Central Asia Travel Diary

After yesterday's long drive, today proceeded at a more relaxed pace.  After waking at 7 am to find the showers in the guesthouse all locked, I performed an APC while Andy slept in.  We had breakfast at 8 am in the guesthouse's bizarrely decorated subterranean dining room to the accompaniment of Russian music video clips on the television, before setting off at 9 am.  Our first stop was the tourist centre where we had to make a reservation for camping this evening.  Unfortunately the campsite at Barskoön, which was our intended destination, could not be reached by phone, so we made a booking at a new encampment of five yurts built on a sandy spit right beside Lake Issyk-Kul, just east of the village of Tosor, west of the town on Tamga and about 15 kilometres (I think) from Barskoön.  I took the opportunity of visiting the tourist centre to buy a postcard, so it was fortunate that our next stop was the post office.

Buying stamps at the post office was an interesting affair, as always seems to be the case in this part of the world.  Because of inflation, the postcard needed about 8 postage stamps, which meant they had to be stuck on top of each other with just the value of each one showing.  It should make quite a keepsake – if it ever arrives.

After filling the tank of our Lada Niva with petrol, we headed off to the west from Karakol, skirting the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul.  After about an hour's drive we came to a small valley off the main road (if it could be called that) with a spectacular formation of weathered orange conglomerate rocks forming a steep escarpment.   There was a small Kyrgyz village in the base of the valley called Zheti-Oguz (sometimes transliterated Jeti-Öghüz, and means Seven Bulls) which comprised a swift mountain stream, a seemingly abandoned youth camp with its socialist-era sculptures still intact in the grounds, a sanitorium, a few cottages, some yurts and a general store.

We spent two hours at Zheti-Oguz, trekking up the side one of the very steep mountains surrounding the valley.  Andy and I made a circular route, ascending by a very steep but comparatively short track, and descending by a gentler but more circuitous track that provided stunning views of the valley and the spectacular rock outcrops.  The rock outcrops are known as the Seven Bulls, and are supposed to represent seven calves that have grown fat on the valley's pastures.  In fact, erosion of the soft rock seems to be allowing the bulls to multiply!

We finished our trek at a small yurt where we had an authentic Kyrgyz lunch of mutton dumplings, bread, tea and horse milk, excellent value at just 145 som for the two of us.

From Zheti-Oguz we made the two hour journey to our destination on the shores of Lake Issuk-Kul.  We passed through several towns and villages, most of which had a very depressed air with abandoned buildings, old wrecks of cars, unkempt gardens, and so on.  It seems that most Russians left Kyrgyzstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Kyrgyz people remaining posses very few managerial or professional skills.  Andy and I even stopped for photos at a sad looking statue of Lenin which still stands shining in the overgrown grounds of a youth palace in one of the towns.  The youth palace, like most in Kyrgyzstan, has now closed because the government no longer has the funds to sustain them.

The five yurts comprising our encampment were quite new, which meant of course that the smell of animal skin was still quite strong in our yurt.  Almost as soon as we arrived, an electrical storm started unleashing heavy rain, but the storm lasted only an hour or so.

The sun was soon shining brightly again and so Andy decided to have a swim in the lake – not realising until he entered the water that the lake has formed from the rivers of the surrounding mountains, most of which are draining melting snow fields and glaciers.  Nonetheless, he enjoyed his cold swim while I stretched out on a rock, until a second storm hit at a little before 6 pm – shorter but even more intense than the first.

We enjoyed dinner in one of the yurts at 7 pm, a lovely big dinner of pasta with beef, followed by chicken with potato and salad, Kyrgyz doughnuts with strawberry jam, all washed down with Coke and tea.  The family running the yurt encampment alsp ate with us, including their 8 year old boy Timothy, who spent much of the dinner asking us questions about Australian animals (through an interpreter, of course).

We drifted off to sleep to the soft patter of raindrops falling on the felt roof of our yurt.

Thursday 6 July 2006

Karakol to Tosor

Zheti-Oguz, Kyrgyzstan
Lenin statue, south side of Lake Issuk-Kul
Storm clouds over our yurts, Tosor