A week in Kyrgyzstan and it really isn’t enough time but winter is coming, in fact last night it snowed and there is much snow on the mountains visible in the south from my room. I took the weekend to recover from the travel day and set about investigating how to see lake Issyk Kul. The lake is probably the biggest tourist draw in all of Kyrgyzstan and is the second largest Alpine lake in the world after lake Titicaca at around 5,000 feet. Hiking and winter sports are popular and maybe someone will remember the climbers from Seattle I met last time I was here. As an aside: one of the reasons to come to Bishkek, the capital, is to obtain visas for other countries in Central Asia and I have been doing that. With more time I would have taken a marshrutka, a mini bus that plies a particular route and is ubiquitous in these parts, but as time was tight and with embassy visits scheduled I found a car with driver. This sounds a bit Rajish and extravagant but it really is not, I’ve done it in other countries and it is a good way to get around if one’s route is not served any other way.
Off and away then into the Tian Shan mountains, which translated means Mountains of Heaven, on the main highway which parallels the Kazak border for a considerable distance. Leaving the border the road climbs and climbs but it is an easy drive because the Chinese have replaced the old road to facilitate their trade routes, naturally, and it is a smooth dual carriageway all the way to the lake. A spur turns off just before the lake taking the trucks south to Naryn and the Chinese border. Our road deteriorated somewhat as we set off to circle the lake, much bouncing and swerving to avoid the worst of the potholes. The views to our right were absolutely fabulous, peaks and ranges as far as we could see, all snow capped and the blue lake waters on our left. Very picturesque it was. There have been attempts to restore or at least preserve Kyrg culture and so the first night was spent at a yurt camp on the lakeshore. Did I say picturesque? The people of Kyrgyzstan are very proud of their nomadic past and yurts are an important feature of the nomadic way of life. The national flag is an image of the top vent of a yurt, yes really, have a look.
We were advised that some young people from the local youth cultural center were going to demonstrate some of the traditional nomadic skills. We were treated to eagle hunting; I had an eagle, hooded, standing on my arm. There were two birds that turned up in a rather beaten up old car, one in the trunk (boot) and one on the passenger seat. These two big birds of prey glided and swooped around and over the low foothills; it was a privilege to witness it. They caught lures dragged around by the youths from the cultural center, some phony, some not (!) and were rewarded for each capture. Then it was the turn of the archers who demonstrated their warrior skills. I was persuaded to try and shall we say, my warrior days are numbered.
On around the lake to the major town in the Oblast (county) called Karakol. Founded in Russian times it features hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs, all the trappings of a winter sports center. There was a fine little museum that featured some relics from earlier times including pieces from the Scythians, a nomadic tribe that has caught my interest. They were reputedly from Mongolia and again were nomadic, had no written language and all they left to us are burial mounds, some of which I spotted outside Karakol. The Russians are frantically excavating their remaining Scythian burial mounds because climate change is melting the permafrost and any existing artifacts are being destroyed. Interestingly the British Museum is currently hosting a massive Scythian exhibition in London at the moment.
Another trip completed after the long drive back to Bishkek. All embassy visits completed and if you are interested I can really recommend David at Stantours. He will issue LOIs, Letters of Introduction, for you that makes the whole visa application process for countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan easier and much less stressful. Give him a call at his office in Almaty.
Typical view in Issyk Kul region.
Lakeshore Issyk Kul.
Just another hazard on the road.
Yours truly, with eagle.
Young man and his eagle.
Small warrior with bird.
Eagle in flight, if you look closely.
Was the eagle posing for photos?
Eagle in car, no seat belt!
Scythian burial mounds?
Waiting for the bus.
The bread is very interesting in these parts.
This is the flag.