18th August : Torugart Pass


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August 18th 2014
Published: August 20th 2014
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Torugut Pass was the initial destination today - the pass marking the border between China and Kyrgyzstan. Today was also the start of our 'organised' tour with the Snow Leopard travel company with whom we have contracted driver and guide services from Kashgar, thru Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and the Wakaan corridor in Afghanistan.

Started well with our new transport picking us up from our Kashgar hotel and we were soon off down the highway towards the border. Great road for once, and we soon were at the first of five checkpoints - the Chinese customs and immigration checkpoint. This only opens up at 1100 so we had a wee delay but finally we were though with no hassles. There was another 75 kms of dreadful roads, one police check, one passport check thru spectacular mountain valleys climbing all the time until we finally reached the actual Torugut Pass (3,752m). No photos at the border of course, but as soon as we were thru and into Kyrgyzstan , we were in yet another amazing mountain valley . We had a change of vehicle (a Toyota 3.0 Turbo 4WD) and a new driver and guide of course at the border - this time Kyrgz folk.

The colour of the rocks was bright red, with snow capped peaks as we proceeded down another 6.8km to the final Kyrgz checkpoint where we finally got our Kyrgyzstan visa stamped in our passports - yay country no. 69 !!! Kyrgyzstan is the easiest of the Central Asian Stans to get into with NO need for a visa before arrival as it is given automatically on arrival to 42 countries, which happily includes NZ.

The landscape on the Kyrgyzstan side was greener than on the Chinese side, but similar in the sense of the broad valleys lined with towering mountain ranges. First stop was at Tash Rabat - an ancient structure thought to be a Caravansai where the early Silk Road travellers sought refuge in the stopover on their journey. Built in the 10th century as a Christian monastery, there remains some debate as to what it's real purpose was - possibly a fort, or a mausoleum.

The road continued to leave a lot to be desired as we bumped and shuddered our way into Naryn. (Lonely Planet describes the roadside this area as "spine shattering washboard juddering " !!!) We checked into the Khan Tengri a new Guesthouse on the outskirts of Naryn (We recommend this hotel to future travellers). And started to enjoy a much higher quality of food that we had been experiencing in the latter stages of our China trip. Generous servings of much fresher vegetables and fruits, no chilli !, and locally made jams and conserves that were delicious.

Next morning, in brilliant sunshine and cloudless blue sky, it was off to Song Kul lake - the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan first alongside the Naryn river (the longest in Kyrgyzstan), and then thru the mountain valleys before heading up a huge ascent to reach the Moldo Ashuu pass (3465m). As we started our ascent up the biggest switchback road I have ever been on, with increasingly high precipices (ie drops) on one side, it started to rain and then just before the summit it started to snow ! Talk bout changeable weather. So here we are crawling up this steep winding and increasingly muddy and slippery road in the snow ! But we made it to the top - the photos attached proved it.

We emerged on to an incredible high altitude plateau of grasslands and pastures called jailoos, where the nomadic farmers bring their stock to graze in the summer months. There were yurts all over the valley, and hundreds of herds of horses, cattle, sheep even donkeys all grazing on the fence less area that must have been 100,000's of hectares - as far as the eye could see.

Song Kul lake soon emerged on the horizon. It was a brilliant blue colour - by this time the snow had completely vanquished, and we were once again in blue skies and bright sunshine. This alpine lake - fresh water of course being glacial fed - is at 3016m and we are apparently going to enjoy amazing sunsets and star shows given the crystal clear air, and complete absence of pollution. We finished the day by John trying his hand at fishing in the lake ( the guidebook said "the fish were jumping out of the lake " but apparently the fish hadn't read the guidebook!) and I and the driver and guide hired some of the placid lake horses and galloped around the edge of the lake for an hr. Actually it was more of slow walk ! We are trying our luck with another yurt tonite - let's hope no rain or snow this time.

Tomorrow we are off to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzsta


Additional photos below
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20th August 2014

Country #69
Amazing scenery! I can imagine that you must be feeling, at least figuratively, on another planet right now. Best regards, Richard

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