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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 42.5005, 78.4039
Since last i wrote I've spent mot of my time in cities. Took a rather swish train from Shymkent to Almaty (second city of Kazakhstan) and looked around that for a day then took a share taxi to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan.
Now in cities you do the normal city things, visit museums and galleries, churches and what-not, maybe a bit of shopping. And that's exactly what I did in Almaty and Bishkek.
Almaty is a thriving, wealthy town (rich on oil money) and they flaunt it through their flash Bentleys and Mercedes - but they don't spend it on their museums and art galleries. The churches had also been closed and turned into museums during the Soviet period but they have now been returned to the Orthodox Church and, as always, money has been forthcoming to restore them. But the National Museum and National Art Gallerys in Almaty were disappointing and the equivalent in Bishkek (not such a wealthy country) were even worse. The lack of English language didn't help - though that's a selfish interest. But having most of the lights turned off to save money was clearly depressing. I commented on this in an e-mail to Tim Mason,
who knows about these things, and he says that sadly the curators are so badly paid they can't afford to travel and see what is done in the good museums.
So I won't say much more about them, except that my hotel in Bishkek was somewhat flash with a lovely swimming pool!
Other snippets, my share taxi from Almaty to Bishkek was shared with a lady university lecturer(who had some English) who had taken a two day train ride from the north of Kazakhstan to Almaty, then the share taxi, to spend one day applying for a further course and the following day would embark on the return journey. She probably got a discount on the railway ticket - she told me her husband is a train driver.
So yesterday morning (Saturday) I picked up a hire car (a 12 year old Subaru 4WD) for my 4 day expedition into the mountains and around the lakes. I changed the order of this trip because the weather forecast for Monday, which was going to be my day at the lake called Song Kul - So I decided to go there first.
About 5 hours driving, the last 60 kms on unmade road over
a mountain pass got me to the shore of the lake which is 3600 metres above sea level and ringed by distant mountains. Herders take their animals (cows, sheep, goats, horses - maybe turkeys but maybe they were wild) up there for summer pasture and erect and live in their yurt. So there are single and groups of yurts scattered far and wide, a single yurt is the families own home, if it is a group of two or three it is their home plus yurts they have put up for tourists. Larger groups mean tourists only. So I stayed in the middle sort with the family which seemed to consist of the old man, a middle aged couple, a daughter in her teens who did the looking after the tourists and some young children. Couldn't fathom the relationships.It being the end of the season I was the only tourist there and had a yurt to muself.
Now it's easy to get romantic about yurts, but at the end of the day they are just big felt tents with some lino and carpet on the floor and some nice decoration. The bed is a mat on the floor. This yurt being
at 3600 metres it was absolutely freezing at night and I only survived by snuggling under two thick quilts. There was frost on the ground in the morning. There are photos of most of the food - it wasn't inspiring. Lots of bread and jam. One thing not photographed was the bowl of warm milk (she assured me it came from an animal that went moo, so possibly not horse but I saw them milking the horses too) which was good and stirring butter/cream and jam into it seemed quite acceptable.
The washing facilities were almost non-existent (it was clear the old man hadn't washed all summer) and the toilet was unspeakable.
But it was the most beautiful setting, I drove round more of the lake this morning before taking the southern pass out and along the southern shore of Issyk Kul (the second largest alpine lake after Titicaca) The World Nomad Games have been taking place here over the last 5 days, just missed them sadly. They all seem to involve doing stuff while mounted on horseback, like grabbing girls - oh and shooting arrows!
Tomorrow off the explore the northern shore of Issyk Kul.
Karakol is as far east as this trip
takes me - it's just about due north of Delhi and Kashmir, further east than Afghanistan. The next country eastward, and not very far, is China
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