We felt a little lost without crew member number 3, so we headed off to the beach to drown our sorrows. The beach is actually another lake as Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country, Issy Kol is the second largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca in South America. It's much more commercial than Song Kol more of a holiday resort where many of the Kyrgyz and Kazaks come for their summer holidays. However at more than 170km in length and up to 60km wide in places it wasn't hard to find a quiet spot to park Tigger. The water was lovely and clear and let's say rather bracing!
Spot the snow-capped mountains in the background
Camp Issy Kol
Apparently if you burn animal dung it keeps the mozzies away - we didn't know this at this point!
We had a few days to kill as we had booked ourselves onto a 4-day horse trek (yes 4days!!) on the south side of the lake and wasn't due there for another week. We decided to drive around the lake north to south stopping along the way. The mountains surrounding Issy Kol are stunningly beautiful and after a few days of beach (and a few billion mozzies) we opt for a change of scenery and drive into the mountains
Drive up to the Karakol Valley
It's so so pretty just like the French Alps but prettier and much less crowded. The wildflowers are amazing and I can't believe how many of these I have growing in our garden at home and here they are growing up a Kyrgyzstan mountain!
The mountains really were alive with colour
Jeti Oguz Valley
We camp here, nestled in amongst the trees just of the hiking path for a couple of days. Our neighbours are a herd of nursing mares and their foals in the morning and then cows descending for the evening milking. One cow herder wanders past on foot and nods disinterestedly. In the morning I decide to have a field shower as there is no one around, or likely to be, so I thought! Just got my pants on in time as 3 disapproving hikers suddenly appear around the trees straight into our camp. Ooops. Just goes to show, you are never truly alone here for very long
Our second campsite is in a national park where we there is a huge field set aside for camping ( it's not a field set aside for camping! It’s the countryside in the mountains!) mostly for hikers and cyclists, there are lots of yurts for sleeping in but also selling food and offering horse rides up to a small waterfall - it feels like we are at a festival! We park Tigger a little way from the main area and enjoying watching the world go by, we give the horse rides a miss as we think we are going to have enough of horse riding on our 4-day trek (4 days!!!)
Could be Glastonbury!!
Mountain camp two
Our morning visitors
even in the heat the walks are stunning
And the views worth the hike in the searing heat
The day finally arrives when we head off to the ranch for our horse riding adventure, we are to spend four days and three nights up the mountain on horseback. We are a little apprehensive , we only really wanted a two-day trip as we thought that was as much as our butts would manage, and as previously mentioned its been a while since we have ridden properly -but it was four days or nothing so best we get on with it!
Last time we did more than a few hours in the saddle I had my padded cycling shorts. Unfortunately, I don’t have them on this journey but fortunately, my arse is now naturally padded judging by the photos! Hmmph. Why is life bitter sweet?
There were four of us riding plus our two guides Canat and Respet who both spoke a little English. Our two companions were Markus and Nicholi two lads from Denmark who were in Kyrgyzstan for a holiday, it was their first time on a horse, I was beginning to feel sorry for the guides and the horses. 4 novices to look after!
Our Danish companions Nikkoli and Markus - Who were master horsemen after the four-day trek!
Cowboy John - who thinks he is in some John Wayne Movie!
Me and my lovely horse - never could pronounce his name so he was just "boy"
The yellow tent is the dining and entertainment tent
The bathroom facilities were a bit basic!
Canet preparing dinner and it was always yummy
Picnic stops were a welcome rest for our poor butts
There were rivers to cross
And some were really deep!
We climbed until we found snow
this is the pass at 3900m!
herds of horses everywhere
Party time with the shepherds
And before we know it, it's our last picnic! what a fabulous experience it has been
The ride was outstanding and even more so because you just wouldn’t be able to get away with the route we took here if it was in the UK or the US. Up steep single tracks strewn with boulders, squeezing through trees and thorn bushes, over and through rocky streams and occasionally belly deep in rivers when the paths were impassable. No hard hats of course. But wow! What a rush and an adventure. This really feels like pioneering trekking to us even though we know the guides do this all the time. Just heading off into the wilderness with only the resources we are carrying to sustain us and water from the streams. The scenery is mind blowing. One time, vast plains of grassland, next rugged mountain passes and then, surrounded by a crown of jagged snow peaked mountains. It's got to be one of the 100 things to do in your lifetime in my books. We have been exceptionally fortunate with the weather though. As we all know and are often reminded, the conditions here can change at the drop of a felt hat but luckily for us, Respet kept his on his head and we enjoyed clear blue skies all through our 4 days. Suzanne's mount is a stallion and whenever we encounter a herd of wild horses he gets very frisky and difficult and this is a worry. But she manages to keep him on a short reign and all is well. We are not sorry to see the transporter at the end of day 4, waiting to take us back to the house where we will spend our last night with these lovely people who gave us a memory to treasure forever
Now, back in the van to head on back to Bishkek as my darling wife has decided that the only way to be sure we get our China visas sorted is for her to go back to the UK to see her friends and Emily and James oh, and go to the Chinese embassy!! Well, that’s ok by me as I will have a couple of days at the Asia Mountains Hotel, catch up with work emails, watch some action and sci-fi movies, swim in the pool and get a massage from the archetypal Russian lady shotputter who tried her best to remove my skin. Ouch! But she is another story best not told here! ( nothing rude, just….wierd ).
Which apparently includes sticking a finger in his belly button - that is disgusting!
Then off to the lake and a bit of sunbathing. I end up on a wild beach up the east end of the north coast and park up right on the sand 10m from the water. Perfect. 4 days of sun, swimming listening to my iPod and….. being constantly approached by the hoards of curious locals. Of course, they are all lovely and friendly. But after 2 days of being the main attraction, I hit upon the brainwave of just locking the van and putting my chair and table right on the waters edge then no one knew I was associated with Tigger and I had some peace and quiet. The last night I had a bit of trouble with 7 extremely drunk guys who wanted something from me at 2.30am. Grrrr!!! They understood a raised fist and “f##k off” and moved away but I wasn’t going to hang around now so packed up and calmly slipped off into the night, stalling a couple of times in the deep sand and hoping they weren’t going to come after me J. Back to Bishkek for 2 nights to await Suzanne's return with the visas
And what a lovely time I have seeing all my lovely friends
Lots of eating lovely food and drinking lovely wine with lovely people
being very spoilt by my hosts who put up with me for the week
And spending time with my lovely Charlie and friends
spending time in my favourite city with my favourite people
The week flew past and it was wonderful to see all my lovely friends and family and I did get the visas! However, it was also good to have Tigger and our adventure to go back to. but my friend's refill has done me the world of good
We are going to hang around in Kyrgyzstan to minimise the time we need to spend in Kazakhstan as we are now concerned about the aggro with police that other travellers are posting so we are going to lake Toktogul for a few days. This turns out to be a remote reservoir accessed by dirt track with no proper beaches as such, just muddy banks but it absolutely beautiful. Glassy smooth water with the mountains and clouds mirrored on its surface. The water is warm and fresh, crystal clear and the best swim we have had yet.
Worth coming back for I think!
After a couple of nights here its back to Bishkek via a 150km washboard dirt track. Wonderful scenery again with scree falls spilling down over half the road in places, pushing us ever closer to the edge and the river and the crumbling cliff edges. Nothing new there then! It is torture driving on this sort of road. Our suspension is very hard and everything is shaking and rattling including our brains inside our heads so when we get the usually rutted potholed tarmac back again it’s a sheer delight. Imagine the pleasure of finally re-joining the highway a few hundred km later on.
Another couple of days in Bishkek then off to the dreaded Kazakhstan. We have to go to Bishkek and back to our favourite hotel as we need to get laundry done and we might as well use the pool while we are there, well it would be rude not to
Goodbye Kyrgyzstan you have been amazing, we don't really want to leave but adventures await - we will be back