When I started this year I had no idea it would turn into a grand tour of Central Asia – if I had I would have learnt more Russian as every country I have visited was once part of the USSR and has to a greater or lesser extent the remnants of the Soviet regime, from architecture to vehicles.
Most of the Soviet era factories are derelict – a disused water factory.
Good solid Soviet bus – they just keep on running.
A derelict Soviet pioneer camp – looks remarkably like a ghostly Butlings.
I have even met with a MIG 25 pilot from the Cold War.
But back to the point, I started this tour in the Mongolian Spring in June/July with its glorious carpets of flowers covering the wide open pastures. Tajikistan/Afghanistan mountains have been spectacular in Summer and now in the first week of Autumn I find myself in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has been in many respects the best of all the above rolled into one country. The wide open pasture land is covered in flowers – although in contrast to the lushness of Spring the grass and flowers are now brown and grazed within a mm of their lives. Summer ended abruptly the week before I arrived when the 40C+ temperatures fell to 28C and the first snow fell on the mountain tops.
Kyrgyzstan has soaring peaks, rugged mountain ranges and huge alpine lakes, Issyl Kol is second only to Lake Titicaca.
One of the highlights was chancing upon a local ‘nomad games’ not dissimilar to the Nadaam festival in Mongolia as per previous blog but with the addition of eagle hunting, kiss chase on horseback and ‘dead goat’ polo which is a cross between polo, no rules rugby and definitely played with a dead goat.
Dead goat polo
The countryside and towns are low rise and low key with the only accommodation being homestays. Facilities are basic but the food is good and plentiful – it is difficult to get away with less than 4 meals a day – semolina, bread, homemade wild fruit jams, noodles, dumplings, mutton, fish around the lakes all washed down by gallons of green tea.
In the pastures and mountains the accommodation is the yurt of the nomadic shepherds – felt lined circular tents with no furniture, lighting or washing facilities – an earth pit loo some 100 meters away from the camp (after 4 months of use you understand why it is so far away). The family herd their flocks during the day and some offer bed and breakfast to travellers passing through. This means that the women who have their usual round of jobs, also have to cook for up to 25 people on a dun fuelled cooker in a tent with only stream water and the produce to hand.
I stayed in yurts when I took a 3 day horse trek to climb over mountain passes to an altitude of 3,800m. Amazing horses, not phased by the steepness or stoniness of the tracks – although I did rather wish that my horse which was rather prone to tripping up had not continuously taken the outer edge option with a sheer drop to the bottom of the valley only a few centimetres away.
Sunny but with a fierce cold wind
At one stage I was joined by 7 other male travellers all needing a bed for the night – with only one yurt available I went to bed first, put my ear plugs in and eye shades on tried to ignore the chorus of snores.
Final destination – Sol Kol Lake
Central Asia – what an amazing place.