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18.09.09 03:07 Age: 9 yrs

Cherez Abyezd

By: Roger and Megan

Avoiding Uzbekistan in the backroads

Our unsuccessful attempt to take the main road between Batken and Osh, which so inconveniently passed through Uzbekistan, left us with only one option - the secret network of backroads around the enclaves. But before we could take this mysterious road, we had to find out where it started from.

When we asked the border guards at Sokh for directions to Osh that didn't require an Uzbekistan visa, they weren't very helpful (since we had declined their offer of paying them for an army truck). They told us instead that the road would be near impassable for us, with a huge unfjordable river among other things, and a very long stretch of empty barren steppe with no water or people for hundreds of kilometres. Also, we had read numerous warnings about that border region, that is was disputed and landmined, and so we were not keen to take our chances on a bearing through the steppe. The guards' only offer of help to us was that to find the other road to Osh, we were to say three magical words to everyone we encountered - " Osh Cherez Abeyzd".

On our map, if we drew a direct line between Batken and Osh, and then moulded it to squeeze between the enclaves and go only on Kyrgyzstan land, there were several towns along the way. First would be Chong-Kara, then there was a big gap of nothing to Frunze, then another gap to Kyzyl-Kia, then a road from Kyzyl-Kia to Nookat and then to Osh. If this dirt road were to take the easiest path (through topography), it would cross through all these towns. A check of our maps made the whole situation a bit more puzzling, as the word "Abyezd" was nowhere to be found on our maps. However, as frequently happens in Central Asia, it was entirely possible that it was a new Kyrgyz name for an old Soviet town/river/landmark, so we were not too concerned about the lack of Abyezd on our maps.

With our magic three words we found our way onto a dirt track out of Batken town, heading in the general direction of Osh. The problem was, now that we'd found our way to a road, we had no other way of knowing whether it was the right road. From our limited Russian, we knew that "cherez" is equivalent to the word "via" or "within", and so we knew that we were heading to Osh via Abyezd. However, we had no idea what to be looking for - was it a river, a bridge, a town, a monument, a regional border post? Or worse - a part of Uzbekistan? Whatever it was, this mythical "Abyezd" place was our sole chance of hope in an otherwise impossible situation.

Our first day on this route found us approaching what looked to be an international border post in the afternoon. We were confused as we'd been told over and over that if we took the Cherez Abyezd road from Batken to Osh, it would be entirely within Kyrgyzstan and would not take us into Uzbekistan. While we were still a few hundred metres away for the border guards we got out our maps to try figure out precisely which country we were in. It gave us an answer that we really didn't expect - we were in Tajikistan! How could this have happened? There had been no turnoffs on that road that we had seen, besides minor steppe tracks.

However, since it was Tajikistan and the only other possibility was Kyrgyzstan, and going by our previous encounters with police from these countries, we figured they'd let us off if we'd accidentaly done wrong (for a fee). We entered the control zone no worries, and it appeared that from there you could go one of two ways. We indicated we wanted to continue to the right, and a Kygryzstan policeman came up to us to say hello. We were quite worried at this point, expecting to have to jump off the quike and kneel down to beg forgiveness, but he simply asked whether we had our passports and visas, we said yes we do, and then he let us continue on our merry way.

Several kilometres later we stopped at a water point where another car had also pulled up, and we asked the driver again all the usual questions. He pointed to a white house a few kilometres into the distance and said that there lay the Uzbekistan border, also warning us that if we went anywhere near there the police would shoot without hesitation. Well, at least we were now sure we weren't in Uzbekistan! We went on to ask him how far to the next village, and he said continue 5 km then turn off down the road to the right for 3 km. We were already quite tired so we decided to camp in the steppe instead.

Only a few hundred metres down the road we spotted a mud brick wall that looked a bit like a corral. As we rode closer we found that it was actually the winter enclosure for cows, which doubled as a factory for acquiring and manufacturing cow manure for use as fuel. How this works is that they leave the cows in a covered enclosure until it all has a very lick layer of manure on the floor, they then move the cows to another enclose while this layer dries, where they make another layer of manure, before moving them back to the original enclosure. By the end of this, you have half a metre thick of extremeley tough and dense fuel, which burns for ages.

Being basically a fuel factory, we decided that it wouldn't be too bad (since we were already going to be sleeping on it anyway) to cook our dinner on it, it ended up giving our corn a very nice fragrant flavour when grilled over it. The other advantage of us camping in that area was that since there had been herds of sheep and cows milling around there, then any landmines should've gone off already, so we should be safe. It also provided a wall around us - a fortress - to hide us during the night (so that the Uzbekistan guards wouldn't spot us).

The next morning, several kilometres down the track, we came across a town that seemed to consist mostly of chaihanas, taxis, and bazaar stalls. There was a bend in the road to the left, so we quietly followed that past the policeman with our heads down so as not to attract attention...a technique we have learnt from previous experience. But then, a hundred metres down the road, we had the good sense to ask around that we were going the right way. We stopped a boy on his bike and asked him the same magical words again - Osh cherez abyezd? and pointed forward. He said "noooo. That's Uzbekistan!!". Then he pointed back to the policeman, saying "Abyezd that way". The dirt road we were to take started there.

Several kilometres later we arrived at the town of Chong-Kara, and he we stayed the night. We again enquired with our hosts about the respective locations of Abyezd, Osh, and the Osh Cherez Abyezd road. During these enquires, what seemed to add to the confusion was the fact that we kept asking about the location of Abyezd with regard to the town Frunze. Many people drew a blank when we mentioned this name, which was strange as it seemed a notable town on our maps. Frunze is actually the old Soviet name for the Kyrgyzstan capital, Bishkek. It's name was changed and forgotten because Frunze was not a very popular man. Maybe the same had happened to this other, smaller Frunze town - nobody mentions the name anymore so it is now forgotten that the town was once named after this bad man??

As we ventured further on the main dirt road out of Chong-Kara, we found that more and more people were mentioning a town called Kadam-Jai. They'd ask us "where are you going?" and we'd reply "Osh cherez Abyezd" and they'd say "aah - Kadam-Jai". When we went on to ask how far to Abyezd (all in Russian, by the way) and how far to Kadam-Jia, we kept getting the same figures quoted back for both. This gave us the idea that Kadam-Jia and Abyezd were different names for the one town. Then, after further inspection of our maps and GPS, we decided that Kadam-Jai and Frunze were the same place too.

However oneday we asked how far it was to Abyezd and we got the reply 15 km, so we were through the moon, we were nearly there! Ten kilometres further on however we asked another person to double check and they said 30 km... 10km on again we asked another person and now the answer was 70 km! This was extremely confusing as it seemed that the further we rode, the further away this mythical Abezyd became. More intriguing was when we stopped a truck driver to ask him about Abyezd, only to be told that if we went to Abyezd we would end up in China.

One morning, riding along the road, we came across a boy who was heading out into the steppe to tend to his sheep. We had a longer discussion with him about all things Kadam-Jai, Abyezd, Frunze and Osh, and we noticed that he kept pointing at the road when talking about Abyezd, but would point off into the distance when talking about Kadam-Jai. This gave us the idea that maybe, just maybe, "abyezd" was the road itself, not a town or landmark!

It was only after a week of hearing these words, and three days of riding on this dirt road, did we find out that Abyezd literally means "detour", and that Osh cherez abyezd means "Osh via the detour." So after all that, Abyezd was the detour road, which started in Kadam-Jai and ended in Batken, or maybe it started in Kadam-Jai and ended in Osh, or started in China and ended in Batken... so really, to this day we still don't know what it is!