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Published: July 10th 2011
The adventures of Zoe and Susan are still well on track. Leaving you last time in Uzbekistan we have since managed to tick off the remaining two Stans on our journey, and boy what a way to say goodbye to them.
Kazakhstan was more of a stop off than a proper visit as technically we didn't visit any cities or landmarks. Instead we travelled along a soviet built road which acts as the go between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Along the way we had two bushcamps which gave us a little taster of things to come in, i.e green, mountains and snow. For the past month we have been boiling up along the deserts of central Asia, so a little bit of rain was a welcome relief.
We had heard bad things about Kazakhstan but to be honest the people were lovely and the countryside even lovelier! Our two camps brought us in close contact with the locals who were all smiles and questions. In two days we were offered tea and pumpkin seeds aplenty as well as many good wishes on our journey. The only bad thing about our brief foray into the country was the amount of bribery.
We were stopped at least four times by local police who insisted we were 'speeding' to which we offered to pay a 'local tax'. It's still strange to understand that bribery is still in effect today, we really are spoilt in our so called first world countries where we believe the police to be fair and corruption free. But we can't control those in power can we?
We were then welcomed into our thirteenth country of the trip, home of rolling green hills, snow capped mountains and more mares milk and yurts than you can shake a stick at. Yes, Kyrgyzstan. This bustling little country turned out to be a little bit of a 'ripper' and we have agreed that in years to come will be a bit of a tourist haven.
The first of our ten days started in the capital Bishkek, unlike all the other capitals we have so far visited this one had no statues, few monuments, hardly any museums and generally not much to see, but, you can't help but like it. The side streets are lined with funny shops and restaurants nestled among the green trees. The happy faces smile at you and
always try to answer your questions, our Russian being somewhere between nothing and non-existent apart from 'Spaciba!' or 'thank you' to you and me. We had two days here and although I spent most of it in bed with 'Uzbek Belly' we still had a very chilled out, Kyrgi time.
Leaving the city it became pretty evident that it is one of a kind, for the rest of time in the country we hardly saw a building over two floors and proper roads. The country is still essentially rural and most of the population move to the countryside to enjoy the long summers in their yurts. This brings me to the subject of yurts! Me being the silly traveller I am thought perhaps yurts were relics of a by gone era, a time before the Soviet rule, only to be used by people who lives hundreds of miles away from civilisation. And I was proved wrong, very wrong, they are everywhere. These large round tens at least ten metres in diametre made up of sheep skins and elaborate felt mats sit nestled amongst the hills, everwhere! Our guide then informed us that no, most people in Kyrgyzstan will own
a yurt, rent a piece of land in a national reserve and put it up for the summer, before taking it down and storing it for the winter. Essentially it's a tent on speed. So important are these to the people that the round opening at the top of the yurt to let out the smoke from the fire inside is actually the symbol to be found on the national flag.
So if a yurt was a tent on speed, then the national drink is like milk on crack. Mares milk is more than just a beverage, it's a national pastime. People in cars buy it, men on horseback strap it to their saddles, children drink it, adults love it, yep it's everywhere. Being someone who looks at ordinary yoghurt with a slight look of disdain I left the tasting to the others, and their answer to what it tasted like was - liquid feta. No thanks, I'll leave it to the Kyrgis. But what also made this drink special was that it was offered to us on so many occasions, it is more than a drink it was also a sign of the famous hospitality of the country.
Like Georgia it was hard to say no to all the kind hearted locals we met.
Anyway moving on from tents and milk, after we left the big city our first stop was Lake Issy-Kol, famous for being the world's second largest glacier lake (behind Lake Titicaca) and it was just as beautiful as we all thought it would be. As part of the national park the area around the lake is pretty much deserted and has been left untouched. One night on the beach front and we were all very happy bunnies.
The next three nights were up in the rolling hills and jagged mountains at Diety Orgus behind the lake, now as far as campsites go this was high up there on the list. Snow capped peaks, lush grass, a roaring river, lots of wildlife, waterfalls, hikes, camp fires, good food, friendly locals...it was bliss. Would definitely recommend anyone heading to Kyrgi to make the trip there for a few days of peace and quiet.
After a nights homestay in the lake side town of Karakol we then started the long trek up to Lake Son-Kol, now this lake was up at over 2500m in
altitude so it was cold and windy and brilliant storms rolled over the hills, but what it lacked in weather it made up with beauty and local activities! This was where we befriended a group of local children and got to witness the traditional game of goat polo.
Now it's not really for the faint hearted but goat polo has been played for thousands of years by the locals and is a test of strength and horsemanship. Two teams battle it out to take possession of a freshly killed goat carcass and place the carcass on a target on the ground. The team in possession try to regain the carcass or put off the other team with defensive blocks with their horses. It was absolutely fascinating, even though we had to watch the goat get beheaded! But they are all very respectful to the animal and we're pretty sure it ended up in someone's pot at the end of the day.
The rest of our time up there was spent enjoying some of our last camps as soon we will be in countries were camping is not encouraged, namely China. We are still enjoying it and also the
adventures it brings with it. Where else could we watch goat polo and meet so many locals?
We were very sad to say goodbye to the country, not since Georgia had we experienced such kindness from the people. But alas all good things must come to and end so we made our way up over 3000m over the Torugurt Pass towards the border with China. The Pass is famous for how inhospitable the countryside is, wild and ragged and freezing cold. Nevertheless it was fascinating and a route not many tourists do, we really were in no man's land - all 140kms of it in between Krygi and China!
So now onto China, a month in one of the biggest countries in the world which has over a billion people and thousands of years of history. Bring it on!
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