Sometimes we come to a place and we know instantly that it will stay with us for a long time. Arslanbob was one such place. We arrived at night after a long 10 hour shared taxi ride from Bishkek (the Kyrgyz capital). Even in the pitch black we could feel something special in this small mountain village.
Arslanbob is an alpine village of 13,000 people, 97% of whom are Uzbek and nearly all are of the Muslim faith. This village is nestled below the Baba-Ata Mountains and is famous for having the world’s largest walnut forest! This is the kind of place we had been waiting for.
The owner of CBT Arslanbob and avid businessman Hyat, walked us to our homestay (#16) in the dark and the friendly family invited us in with open arms and cooked us dinner even though we arrived late.
The following morning we awoke to fresh brewed chai (tea) and a delicious meal of eggs, bread and local salsa. We walked out of our private room and into our host family’s beautiful orchard. As we brushed aside a few chickens, we gazed up and the true beauty of Arslanbob slowly started to reveal itself.
Behind us, towering over the entire village, were the soaring peaks of Baba-Ata. Next to our homestay’s property, a crystal clear, turquoise river cut through the village effectively separating it from east to west.
As we left the gates and waved goodbye to our new family, we walked into a world of authentic Uzbek culture. People strolled the streets in traditional clothing. The women were dressed in colourful dresses which often matched their head scarf. Men congregated in small circles on the gravel road, sporting the typical muslim taqiyah (hat) and long coats while their gold teeth gleamed in the morning sun. Once again our travel juices were flowing and we were reenergized by a burst of excitement.
There are so many things to do in Arslanbob that we didn’t really know where to start. We visited our friend Hyat, back at the CBT office and he gave us plenty of options. We decided just walk around the village on our own and find some of the sites around the village.
First we walked up a long dirt road to the 23 meter high Small Waterfall, named only by its comparison to the village’s Big Waterfall (80 m) that we unfortunately didn’t go to. The small one was impressive enough. The mist from it reached us before the actual falls were visible and granted us a much needed retreat from the heat. We climbed around the waterfall and enjoyed the cooler temperature before heading up to Panorama, a viewpoint over the city.
That afternoon we blogged in the orchard outside of our homestay. With the sound of the river roaring down the valley, and with a view of the massive icy pinnacles above us, we realized just how much we love our new job.
The next day we planned a fishing tour through CBT with a local, 73 year old fisherman named Badash. We left in the afternoon and arrived at the village in perfect time for fishing, as the sun sank low in the valley. Unfortunately, the trip was plagued by my old fishing curse and we didn’t catch anything bigger than 6 inches, but it was the surroundings and the company that made the trip.
In the evening, we sat around a campfire with Badash and our guide, Lechin, swapping travel stories with hunting tales. Badash has seen many things in his life, including many snow leopards and a change in his country. We had originally hoped to save some money and not have a guide, but we’re glad we decided to go with one because Lechin was a wealth of knowledge and he gave us a greater understanding of Kyrgyzstan and its people. After a few hours of chatting around the campfire, we gazed at the infinite number of twinkling stars above us, before retiring to bed in our tent.
The next morning, we ate a delicious breakfast prepared by Lechin and spent a few more hours of unsuccessful fishing before heading back to Arslanbob. Our one night trip was memorable, but too short as we would have loved to spend more time with our new friends.
Upon our return to the village, we checked into a new homestay (#12) and met a new family. The CBT homestays in Arslanbob are numbered 1-20 and rated from 1-3 stars. This homestay was rated 2 stars and we were told it was the best in town. After we checked in we relaxed on the terrace, which had a magnificent view over the valley. It was hard to peel ourselves away to go and see what made Arslanbob famous, its walnut forest!
We walked back up past the Panorama viewpoint and slowly the path closed in as massive walnut trees covered the trail. We weren’t sure if they were walnut trees at first until a small, encased nut fell from a tree directly above us. I used my trusty Leatherman to break into the shell and reveal the oily brown morsel inside. This would be the first of many nuts we would eat as we walked deeper into the forest, the taste was amazing and we just couldn’t get enough of them.
Further down the path, we found a gate which led to a thicker forest of the towering trees. We walked through the gate and over hundreds of fallen nuts towards a hill in the distance. As we came closer to our target, we noticed a local family had set up a picnic on the grass. We didn’t want to intrude but they invited us over and we enjoyed tea, bread and a giggle-filled photo-shoot with the friendly family.
There was Grandma, Mom, Dad, son and daughter all camped out under the trees for 2 weeks of the harvest season. They would literally eat, sleep and live walnuts for 14 days before returning to the village to sell their plunder. After an hour or so, we gave the kids some Canada stickers and waved goodbye to the incredibly hospitable family. With massive grins on our faces, we walked back to our homestay, knowing we just had a great, authentic local experience.
We spent a total of 4 nights in Arslanbob and we loved every minute of it. With so much to do around this tiny village we could have spent 2 weeks exploring the mountains, wandering the village and getting to know the locals, but sometimes travel has its deadlines and as our visas were about to run out, we headed for Osh city, the administrative and financial capital of the Osh Province.
From Osh we will embark on a truly epic journey, a 14 day 4WD haul on the breathtaking Pamir Highway. One of the world’s most beautiful roads and the second highest on earth.
Arslanbob Was One Of Our Favourite Villages Ever… What’s Yours? Please Leave A Comment Below.
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