We are back in Bishkek after a spectacular tour around Kyrgyzstan. Our experience here has generally been memorable for all the right reasons.
I’ll get into the food poisoning that affected four members of our group of six in a bit. I’ll not moan too long about there being no hiking, despite the tour offering four hikes. This seems to be a refrain in this part of the world. I’m not sure the term hiking is understood here the way we understand it a home. There was a couple from Malaysia with us, and their concept of hiking agreed with ours.
The trip delivered on all other counts so I’m not too disappointed.
The scenery here is outstanding. High snowy mountains, large blue lakes, dunn hilly grasslands, forests, meadows, gorges, waterfalls. In some areas the landscape rolls gently into the distance, in others it rises up in rugged spires and jagged cliffs and peaks. On any given day we had the opportunity to experience four seasons.
For me, the highlight was the riding. It made up for my disappointment in Mongolia. We enjoyed four rides. Each one different, and becoming progressively more challenging.
On two of our rides – to elevations above 3100 metres – we experienced cold wind and snow. In both cases, we happily rode down to a warmer zone at the end of the ride. Riding in this country provides the opportunity to explore extraordinary scenery, even in blizzards it was beautiful. We had a variety of horses, mostly good ones although a couple were a bit tired and slow. On one of the rides I rode the best horse I’ve ever ridden. On another I rode a three year old with little experience under his saddle. The selection of horses for any given ride seemed random and as we rode in three different areas there was no chance for continuity.
There were six of us on our tour. The intrepid courageous Kelsey from north of Boston. Happy adventurous Eddie and Kelly from Malaysia. The three of us. Our guide, Nazgul, an English professor at the Bishkek university and our wonderful driver Sheker, a retired police officer.
On our first day we visited an ancient city site of Balasagun – once a place of interest on the Silk Road. Now just a minaret called Burana tower still stands among grass mounds marking where there were once mausoleums and palaces. We climbed up the tower – the staircase was extremely narrow, steep and dark. Pat was the smart one of the group with her headlamp in her purse.
Pat’s purse is worth mentioning – she has just about everything you can imagine in there and then some.
Of particular note were the curious stone face carvings called Balbals which are ancient grave markers. Each one is unique but they all depict the person holding a chalice.
Pictures will follow.
That night and the next we stayed at a yurt camp by the vast Issyk Kul – Hot Lake. So called due to the many hot springs that feed into it keeping the temperature pleasantly warm.
The camp and the others we stayed in were much more homey than the camps where we stayed while in Mongolia. This one had a Mexican beach adobe vibe and the food was delicious. Another difference between Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. The food here is much more varied. A national meat dish here is horse. We all vehemently declined.
The next day was supposed to include a 3.5 hr hike. We managed two short walks however both were in stunning locations. It was hard to complain.
First we climbed into a summer grazing pasture called the jailoo of Boz Salkyn. From a small peak we looked down across Issyk Kul to the snow capped mountains beyond. Between the green pasture where we were the lower hills reaching towards the lake were reds and browns. The colour palette was astonishing.
Our next walk was in an area called Fairy Tale Canyon. Red and yellow striated rock formations sculpted by wind and water. We spent some time scrambling around and enjoying the unlikeliest rock formations. I’ve already sent a couple of pictures of both the walks.
Later we visited a very developed hot springs – pools and a shower room. As this would be our last hot water and shower for several days, we all took advantage.
More Kyrgyzstan stories to follow. I know you’re all curious about riding in the snow storms and mad freezing dashes to the outhouse in the middle of a sub zero night.