Tuesday Kochkor to Lake Issyk Kul and beyond

The day started well. Breakfast in our ‘home stay’ and then off Kochkor town to take on supplies prior to setting off to our next camp site. I visited the felt co-operative again and made one or two Christmas present purchases. I feel very virtuous, Our felt making teacher was very excited that products from Kyrsygstan were going to England. It makes one feel very humble.

Once purchases had been made and supplies stowed away, we set off for Lake Issyk Kul. We had actually seen this lake in the distance when we arrived in Kyrgystan several days ago, just after we crossed the border from China. This time we travelled along the south side of the lake.

From the road it looks and feels like the seaside. The lake is poised between two mountain ranges and is 45 mikes wide and 150 miles long and is the second largest alpine lake in the world. Apparently it never freezes despite the extreme cold of the area in winter. It obviously had a very interesting history when Kyrgystan was part of Russia as it was a popular holiday resort of the Soviet hierarchy. It was off limits then to foreigners as it is said that officially sanctioned opium and cannabis growing took place around the lakes shore.

Our route initially followed the lake edge with cliffs on our right hand side. These gave way to sandy hills, then scrubland and eventually villages, but all the time there was a backdrop of snow covered mountain peaks in the distance. However, we gradually pulled away from the lake edge and there were cultivated fields between us and the water. In the villages colourful rugs and counter panes were thrown over picket fences to air. Occasionally we came across stirring Russian military sculptures of chaps in heroic stances and the skeletons of houses with empty doors and windows, either abandoned having outlived their era of usefulness or having never realised their potential.

After some time we turned right towards the mountains and started to follow one of the many rivers that feed into the lake. The water tumbled noisily over stones and boulders and was to provide our musical accompaniment for the next two days. The track was pretty stoney and Penelope bucked and dipped for several kilometres. We then came to the first bridge crossing the river and we all had to get out and walk as the bridge and the next three were not considered safe enough to cross with us on board. It was slow progress and a relief when each crossing was accomplished successfully.

We eventually made it to our riverside camp site, called Diety Orgus. A lovely spot with the stream gushing along on one side and pine covered hills all around. There were a few Yurts in evidence but no-one around. It looked a bit like the Marie Celeste, Kyrgystan mountain style. Eventually a lady was found and she kindly agreed to open up the Yurts to those of us who wanted to upgrade from tents, even though it is passed the end of the season and all the bedding had already been sent down to the lower ground prior to the Yurts themselves being dismantled for the winter.

Once again we decided to pass on the opportunity to spend a night in the Ritz and ‘upgrade’ to a Yurt. Luxury!

The evening was a little bit special as it was Emma, our trip guide’s birthday. A card was produced and Keith and Diane had found a very exotic cake in Korchkor and Simon found a very large white household candle…. A birthday on the road.

We slept with the sound of the loud burbling stream. No dung powered stoves in this Yurt, but overall it feels warmer than our previous camps.

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