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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 40.5236, 72.799
Compared to the lonely beauty of lake Song Kul the much larger and more populated Issyk Kul was a bit of a come-down. It's big - 170 kms long, but a lot of the time the road is some way from the lake so you don't get the views, you are also travelling through endless mall villages. On the southern side there were places where the road was close to the lakeshore and there were numerous examples of attempts to start a tourist industry by the construction of hotels - all of which seem to have failed and the now stand empty and ghostly by the shore. I did take a diversion into one of the alpine valleys in the mountains to the south which ended up in a park, with picnic tables, and a statue of Yuri Gagarin - in the middle of nowhere.
As I explained at the end of the last post Karakol, at the eastern end of the lake, is as far east as I get. So it's all heading home from there!
The northern shore has even less contact with the lake except at Cholpon-Ata which is a bustling 'resort' (maybe too strong a word) with
lots of hotels. It was also recently the venue for the 1st World Nomad Games which I see featured in the Guardian and some videos are available on the web.
Seduced by Lonely Planet and it's description of the hotel gosrezidentsia as "old sanatorium spruced up to host seven heads of state....mere mortals can stay here while the politicians are away'. Well not, actually. The bit the politicians used nestles behind a 2 metre spiky=top fence with guards and padlocks and mere mortals don't get to stay there. They (as in me) stay in the old sanatorium blocks which are decidedly not spruced up, get woken throughout the night by screaming teenagers and get served some of the most miserable food on the planet. So that was fun! They did have red squirrels though, the grounds and beach being the best bit.
On the way back to Bishkek next day I picked up a couple of hitchhikers (loads of people di it) thinking I was doing some locals a favour, but they turned out to be Spanish! Good company though. On reaching the hotel I was greeted with the good news that my share taxi for the next days ride to Osh
had been organised and they would pick me up at 6:30 in the morning. I had decided that while it was technically a share taxi I would be sharing it only with myself (still cheap as chips for a 10 hour ride) hoping that would make it comfortable and quick.
And lo and behold next morning there is a flash Mercedes E class waiting for me with a driver and his mate, little did I know there was also a gremlin on board who would make his presence felt. That driver/mate only took me as far as the bus staion where the real driver took over. Driving rather too fast but not being stupid. And we had been going for about 30 minutes when a clunking came from a rear wheel and yes, we had a flat. At which point the gremlin revealed himself as a void where the spare wheel should be. Showing remarkable sang-froid the driver removed the flat anyway, presumably hoping it was going to be a simple repair. No such luck. A catastrophic failure of the inner side wall. A new tyre was needed. I use the word 'new' advisedly.
The driver replaced the wheel and drove gently
400 metres to a tyre shop and pulled on to what you would laughingly call the forecourt. But it was only 7:30. They didn't appear to start work until 9. And they started looking through their stock of used tyres. So no, not new. But they didn't have one anyway. So the owner and my driver jumped into one of their cars and went off looking. Two hours later one of the workmen came out and took the other back wheel off. At which point I figured either they were going to sell it for scrap or that they had failed to find 1 matching tyre but had come up with two that would fit but were different size. And so it proved.
So 4 hpours later we were on our way, zooming over mountain passes, through canyons, across valleys, round reservoirs, being held up from time to time by herds of horses, flocks of sheep and goats being brought down from the high pastures. Note - many of these photos were taken travelling at speed through the windscreen and as it became increasingly insect-splattered it got harder to find a clean piece of screen!
The driver spent much of his time
smoking, fiddling with his phone and talking on his phone - all while travelling at some speed. This was just about bearable while it was light, but became impossible as it got dark so words were had. Problem is he thought he was clever - but there were a lot of stupid drivers on the road, and stupid animals, and he wasn't clever enough to accommodate all that. Anyway - we got here.
Osh part 2 will follow about the town itself! This is too long already.
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