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Pik Lenin with Mountain Madness

Pik Lenin: Exploring a country with a window into the past

In the Fall of 2013, Moun­tain Mad­ness was com­ing up on it’s 30 anniver­sary. We want­ed to do some­thing sym­bol­ic of the com­pa­ny’s lega­cy and tra­di­tion. We want­ed to do a unique expe­di­tion on a big moun­tain in a remote loca­tion. Pik Lenin: a true adventure.

First glimpse of the moun­tains from Osh. Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

Fast for­ward near­ly a year and there I was emerg­ing from cus­toms, after 2 hours of wait­ing, in the Osh Air­port, Kry­gyzs­tan. It was the mid­dle of night. It seems all flights in and out of Osh revolve around the air traf­fic sched­ules of oth­er more desir­able des­ti­na­tions. Any flight going through Osh places you in the air­port at a for­sak­en hour of the night. 

Lug­gage claim involved pick­ing up my rain soaked lug­gage from a load­ing dock. Exit­ing the ter­mi­nal, I was plunged into a nar­row gaun­let through the bod­ies sur­round­ing and chok­ing the exit. With a duf­fel burst­ing at the seams, a car­ry-on filled with food and a mes­sen­ger bag con­tain­ing all my elec­tron­ics, I was forced to roll my wheeled duf­fel over the feet of every per­son in Osh. As is stan­dard in these sit­u­a­tions, my pre­arranged taxi ride was nowhere to be found, leav­ing me in the vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tion of arriv­ing in a new coun­try, tired, with a very fog­gy idea of where I was, where I was going and what exact­ly that exchange rate was.

Sacred Mt. Sua­ly­man and one of its mosques. Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

The trav­el dra­ma is sim­ply the price of admis­sion to an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence. Kyr­gyzs­tan is a coun­try caught in the past. Osh is referred to as the cap­i­tal of the south and, at a pop­u­la­tion of only 250,000, is the sec­ond largest city in the coun­try. Though over 3,000 years old, the set­tle­ment was not real­ized as a city until the Sovi­et occu­pa­tion dur­ing the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Mod­ern indus­try was brought with the Sovi­ets but, even now, has large­ly col­lapsed after Kyr­gyz inde­pen­dence and the fall of the USSR in 1991. How­ev­er, Osh had long been a cen­ter of trade, con­nect­ing the Silk Road from Chi­na though Cen­tral Asia.

The steps down to the mar­ket entrance belie its sig­nif­i­cance. Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

Vis­it­ing the coun­try is a win­dow into the past. The Kyr­gyz are a his­tor­i­cal­ly nomadic peo­ple, the omnipresent yurt (even styl­ized onto the nation­al flag) a con­stant reminder that instead of cities, the Kyr­gyz are accus­tomed to graz­ing their ani­mals and mov­ing on. In Osh, the Great Silk Road Bazaar stands as the largest out­door mar­ket in Cen­tral Asia and a reminder that trade, as opposed to indus­try, remains a dom­i­nant part of coun­try’s econ­o­my. The bazaar is over a kilo­me­ter in length, run­ning along side the Ak-Bura Riv­er. The mar­ket has stood in the same place for over 2,000 years, and though intru­sions of mod­ern” soci­ety have entered the mar­ket­place (mobile phones, music CDs, dig­i­tal stor­age), the mar­ket is still a bas­tion of ancient times. Spices, silk, kalpak (the felt Kyz­gyz hat) and clothes dom­i­nate the goods for sale.

Spices for sale at the Great Silk Road Bazaar. Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

Soon, though, it was time to leave the city for the moun­tains, pass­ing end­less yurts on the long dri­ve to Pik Lenin Base Camp at Achik-Tash. Dri­ving the unim­proved roads as mod­ern day moun­tain nomads we made our way to the Pamir moun­tains look­ing through the win­dows of the past, the yurts a sym­bol and the graz­ing ani­mals the liv­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion, of a sim­ple life still lived by many. Our own adven­ture was still just beginning. 

~ MM Guide Tino Villanueva

Yurts in the Pik Lenin base camp. Tino Vil­lanue­va photo

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