by maximilien grolier
How much time and pictures have passed since his brand new NIKON D40, bought the year he turned 18... Insatiable traveller, with a well-honed eye and aesthetics, Maximilien Grolier was about to leave for the airport, heading for Kyrgyzstan, when he was asked to stop by the shop in Paris, to give him a kiss and above all, to bring back in his suitcases a little note on his stay...
A little each day, during this rather short but intoxicating journey, I transposed my thoughts into a notebook, then from my notebook to this modest travelogue, which Valentin suggested I share on the Olow blog, with those who also share the love of travel, the passion of discovering new cultures, new people, and the wonder of constantly contemplating new landscapes.
In my backpack, I took clothes, a headlamp, my camera and a book by Sylvain Tesson. For the rest, the steppes, the silence, the horses and the warm smiles would already be there.
Discovery of Kyrgyzstan, in the heart of Central Asia, at the crossroads of several cultures: Asia (geographical), the Middle East (spiritual, Islam being the first religion) and the former Soviet Union (political and societal). This beautiful ethnic mix can be seen in the faces and traditional dress of the inhabitants. In the architecture, where statues of Lenin and other Soviet figures stand next to mosques, and also in the local cuisine, which delivers its delicious and complex flavours where lamb kebabs are accompanied by apple salads with dill and cucumber (typical of Russian cuisine), all washed down with a choice of Ayran (a fermented milk drink popular in the Middle East) or tea or vodka.
We took the car, and as soon as we left Bishkek, the wild world began.
Song Kul, this name will remain in my memory for a long time. Welcome in the middle of the Kyrgyz steppes, in the immensity, with large green and brown grass areas, and an infinite horizon. It is the reign of horses, eagles, cows and marmots.
I had read on blogs that this region was one of the most wonderful and surprising in Kyrgyzstan, but once in the setting, you feel a real emotion running through your soul. A sentence from Sylvain Tesson comes to mind: if nature thinks, then landscapes are the expression of its ideas.
Faced with this reality, one can only agree with this idea.
We ride for several hours in this medieval landscape, very few humans we meet, then we arrive at the yurt where we had a night's stay. But nobody to understand our arrival because nobody speaks English. After 20 minutes of sign language and smiles, we are offered tea, horses are brought to us, and we make a new friend for the next 2 days, Sally, 13.
"Freedom is always there. You just have to pay the price."
Henry de Montherlant (Notebooks 1957).
I tried to teach her how to use my camera, and despite the fact that this photo is blurry, I particularly like it because she took it while capturing the expression of another child in the camp.
To be in the middle of the mountains at 3000m altitude, without network or Wi-fi, without contact with our usual world, no notifications, no untimely distractions, not to be subject to anyone's diktat. To welcome landscapes and emotions as they come, to feel the warmth of the sun on your face in the morning with a glass of tea in your hand. Communicating with your hosts only with smiles. It was an exceptional experience.
Taking back control of your time is a true form of freedom.
It's funny, you dream of a country on the other side of the world, you browse Google Images from your sofa imagining yourself in each of the settings, you read travellers' blogs, then you find yourself on a horse in the middle of a Kyrgyz steppe looking at the horizon and letting your thoughts go. It's become so easy to travel, a plane ticket bookable online, a few itinerary searches and you're in business.
Nature, cold and animals will be rare commodities tomorrow. Let's make the most of it while there's still time.
On the Altyn-Arashan side, we hiked up to 4000m to observe the frozen lake of Issyk Koul. We had chosen to be accompanied by a guide because of the difficulty of the unmarked routes, and we did not regret it. It was really intense, but exhilarating to reach the top.
Once at the top, there was no sign of life on the horizon, no birds or cattle. Only the meringue mountain tops, the cold and its icy breeze.
A Kyrgyz proverb says that in the mountains you can experience the four seasons in one day.
After this strenuous hike and a day spent with wet feet, the return to our yurt heated by the stove was worthy of a palace. Warm under my two blankets, my legs still full of lactic acid, I close my eyes and hear the wood crackling.
It was an incomprehensible sensation for those used to luxury hotels, but I think I spent one of the best nights of my life, the total calmness before falling asleep was indescribable.
As in any adventure race, there are always a few unforeseen events, and as the country roads in Kyrgyzstan are not always tarred, twice we got a flat tyre and had to change it.
Writing travel notes is to fight against forgetting, forgetting all those trivial but so important details that we meet while travelling. Forgetting those sensations that run through our body and heart. Forgetting the beautiful encounters and the affectionate smiles on those foreign faces.
The years pass and the memories fade. But with the photos and travel books, you can go back and relive some of those beautiful moments, like a film projection. Even the smells come back.