you arrive fairly late, as you know where things are and how to get to where you need to be. This is becoming less and less of an issue with the GPS-equipped smartphones and offline maps that everyone has nowadays (as well as Google maps having a lot more listings with every passing year), but any way you slice it there's a lot less stress when you're on familiar territory.

I arrived at the Western Bus Station and made it to the Sakura without any problems, only to find that they were full. Not that surprising, really. They told me that there was a cheap hotel nearby, a couple of blocks south next to the casino. I made my way there and eventually roused the slumbering receptionist, if that's the right term. She was really more of a keeper of the keys, ensconced in a room behind a window. 300 som for a night was fine by me, so she gave me an old fashioned key and told me my room. Endless jiggling of the key eventually yielded entry, and I was in a simple 3-bedded room blessed with a functional electrical outlet.

I'm not entirely sure what this place was, but my best guess is that it was some sort of place where students stayed. Not all of the building was used as a hotel. I visited the bathroom and there were some dire squat toilets and barely functional faucets, but no showers. The bathroom had a common entrance for both males and females, with a divider down the middle that didn't reach the roof. For 300 som and one night, it wasn't a big deal.

Applying for the Iranian visa was a bit of a mess. You have to do all of the applying in the morning, and then pick up your visa in the afternoon of the next day. I already had my passport pictures and confirmation code ready (and thankfully they were able to find it this time), but they also surprised me by requiring proof of travel insurance. I didn't have insurance, so I had to go out to an internet shop and buy some online (it turned out being worth it, as I was able to make a claim on my damaged lens, which paid out more than the cost of the insurance). After submitting my now complete application, I had to go to the National Bank of Pakistan and deposit the visa fee of 50 Euros to their account there (perhaps the only embassy which doesn't price things in US dollars).

Had I arrived back in Bishkek a day earlier, I could have shaved a couple of days off of my stay in Bishkek: embassies aren't open on weekends, and by applying on Friday it meant I had to stay until Monday afternoon. Blah.

MiG-21 on display. Kyrgyzstan's flight training school used to be the major source of income for the republic, and Syria's Hafez al-Assad was trained there.

Monument to Fighters of the Revolution.

The wooded park that runs north-south along Erkindik Avenue. Unruly poppies and trees make it look both domesticated and wild at the same time—a common theme in Russian-style parks, it seems. I was sitting there reading my kindle one day when a Kyrgyz University student came up to me and started talking to me. She was embarrassed when I identified myself as a tourist that didn't speak Russian, and returned to her friends. So apparently I can pass as a Kyrgyzstani in Bishkek, where lots of people dress like me, even if few people in the country would make that mistake.

People's Friendship Monument, celebrating the anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's entry into Russia.

The statue of Lenin now sits behind the Historical Museum.

From his vantage point he surveys a communist star.

A view from Oak Park.

The Victory Monument, with its eternal flame, is a popular wedding-party stop. Shiny suits and the distinctly Krygyz Ak Kalpak felt hat are also very popular.

Another wedding party.

Back along Erkindik, they have little bouncy parks next to playgrounds. Riding in remote-controlled minicars is another popular diversion for small children. I come for the ice cream.

Looking south along Mir Avenue, towards Al Archa canyon, on the way to Manas Park.

A backyard garden along Mir Avenue in the waning evening sun.

Manas park is filled with strange zoological motifs and whimsical architecture celebrating iconic animals like the Siberian Ibex.

It's another popular wedding-party spot. The parking lot out front is filled with limos and wedding-party cars—renting matching Mercedes seems to be popular, as is bombing down the roads sitting on the windowsills while blasting music and swigging alcohol.

A horse motif looks like it should be an airline logo or something.

An unusual stairway takes on the appearance of abstract art in the setting sun.

In a wider view it looks more utilitarian.

Returning down Mir, looking south to the mountains and Ala Archa canyon. I better not miss that bus!

A beautifully designed no-littering sign. As with hygiene standards, Soviet rule seems to have resulted in greater respect for the environment (at least as compared with China and Mongolia).

Statue to Kyrgyz ballet dancer Cholponbek Bazarbaev, across the street from the State Opera and Ballet.

There was a folk-dancing demonstration in front of the Museum, on Ala-Too square, which is why this great yurt was there. The horseman is Manas.

Practicing before taking the stage.

Performing on-stage.

One of the more creative troupes.

A few of the dancer were Russian—fairly rare even in Bishkek.

Quiet contemplation after performing.


September 21, 2012, Bishkek: 544 som
  • Bed at Sakura: 350 som
  • Sub sandwich, coke, and packaged dinner: 140 som
  • Ice cream sandwich, wafers, and water: 54 som
September 22, Bishkek: 952 som
  • Bed at Sakura: 350 som
  • Alkaline AA batteries x4, padlock x 2: 110 som
  • Perogies, kurut, yoghurt, cheese: 102 som
  • Beshbarmak, tea, nann: 220 som
  • Ice cream, watermelon, tomatoes, eggs, bread, coke: 170 som
September 23, Bishkek: 603 som
  • Bed at Sakura: 350 som
  • Ice cream, coke, doner, soda: 135 som
  • Bus, Manas village entry: 28 som
  • Soda, cereal, ice cream: 90 som
September 24, Bishkek: 3,583 som
  • Bed at Sakura: 350 som
  • Internet & photocopying: 20 som
  • Visa feee for Iran (50 Euros): 3,025 som
  • Hamburger, naan, and tea: 80 som
  • Chocolate, Halls, soda: 71 som
  • Ice cream, potatoes: 36 som

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