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October 11, 2002

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Almost as much fun as banging your head on concrete, registering a tourist visa in Kyrgyzstan wouldn't be so bad if you could anaesthetize your brain. First, deposit one dollar in the government's bank account. Fill out a form in Russian that explains why you're depositing one dollar in the government's bank account. Receive a receipt and take this to immigration control. At immigration control, stand in line, receive another Russian form from a bored immigration official, fill this form out that re-affirms what you filled out at the bank - a few tries necessary - and then receive a little stamp that says: You're registered! Smile at the official who will yawn and shoo you out of his office. This process enables the government to keep tabs on you and to employ many record keepers. It also helps police officers extort bribes from tourists. We'll need our registration in case a police officer asks to see our passport.
Kyrgyzstan isn't full of archaelogical sites because nomadic empires that controlled this region through history didn't build lasting monuments. This might be the biggest site in the country, the Burana Tower, built in the 11th century by the Karakhanid, a Turkic people that conquered this area for Islam.
Balbals, stone grave markers near the Burana tower, do a much better job than our gravestones of describing who's buried here.
Kyrgyzstan landscape, 94% mountainous. These mountains kept the area nomadic until the Russians imposed collectivisation in the early 1900's. Today the Tian Shan range still isolates the northern population from the south.
We finished our day at a campsite on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul. The name means 'warm lake' because the waters never freeze due to 700 meter depth, thermal activity, and mild salinity. No water flows out from the lake; it's become the second largest alpine lake (in area) after Lake Titicaca of South America. The area around Issyk Kul looks like semi-desert.