Slowly, the mashrutka (a minibus, common public transport in Kyrgyzstan) winds its way up the mountain to around 3000m, and in every corner we take a plastic bag with watermelons dashes against my feet.
A few hours ago we left Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s buzzing south hub, for a spectacular ride to Sary Mogul: a village of 3000 souls persevering in one of the harshest regions of Kyrgyzstan, the Alay Mountains.
Apart from an Israelian girl humming along to “Despacito” from the speakers, everyone has fallen silent. Outside, self-painted traffic signs warn us about tight curves and rockfalls.
Since we left Osh, my face is stuck on the window pane in incredulous fascination about the scenery unfolding outside:
rosy sunlight shines through the grey clouds covering the mountains and heavy rain falls on the hilltops and the shadowy meadows.
Cheerful foals trott on the brown gras and roll in the dust. In the distance, flocks of sheep seem like little dots affixed to the hills, and their shepherds wear thick downjackets and hats pulled deeply in their faces. Doubtfully, I look at my short pants and the slippers I am wearing.
We stop in the middle of nowhere, and a mother and her little daughter get off. She takes her by the hand, and together they walk towards a lonely yurt behind the hills. The yurts here are a little asymmetric and crooked, and covered in brown fur instead of plastic tarp, like the tourist versions. White smoke smolders from the chimneys.
One last stop before Sary Mogul, a woman waits at the turn-off beside the road for us. Another woman on the mashrutka gets off and kisses her warmly on the cheeks. She presses a white package, perhaps medicine, in her hands.
And then we get to Sary Mogul: a sharp, cold wind blows as we get off the mashrutka, and we are blinded by the setting sun. I grab my bag and look around: low clay houses with green hay piled up on the flat roofs make up most of the village, power lines stretching across it.
Behind, a spectacular mountain range covered in snow rises up into the sky, stunning and intimidating. The rosy light of the sunset rests gently on the peaks, and above there is nothing but sky-blue.
Women in warm dresses and headscarves form dough into bread, which they bake in sooted ovens. We cross a narrow wooden bridge over the small river that flows through the village.
Kids on bicycles pass by and ask us for chocolate, and old men in long coats, with leather-like skin and small eyes, walk down the road. They nod friendly to us and point their fingers to the guesthouse.
It’s mid-August, and everyone seems prepared for winter.
Our guesthouse feels like something between Christmas and Siberian Winter, with carpets on the floor and the wall and the smell of wood and bread. We sit down on the low table to warm up with tea and stories about our adventures.
Night falls over Sary Mogul and reveals a starry sky of no comparison: as we peek out into the darkness, crisp, cold air numbs our senses and we stare silently at the galaxy far above us.
That night we go to bed in anticipation of exploring this rugged and strange place, full of enthralling beauty.