Issyk-Kul Region, Kyrgyzstan stops #1 - #3

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July 30th 2012
Published: August 20th 2012
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Ornok, Kyrgyzstan

Just east of the village of Ornok, was a dirt road heading north. It was difficult to even call it a road, if one is not used to roads in Kyrgyzstan, after heading north for about 2 kilometers there are large fields of rocks on the right hands side. The petroglyphs were located in this field, all unmarked and unprotected from the elements or vandals.

Additional maps: Stops 1-4

After marrying my fiancee, a local Kyrgyz lady, we decided to spend a few days traveling around Lake Issyk Kul and the surrounding areas. Not knowing the area very well and being it was difficult to find any relevant information online, I finally found a map in the library in Bishkek. Once I had purchased the map, I discovered that it had listed 20 areas of interest in on the map. There wasn't much information on location or details of any sort so there was not much of a guarantee that we would be able to find these places, but we decided to have and go and see what we could accomplish.

We left from Bishkek on July 30th borrowing Meerimbek (my brother-in-law's) car. An old and somewhat of an ill fit for Kyrgyzstan being it was a Toyota Mark II and there was a very good chance we would be spending a great deal of time in the mountains. Also the roads can be quite rough and rugged in some areas. Just as we were leaving Bishkek Meerimbek called and informed us that we needed to stop and pay the tax on his car or if we get stopped the car could be impounded. Being I already had a run in with the police this was the last thing I needed to hear. Things in Bishkek can be quite disorganized and it can be very difficult to get anything accomplished and after 3 hours of running all over we found out that only the owner is authorized to pay the tax on a car. Following this I decided to trust in luck and extremely careful driving and hope we wouldn't be stopped on our jaunt and headed for the village of Kemin, which was enroute to Lake Issyk Kul, to drop off my mother-in-law at her home.

After dropping my mother-in-law I discovered the spare tire was flat and made it my first priority to make sure I have a spare. I soon found a small shop, however their air compressor was broken, so we needed to wait until they fixed. A 10 minute job soon turned into a 45 minutes job, but we were finally on our way.

Our first stop was Ornok where we were looking for some ancient petroglyphs. Again the information and directions were quite vague but we decided to give it a try. Once we entered the Issyk-Kul Lake area we began seeing racks of dried fish. We stopped and bought four for something to snack on. Although I am not positive they looked exactly like the trout I used to catch while living in northwerstern Montana. They were quite tasty, although oily.

Stop #1

July 31th 2012

Petroglyphs, Ornok

We arrived at Ornok approximately 1 hour before dusk. We stopped in the village and inquired about the petrogylphs. Two gentlemen told us were we could find them and even offered to accompany us there if we would bring them back. We declined being they were obviously drunk and left to see if we could locate them. We found the road heading north, which was a mere dirt pathway barely large enough for one vehicle and searched in vain using the binoculars as well as trekking out to some of the larger rocks, but all to no avail. We finally met a vehicle coming down the road and stopped it only to be told that the guy lived there and hunted this area all the time and he had never seen nor heard of them. However being the drunks in the village seemed to know what they were talking about as well we continued to look. The were a few shepherds camps located nearby and we tried to find someone there but no one seemed around. A now it was almost dark we decided to head back out to Ornok and see if we could find somewhere to sleep for the night. On the way out we saw a shepherd on a horse and stopped to ask him. He knew exactly what we were looking for and told us exactly where to look. We were within sight of them, 4 kilometers, and decided to head back out in the morning. We found a resort close by named Good Lake Resort and got a room for 30 USD. After taking a shower and grabbing abite to eat we hit the sack, ready for a good night of sleep after a long day.

The next morning we took a quick walk to the beach and then headed for the petroglyphs planning on finding them before we go for breakfast. After leaving Good Lake Resort we left for Ornok again and headed north on the road leading to Almaty, Kazakhstan. We headed up the road slowly checking the numerous rocks with the binoculars looking for the petrogylphs, the road was becoming extremly rough so creeping along was the only option. We finally saw a vehicle coming down the road and after stopping it and asking directions we discovered we were very close. We parked the car and headed out into the rock fields on foot. It was only a matter of minutes before Jyldyz spotted the first one. After this we realized that we were actually surrounded by hundreds of them but that many were difficult to see. Seemly they showed better on the darker rocks. This place was not marked in anyway and there were sheep, goats and cattle grazing among the rocks with shepherds riding their horses all within this area. They were estimated to have been carved there from the 6th to the 1st centuries B.C. It is a miracle they actually still exist as there is seemingly no effort to protect them in any way. It felt sort of eerie to realize that we were walking among these ancient carvings, finding them on our own out in the middle of nowhere in a big
Dungan CafeDungan CafeDungan Cafe

About 1.9% of the total Kyrgyz population are Dungan people.
rock field.

After an hour or two of gawking at these ancient pieces of art we decided to head back out on the main road, find breakfast and then head for stop #2 which was Cholpon-Ata. We soon found a small roadside cafe operated by an ethnic Dungan ( family that served Dungan food. This food is fairly popular among the ehtnic Kyrgyz people and I was anxious to try some as well. The portions were quite large and I was almost not able to get it all down, even though it was quite tasty. This was the only full meal I ended up eating the whole day as it was quite heavy and fulfilling. Following this we headed out for Cholpon-Ata.

Stop #2

July 31th 2012


After leaving the petroglyphs in Ornok, we stopped and one of the next villages enroute to Cholpon-Ata at a Dungan restaurant. I ordered a local Dungan dish with vegetables and large pieces of chicken, while Jyldyz ordered brizol. The price was right and the portions were very large. I ate way too much and felt like going back to the resort to sleep again.
Open Air GalleryOpen Air GalleryOpen Air Gallery


We then continued on and upon arriving in Cholpon-Ata we asked directions to what is known as an open air gallery. I had no idea what to expect, but when we arrived I discovered that it was another large rock field filled with petroglyphs again. These were a lot larger and clearer than in Ornok. The map showed marked trails going through with small markers explaining their significance etc., however I soon discovered they were poorly marked and many were unreadable. The petroglyphs were magnificent though and we probably spent close to an hour there wandering around before heading back to the car.

After this we went to the local museum that explained and showed various artifacts about Kyrgyz culture in and around Lake Issyk-Kul as well as in other areas. It was clean and very nicely laid out and very informative, however it was written all in Russian, so without a translator it would have been less interesting.

Following this we headed out to a stud farm for Kyrgyz horses. These horses are known of their extraordinary stamina, being able to go for three days without food and water, extremely hard hooves and being very surefooted. No
Stud FarmStud FarmStud Farm

Kyrgyz horses from the stud farm at Cholpon-Ata
one around seemed to mind that we were there and we petted them and took a few photos. There was also a beach close by where we spent some time swimming and ate some of the local dried fish.

Stop #3

July 31st 2012

Chong-Aksuu and Aksuu

After finishing in Cholpon-Ata we kept on heading east until arriving at a village named Grigorievka and then headed north up a narrow canyon in search of two mountain lakes. The road quickly became quite bad and rough and progressively so. There were many yurts around and people with horses trying to rent them to go to the people and trying to discourage them to drive claiming that it was impossible. We haggled about the price with them and finally decided to head out and try to get there with the car. We were told it was approximately 15 kilometers and we kept climbing through the valleys. In some areas there were no bridges and we had to drive through the creeks. Everything went fine though, but it did take all my driving skills to prevent scraping bottom on the car.

We finally met to young
Chong-Aksuu and AksuuChong-Aksuu and AksuuChong-Aksuu and Aksuu

The road to Chong-Aksuu and Aksuu lakes.
lads who told us they would bargain with us for the horses once we got away from the adults. They followed us and we finally decided to drive to the first lake and rent a yurt to sleep in and they were to meet us there the next morning and we would ride their horses to a waterfall, the second lake and they would be our guide for 4000 SOM. We made it up to the first lake around 7PM and were slightly disappointed as it was very small. There surrounding scenery made up for it though. We were obviously at a very high altitude with only local shepherds living here in yurts caring for livestock. After driving past the first lake we were suddenly followed by the boys we had agreed to rent horses from. They said they would arrange a yurt for us and did so for 1000 SOM after some intense bargaining. The yurt was at a local shepherd’s home and they were quite friendly and made some tea and spent the better part of two hours chatting with Jyldyz.

It began to rain and get remarkably colder. I had brought a light sweater and long
Yurt (hotel)Yurt (hotel)Yurt (hotel)

This is our hotel for the night.
pants and put them on, but Jyldyz was less prepared and spent the evening huddled in a blanket. They brought a small candle for light as there was no electricity close by. It rained all night long and it was a wonderful experience listening to the raindrops pattering on the outside of the yurt while being huddled under the covers out in the middle of a wilderness in some remote mountains. We woke up at about 6:30 and were served breakfast at 7:00 AM, we only asked for tea and some bread, which was pretty good. The bread was sweetened on the outside with powdered sugar and we sat cross legged on a cow skin gazing out across the mountains while eating breakfast.

At 8:00 AM the boys arrived with their horses. Jyldyz chose the dark colored one and so I took the light grayish one. I rode alone but Jyldyz wasn’t comfortable so one of the boys sat behind the saddle and helped her for awhile. It was a wonderful experience going up small mountain trails, with sheer drop-offs going down literally 50-10 feet sometimes. At one point we crossed a raging river on an old wooden
Lake AksuuLake AksuuLake Aksuu

Note the small yurt in the background
pole bridge. We continued heading up the narrow canyon towards the waterfall as it got rougher and more rugged. In some places it seemed like we were bushwhacking as there was no paths at all. I believe they weren’t confident on the exact route as they had to go around and scout out the way sometimes, however it was impossible to get lost as there was only up or down alongside the raging river. We finally came to the point where we couldn’t continue and they decided we needed to ford the river to get on the opposite side. It looked like a daunting challenge with the massive rocks and numerous small waterfalls. However, I trusted their judgment and they got on behind Jyldyz and started across. Halfway across the horse began to rear and carry on with Jyldyz beginning to panic and scream, I saw disaster looming but before I could react Jyldyz, along with the guide and horse were thrashing in the river and went over a small waterfall, 3-4 feet high. I immediately jumped off and was able to get a hold of Jyldyz’s hand and to finally pull here out, the guide also managed to make
River CrossingRiver CrossingRiver Crossing

Crossing a raging river on a pole bridge
it out with the horse getting out on its own slightly farther down the river.

In all this turmoil one of my sandals went down the river, so there we were, with me having only one sandal, Jyldyz all soaking wet from the icy cold glacier water and the horse all bruised up. The guide also lost some of his items. I quickly undressed Jyldyz and put my dry sweater on her and wrung out her clothes as best as possible. She had no choice but to wear her wet pants again, but we tied the rest of the clothes to the saddle and I put her on my horse with me and carefully picked our way back down the valley. We finally returned back to the yurt after around an hour and 30 minutes or so.

After paying the guide we got in the car and headed out across a supposedly new road that came out in the village of Semenovka. It was a beautiful drive that took us across a high mountain pass with awesome views, but with the same rough and at times almost impassable roads. There were many different birds and numerous gophers poking
Headed OutHeaded OutHeaded Out

On the way back to civilization
their heads out of the ground all around as well as the small shepherd tents with their livestock all through the area. After arriving in Semenovka I immediately began to look for a shop to buy some footwear as I was still hopping around with one sandal and finally managed to find some in the next village. We then headed on to our next stop at Ananevo.

Additional photos below
Photos: 37, Displayed: 31



Dried trout, looks like the same species I used to catch in Montana
Shepherd on a HorseShepherd on a Horse
Shepherd on a Horse

This shepherd ended up being the person who finally showed us exactly where the petroglyphs were located
Fields of RocksFields of Rocks
Fields of Rocks

The petroglyphs could be found ramdomly almost anywhere in this field of rocks.
A Local FamilyA Local Family
A Local Family

Note the guy rides and the woman walks, seemingly the women do the majority of work, especially in the countryside.

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