Kyrgyzstan: Around Issyk-Kul Lake

29 to 30 May 2017

The main goal is to head down to Karakol then Bokonbaevo along the shores of the world’s 5th deepest lake- Issyk-Kul.  I have two days for this trip which is sufficient for a comfortable and scenic ride. After the late arrival, I headed off to start the day.

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The open-air museum of the Petroglyphs at Cholpon- Ata is located to the north of the city. Right up next to the mountain ranges that divides the country from Kazakhstan, it is quite a large area with very little markings and information.

DSC08545 Surrounded by villages and residental areas, one man (ticket counter) watches on this old site filled with more than 2000 petroglyphs dating from 800BC to 1200AD. Although figures of humans can be found, animal depictions are more common.  May and June should reallly be peak  season for travellers. However, many still visit during the Nomad Games which is just as fascinating (more crowded). Blessed with good weather, lovely local people, an endless sky of eternal blue and white clouds (whether if they are marshallow soft or with dramatical angles), it is hard to not feel a sense of relief and quietness.  The rocks, burial mounds and petroglyphs quietly watches on the very few visitors who travelled from afar to Kyrgyzstan. It was a nice feeling to be surrounded by pristine nature and to have history at my feet.

The long drive towards Karakol was comfortable with cool breeze and endless scenery. Taalai, my driver is super philosophical and knowledgeable. He gave me a prep talk along the way and shared with me the history of his country and the various towns that we’ve past. He also made sure that I tried the most authentic dishes of Kyrgyz cuisine.

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We made a random stop at a local flour factory (toilet stop) and the place, ran by a local family for many years, is a great display of local economy. Although small, one factory provides flours for the local and nearby towns- this is self sufficiency. I suspect that it tastes nice too since there was an irresistible aroma from the neighbouring bakery.

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After lunch, we headed into Karakol City. Formerly Przhevalsk, named after a Russian explorer who died there, it is the largest city or town to the eastern tip of the lake. Used as a military outpost for Russian Tsarist troops, the fertile land and black soil gave the city her name Karakol which means “black soil.” The first stop was the monument to commemorate Przhevalsk ( a few statues and a mini museum dedicated to this Russin explorer + lots of greenery). The second stop was at a very empty Dungan Mosque ( built without any metal nails by the Dungan people.) Small but clean, it is one of the strangest mosques that I’ve seen since it look more like a temple. The nearby Russian Orthodox Church is the jewel of the city. DSC08593

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Built by wood and beautifully painted, the wooden church with her onion dome was consecrated in 1895 after an earthquake which destroyed the original Karakol Church in 1889. During and following the revolution, it has been used as an educational centre, a school, dance hall …before restoring it and putting it into service again. The walk around the local bazaar offered a window into the daily lives of the merchants there. 80% of the products came from China which makes you wonder about economic balance and fairness.  Unlike the nasty encounter with some angry shopkeepers in the local ULB Mongolia market, the people in Kyrgyzstan are hospitable and geuninely kind. (RANDOM: I saw some people moving rocks at the market and Taalai pointed out those are in fact salt rocks. Sold to farmers and consumed by livestocks, this is the biggest consumable rock salt I’ve seen in my life).

The first day ended at Happy Yurt Camp where the owner spoke candidly about his country. There is nothing more pleasing than to know the achievements and challenges of a country through the p.o.v of a well-informed local. He believes that out of all the Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan is most democratic since it is not an one-party state and the leader is not worshipped. Unlike Kazakhstan where the President stayed in power since the foudning of the country or similar cases in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan (known as the North Korea of Central Asia), Kyrgyzstan has seen many unrest, uprising and revolutions since the 1990’s. Presidents were corrupted, they were ousted by the people  and the people are not afraid of the police. However, one major challenge that he pointed out is rising cases of corruption. Evident throughout the sectors and across all areas, corruption is blantantly evident. The reason?- poverty. Who are corrupted? politicians? Yes, most of them are corrupted but it also comes from the police, developers, teachers, doctors etc because of low salaries. A policeman receives 200 USD/month and this is pretty much the same for other professions. Unemployment and rising living costs ( especially for big cities) is a challenges. Thus, from sending kids to school to buying medicine and building houses, “you always need to pay a bit more.”  Despite high youth unemployment rates and a brain drain, the owner believes that when there is a will, there is always a way for the country to create jobs and ensure that they are self-sufficient.

Much of the second day was spent around the lake. Two natural stops were made: 1) Jeti-Oguz or Valley of the Seven Bulls and 2) Fairy Canyon. Jeti Oguz is a large red sedimentary rock carved by a river from Mt. Terskey Alatoo. Weathering split the rocks into seven parts. DSC08711DSC08700

A family retreat/farmland located in the valley, the air is always fresh and the place is lush and green. Fairy Canyon, right off the main road and opposite of the crystal blue waters of Issyk-Kul Lake, is a surprisingly wonderful stop. The rocky landscape and colours reminded me of an episode of “Walking with Dinosaurs”.DSC08785 The landscape is so pristine and primitive in the sense that it has remained untouched and the surrounding environment left untainted by any signs of modern architecture. This is perfect. It was dead quiet as I walked throughout the valley up and down rocky and dirt paths. The only sound was the gentle howls of the incoming wind, the neighing of one horse in the distance and my steps.

DSC08825Having time to stare into blank space in a quiet setting is a luxury- so is being left to my own solitary device…completely immersed in nature with no one around me.

The Camp Site at Bokonevo conssits of a dozen yurts and several swings. In the middle of nowhere and right by the shores of the lake, it was a great way to watch every passing minute by lying on the sand and staring at the clouds above or getting in touch with the inner child and spend time on the swings. Night time came- tomorrow is the last day.

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