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Published: September 13th 2016
This morning we left our hotel in Almaty to travel towards the peaks of the Tian Shan Mountains, a vast mountain range, nearly 2,500 km long that creates a natural border between China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We crossed the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border at Black River into Kyrgyzstan following the Chu River before oddly traveling back into Kazakhstan for about a hundred metres before the turnoff that led us into the valley of Chon Kemin where we stayed at the traditional Ashu Guesthouse. The mountain range lies astride the Silk Road and although the least visited mountain ranges in the world they have played host to travellers including Marco Polo. We all went on a pre dinner walk around the small town, lots of children were out playing while women were milking the cows and men returning on horse back from a days work on the fields. Dinner at Ashu guest house was fun affair with lots of wine and vodka provided by our tour leader Olga. 8-9-16 Chon Kemin Valley
In the morning we explored the Chon Kemin Valley, flanked by snow-capped mountains on both sides. The entire valley was formerly a collective farm and much of the Soviet rural atmosphere
remains. Ron rode on horseback while I went in a horse drawn cart to see the locals playing their national sport. The young Kyrgyz horsemen play a game similar to polo, Kok Boru (dead goat polo) they use a dead goat as the prize. The two teams wrestle each other for the goat which they then try place in a goal made from tyres. It was a very rough sport, the horse and riders often crashing into one another, we witnessed quite a few spills. At the end of the game the goat is apparently so well tenderised one of the participants organises for it to be cooked for the rest of the team to enjoy.
In the afternoon we kitted up in wetsuits and helmets for an of hour white water rafting on the fast flowing Chu River. Passing through canyons and gorges on a grade two river we travelled twenty kilometres to finish where Olga was waiting with Kyrgyzstan vodka and chocolates for us to enjoy. 9-9-16 Chon Kemin - Karakol.
After breakfast we headed off for Karakol skirting the north shore of Issyk Kul Lake. Our first stop was to see the Petroglyphs of Cholpon-Ata
dating from 1500bc, walking around we saw rocks with amazingly clear pictures of deer, horses, men shooting arrows. Our next stop was at Issyk Kul Lake, the second largest salt lake after the Caspian Sea, Issyk Kul is a basin within the Tian Shan Mountains. A combination of vast depth, salinity and underground thermal activity ensure the lake never freezes. Issyk Kul is also the second largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca. We took a cruise on the lake, eating our lunch enjoying the beautiful views before we continued around the north shore to the Cossack outpost of Karakol, checking into Hotel Tagaytay for the next three nights. 10-9-16 Karakol - Jeti Oguz
Today we travelled by Russian Army 4wheel drive vehicles to nearby Jeti Oguz. Travelling in the canyon we saw extraordinary formations of red sandstone cliffs known as the 'seven bulls'. We continued on into the Valley of Flowers, unfortunately only saw one of two flowers at it was the wrong season, before reaching the Oguz Valley glacier. We hiked towards the glacier to enjoy the wonderful scenery and our return to the vehicles we were treated to a cold beer a BBQ lunch
before heading back to Karakol. 11-9-16 Karakol
We explored the town of Karakol, formerly known as Przewalski, after one of the most intrepid explorers of the 19th century. Our first stop for the morning was the livestock market which is held each Sunday, it was a chaotic site as there were hundreds of sheep, horses and cattle for sale by their owners, it was a very busy market with purchasers test riding horses around through the throngs of animals and people. We drove to the museum and memorial of Mikolai Przewalski, which charts his various expeditions, including the one to the steppes of central Asia in which he discovered a wild horse that was subsequently named after him - Przewalski's horse.
Our next stop was to an unusual mosque built in 1907 in the style of a Chinese pergola, it is apparently the only example of this in the world, the sponsor was Chinese and employed Chinese architects and labourers. Our next stop was at a beautiful Russian Orthodox church, built of hewn logs in 1894-1895 on the ruins of brick church before going to a local zoo to see three of the very rare Przewalski's horses. We
were treated lunch at a friend of our guide's home where we also saw a performance of local dances by young students. 12-9-16 Karakol - Bishkek
A full day of driving around Lake Issyk Kui to our next stop, Bishkek. Highlights of the journey included watching an eagle training to catch it's prey and an opportunity to hold the full grown eagle, not something you get chance to do everyday. We also had a demonstration of Yurt making by a master craftsman, we were impressed by the way he used traditional tools and no modern machinery. Amazingly these light but strong buildings, measuring up to 6 metres across could be packed up to transport on a horse. We enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch in the Yurt makers orchard, all went well until Olga was stung by one of the many wasps trying to share our lunch. We continued on to Bishkek the tree-lined city of Kyrgyzstan where we stayed at the Park Hotel. 13-9-16 Bishkek.
With our very knowledgable local guide, Tony, we set off to see some of Bishkek's landmarks including Ala Too Square, the State History Museum, Oak and Victory Parks. The city seemed to be
filled with lovely parks filled with statues, large trees and flowers. We also visited the fine arts museum where we were interested to see the traditional felt wall hangings and artworks representing the history of the country. We were happy to relax at our hotel in the afternoon enjoying a swim in the indoor pool and writing up our blog as we are moving onto our next Stan, Tajikistan tomorrow morning.
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