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16 October 2011 / leggypeggy

Never too remote for a souvenir shop

Tash Rabat’s caravanserai.

The last place we visited in Kyrgyzstan was a 15th century caravanserai at Tash Rabat. It’s tucked into a lovely and sheltered valley not far from At-Bashy, and looks more like a fort than accommodation for ancient silk road travellers.

We arrived on a gloriously sunny day, and piled out of the truck to roam through the rock structure which is very spread out, with plenty of indoor protection for livestock and their drovers.

The guidebooks say the Russians completely restored the building in 1984, but most of their work is rather crude, with concrete just slapped on the walls in many places. But the sheer size of the place is overwhelming, and I was especially glad Will, our driver, took us a bit out of our way to see it.

Because Tash Rabat is so far off the beaten track (about 60 kilometres from the main road), I wonder how make visitors make it there. Enough, of course, for the women living nearby to make/acquire souvenirs to sell to visitors. When we arrived, we saw a few people, a small encampment of yurts, a few vehicles, two dunnies (Aussie slang for outhouses) and a two-humped camel. When we emerged from the caravanserai, we found that two women had set up their ‘souvenir shop’ not far from the entrance.

Babies—a good marketing tool.

On several blankets, they displayed a colourful range of handmade goodies and we, being good tourists, were dutiful shoppers. These women drove hard bargains—meaning they didn’t bargain at all. A price was a price. No discounts, no special treatment for multiple purchases, no caving in to a sob story that someone was down to their last 398 som (Kyrgyzstan currency) when the price was 400. Go ahead, borrow the last two som from one of your companions. They didn’t say that because they didn’t speak English, but sign language works quite well in these circumstances. They displayed the baby too, which is always a good marketing ploy. Tourists love to take pictures of a cute baby.

I suckered up and took pics of the baby and bought three lightweight items with the last of my Kyrgyz cash. I hope the recipients appreciate these little presents—Libby, Petra and Maggie, I’m talking to you.

Soaking up the sun at Tash Rabat.

We set up camp for the night about halfway back to the turn-off from the main road. It was in a gully, and Poor John and I ‘discussed’ which way to put up the tent, given how windy it was. He argued that the wind would change direction in the middle of the night. Me—I just argued. We did it his way and the wind did change direction in the middle of the night. In the morning, he smiled sheepishly and said, ‘I know gullies’. Egads, I hate it when he’s right. Actually, I’m glad he was right, but you know what I mean.

P.S. For a picture of the camel, see Our own Burger King—Terry.

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