Stories

 

Kyrgyzstan


From the 13th of July to the 19th of August, 2017



While enjoying a cup of tea with some home-made bread and jam, we exchanged smiles and spoke our own language trying to make the other understand with lots of gestures. High in the mountains, in the no-mans land between the remote and fare apart borders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, we were invited for a cup of Chai by a Kyrgyz farmers family. Although the outside of the house looked like an abandoned building, I was surprised to discover a simple but cozy living area covered in carpets and with some pillows surrounding a low table. In the other corner of the room was an oven fed by cow dung. During this long journey through ex-soviet countries where English speaking people are pretty rare, we developed a sense for understanding each other with gesture and a lot of imagination. Reading the Cyrillic alphabet is also much of a guess work which can make shopping fun. Not understanding a thing also has some advantages: no need to play dumb with the police, we truly are ;-) On previous journey I often met people traveling the world who didn't speak a word of English and I thought: How the hell is that possible? For the last few months, we had the exact same handicap and you know what? It totally works...

Past the border, the valley opened up in a wide green pasture with yurts and cattle spread all around. Kids with snotty noses and worn cloths came close to the road to say hello. While Tajik faces looked kind of Persian, Kyrgyz have more of a Mongol influence. We enjoyed the sunset over the green field back-dropped by the snowy high peaks of the Pamir Alay Range.

    

The following day started with : "Why make a 60 kilometers detour to Sary-Mogol for a glimpse of Peak Lenin when we have the perfect view from here? Whatever, let's go anyway..." At the CBT office we were invited to yak wrestling training in a yurt camp two hours drive away. We followed them for 30 minutes before to be set off by a big river crossing. "Let's get closer to Peak Lenin then!" We turned around, took a shortcut through rolling green hills. This track was very little used but lots of fun driving for us before we reached our beautiful camp site surrounded by lakes. Peak Lenin was right there, at a distance across the river. The following day we hiked pass the base camp to the foot of the majestic 7134 meters high summit covered in glaciers. Our morning question was answered: Yes, it is worth the extra detour.

    

Osh was our first substantial town since we left Dushanbe 1600 kilometers away. We didn't find the mall we were dreaming off, but it was a good place to replenish our food stock, get some proper internet and a warm shower! It was also time to say good-by to 'The Germans' who were flying home for a couple of days. We knew there was good chances we would meet again somewhere in a couple of weeks.

I have been horse riding for 10 years but never had the chance to trek for a couple of days. In Arslanbob, we packed our camping gear and accompanied by Mashhur, our guide, and Arsan, the cook, we left for three days of adventures to the Holy Lake. As the crow flies, it is just 10 kilometers away, but with a 4000 meters high mountain in the way, it turned out to be more challenging than expected. After leaving town, we made our way to green hilly pastures with free grazing animals. Shortly after an idyllic little valley, we crossed our first of many rivers and started a steep ascent of the rocky mountain. Who said horse riding is a passive activity? I was surprised how well those horses managed their way up such a steep and uneven terrain. But that was nothing compared to what was still to come. The sun soon disappeared and gave way to very dark clouds and thunders. It didn't take long before to get the first rain drops which soon turned into a heavy hail storm! F***, that hurts! The little stream transformed into a fast flowing brown river. The terrain became very muddy and the steepness of some stretches made it impossible for us to follow the track. We had no other choice than criss-crossing the river, with water reaching above knees height of the horses. We also crossed a few snow bridges left over from the winter. Continuing our way up the mountain pass, we followed the hairpins of the track which turned into a stream of mud. The hail piled up covering the entire mountain with a beautiful white coat. We were wet to the bones, but the landscape looked absolutely fabulous!

    

As we descended on the other side of the pass, the hail and rain had stopped. The sun warmed us up and the wind dried up our clothes. We stepped in another world. Endless high green pastures back dropped by beautiful rocky mountains. Herds of free horses, sheep and cows where spread all over and grazing peacefully in the warm sunset light. Shortly before reaching our camp spot, we descended another steep and rocky slope to the next valley. Although we walked the horses down by foot, I never expected a horse could actually manage this kind of terrain. We pitched our tents in the beautiful flowery valley where our horses grazed a good part of the night. The following day, we continued our way to the beautifully green Holly lakes. Here we could see many herders temporary summer settlements with their grazing animals spread in the valley. It felt like a western movie with horses 'parked' around with their saddle, ready to gallop around to retrieve the cows. The lake was the turnaround point of this journey. Not only our poor horses had to climb the mountain pass again, but at the same spot as the previous day, we got hit by heavy rain again. Moreover, the pass still being covered in white hail, we had to walk further down. With the steep soft muddy rocky terrain, we once more had to find the safest possible way down the valley by foot. The 800 kilo horses trustfully followed our steps. I tried hard not to think about what would happen if the horse would miss a step. Good that they always have three legs on the ground. After this exhausting and wet passage, we pitched our tent in a meadow surrounded by cows. Our cook found a nice sheltering tree to protect our fire. The following morning, we woke up with a beautiful blue sky which accompanied us all the way back the Arslanbob. If the story sound catastrophic, it was actually an amazing adventure. The landscapes are fabulous, the people are genuinely sweet, the horses are unstoppable warriors and Kyrgyzstan is definitely a horse country. The weather? Ok we got our cold and painful hail showers, but we got a glimpse of beautiful white winter landscapes without the harsh cold climate. I enjoyed very much being out in the wild, in tune with nature, self sufficient, making my way over mountain trails, far from civilization. This adventure inspired me for a future journey where I would buy my own horse and cross Kyrgyzstan on four legs.

    

Just a few kilometers south of Bishkek, we packed our camping gear, sufficient food for 3 days and left Hyundi in Alplager, in the Ala Archa valley. From there we hiked for a couple of hours, passed a beautiful waterfall and pitched our tent above the Rutsek hut at the foot of the massive Ak Sai glacier. The entire area is cover by sharp loose stones pushed down by the glaciers with incredible power. For the entire night we could hear cracking sounds and rock falling from the steep rocky mountains. The following day, we continued our ascent to the Uchitel lake and glacier crossing mountains of gravels and huge boulders. 1500 meters of positive ascent with a 15 kilos backpack in some steep incline was pretty tough, but totally worth the effort.

    

In Bishkek we decided to give Hyundi a face lift. Enough of the rust holes. Enough of our one year old African temporary plastic back window. For two days, a welder sweated under the car cutting pieces out and welding thick plates in place. Let's hope the TUV guys in Germany are going to like it. We were so happy to finally get a new back window which doesn't need to be held in place with tons of sticky tape. The car was not supposed to be moved and the doors supposed to be opened or closed for 12 hours after gluing in the window. "Can we bring the car tomorrow early morning so that we can sleep in our car in the evening?" "Don't worry, just sit down and have a coffee!" The guys were already working on it. "But really this is our house..." "Don't worry I said!" Slava who spoke just a bit of English insisted to invite us home. After giving us a city tour and picking up his wife Allah, we experienced the very warm Russian hospitality with a really nice dinner. As Swiss and German, we are not used to such spontaneity, generosity and such genuine hospitality. And to tell the truth this came even more as a surprise as this didn't quite match the picture we had of Russians before this trip. But those prejudices were about to be proven wrong a bit later even more. Keep your heart open and you will be surprised...

    

By the time we were ready to leave the city, Charlotte and Frederik caught up with us again and we continued our journey together.

On our way to Song Kol lake, we discovered the hidden canyon of Kongorchok. At the beginning of the hike following a dry river bed, nothing was pointing to the amazing lanscape we were about to discover. The narrow canyon led to a beautiful valley of eroded red sandstone formations. We were amazed how diverse Kyrgyz landscapes are.

    

Song Kol is located on a 3000 meters high meadow surrounded by green gentle slops where thousands of horses and sheep graze in the summer months. Yurts are spread around the shore and in the side valleys. "Did we just step into Mongolia?" That is what we were thinking when driving on the natural earthy tracks in the middle of the green pastures. This place is one of the prime tourist spot of Kyrgyzstan and some of the tourist yurt camps are huge. Good that we have our own 'house' and can camp away from the crowd. Together with Charlotte and Frederik we showed up at a local yurt and asked if we could rent three horses. After agreeing on the price (8EUR per horse for the full day), they saddled the horses and let us go on our own. No deposit, no clue if we are actually able to ride or not, not wondering if we would come back or not. Pure trust, pure freedom! Both Charlotte and me are experienced riders and for sure if the three of us would be first timers like Frederick, we wouldn't have gone any further than 100 meters away from the yurt: Horses without a firm control of a rider are a bit like cars with a stuck hand-brake...

The landscape was nice, but didn't change much over a few hours ride. Compared to the steep mountains we have seen elsewhere in the country, this place looked a bit too empty for our taste. Rapha even called it BORING.

    

After reaching Naryn, we followed the dirt road leading to the Tosor pass and reaching the Issyk Kul lake. Past Eki-Naryn the landscape became very picturesque with a narrow canyon surrounded by steep green mountains covered in pine trees. Later, the canyon opened up to larger meadows with grazing animals and seasonal yurts. Past the junction leading back to the A365, the road became 4x4 only. Big boulders, bypassing washed away bridges or land slide, making our way around and over stoney areas, many river crossings. At the Tosor pass, the road was just a few dozen meters away from the steep glacier plunging down a tiny lake. From a distance, we could already see the big blue lake waiting for us at the end of the valley. The road worsened even more after the pass, but it was actually fun. Every few meters we had to get out of the car, inspect where was the best place to avoid obstacles. The valley ended with a narrow gorge opening up to the Issyk Kul lake.

Frederik, driving a fully outfitted Land Rover Defender summarized this drive quite fittingly: This stuff is exactly what I bought a 4x4 Car for. He was right, all of us enjoyed this proper off-roading a lot. That was really something different than the usual 'coping with bad roads or tracks'.

    

We totally deserved to chill on a deserted sandy beach for a few days! Every morning, together with 'The Germans' we were asking ourselfs: "Should we stay another day?" And so the days passed and we spent about a week enjoying the blue water contrasting with the red sandy beach!

Close by the lake, we discovered more red sandstones formations: The Fairy Tale valley and the 7 Bulls in Jeti-Oghüz. Those sites are such a contrast to the surrounding green landscapes.

    

Kyrgyzstan was definitely our favorite country in Central Asia. We loved the freedom. Everyone is welcome to let his horse graze anywhere, put his yurt anywhere. We loved the feeling of (our mental picture of) Mongolia. Horses and cattle grazing freely in big open landscapes dotted with yurts. We loved the lakes. Many lakes, everywhere, up in the mountains, down in a valley, wide open shores, cliffy shores, at the foot of a glacier, warm, super cold, beautiful color. We loved the mountains. This place is definitely a hikers or horse riders paradise. Each valley is leading to a superb mountain pass, ice field, waterfall, canyon, lake, a place to be on your own, away from everything, making one with nature. We loved the people. They are very welcoming, have a sense of hospitality but they also respect each other space, letting you do what you feel like without bothering you. This is probably due to their nomadic culture where the land belongs to everyone. We simply loved it.

Album "Kyrgyzstan - July-August 2017"

Vidéo : "Kyrgyzstan adventures"