Kyrgyzstan

After our amazing time in the Pamir’s we had arrived in Osh. This is one of the major cities in Kyrgyzstan home to around 300000 people. It was hot when we arrived which made a nice change from being half frozen in the mountains for the last week.

Hanging out on top of Sulayman Too in Osh

The highlight of Osh was definitely Sulayman Too. Although, the quintessential soviet era theme park would be a close second. This has been a historic pilgrimage site for centuries. Panoramic views were mixed with the call to prayer of several different mosques, making for a great place to take in the evenings. An interesting rock slide on the mountain is used by the locals to increase fertility. There were also claims it could cure back pain, though it seemed more likely to cause it.

A quick flight to the north landed us in the capital city Bishkek (previously Frunze) where we spent a night, including one last trip to a stolovya which had become our principal source of delicious but excess calories while in Russia and Central Asia.

A 4000 year old field of petroglyphs in Cholpon Ata

We set out on a two week tour of lake Issyk-kul (or as issy likes to put it, Issy’s cool). A marshrutka took us to our first stop of cholpon ata. This place was known for being a soviet holiday destination.

Since the fall in the late 80’s it has gone to seed, leaving behind massive abandoned hotels and a eerie feeling around the town It was a nice place to relax, and provided a more than adequate remedy to our long standing beach cravings, even including the traditional sunburn.

The beaches aren’t too bad for a landlocked country.

Karakol beckoned with the call of the mountains. We were surprised to find a new take on our favourite food noodles . Karakol is the home of Ashlan-fu, a cold noodle dish consisting of two types of noodles (rice and wheat), some spring onion, a little scrambled egg and doused in vinegar. These tasty bowls were everywhere, and went down a treat with a fried potato pancake. By the end of our time we had eaten more bowls of this than one lifetime needs.

Ashlan fu

After returning battered and bruised from our hike (see other post)we headed out to KolFest. This was a three day music festival located on the south shore of issyk-kul. The festival location was amazing.

Looking out from the main stage over Issyk-Kul

This was put together by some Germans, Japanese and locals, which made for a fun mix of cultures whilst double parking lagers and sake. We our time in the sun, swimming in the lake, drinking, eating and enjoying the music.

The acts were a mixture of local talent and international DJs. Notable acts were Alina, Kyrgyzstans premiere female beat boxer, Steppefish a Kazakh indie band (the best act of the festival), and Dj Dawee with his afrobeats. One memorable moment was on the final night when the entire festival sang a spirited rendition of ‘All you need is plov’ (The Beatles all you need is love, reimagined).

After the hike and Kolfest we were pretty beat up, notably Issys hiking wounds, and had to spend 4 days recovering around Karakol Here we went to Jeti-oguz, and managed to catch the 150th anniversary celebrations of the city, and demolish another 10 bowls of ashlan-fu (each)

Hanging out with the 7 Bulls in Jeti-Oguz

Leaving Karakol behind we went to Bokonbayevo for 3 days. This is a small village located on the south banks of Issyk Kul. From here we went to the fairytale (skazka canyon) and swam in the lake which is just incredible, clear, cool, deep. Perfect.

Issy looking cool with Isssyk-Kul in the background
Skazka canyon

We joined a locals picnic on a beach, and were plied with bottles of vodka in the early afternoon. Everyone we met in Kyrgyzstan lived up to their reputation of incredible hospitality.

Hanging out with the locals.

The following day we went to a traditional eagle hunt, where our new mate Lightning showed of his skills, including a particularly gruesome scene involving a rabbit.

Lightning, with his cap.
Lightning reaping the rewards of a days labour

Song-kul was next on our list, this is a high altitude lake is one of the major features in every Kyrgyz guidebook, blog, and travellers tale. We decided (optimistically as it turned out) to do a two day horse trek to reach the lake. About 1 hour into the day we both agreed that we had had enough.

Unfortunately for our bums, we had to ride another 8 hours over the next two days. Our horses seemed to understand our reluctance and took the chance to assert their authority, going at their own pace no matter how much we insisted otherwise. The yurt camp at the lake was pretty, but pretty cold, thankfully we had a constant supply of hot tea and bread.

Our camp for night one.
Issy with the family goat.
Looking back from the top of the pass.
Looking down into the valley, Songkul in the distance, rain on the way.

We got back to Bishkek, a leafy, modern city, just in time to watch New Zealand edge out India in the cricket. The ensuing celebration wrote off the next day.

Our final adventure after a month in Kyrgyzstan was white water rafting, The weather was getting seriously hot (38C) so the cool river was a welcome change.

Sadly, due to the nature of white water rafting, good photos don’t occur in the fun spots

We then spent a week in Almaty in Kazakhstan. A modern, european city, where we forgot to take any photos. we weren’t able to get out too much due to illness. But had a lot of fun exploring the city on the metro, and swimming in lake Sayran. The highlight was a crazy roller coaster in the dark on the hill above the city.

Ala-kul to Altyn Arashan (4 days, 3 nights hike)

Krygyzstan turned it up for us on this trek!

From the first few hours into this tramp we knew we were in for something special. We had done a bit of research on hiking before coming to Krygyzstan, with every traveller we had met in central asia telling us we had to have a go at trekking whilst we were here. In the end this 4 day hike won. The gorgeous valleys filled with idyllic meadows with grazing horses, glaciers, high-altitude Ala-kol lake, rivers, blizzards, and one near death experience made this the most amazing trek I’d ever been on. Not to mention the hot springs at Altyn Arashan to soak our tired legs at the end of day 3!

I’d never done much tramping in my life, with my first (and only) ever overnight trip being to Te Rereatukahia Hut in the Kaimai Ranges last year (which was awesome BTW if you are looking for a tramp to do in NZ), anyway, never to let inexperience and fitness get in the way of an adventure- we were going to do this 4 day tramp. We hired a tent, sleeping bags, and a gas cooker from ECOTREK company in Karakol town (our base town), and bought coffee/tea bags, oats, prunes/dried apricots, instant noodles, and 250g each of snickers and mars bars- now we were set.

Day One

We took a mashrutka (shared minibus) from the centre of Karakol town and were dropped off at the end of a road and told this was our stop.

Glacial waters raging

The day of the trek was easy and pretty chill with absolutely gorgeous weather, we walked up a 4 wheel drive track for 16km alongside a raging Karakol river, passing majestic horse filled meadows.

We stopped for lunch in a meadow listening to Nesian Mystic on our speakers as we ate some pastries we picked up that morning in town and Chris even managed to squeeze in a mid-afternoon siesta.

Chris pre siesta

After rousing Chris, we headed further up the road crossing the river and finally hitting the off-road track through bush.

I found a walking stick, despite making me look like someone who treks all the time sadly it did not make the walking easier

At 4pm we arrived at a nice clearing in an alpine meadow- campsite numero uno!

Camp spot for tonight!
GOOORRRRRMMEEEEEYYYYY

We played some cards, read our books, and tucked into the first of many instant noodles meals.

Day Two

The next day we started early, we walked up a steep incline and past a yurt camp where we bought a bottle of juice to reward ourselves. We found a gorgeous spot by a stream for breakfast- porridge, coffee, juice, and prunes. Gourmet!

We headed up and up the mountain after that, over an hour of climbing up along the river.

Stopped for a break to enjoy the view, and pose for a photo!
Chris doing his yoga on a rock

We arrived at the fabled Ala-Kul alpine lake by lunch time, and had about 10 minutes to eat our packet soup heated over our gas cooker before it started snowing/railing. The frozen lake was beautiful and massive (we couldn’t fit the whole thing in any of our photos), but when we started to snow harder we knew we had to get a move on so we wouldn’t get stuck there.

We had to walk out of the “crater” to reach a the top of the pass which would lead us to our next camp spot. Unfortunately once we hit the top of the pass the weather turned into a blizzard, the sky became very dark, the mountain top next to us was covered in cloud that was thundering and lightning was striking nearby. To make matters worse the path that people normally take down the pass into the other valley was non-existent, covered in snow and had disappeared. We couldn’t stay at the top with the terrible weather, the only way down was to try and scale the very steep, snowcovered “ridge”. So in our runners, shorts, and raincoats, with socks on our hands we climbed down backwards hitting our shoes into the snow then our hands into the holes we had made to grip on for what felt like dear life. After about 15 meters of this the ridge became less vertical and we figured our best bet was to slide the rest of the approx 200meters to safe ground on our bums. So thats what we did. Afterwards Chris said he had a fun time on the ridge and it was the highlight of the trip- I sadly developed an ice burn all over my bottom which would continue to burn, wept, graze up and then unheal again for the next week. If I was to do it again- I would probably wear pants.

Said ridge- the shot doesn’t really do the height or incline justice, just know I really did fear for my life.
Chris had a great time

It continued to snow and I was pretty miserable as we walked the last 2 km to the spot we planned to set up camp. We jumped straight inside the tent, ate noodles made in luke-warm water and the rest of our little chocolate bars we brought with us as the weather raged outside.

Day 3

The third day was quite leisurely compared to the previous day, we left our camp around 9am (after porridge and coffee) and walked down along this valley to Altyn Arashan, some rain, a very small town with about 6 guesthouses all boasting their own natural hot spring. By the time we made it in the afternoon we were completely soaked from the rain and pain the $5NZD for an hour in a private hot spring at a guest house to improve our spirits and wait out the weather.

Altyn Arashan

We made camp just out of town, gorged on some biscuits we had bought from a guesthouse, and later found these amazing river side pubic hot springs in the evening.

Dinner was of course, noodles again.

Day 4

Sick of being rained on and injured by this trek we woke up early, packed up the camp, and headed off on 15 km hike along the dirt/rock covered road along the river to escape back to civilisation.

I almost made it out without another injury, then I slipped on the road and landed on my leg- it later turned into a big graze which ran down my shin. We needed to get out of here, I was one more slip away from needing a Westpac helicopter rescue and lift out.

Eventually we hit the road! Happy day! In reflection it was an amazing trek, 4 days of hiking, alpine lakes, cooking on a little gas cooker surviving on noodles and porridge was a great experience, probably the highlight of our time in Kyrgyzstan- but as soon as we got out all I was thinking about was a shower and a beer.

We did it!