Friday a walk in Altyn Arashan and the ‘spa’

We woke to a chilly but bright morning. The sun twinkled on the snowy mountain in the distance and we were off for a walk by 8.45, armed with the left over curry in a plastic bag for our lunch.

We walked with Helen and Peter our Australian chums. Our route first took us across a rather well worn wooden bridge where a packhorse had been seen to slip between the planks the evening before (it had been relieved of its baggage and eventually pulled out). From there we passed another ranch style house where the trekkers who had been part of the packhorse party had obviously camped overnight and walked up and over the shoulder of the hill into the pines and then, following the river below us walked towards the snow capped mountain for about the next two and a half hours.

For a time the white mountain itself disappeared as the river, and the valley turned and turned again. On the other side of the water a large herd of horses cropped the grass and a horseman appeared in view and then vanished from sight. We had to cross two tributary streams that ran down into the main river. In each case we heard them first above the constant sound of water that seems to be always with us. They added to the volume as the water came crashing down the mountain side and over and around the rocks in their path. The first crossing was just a spruce tree that formed a bridge, it’s rounded sides splashed dark and slippery. We edged carefully along the pole it formed with the water bubbling several feet beneath us. Safely across we came across the skeleton of an abandoned tent structure, it’s tenants having already evacuated the valley for lower ground as the harsh winter approaches. We then made our way along the pastoral terrain made bumpy by the rocks underneath the grass. The walking proved quite taxing as each step had to be considered. We followed tracks that might have made by previous trekkers, horsemen or cattle that wandered the area.

The second stream to cross our path had a bridge comprised of crumbling planks with a couple thin tree trunks to strengthen it. A sort of turf had formed a covering over it which made crossing the stream much less of an ordeal. Shortly after passing a large herd of horses with a number of foals we came to a point in the river where two large water flows met, a broad stream coming in from the right as another valley struck off the left. There was too much water to continue on towards the snowy mountain which was by now very much closer, so we decided to bear right along the new valley. It was not long before the shore line disappeared into a steep cliff and our way was blocked – we saw this as a sign to stop for an early lunch to consider our options. Having been fed and watered and had a brief snooze we decided that it was time to start walking back.

A stiff breeze was now blowing into us and stayed with us as we retraced our steps back to the ‘spa’. I think we all had in mind the cold beer at the end of our journey so we covered the miles.

Shortly before the end of our walk and with the buildings of our accommodation in sight a group of about seven or eight pack animals appeared in our path. We stood back to let them pass. The men on the lead horses had faces and hands tanned the colour of dark leather. All carried a switch and wore brimmed hats pulled down over their faces and seemed<!–more as if they were almost joined to the saddle. Some of the bridles had metal trimmings that looked like silver and jangled as they moved along. There were large sacks tied to each saddle. On the last horse a round face woman rode almost in state – the cook perhaps? The men touched the brim of their hats the woman waved and they were gone. We felt we had just seen a sight that could have occurred at any time over the last few hundred years – travellers with their pack animals moving up the valley to a destination known only to them. We were to learn that there were some Americans climbing the snow covered peak and it was thought that the may be taking supplies to them, who knows?

When we got back it was to learn that there was no beer available as it had all been consumed the previous evening by the management team and the party of teenagers who had left the camp that morning. A bit dispirited we were persuaded to take the 'spa' option available as an alternative. Now neither Keith or I are spa people really, but the absence of a shower and another long walk behind us made it a more interesting proposition. Therefore armed with a couple of bed sheets for towels and the key to 'hot spring 2' we undid the lock of a peeling door to the spa area. The slightly sulphuric smell of the natural hot spring met as we walked in.

The first room for changing had taken 'retro' and 'shabby chic' to a new level! Paint peeled from every surface to which it had been attached and the hooks on the wall for clothes were on a sort of concertina arrangement. There was a wooden bench and an earth floor. Undaunted, although somewhat apprehensive we undressed and moved to the hot spring itself. The 'bath' was a stone construction about 4 ft square, filled to the brim with steaming water. It was surprisingly good, decor aside, and there was a thin streak of sunlight shining on the water through a hole in the planks that made up the shed in which it was housed.

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