Yurt Sweet Home

Okay, enough relaxing lazy times at the beach, finally it was time for us to move on and do something more adventurous again. So we took a marshrutka to the little town of Kochkor (and survived its tire blowout which in the end did not harm anyone except the frightening loud “BANG”) from where we organized a tour to Song-Kol lake. One great thing about Kyrgyzstan which is particularly popular and useful in its central region are the “Community Based Tourism” organizations. They successfully try to promote tourism in the country and at the same time to integrate and involve locals and preserve their culture and traditions. Our operator “Sheperd’s Life” also follows this aim and thanks to the very competent, friendly and English speaking office staff and guide we had a wonderful 3 days trek to one of the most beautiful lakes of the area. Together with a Belgian couple, we hiked over dry prairies and high mountains, through short hail storms, surrounded by thousands of sheep, cows and horses (the number one mean of transport), whom hundreds of nomads let graze there during the summer. Especially interesting and a nice experience to get a better understanding of their everyday life were the two yurtstays, where we spent the nights and had lunch, dinner and breakfast. Some nomad families in fact offer one of their yurts to visitors, without having them depraved to an artificial tourist attraction as most of the time they still continue to take care of their main tasks related to the cattle breeding. We realized how comfortable living in yurt can be in otherwise such harsh conditions and enjoyed sleeping under tons of blankets while outside an extremely cold wind was blowing. Even if Song-Kol is really lovely and worth a visit, in this case the way and yurtstays were the actual aim where we learned a lot about the Kyrgyz culture. Of course I could not have left the place without swimming in the lake, indeed I completely dived into it but could not swim longer than 10 seconds before going out again, since the water was freezingly cold :P Continue reading

Luckily They Have Mountains and Lakes

Still being a bit overwhelmed and perhaps too confident about the easiness of taking a hitch in Central Asia, after the surprisingly uncomplicated border crossing to Kyrgyzstan, we jumped onto the passenger seats of an old pickup. The driver was also going all the way down along the Karkara River towards our first Kyrgyz destination, the 3rd biggest town Karakol. With our poor Russian we thought having agreed on a fair price, but when we reached our destination, the driver insisted that the price was meant to be in dollars and not the local currency. Of course this would have been way too much and the whole situation started becoming uncomfortable, almost threatening …. but in the end we could convince him to let us go without loosing such a big amount of money – yet with a slightly bitter feeling of having given him an inadequate wage for a journey he would have done anyway though. Additionally our backpacks smelled quite strongly like gasoline, because they had lied on old fuel drums in the van during the whole ride. All this was not the best start for our next country to visit! The city of Karakol itself was not really improving our mood, most houses, prefabricated blocks and streets are rather dilapidated or abandoned, there are no nice parks and everything seems to have been built thoughtless and without any soul. A few remaining buildings, monuments and avenues from the Soviet Era are always empty and contribute a lot to this bleak cityscape, and the few loveless and arbitrarily placed children’s attractions in the center are seldom used and totally unsuccessful in giving the town back a bit of life. Given that Karakol is famous for being a popular holiday destination, seeing this desolate state was a bit disappointing as well. Continue reading