Over fall break in October, we finally bought a car. The next day we took off for the mountains. Learning under pressure to drive a right-wheeled car in a country that drives on the right side of the road, we made it out of the city unscathed. One dubious traffic stop, 1 000 som, and three hours later, we arrived at Ashu Guesthouse in Chong-Kemin Valley.
Still feeling tired from back-to-back moves, we decided on Chong-Kemin Valley for our first car trip. For one, it was close to Bishkek (about a 2-hour drive). Also, we heard great things about Ashu Guesthouse.
After checking in and eating a delicious, veg-friendly late lunch with buckwheat and eggs, we took Roxie to wander around the little town. Roxie enjoyed pretending to threaten the chickens while we fended off the group of children that decided we were the town’s newest celebrities. School had just gotten out and small groups of kids in dressy school uniforms sporadically emerged from the building in the center of town. Shouts of “hello!” and “what is your name” followed us down the street. When a pack of boys decided to protect us from a nearing stray dog, we decided it was time to head back to the guesthouse.
The next morning we took an early walk as the sun rose. The frost crunched beneath our feet as we made our way through the valley, flat land scrolling only a short distance before rolling into towering mountains in almost every direction. Our breath came out in tall white puffs, but the smoke rising from nearby houses reminded us that warmth wasn’t too far off.
The sun had barely risen as we walked by the last house in the village, only a block away from our guesthouse, and into an expansive field.
For two days we didn’t do much but explore, taking Roxie on walks outside, practicing yoga in the pagoda with our breath billowing in puffs of cold as we moved. We read and walked and played cribbage and drank coffee and ate delicious food, and it was so relaxing.
Ashu Guesthouse is a beautiful place. A double room including all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) runs about $60 per person. This is extremely expensive for Kyrgyzstan, but the feel of the guesthouse was very luxurious, at least for us, and for Kyrgyzstan. Since it was my birthday and we were looking for an easy, quiet getaway, we decided to splurge on a weekend retreat.
Wandering around town, we felt for the first time in a while how foreign this country we call home is. Living in a city where we can wander to the pizza place or burger joint and speak to our friends and coworkers in our native language, sometimes it doesn’t feel like we live abroad. This trip took care of that. We watched farmers on horseback herd their cattle in the mornings and evenings. We waved as a boy jauntily rode is donkey by, smiling ear to ear. We laughed as we watched a goat try to scale the roof of a small house nearby.
When we weren’t entertained by the local quirks, we were eating. The meals alone were worth the expensive price. We raved over the jam served at every meal.
The meals were extremely filling, and easily adapted to vegetarian fare. They are simple but healthy and delicious. For breakfast we were served a spread of bread, eggs, porridge, and pancakes. Lunch and dinner were different each day, including eggs and bulgur, oromo (a Kyrgyz dumpling), and soup, among other dishes. Just thinking about the food makes me wish I could go back immediately.
The decor of the accommodation was also beautiful. Krygyz felt pieces decorated the seating and the walls, and the bedding was soft linen with simple Kyrgyz designs. The beds were plush and cozy.
While we were there, a government financial organization was conducting a conference. The facilities are fantastic for a retreat or conference; I’m hoping to plan a yoga retreat over a weekend in the spring, but in the meantime hope to make it back just to relax and hang out.
The village itself doesn’t have much happening, but we were happy to meander the village and explore some local trails up the mountains. There is a lot to do in the area, and the guesthouse will help arrange transportation or guides to local sights. For us, it was enough this time to breathe the fresh air and listen to the roosters.
On the way out we noticed a woman who had been at the guesthouse standing at the bus stop in town. She was headed back to Bishkek so we picked her up to give her a lift. Good thing, too. I forgot to turn the lights on (a law on highways in Kyrgyzstan no matter the time of day) and was again pulled over by traffic police. However, our friend explained to the police that we are silly foreigners and it’s our first time driving and thus saved us from paying a 300 som fine.
We made it back to Bishkek relaxed and happy.