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Silk Road Adventures
The ancient Silk Road was the means of transportation for goods from India and China to Europe. Vice versa, I wanted to transport my crashpads from Flirsch to India along this road.
Of course, spotting potential boulder areas is always on my mind, but equally important on this trip was to experience the lives of the Central Asian people and the wealthy history of the region.
To travel with two crashpads and a heavy backpack through regions of the world where no one has ever heard of bouldering brings its own advantages: wherever I went people were curious to know why I was bringing my own sleeping mattress (in particular at border controls…). Their questions quickly led to interesting conversations, often followed by an invitation to visit them. Throughout Central Asia I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people. At multiple occasions I was invited to stay with Uzbek and Kyrgyz families in their homes. Sitting on the floor around a low table they wanted to know everything about my life in Europe, and we discussed often using hands and feet, while they fed me delicious plov, and tasty fruit grown in their courtyards. As their honored guest I was allowed to sleep in the main room of their house and they only let me go again, piled with presents and the promise to return.
While there are no rocks and a desert spanning 70% of its area, Turkmenistan would offer amazing buildering opportunities. However, the strict military presence especially throughout its capital Ashgabat, made it impossible for me to ascend any monument and even difficult to merely take a picture. I only used the crashpad once, when I had to sleep in a road ditch, because no hotel accepted foreign tourists at that time of night… In Uzbekistan I did not find any great bouldering opportunities either, but even more monuments to climb. Surprisingly, the locals were very supportive and encouraged me to climb the beautiful buildings in the historical cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. Despite temperatures around 45 degrees Celsius, I made some first ascents in the early morning hours in Khiva. The first ascent of the Samarkand minaret, however, remains a project for the future…
A region I might return to is Kyrgyzstan and its vast mountain ranges. 90% of the country are mountains, so the chances of finding boulder spots there are pretty high. However, to eventually reach those boulders one has to be quite determined. I had to travel a day by jeep over unpaved roads, passing multiple border checkpoints (– luckily the soldiers were easily bribed with watermelons…), and then first walk over Tajik ground escorted by a Kyrgyz military officer and then Kyrgyz ground escorted by two donkeys and their guide. After 2 tiring days of walking through river gorges, alpine pastures and former war zones (now I understand why other mountain extreme teams come here by helicopter…), I finally reached Ak Suu valley, base camp to the Russian Tower and summer home to Kamal’s lovely Kyrgyz nomad family. In Ak Suu I found some nice boulders in the valley. They could not compete with the breathtaking view of 1600m granite walls, though. Next time I might bring a rope. What I enjoyed most was the fun hours with Kamal’s daughters, teaching them to climb their first boulders and showing once more how universal the joy of bouldering is: no matter whether it’s school children in Silvapark, Galtuer or nomads in remote Ak Suu, Kyrgyzstan – bouldering is just a natural way of moving.
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