It being my first full day in Arslanbob (the mad dash there from Bishkek and an evening of delicious food not counting), I had two desires: to hike and to relax in the massive walnut grove Arslanbob is famous for. In one day, I planned to accomplish both of those.
I stopped at the local CBT office for directions before setting out. Luckily, a group of Germans was just a little ways ahead of me, blazing the trail with a GPS and mad Russian language skills. Always one for an easier option, I let them lead.
Our first stop was the ‘Small Waterfall’. Small by comparison only, it is a local holy site just on the outskirts of town.
Just before the falls, I broke off from the group of Germans to relieve myself and have a snack. I enjoyed relaxing for a few minutes by the stream, watching a lone woman tend a field on the hillside.
There were a number of beautiful little flowers in bloom by the stream, vestiges of summer holding on into the early fall.
After my snack, I headed down to the waterfall. A slippery metal staircase descended, luckily the handrail was sturdy. The falls were beautiful. The river flowed along the edge of the cliff before tumbling over, cascading into a pit of slippery, algae-covered stone. After the short hike in the sun, it was nice to stand and be cooled by the spray.
Doubling back to my lunch spot, I continued up the hill and found myself in a small walnut grove. The air stilled and the sound of the river disappeared; all I could hear was the soft rustle of leaves punctuated by the occasional ‘thud’ of a walnut plummeting to the ground.
One family or, rather, one woman gathered walnuts on the hillside while the men watched. A trio of donkeys horsed around in the shade, shying to the side as I walked past. To my left, another family bagged potatoes in a field, the red mesh bags left in the sun as they were filled close to bursting.
I emerged blinking from the grove and caught my first glimpse of the magnificent mountains behind Arslanbob. Awesome.
I continued on to the upper village, winding through a tangle of dirt roads between wattle and daub houses. Straw and alfalfa was stuffed into lofts, clay ovens situated out front for baking flat-bread.
After walking around in the hills above the village and even taking a short nap, I finally found a bigger walnut grove. The dirt road continued on between twisting trunks, the ground was carpeted in green. Here, it was much more common to see people collecting walnuts. Plots of land were sectioned off, a tent on each to accommodate the family harvesting there.
Not only the adults were up in the grove; children were riding, running, and meandering all over the forest too. Whenever I had my camera out, cries of ‘Photo, photo!’ would ring out. I would snap a picture of the kid(s) and show it to them, zooming in so they could see their faces.
With directions from two of the kids above, I made it out of the grove and emerged to a breathtaking panorama of the Arslanbob valley. I could see the entire length, from the distant rolling plains to the town and the mountains beyond.
It was still a long walk back, so by the time I made it home I was exhausted. Still, I’d achieved my goals. Hiking? Check. Relaxing in the walnut grove? Check. Eating a delicious dinner? Well, that was next…