In 1997 I undertook an expedition to collect walnut seeds from the wild walnut-fruit forests of Kyrgyzstan.  Here are two entries from my journal written during the three week expedition.

Journal entry: Thursday 25th September 1997

Today we collected seeds from a valley near Gava village.  Mamajan headed off to Jalal-Abad seeking permission to collect seeds from this area.  After starting promptly at 0900 and having a productive morning, we unfortunately had to walk back to the farmstead for lunch; a round trip of at least 2.5 hours.  I have found it frustrating that we have been collecting seeds for less time than I had hoped, although I must recognise that the pace of life is completely different here to anything I have experienced before.

Meanwhile the hospitality knows no bounds.  Peter and I had a wash after returning from the fruit-forest today.  Sergei, our Russian-born forest scientist and local guide, poured warm water from a kettle over our heads!  Clean hair at last.  The tracks are incredibly dusty as it is so dry  here at this time of year.  At times the fine dust is almost ankle-deep in places and, just by walking together in a group, we all become engulfed in clouds of dust.

Last night the stars were truly beautiful – it is so dark here.  There seemed to be multitudes more than I see at home.  I now think that I am fully accomplished at using the squat (say no more!).

Journal entry: Friday 26th September 1997

We sampled a provenance [a seed collecting area] from high altitude today, which at about 1800 metres above sea level, is 500m higher than Ben Nevis, the highest point in Britain.  A very good day today; the best yet and much nearer my expectations.  We did very well even though our lunch, which was to arrive on horseback from the farmstead, took some time to find us in the depths of the fruit-forest!  Our hands are black from removing the husks from the walnut seeds all day long.

Collecting walnut seeds in Kyrgyzstan, showing the green husks and the seed (nut) within. Notice the blackened hands.

In the evening after dinner, we had a long discussion with our hosts and guides, planning where else in the country we will sample walnut seeds.  As usual the smallest details were discussed at great length.  It appears that our planned visit to the Sary-Chelek biosphere reserve at the end of our expedition, will entail a different driver and vehicle.  I have nightmares about these logistics.  We were told it would be a 16 hour drive to get there too.

Gabriel Hemery

Read more from my Kyrgyzstan walnut journal

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