I undertook an expedition to Kyrgyzstan in 1997 to collect walnut seeds from the wild walnut-fruit forests.
Walnut journal entry – Monday 23rd September 1997
We spent until 1200 packing up and getting ready to leave Bishkek for our flight to Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city. After many complicated discussions we (my companion Peter, our student translator Askar, and me) finally got underway to Manas airport via a taxi. We arrived early with four hours to spare. The only interesting thing to happen was the sudden fall of a large slab of marble that was cladding one of the towering pillars of the airport lounge. It crashed to the ground narrowly missing a group of women. The amazing aspect was not so much the crash and resulting dust cloud but the reaction of two policemen who turned to look around on the sound of smashing stone and the splintering wood of a check-in desk, only to return nonchalantly to their previous conversation as if nothing had happened!
So, the flight to Osh in a Yak 40, left on time and arrived on time – and we still had our luggage on arrival. The view from the plane as we flew over the Kyrgyz Ala-Too mountain range was spectacular. After landing we sat patiently for two hours outside the airport waiting for our jeep and driver to arrive. Meanwhile, some amazingly persistent taxi divers sat down beside us for the whole time, hoping our lift would never materialise.
It did. We left, in the Jeep, heading for the walnut-fruit forest. There were now five us, being joined by local forest scientist Sergei, and our host/driver Mamajan. We spent four hours travelling north west in the Jeep, the roads gradually deteriorating. We had a short trip through Uzbekistan because there is a protuberance in the boundary that would have added many hours to the journey if we had remained in Kyrgyzstan by following the convoluted boundary. We had no idea that we would be entering the country and I imagine without the necessary paperwork, the situation could have become very complicated. Our hosts looked nervous and told us not to speak and to keep still!
The invasion and evasion of Uzbekistan passed by without any problems. The last hour of the trip seemed to be entirely on dirt mountain tracks which were increasingly steep and rough. We arrived at Mamajan’s home at 2330 and received a wonderful welcome by his extended family. We were offered a gorgeous meal of flat bread, honey, raspberry jam, melon, pears and tea (chai). Of course, all the fruits and preserves were products of their own garden and home cooking. Finally got to bed at 0100.