Lake Issyk-Kol

(Emily) On Friday we rode from Bishkek to Karakol, on the far eastern tip of Lake Issyk Kol, the main tourist attraction in Kyrgyztsan, for visitors and nationals alike. At 400km, the journey was little further than we’d anticipated so there was a fair bit of numb bum action going on. It was a pleasant ride though, with the lake to our right and huge peaks to our left, passing through towns where people sat selling sheepskins and smoked fish by the road side, and riding open roads through apricot orchards. At one point we got caught in the middle of a herd of cattle being driven along the road to another crossing a couple of hundred metres up. I personally would have stopped and waited for the way to clear, but cars were ploughing through regardless beeping their horns, and the shepherds on their horses were happily waving us through. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation, especially as the herd was taking up the whole road and forcing motorists onto the gravelled edges… Things went pear-shaped when Mr Bull got a little frisky and started to mount the nearest cow. Daisy was none too keen and proceeded to career away from her amorous suitor – straight in my direction! A wobble and a swerve and I was off. Not cool! No harm done, but I think James would say I was not amused! (James: that would indeed be a fair statement!) Cow sex was not something I’d ever worried about before, but now it will be added to the list of potential hazards that run through my mind on a regular basis…

Karakol was a bit of a let down, we’d expected more as it was the main town on the lake. One of those places where you go up a road and think ‘This could lead to the centre… oh, this is the centre.’ The whole place seemed tired and dusty with nothing going on, though to be fair, I think the whole of the country is suffering from a lack of tourists after the recent troubles with Uzbekistan. However, we stayed in a cute little homestay recommended by Carl and Bene which had a beautiful alpine garden and the most delicious homemade apple jam. Not all bad! And, as we were there on a Sunday morning, it meant we could visit the animal market – quite an experience! The bus ride out there was amusing enough – 25 people stuffed into a min-bus but at 7 som each (about 10p) we weren’t complaining! The market itself was several open fields in which hundreds of shepherds were gathered with their sheep, goats, cows and horses looking for a buyer. The livestock had been transported there in any which way – truck, trailer, moped or car boot – and prospective buyers wondered around sizing up the goods. The amazing thing was that even with so many people and animals collected in one place, the atmosphere was incredibly calm. There was no shouting and touting, and the cattle were remarkably well behaved (I did think at one point that should it all kick off, we would pretty much get trampled to death…) The horses were a particular highlight (Sal and Meg, you’d have loved it); all amazingly healthy and magnificent, and no less impressive were the skills of the shepherd boys who manoeuvred them effortlessly around the marauding cows, sheep and goats. As we picked a path through the piles of dung on the way out, we were happy we’d got up early to make the trip.

We left Karakol and swung west to make our way back along the south side of the lake. We’d already decided we’d camp that night, so with no town or distance to aim for we adopted a leisurely pace; somewhat a luxury after all the chasing we’ve been doing in recent weeks. It was a beautiful, clear day providing great views of the snow capped mountains and producing a fantastic blue hue from the surface of the lake. This side of the lake was far less developed and the road passed much closer to the water’s edge; all along we could see families enjoying a day out at the beach. We crossed paths with Fabian a few times, and then bumped into Stefano and Marcella going the other way for a day trip from Bishkek (they were still ‘tied’ to the town, waiting for Chinese visas). At one point, a shepherd on his horse broke into a gallop and rode alongside James for a couple of kilometres, which he found very exhilarating (er, I tried to keep the hell out of the way!) It was a real highlight of the trip for James, and frustrating not to be able to capture the moment on camera – that’s where a helmet-cam would be a real bonus. By 5pm we were keeping an eye out for somewhere to camp – originally we had planned to pitch down by the lakeside, but then the road veered away from the water and into the hills and the scenery was so beautiful we couldn’t resist. Even I wasn’t to be deterred by the dirt road that had to be tackled in order to get to a good spot! One sandy track and a ride up the hillside later, and we were in the most stunning camping spot we’ve had yet.; in the shelter of rolling hills and looking across at jagged mountain peaks glowing in the setting sun. Perfecto!

On Monday we awoke to a grey haze which didn’t bode too well for our planned ride to Song Kol, a smaller, and much higher lake, that was said to be completely untouched and unspoilt, a few shepherds’ yurts being the only man-made structures to be seen. I knew already that the road was a ‘four wheel drive only’ jobbie so didn’t fancy it in bad weather. Carl and Bene had already headed that way and were going to give us updates by text (we have a local sim card at the moment) but it appeared that getting a signal was a bit of a challenge once away from the main towns. We pootled along the rest of the southern side of the lake and then just as we were coming to the western tip, the wind picked up. ‘Better stop and put our waterproof linings in, just in case,’ said James through the intercom. Wise decision! After months of riding in the heat, it was a quite a shock to actually feel cold. Looking at the map, it appeared that if we continued south towards Song Kol, there wasn’t another town for about 50km so, thinking we might soon be in some need of shelter, we went north for a few kilometres completing the loop of Issyk Kol and ending up back at Balykcy, the first town on the lake. Frustrating, but as we parked up under the shelter of a petrol station and the rain started coming down, we felt we’d made the right choice! Back where we’d come from seemed quite fair, but the hills ahead in the direction we wanted to go, well, they’d pretty much disappeared!

6 Responses to “Lake Issyk-Kol”

  1. Joanna says:

    Suddenly, me looking on google for the most direct route to tesco in reading to pick the boys up after the Reading Festival, doesn’t seem to have quite the same finesse about it!!!

    I will never look at cow sex in quite the same light again!

    Glad you’re still having fun and in one piece!

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

    Love and hugs xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  2. Joanna says:

    Awesome piccies!


    PS What’s occurring with the beard thing, James?!

  3. Jackson says:

    (dad) Lots of love from mum and dad and bro all enjoying the Italy vibe!

  4. Rosy and Leo says:

    Love keeping up to date with your stories, sounds like you’re having an amazing time – a welcome distraction from wedmin! We’re on proper countdown now – and such a shame you can’t be there on the day. We’re off on honeymoon to Thailand 2 days later and can’t wait – think it will be a much smoother trip than yours in comparison! (Fingers crossed :) Passing through that way by any chance??!

    Lots of love Rosy and Leo xxx

    Oh and glad the blog is sorted, I did question Leo as to how much involvement he had as creator….. !!

  5. Lorna Souch says:

    great to get some news from you again.So…when are you swapping your bikes for horses?
    We enjoyed a bit of sun on Slapton beach this afternoon and Joe and Hannah went for a swim.
    lots of love from us all xxxx

  6. Elizabeth says:

    you guys both write so well- keep it up, I love it! Anecdotes galore.
    I’m just about to go look up a map of this particular K-stan though to keep me in the loop…
    Love u both xx

    Btw, Frodo is here the big lump that he is and says hi!

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