Issyk-kul Region, Kygyzstan stops #7 - #8

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August 2nd 2012
Published: December 30th 2012
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San Tash

Stop #7

August 2nd 2012

Karkara Valley

After a good night’s rest we were once again ready to head out. Being we didn't get to bed until late it was already quite late when we got out to the car. Greeting us there was a very flat tire and being the tires were already bald I didn't want to leave without a spare. I quickly changed it, which I was getting quite good at by now, and we were off again. We looked for a restaurant that was open with not much success and to add to things it began to rain. It seemed the weather was quite unpredictable and could go from very hot to almost cold in a short amount of time. We finally found a tire shop and had the tire fixed and then got directions to a restaurant. When we finally found the restaurant we sat down to some meat dumplings, coffee and tea. Just having a hot coffee began to lighten my mood and soon we were back out on the road. Now we only needed to fill up on petrol and we would be ready to head out. The place we planned
Small ShopSmall ShopSmall Shop

This is the small shop and petrol station where we got directions to San Tash.
on going to was called the Karkara Valley and in particular a very large pile of rocks called San Tash. This place was all the way in the easternmost part of Kyrgyzstan right up against the border of Kazakhstan. There were two different roads shown on the map, with the one being the main route which looked to be quite decent, however this would require us to backtrack all the way back to Tyup which was something I wasn't very interested in doing. The other route was more direct but also shown as a dotted line on the map, meaning that it could be quite rough and possibly impassable.

We found a petrol station where an older man was pumping gas and then asked him about the roads to San Tash. He immediately claimed that the shorter route was impassable and had been for a while and claimed he was from that area and therefore was sure that there was no other option but following the longer route. Being I had already learned from my short time there that information like this was often inaccurate simply because no one would not admit to not knowing the answer to a
1916 Uprising Memorial1916 Uprising Memorial1916 Uprising Memorial

Memorial commemorating the deaths from the 1916 uprising against the Russians
question, and because of previous experiences was inclined to attempt the shorter route anyway. However Jyldyz quickly informed me that it would be utter stupidity to try it and that we were already going to an area that was unsafe and dangerous and kept referring to wild people who would take everything and anything from us, should we encounter any. I finally relented and agreed to go the long route.

When we finally got on the road it didn't take long to get back to Tyup and then head west. The road was considerably good and looked like it had just been resurfaced. However the further we went it became evident that we were again leaving civilization and soon the road became all dirt and rocks. We continued along enjoying the scenic mountain range to our north and a nice little river to our south. There were various shepherd camps scattered about but very few permanent dwellings. After a while we came to a Y in the road with a little shop selling some basic food items and petrol and being I wasn't sure which way to take we decided to stop and ask. Jyldyz was again very hesitant
San TashSan TashSan Tash

Each rock in this pile was left there by a warrior not returning and thus representing his death.
to get out and speak with people seemingly thinking we would get mugged or robbed. These fears were all unfounded and it actually seemed the further we got from the cities the friendlier the people were. We were soon directed on the right way to go and continued on. The closer we got to San Tash the scenery began to change, there were open, gently rolling plains with few trees and very green. It was very beautiful and even though the sky was still gray with occasional short rain showers, it was a very beautiful place. It had an eerily vast lonely quiet feeling to it, but exhilarating as well.

This was another area that was really rich in history and legend, and it was sometimes impossible to separate the two. However, this was directly on the Silk Route and there were many ancient ruins and evidence of ancient settlements scattered throughout. We first spied a memorial quite a ways off the road and stopped to find out what is was about. Being it was in written in Kyrgyz I was unable to read anything. Jydyz new about this and was very helpful in explaining why it was here.
San Tash PassSan Tash PassSan Tash Pass

On top of the world
Supposedly in 1916 Russia was after some of the local Khans and they fled to China, only to be massacred when arriving there, this caused them to turn back and as it was a quarter or half of them died in this area. This was sort of a solemn moment for Jyldyz and I began to realize that she was still very attached to her people and culture. Following this we continued on again and soon arrived at San Tash. San Tash is a huge pile of rocks out in the middle of nowhere put there by Timur Khan. He was a 13th century Mongolian ruler bent on conquering the numerous Khans and their tribes. Every time he would send a soldier to battle he would have the soldier put a rock on the pile and whenever a soldier returned he was to remove a rock from the pile and by doing this he was able to keep a tally on the soldiers he lost in battle. It was a very interesting place indeed and quite sobering to think of all the deaths these rocks represented.

After spending some time there and taking photos we decided to

Young lady politely observing the "Don't Text and Drive" law.
head to stop #8 on the map. This was close to Karakol where we had stopped and I decided to take the shortcut that we were advised not to take by the old fellow pumping gas. The Y where we had stopped to ask for directions earlier was where the shortcut branched off. According to the map it wound its way through the mountains and crossed what was known as Santash Pass. Whenever I drive these roads my greatest anxiety is the mountain passes as this it generally where the road is the worst. The road was definitely not what would be considered a road in most countries but I was able to navigate it by driving carefully and avoided ripping out the bottom of the car. It was an uphill climb for a number of miles but we finally did make the top. We pulled over and got out to stretch and enjoy the view. It was a great feeling as we were able to see for miles and miles. After the pass the road was still almost impassable at times with nothing in sight but some lonely shepherd camps and the occasional bee farm. We did stop and
Soviet Military WagonSoviet Military WagonSoviet Military Wagon

Soviet Military Wagon used to transport mountain climbers to the Altyn Arashan Valley.
buy some honey from a Russian beekeeper by cracking the window and feeding the money out through the slot while he placed the honey in the trunk, all while thousands of bees were swarming around him and he wasn't wearing any protection.

We continued until we got out to the little town of Bozuchuk where we picked up a young lady with a small child looking for a ride to a village close to Karakol. She began sharing about her life and how she was bridenapped by her husband. Bridenapping was once very common in Kyrgyzstan but is against the law now, but still frequently occurs in rural areas. We stopped by a tomb at a cemetery where the young lady who was with us wanted to stop and pray. We finally dropped her off at her hometown which was a relief and she had obviously neglected to shower for the past few weeks by the smell of it.

Stop #8

August 2nd 2012

Altyn Arashan Valley

Our next stop was another valley deep in the mountains where there were some hot springs. The map gave very little information so we would
Rough and RockyRough and RockyRough and Rocky

Bumping along the rocky road with the jeep.
have to find our own way and see if it even really existed. Fortunately in these places there is generally only one road or trail that winds up the narrow Kyrgyz valleys going high up into the mountains. This was no exceptions and we were soon dodging gigantic boulders and huge puddles of water while driving alongside a raging river. This continued for a mile or so when we came up on a little cottage perched precariously on top the river bank. We stopped there to ask directions and were told that it was approximately 18 kilometers or so to the valley and that the only way to get there was with a jeep or the large soviet military wagons. This is one time that I quickly believed what was said as the road was definitely something that was not traversable by a normal vehicle. The gentleman living in the cottage told us we could rent a jeep, driver and hotel all for a minimal fee and he could arrange it. After negotiating we agreed on a price and then spent the next hour waiting for the jeep to arrive.

We were only planning on staying up there one
Altyn ArashanAltyn ArashanAltyn Arashan

One of the many towering peaks surrounding Altyn Arashan Valley
night as we had to head back to Kemin the following day as out departure back to Vietnam was drawing close. Because of this we didn't take much clothing and things as it was hot again and the weather was nice. A warning should have been the jeep driver who came all bundled up and with blankets in the back of the jeep, however because of all the excitement we didn't even think about it. The trip to the hanging valley was nothing short of amazing. The valley quickly turned into a narrow canyon in some places with the river raging wildly on one side and sheer rock cliffs on the other. There were gigantic boulders on the road and in quite a few places seemed to be totally impassable. The driver expertly navigated his way through them all the while boasting of his past larger than life accomplishments in this world.

As we got further up the mountain the landscape gradually began to change, there were big, straight, tall fir trees growing in the small valleys with large open rocky meadows as well, all highlighted by huge, towering icy mountain peaks in the background. There were roaring streams
Altyn Arashan CommunityAltyn Arashan CommunityAltyn Arashan Community

The small community living in the valley. The closest building is the hotel.
of cold glacier water coming down the mountainside with some scenic waterfalls every now and then. We met a Soviet style military vehicle coming down the road filled with tourists and had to find a spot to let them pass. The road suddenly began to switchback up along an almost vertical side of the mountain. To add to things the road was now mud instead of rocks and was slippery because of the rain earlier in the day. Jyldyz was petrified and started on her tale of how we could die up here and so on, then to top things off the driver began to tell a story of how a vehicle had plunged off the edge earlier and everybody had perished except for a small child that was thrown behind a boulder by his mother. About halfway up, there was another jeep pulled off on the switchback and the driver was sitting there waiting as he had run out of petrol. He stood on the back bumper of our jeep and hitched a ride until he fell off and our driver didn't even bother to stop.

We finally managed to make it up to Altyn Arashan Valley and
Shepherd TentShepherd TentShepherd Tent

A shepherd's home while tending his flock. A lonely existence.
it was the most spectacular place I had seen to date. It was quite large and surrounded by huge glacier coated peaks. There were various shepherd camps scattered about with also a few old wooden buildings which were quite dilapidated one of which turned out to be our hotel. There were also numerous tents scattered about with seasoned mountain climbers who frequent this particular area because of the sheer cliffs and massive peaks. We stopped at an old wooden building and were greeted by an old Russian mountain man named Valentino. He was friendly and had considerably good English speaking skills which allowed me to once again converse without Jyldyz serving as my translator. He assured us he had a room for us and we could bathe in the hot springs.

I was only wearing shorts and sandals and the weather was much cooler up here, Jyldyz was also beginning to get cold as we waited for our turn in the hot springs which were in a small log building. We spent an hour or so just gazing at the majestic peaks and wishing we had brought proper gear and had more time. When we finally got into the
Large Snow Covered PeakLarge Snow Covered PeakLarge Snow Covered Peak

Another large snow covered peak. Many times these cannot be seen as they are often socked in. Skiers are flown in and dropped by helicopter atop this peak.
hot springs it was almost dark. The water was almost too hot at the beginning, but after adjusting to the temperature it began to feel very relaxing and comfortable. It was mineral water that seemed to have a whitish tinge to it, piped into the building from somewhere further up the mountain. After spending an hour relaxing we made it back to the old hotel, where Valentino had cooked some sort of Russian food. Somehow he found out we had just gotten married and had made a cake for us served with a bottle of wine. There were other guests staying there all bundled up in their thick winter coats sitting at a long table in the one big room in the hotel. We had a great time sharing experiences and talking with people from all over the world all of whom where seasoned mountain climbers who had come to scale the peaks in this valley.

After a nice evening with candles for light, as there was no electricity up here, we went to our room. The room was probably about 10 by 12 feet square with two narrow cots. We wrapped up in our blankets and were soon
Hot SpringsHot SpringsHot Springs

Jyldyz enjoying the steamy hot springs.
drifting off to sleep. Sometime during the night I heard it begin to rain and lightening was flashing illuminating the large peaks outside. It was an eerie experience, something I will never forget. If one has never experienced a violent lightning storm high in the mountains it will be very difficult to understand how utterly feeble a human being is against Mother Nature. I finally went back to bed after it quieted down but the rain continued. When I woke up again at 6 AM shivering from the cold I looked out the window. We were socked in with clouds and fog however there was a coating of snow on the ground. Higher up the mountain was much more and it was evident that sometime during the night it had gotten considerably colder and the rain had changed to snow blanketing everything.

It suddenly began to dawn on me the foolishness of my decision to head up here in the first place. This was August and the temperature had been close to 100 degrees on some of the days I had been in Kyrgyzstan. Now I was on top the mountain with only shorts and sandals and I could only imagine how treacherous the road would be to get down after the rain. I also wasn't very keen to wake Jyldyz up to this reality, after all my excursions here had taken her to places where she had gotten sunburned to getting thrown off her horse into a cold river miles from nowhere up in the mountains. I began to understand why she didn't want any part of these places but had bravely accompanied me in spite of it all. I finally built up enough courage to wake her up and shivering we went down to find our driver to see if we could even get out of this place.

We finally got him rousted and had a hot cup of tea and by 8 were headed out. It was so muddy and slippery there were times we didn't think we could make it out. I had to get out and push while we clawed and spun our way over boulders and rocks, my feet almost freezing and no heat at all in the car. My feet were covered in mud and dirt and I was only wearing sandals and shorts. When we finally made it down I quickly got in the car only to discover the heater in it didn't work either. We did manage to get into dry clothes and head back out to civilization again. When we arrived in Karakol again it was warm and we were finally able to get ourselves comfortable. We had no choice but to head for Kemin as our flight would be leaving the following day. It had been a great experience but not one I wanted to repeat. The downside of it all was being there was no electricity to charge our camera bodies and consequently we were not able to take many photos as the camera battery had died. This would be the end of the trip for this time, however there were still 13 more spots on my map that I had to explore and discover. Someday I hope to come back and do this, however I will be sure to have the proper gear and clothing as the one thing I discovered was that mountains and weather in this part of the world is quite inhospitable and can be downright dangerous if one is not prepared. Sandals might work in the city but they have no place in the mountains.

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


Buying HoneyBuying Honey
Buying Honey

Smuggled this honey all the way back to Vietnam.

The tomb where the local lady wanted to stop and pray.

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