February 20, 2020
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Swimming the Sky

Swimming the Sky
Kyrgyzstan? Never heard of it, said a foreign office mandarin seriously. It is the place where Russian President Vladimir Putin went after his recent visit to Delhi. It is one of the five new Central Asian states and a former Soviet republic lying on the legendary Silk Route. Sardar Avtar Singh is a respected figure in Kyrgyzstan. Not a household name yet, but getting there. He knows all about the ‘double entente’. He has a wife from Jalandhar and one from Bishkek (the capital)—both living, not always amicably, under the same roof. He is a professional journalist working with The Times of Central Asia published from Bishkek and, like all good reporters, relies on two sources for news: the government and vodka. The latter is virtually free in Kyrgyzstan as the government provides a 60 per cent subsidy on every bottle. I tell you, Kyrgyzstan is the place to be. The future King of Nepal, Crown Prince Paras (who is known to enjoy a drink or two—or three or four...) has been quick to discover this. He made his first foray into diplomacy by paying an official visit to Kyrgyzstan last month.

The plane-ride from New Delhi to Bishkek did not prepare us for the country. The Kyrgyz partiality for vodka does not extend to their airlines. No alcohol is served on the flight but there is no bar on bringing your own—and the air hostesses will provide water, ice and glasses. The minute we were airborne, there was an orderly scramble for the hand baggage—Johnny Walker Black Label and Royal Challenge came out and it was party time! Only once did the air hostess request us to come and sit in the aircraft’s rear as it was having difficulty balancing itself.

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