Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan, home to the largest walnut forest in the world! The Lonely Planet calls Arslanbob, a small town in Southern Jalalabad oblast, ‘an elevated oasis, a vast tract of blossoming woodland, and home to the largest walnut forest on earth”. Quite flowerly language for the Blue Bible, but they are pretty bang on. We were going to stay in the CBT and do some serious Arslanbob hiking of waterfalls!
Arslanbob- The World’s Largest Walnut Forest
Arslanbob and surrounding area is about 2.5 hours north of Jalalabad City, and sits at about 1,600m elevation. Which does provide a miracle of coolness coming from Osh, where the daily July temperature makes you think that your insides might start stewing it can be so hot. When the LP says it is an oasis, it absolutely is, though when I hear the word Oasis I either think of where the great song Hakuna Matata was originally sung, or the name of the slimy Outback pub in Australia where Kristen and I were almost provoked into several fights (Don’t worry, we avoided all of them, even back then we wouldn’t risk our amazing gorgeous faces with such nonsense!). To say that Arslanbob is a woodland is pretty legit, the crowd I was with dropped many a Shire reference, all the Tolkien fans out there would have been in Heaven. It is also the perfect climate for free growth of walnuts! Who knew?
After a 3.5 hour taxi adventure to get to Arslanbob, fellow Osh volunteer Dana and I emerged from the share taxi, which was driven by a sane looking man who apparently thought he was in Nascar. A highlight of the ride had been when he drove in the midst of a group of donkeys, one a baby, and to get them to move physically swatted at the baby’s head. Fun fact: a group of donkeys is called a ‘pace of asses’.
Upon Arslanbob arrival, we quickly found an Uzbek samsa kitchen, aka a restaurant that serves almost exclusively samsas and tea. Uzbek food is greasy just like Kyrgyz food, lets just say that. Soon enough we met up with the three volunteers living in [intlink id=”1016″ type=”post”]Toktogul[/intlink], Marta, Spencer, and Emma, who had come down for the weekend too.
Community Based Tourism in Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan
Arslanbob is a town involved in what is known as CBT, or Community Based Tourism Organization, here in Kyrgyzstan. Basically there are offices in a bunch of places and they are more or less the only tourist resources in the more remote parts of KG. So going through CBT, we stayed at a homestay/B&B home of a lovely Uzbek family a little bit out of Arslanbob Town proper.
The house has a separate part to it that has 2 bedrooms with single beds in them and then an indoor eating area. Because the summer is gorgeous in Arslanbob, we ate our meals in the outside eating area that was down in the garden and was nice and cool, piled with pillows and tushuks (long quilted pillows) for our comfort. The breakfasts were included in the price of the overnights, and then we opted to have dinners made for us there as well, since Ramadan means that all the eateries in town closed early. Which would have been good info to have when we were sitting in the samsa joint and could have taken some to go…
The first night we all arrived we just relaxed at the guesthouse. Dana, Spencer and I did take a short foray back into town with the goal of finding alcohol of some kind. Easier said, and wished for, than done, as apparently Arslanbob is one of the most conservative and traditional towns in the country, especially during Ramadan, and there is only one store in town that sells anything with some spirit in it. And that store smells like what would an outhouse that is also used as a U-Brew warehouse. But who cares about the store, we found booze!
Hiking in Arslanbob Kyrgyzstan
The next morning, we did more what the Kyrgyz call Ec Al’ing, aka resting, and then all 5 of us set off for a hike, hopefully hitting the two waterfalls outside of town. We went for the ‘Big Waterfall’ first, so we walked uphill along a rocky road for about 1.5 hours, passing through gorgeous fields of wildflowers and ideal farm scenes, getting ever closer to the beautiful mountain backdrop that sits behind Arslanbob. We were also passed by multiple jeeps, as most people who go to the Big waterfall get rides ¾ of the way up. But we worked for our accomplishment! And we’re fiscally responsible PCV’s! You have to be when you choose to buy beer over jeep rides. The last 30 minutes of the big waterfall hike is straight up the side of the mountain, and largely along a trail that is made of loose rock and dust (which means climbing up is hard, but falling down is easy!)
The view from the top of the Big Waterfall is gorgeous looking back at the town and the surrounding mountains, again many Tolkien references made. We even identified points from where exactly Orcs would emerge and on which rock Legolas would perch to best see with his elf eyes. The big waterfall itself, is very big, apparently 80m, and it leads itself into this large ravine, so you don’t actually get up to the big waterfall, you see if from the other side of the ravine. There are also bushes and trees that people have tied small pieces of fabric onto, presumably for luck, or as wishes. Despite the amazing natural beauty and awe of the waterfall, one of the most amazing aspects of the big waterfall were the women who were hiking up to it in wedge heels, and then taking off said heels to just walk up barefoot. Those ladies are troopers! Or [intlink id=”1071″ type=”post”]Superheros[/intlink] as I theorize…
After hiking down, and some of us hitting the ground more than others, we headed back toward town but in the direction of the ‘small waterfall’. These two waterfalls seemingly do not have actual names except in reference to their contrasted heights. The small waterfall is much more accessible, as people can get driven the entire way there by jeep, no final 30 minute push up the side of a mountain. As such, it is much busier, hectic, and downright nutty. Stalls selling random Chinese import knick knacks line the short walk way from the parking lot to the falls, which is where Dana and I both got shot in the face with a water gun and an accompanying “Welcome to Arslanbob!” by a dude who apparently had a death wish.
We kept walking, there was ice cream ahead! We saw the waterfall, got a little wet, climbed up the dodgiest set of hanging stairs imaginable, and then treated ourselves to ice cream while enjoying the view over the forest. It was at this point that we would have kept walking and gotten into the walnut forest itself, but by this time we had been hiking for a solid 5 hours, and decided we had enjoyed the view of it, and could hit the forest itself at a further date. We were effing tired!
The next day, the [intlink id=”1016″ type=”post”]Toktogul[/intlink] people headed off in their direction, and Dana and I loafed about a bit, as it’s a much shorter trip to Osh. We then caught a few marshutkas back Osh bound, as they are much cheaper than taxis and we were in no hurries.
Travel Tips from Arslanbob
Fact: Baby donkeys are the cutest living specimens on Earth. Period.
We had a super cute little waitress at the samsa place, about 12 years old and ended up knowing a touch of English!
In the Arslanbob market, there were a couple of meat vendors. At one of the meat vendors, there was a dead, and maybe past it’s expiry date, bare sheep carcass hanging from the awning. Upon further inspection, there was a plastic nozzle attached to the bottom foot, and the entire thing was gutted, to make a serving bladder for the Kyrgyz beverage known as Kumuz. Like a sofa drink dispenser, but different. Now, I can’t stomach Kumuz at the best of times, and I can’t even think about drinking it straight out of a non-refrigerated sheep body. Vomit would no doubt in sue. But I do appreciate the ingenuity, and obviously sheep carcasses are water-tight, so that’s good to know!
I’ve also gotten a few inquiries of late about Kyrgyzstan and life therein, so lets do that now!
Question time from Arslanbob:
Do you use toilet paper?
Yes toilet paper is used here, but depending on where you use the toilet, paper may not be provided, so carrying some with you is never a bad idea. Most of the toilet paper here is a near cousin to fine grain sandpaper, so using it to blow your nose is a brand new form of torture.
About diet, do you get many greens? And will you get them in the winter, or is it just a dismal diet of sheep, tea, and bread?
Right now in the summer, there is a ton of cabbage, which is the main leafy green, and then other veggies like bell peppers, eggplants, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers etc. We also have a good amount of fresh fruit, grown right here in Osh oblast. In the winter, it will be a totally different story, a lot of people here do a ton of canning to have this stuff in the winter, because availability goes way down and the price goes way up. For many volunteers, the reality will be tea and bread in the winter, will see what it is like in Osh, as the city might be better. I’ll let you know!
I have not seen any yaks, but I’m thinking in other parts of the country, and especially up in the legit mountains, our furry friends will be a plenty! As would be their yak milk, yak cheese, yak yogurt, yak ice cream etc.