Monday 29 May and Tuesday 30 May
Karakol and house stay in the mountains in Altyn Arashan valley onto Bishkek
How quickly the scenery, people and food change. We were in for an amazing experience! In the morning our transport to the Altyn Arashan valley, for an overnight stay was waiting – a very old Soviet army transport truck retro fitted with old aircraft seats from an ancient Alusian Russian plane. One of the team had to find a seat on the floor. We bounced and jigged along the country road towards our destination – not long to go was the cry from our guide, only 17 kms. Little did we know that this short trip was to take nearly 3 ½ hours! As we approached the base of the mountains the road disappeared and the old truck began to labour up and over boulders, ford streams befor delivering us to our next pick up stop. There was no road or track at times the truck moved at snail pace. In fact you could have walked faster. The next truck was waiting by a field of glacial ice about 2-3 mts high. As the truck was even slower as it climbed and crunched its way up the mountain sides we had a good look at several icefields which were running into and over the stream . The scenery helped to distract me from the sheer drops into the valley below.
Finally we arrived in a beautiful valley with yurts and a few wooden houses by a raging glacial stream. In the background snow capped moutains towered over the conifers growing on sides of the surrounding hills. The smell of spring flowers and herbs filled the air as we walked across the grass. Men on horseback galloped by and herding dogs were barking as they guided the sheep and cattle.
These wooden huts are only lived in by the drovers during the summer after the snow has melted. We were in for a treat our guide said if we wanted to we could go to the hot springs nearby. These are located next to the icy cold stream. In we went to a wooden, very rustic shed which had a huge tiled spa in it, filled with very hot water straight from the spring. Wonderful to ease our aching bones after the rock and roll rough ride up the mountains. We even managed to locate natural hot pools next to the rapidly flowing river where you could relax. Some team members hiked higher up into the valley while Peter and Mike went for a horse ride into the surrounding mountains accompanied by one of the drovers faithful German Shepherd dogs. What a fabulous place to go hiking in. Several young hikers did walk past, looking for accommodation. They told us the hike from the bottom to the top took more than 5 hours.
It was so relaxing sitting outside chatting in the warm sun on chopped logs and homemade felt rugs after the hot springs, but once the sun started to set the chill of the mountains descended. We enjoyed a traditional mountain dinner before turning in. The only power they had was a solar panel which gave them a few hours of light.
Watching out of my window the stars and moon were so clear and bright and bought to an end a terrific day.
The next morning, breakfast was bread which resembled chapatis, freshly cooked on the wood stove, rice porridge and tea. Then the arduous truck ride down the mountain began, back to Karakol to collect our MGs. We travelled a little faster this time and it only took 2 ½ hours but I’m not sure if I preferred the descent which I think was even scarier than going up.
Today’s drive to Bishkek was a long one because the road conditions continued to be rough. But the scenery made up for it. The road took us along the edge of Lake Issykkul (warm) lake. This lake is huge and is surrounded by snow capped mountains, it is so big you can’t see to the other side. The lake is the second largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca – surprisingly Lake Issykkul is slightly salty. On the way through the mountains we encountered snowfalls and the wind made lunch a chilly affair. We only lasted about 10 minutes outside because it started to snow again.
Driving to Bishkek we saw many road side yurts selling horse mild chees balls which is meant to be tasty with a beer. When we drove into Bishkek we wondered how the city’s roses could look so beautiful despite the noxious fumes from the 80 Octane petrol all the trucks and cars were expelling.
It was a long and tiring day and we were all glad to settle in our rooms and spend the next day or so exploring Bishkek.