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Kyrgyzstan
Walking through ancient walnut forests
Arslanbob, in south west Kyrgyzstan, where the pace and flavour of life is dictated by the ancient walnut forests that drape the surrounding landscape. Our digital postcards capture a couple of days amidst the splendid surroundings of this rural village.

On our last morning in Arslanbob we are sitting in the yard of a walnut miller, eating walnut pancakes and sipping bowls of tea.

It’s November and the air is crisp, the sky a brilliant blue and the light illuminates the steam unfurling from our tea. We are fresh from rising early to watch the sunrise over the valley, where the goats scrambling up the hillsides were our only company.

 

 

The sun gradually lights up the tall spruce trees that rise above the houses in the town.

Our curiosity about what happens to all the walnuts this town produces led us to the miller’s house. Arslanbob is home to the world’s oldest walnut forests and every September local people set up camp on the forest floor to harvest the bounty in the trees.

 

 

Walnuts are lucrative and bring in a decent chunk of cash to the locals with a license to harvest them.

We’re too late for this year’s harvest, the trees in the hallowed forests are now bare, their branches casting skeleton-like shadows across the forest paths.

 

 

In the markets there are still baskets and bags full of walnuts for sale, the vendors’ fingers often stained black by the fruit. The market is also the place to find fruit leather, fresh meat, piping hot samsas and pillow-soft bread.

 

 

Many people take their walnuts to the miller to press the oil from them. In a simple hut at the bottom of the yard, one of the owner’s sons pours the walnuts into the machine and as if by magic, oil spills out at the other end.<br>The scent of walnut perfumes the tiny room with a mouthwatering toasted aroma.

 

 

By November all of the summer crowds have gone and Arslanbob’s dirt track roads have been reclaimed by locals again.

The government wanted to prevent people from using the tree wood for fire wood. The walnut forests here are now protected by law, such is their importance and heritage.

 

 

This is a place in which to get lost, wandering along one of the paths out of the town and up into the surrounding hillsides, where the walnut forests spill out towards the horizon, cloaked in mist and shrouded in history.

When we first arrived to Arslanbob the owner of our CBT (community based tourism) hostel arranged for a driver to collect us from the main square. A maroon coloured Lada Niva roared towards us with a cranky pensioner at the wheel. We sped up the rocky track towards the house, impressed and surprised at how well the old car (and its driver) managed the challenging conditions.

 

 

Who knows how many times before he had driven this exact patch of road, thousands I suspect.

The walnut pancakes in front of us look like regular pancakes but they’ve been made with walnut oil, so that now familiar aroma of toasted walnut seeps out of them as we pull them apart with our fingers. Leaving them slick with the excess walnut oil as we enjoy the intense toasted flavour.

 

 

Soon it will be time to climb back into the bumpy old Lada and bid goodbye to this quietly magical little town. With its enchanted forests, breathtaking hills and jagged rocky outcrops.

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