There is no such thing as a signpost, however my driver Azamat is aware of to show off the primary freeway and to take the winding slim street by way of the Tian Shan mountains. Our vacation spot for the evening is Min Kush, a former Soviet uranium mining city, which my information e book describes as the tip of the street in each manner.

Throughout Soviet instances, uranium was mined right here for Russia’s nuclear programme. It was thought to be so necessary that the Kyrgyz city was dominated immediately by Moscow and attracted extremely expert labour from everywhere in the Soviet Union; wages have been double the nationwide common and staff got particular privileges and holidays. So secretive was Min Kush throughout Soviet instances that it didn’t seem on any maps and also you wanted a allow to enter. 

The uranium mine was shut down in 1968 and new industries have been created, notably a felt tip pen manufacturing facility. However for the reason that collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the city has change into a shadow of its former self; factories and residences stand in ruins and the inhabitants has fallen from 20,000 to round 3,000.  

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It’s nightfall as we move a big concrete signal welcoming us to Min Kush. The street is lined with two-storey blue picket clapboard blocks of flats, a lot of them boarded up and the others in a state of nice disrepair. The place has an eerie really feel to it.

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We move a park the place a statue of Lenin as soon as stood pleasure of place in entrance of the opera home. Right now the bottom is roofed in weeds and the statue has gone together with the music. A small group of males stand ingesting vodka by the bus shelter, which is embellished with a mosaic of Lenin’s head.

My driver has heard of a mattress and breakfast referred to as Kurkuldai, the one one within the city, and telephoned a number of hours earlier. I’m dreading what I’ll discover however am so grateful for a mattress after driving for 9 hours. We park exterior a crumbling concrete house block and name our host. Alec Petrovich comes out to greet us and leads us by way of a damaged door, into the darkish stairwell, and as much as the primary flooring.  

Couple Alec and Gulnara, who run Min Kush’s solely B&B (Jo Kearney)

We enter his house, and to my nice shock discover it newly refurbished, with a big, shiny, open-plan kitchen full with island and home equipment that wouldn’t be misplaced in a contemporary metropolis. The bedrooms are tastefully furnished and dishes of nuts and fruits are ready.  

Alec’s spouse Gulnara Nogoibaevo has ready recent river trout and roasted greens for dinner, and Czech crystal glasses are crammed with native honey and recent jams. It’s the finest meals I’ve eaten in Kyrgyzstan. 

Gulnara used to work for a world support company and speaks good English, and as we eat dinner collectively I ask her why she and Alec have chosen to make Min Kush their house.

Factories fallen into disrepair (Jo Kearney)

She tells me that Alec was a coronary heart specialist on the native hospital. His father had been a scientist within the city, been born and bred right here, and had returned house after his medical coaching within the capital Bishkek.

After the collapse of communism, his siblings and 5 kids moved away together with a lot of the inhabitants. However Alec liked the mountains and says he felt an obligation to his sufferers to not depart. Gulnara is his second spouse, and he persuaded her to marry him and transfer from Bishkek to Min Kush, which appeared an immense sacrifice on her half.

Regardless of fears of the radioactivity of the uranium waste buried within the mountains, Alec assures us that most cancers is simply the third main sickness right here after coronary heart issues and alcoholism. 

The subsequent morning, after a breakfast of crepes and eggs baked with tomatoes, we head out to discover the small city. Kids well dressed at school uniforms stroll to high school previous the dilapidated locked up buildings, the women with massive bows of their hair paying homage to Soviet instances. Life’s routines proceed regardless of there being little probability of employment right here.

Derelict factories in Min Kush (Jo Kearney)

A couple of minutes’ stroll from our guesthouse is the previous industrial space of the city, the place now solely skeletons of factories stay. Roofs have caved in and home windows have misplaced their glass. Written on the facade of 1 manufacturing facility is the date 1953, the 12 months the city was constructed. The clock by which the employees time their shifts fell off way back.

Inside one derelict constructing are rusting inexperienced machines scattered among the many mud and fowl droppings. The stays of posters with security directions are nonetheless on the wall, fuel masks lay among the many rubble and in one other manufacturing facility 1000’s of plastic pen components are spewed everywhere in the flooring. We’re instructed that the nibs for these pens have been made in St Petersburg, such was the interwoven financial community of the united states.

Timber and roots weave their manner by way of the ruins and cows and horses graze: holding livestock is the one manner individuals survive right here lately.

Fuel masks litter the ground of 1 manufacturing facility (Jo Kearney)

An additional 10-minute drive up the mountain observe, we method the second a part of city, referred to as Min Kush 2,260m resulting from its elevation. Grandmothers sit on benches within the autumn solar whereas kids play soccer and journey bikes. Rusting Soviet Lada vehicles, some with out wheels, sit exterior dilapidated blocks of flats. Close by is the doorway to the uranium mine that has been roughly blocked off. A purple signal warns individuals away, exhibiting the nuclear image beside a cranium. A neighborhood man tells us that earlier than the mine was correctly blocked up, kids used to crawl into the tunnels and play – till a baby disappeared someday and was by no means seen once more.

A Soviet Lada automotive (Jo Kearney)

We meet a girl combing sheep wool for weaving exterior a small store that hasn’t modified a lot since Soviet instances. She doesn’t need to be named however tells us that the city has seen the very best and worst of instances: “As a result of it was supported by Moscow the outlets have been full, it was the very best place to stay. We had every thing: juice, biscuits, sweets. I used to carry meals from right here when visiting my grown up kids in Bishkek.”

She survives on a small pension from her time working within the felt tip pen manufacturing facility. “I’d like to go away however don’t have wherever to go,” she says.

She provides that she hasn’t felt the consequences of uranium on her well being however says “a number of the youthful individuals complained about feeling in poor health”.

Retaining livestock is a supply of employment right here (Jo Kearney)

After lunch on the mattress and breakfast, we accompany Alec and Gulnara to their dacha, a small cottage, exterior the city. After passing the crumbling factories we drive into lovely countryside, a verdant inexperienced valley surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. It’s a world away from the devastation of Min Kush.

Located beside a crystal clear river is the dacha, the place Alec retains dozens of bee hives. We sit by the river and feast on honeycomb that Alec has drawn from considered one of his hives.

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Gulnara outlines their plan to carry vacationers right here and arrange yurt camps in the summertime months. They’ve additionally bought a number of the empty flats on the town, which they plan to show into guesthouses; within the valley they’re having a home constructed.

“My goal is to coach native individuals to be guides and produce employment again to the city,” says Alec.

There are plans to knock down the stays of the factories and, with worldwide assist, to take away uranium dumps and clear up the realm.

In the future Min Kush could also be related to pure magnificence and outside mountain pursuits resembling strolling, climbing and white river rafting. However, till then, it represents a surprising legacy of Soviet instances.

Journey necessities

Getting there

Turkish Airways, Pegasus Airways and Aeroflot fly to Bishkek, with a change in both Istanbul or Moscow. A minibus leaves Bishkek for Min Kush day by day at 6am.

Staying there

Mattress and breakfast on the guesthouse Kurkuldai, plus a night meal, is $20 per evening. Gulnara and Alec might be contacted on +99 6550544959.