Thursday – Tash Rabat

Tash Rabat, the site of our a Yurt Camp was a few scattered farms and Yurt settlements along a beautiful narrow valley. It was the classic scene. High mountains ether side of a narrow, grassy valley bottom, perhaps 2 kilometres across at its narrowest. A fast running, rocky mountain stream meandered along through the pastureland. There was a roadway that followed the base of the mountain as far as the Caravanserai site and then ran out. The location was stunning, particularly in the sparkling sunlight first thing in the morning.

Our camp was specifically for travellers. Kyrgyzstan, having become state following the break up of the Soviet Union, is developing a thriving tourist industry and tourism now makes a considerable contribution to the country’s economy, alongside the revenue from hydro electrics and water that it sells to its neighbours. Our Yurts will be taken down during September as winter arrives in the valley, but the place where we feasted is a year round home. I imagine the winters to be quite ferocious.

We were warm enough overnight although without the benefit of the stove that Yuri (the camp manager) rather unexpectedly appeared to light after we had all adjourned for the night and were asleep and went out after about half an hour. His surprise appearance had woken us all up thoroughly, so we could all vouch for the stove’s performance, or lack of it, despite his reassurance that it would ‘stay alight until morning’. The beds were supplied with thick heavy over blankets, although any extremity left out got cold very quickly. The wind was very sprightly and the yurt’s build meant there was little chance of suffocation as daylight was readily available through a number of apertures open to the elements.

Breakfast was served in a separate Yurt where the stove had been well and truly stoked up and was extremely hot. The porridge, followed by meats and a cheese (!), something like emmenthal, was a real treat after a month of Chinese breakfasts!

Once fed and watered we were off for our proper visit of the Caravanserai previously sighted further up the valley. This building is something of an enigma as no-one really knows what it is. My first impression was that it was similar to the domed fortresses seen in the northern part of Jordan. It was a robust, stone built structure, built into the hillside. It’s external appearance seriously belied the inside. It was far bigger than it appeared, with rooms and tunnels leading off from the main area under the dome. Some say it was built to accommodate Silk Road travellers when the original route passed this way in the 4th century. Others think it a much later fort. It certainly appears to have dungeon like underground areas. A mystery. It was fascinating.

Following an hour or so’s investigation and theorising we all opted to walk back to our camp, on Saeed’s assessment of an hour’s stroll. We were to come to realise that Saeed’s timings should be at least doubled! However it was a lovely walk. The day had warmed up quickly and I was shedding layers at a rate of knots but the walk was great from every perspective. The sun and the scenery – just perfect.

After lunch a party departed under the supervision of Saeed, a qualified walking guide, to climb one of the slopes leading away from the camp to go bird watching. By now it was really hot and the sun was fierce. This, together with the altitude – we are at about 3,500 metres which makes being too energetic a bit of a challenge – led to our decision not to go. Four hours later when they had still not returned, we were glad that we had decided on a quiet afternoon instead.

We had begun to get quite concerned but they eventually turned up. I think for some it had been quite an ordeal.

Supper was served in the cosy Yurt and the vodka flowed. There is still a very Russian feel to the Kysygstan and everyone speaks Russian. Many of the few buildings in the valley were old Soviet farmsteads.

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