Sunday, November 3, 2019

Karakol, Kyrgystan

The next morning we walked out of the apartment to see if we could find our pre-arranged driver.  He found us – 2 tourists pulling suitcases probably made it easy to identify us.  Our driver, spoke no English but drove well.  

The journey from Bishkek to Karakol was 400 km and 5.5 hours plus a couple of stops for the driver to have a cigarette.  The views were outstanding, from snow topped mountains, rock formations and the lake Isy-kul. The lake is so large you couldn’t see the opposite shore nor either end.  



It wasn’t surprising to read that it is just under 200 km long and 60 km wide and is the 2nd largest saline lake in the world, behind the Caspian Sea.  It was an important part of the silk route connection for the Far East to Europe and many historians believe 
that the lake was the point of origin for the Black Death that plagued Europe and Asia during the early and mid-14th century.  The lake's status as a byway for travelers allowed the plague to spread across these continents via medieval merchants who unknowingly carried infested vermin along with them.

Along the lake there were no shortage of horses, being ridden, being used to pull carts and simply running about.  There was also large volumes of produce being packed into big transport trucks.  Shiny red apples were also being sold on the roadside piled high in buckets.

Home tonight was “Matsumoto”, a lovely place run by a Japanese lady married to a Kyrgyzstani.  Apart from the simple Japanese design the biggest highlight was being allowed to put toilet paper directly into the toilet, rather than the rubbish bins beside the toilet.  Small luxuries make one happy

In Karakol we went for an orientation walk to get our bearings.  Walking through a smalli market there were shop after shop of gold jewellery.  This ties into the use of gold as a store of wealth.  Everywhere we have been we have seen people with golden smiles.  It is very normal to have a mouth full of gold teeth.  While initially I thought it was only done by the old generation, we saw plenty of younger people with a gold tooth or two. 

It was town for specialist wedding vehicles.  We walked past the bridal shop and saw the Bridal-wagon.  This was soon followed by a sighting of a stretch limo.  




We visited the Dugan Mosque and the Russian church before returning to the Fat Cat cafe.  We had stopped there earlier for a drink and were tempted by the delicious brownie.  Andrew was drawn back by the lure of bottles of Georgian wine.  So we returned for an early dinner pizza and a glass of Georgian wine.

The next day was an overnight journey up into the mountains behind Karakol, Tien Shien. Due to the the proximity to China we had to have special permits which were reviewed at a control post a couple of hours in.  We saw a lot of mountains and plains, climbing through high passes.  






We drove through to the nearby hot springs for a late lunch.  The nearby river was freezing with mountain run off while 10 metres away there was very hot water coming out of the ground.  The drivers had a bath while we stood under the only shade in the area - one big rock.  We made our pot noodles and had a couple of the local mallowpuffs - a complete meal.  



Onward to see a bit more territory including rock carvings done thousands of years ago probably as a offering to the gods for good favour.  


Our home for the night was Ingelcheck, an old Soviet town which at its heyday had a population of 5000 now there are about 30 families living in a ghost town.  Our accommodation for the night was at a local teachers house.  She spoke good basic English and cooked us a very nice Yak stew and Somsa.  Hospitality was very good, in simple circumstances.

The surprise of the night was the toilet.  We had been wondering where it was, we knew it would be basic, but it managed to exceed our expectations.  She pointed through the wall and said the big building.  We walked out together and looked around.  The only possibility was a building 50m away.  We cautiously entered to find a row of 4 concrete cubicles with a window high up the wall.  There was a hole in the concrete with a large drop to the stuff below.  Most basic toilet I have seen and we have seen a few in the last few years.  Oh well we survived.  

We were in bed before 19:30 and limiting liquid intake - the return to the latrines was not going to happen!


Just the basics here, including dried animal dung for burning and water pumps



Andrew likes to look over walls - even though here he could have walked around the front and entered any building he wanted to.  The old high school and a picture of the toilets.

The next day our drivers turned up 1 & half hours later than arranged - they had been hunting wolves overnight.  For a while there we thought we were going to stuck in an abandoned town.  Possibly there may be some improvement with Chinese investors recently starting to work the mines again.  

Our host took us to the school while we were waiting for the drivers.  This was a nice modern facility (the only living place in town I would say). Warm and light, there were plenty of resources including kids sitting down at 9:45 for a hot snack in the 'canteen'.  We thought we had misunderstood when our host said there were 5 teachers - but there were.  Each small classroom probably had 4 desks and I think there were 17 children.  The infants were cute and hid when we came in, but the minute the teacher said photo - they were all there ready to be snapped





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