Bishkek to Son Kul

Day 3 and 4 : Bishkek – Son Kul: A full day’s drive along the fertile Chuy valley and then up through the mountains to Son Kul Lake. Here we stayed at a yurt camp owned by Noorgul and her family. It was a typical nomad yurt camp on the side of this spectacular glacial lake.

There was a stop at the Burana tower, and at a nearby private house for lunch - suitable restaurants in this part of the world just do not exist.

The Burana tower, along with grave markers, some earthworks and the remnants of a castle and three mausoleums, is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun, which was established by the Karakhanids at the end of the 9th century. There is a winding stairway inside the tower to climb to the top - a steep hard climb, but worth the view from the top. The tower was originally 45 m high. However a number of earthquakes have damaged the structure over the years, and the remains are now only 25m high.

On over rolling mountainous scenery, then up a narrow winding dirt track to reach the high plateau on which the nomads graze their flocks in summer. At the yurt camp the group were divided up for communal sleeping - 4 yurts shared among 14 of us (including Amanda and guide Sasha) - meant that we shared a yurt with Marie-Christine and Martin in a form of communal living that lasted for the next 4 nights (2 nights here and 2 in another yurt at Tash Rabat). Toilets were of the “long drop” variety and washing facilities limited to a spoonful of cold water from a basin tied to a post. Showers, shaving and washing were something that we forsook in this part of the world. Long drop toilets also became part of our way of life - they are nasty, smelly and should be avoided, but there is little choice if you need to "do the necessaries". The ones at Son Kul were particularly smelly !

That evening we enjoyed a traditional Kyrgyz Nomad’s dinner, complete with vodka toasts. Tomato and cucumber salad, soup and lamb or similar became a fairly standard diet. Most of us started the first few days politely and ate everything or at least accepted everything we were offered. But after several days of similar lunches and dinners, many of us took to one or two courses only. Remarkable fare really when there is nothing for 100s of kilometres around, and they have to be self sufficient for most of the summer. The sheep graze on the high plains for the summer, then the families return to the valleys for the hard winters. The fact that there were "different" diets needed for 3 of the group - 1 vegetarian, 1 no red meat but would eat chicken, and one lactose intolerant - was difficult to get across in many of our meal stops.

Chris and I forsook the short horse ride in the morning and just took a short walk round the camp area. In the afternoon the nomads showed us the game called Kok Baru (Buzkashi), which consists of two teams of 4 horsemen fighting over a goat carcase and trying to get it back to their own base. Looked a bit "rough" but the nomad kids seemed to enjoy the sport. A number of other horse games followed - the nomad children certainly knew how to ride a horse!

The family needed to erect a new yurt - well a 50 year old yurt hired for the season. This enabled us to see exactly how a yurt was put up - the idea of the yurts being that they can be dismantled and transported by horse whenever the nomads move.

For dinner had fish from the lake. Then next morning we were on the move again for another yurt camp at Tash Rabat.

Click on any of the thumbnail images to get a larger photo

The Burana Tower is about all that remains of a Persian city here. The tower itself has been extensively restored.
After inspecting the grave markers, it was on to a private house for lunch, and our first experience of a long drop toilet.
After lunch across the plains, with a stop at a local felt maker - felt being a non-woven cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing woollen fibres. While some types of felt are very soft, some are tough enough to form construction materials like yurts.
The route took us up and over several mountain passes, dropping back down to valley floor level after each pass. Once we got up to ..
..the high plateau, we started to see scattered yurts where the nomads lived in the summer months. Eventually we spotted our yurts ..
Time to enjoy the view - oddly the long drops were quite prominent, and faced the yurts on a sight line to the lake. Washing was basic.
Diner in a yurt, then next day there were "horsemanship games" put on by the teenage children of the family and their neighbours.
Drop the dead goat on horseback was a sport that made fox hunting look civilized. And various other facts of riding were shown like..
..picking up money at speed, and catch the girl and give her a kiss (the girl got away 2 times - so a 3rd attempt was needed to catch her)
How to put up a yurt in about an hour. Designed for easy transport in panniers on horses, a yurt is still the nomads choice for a home.
Nomad versus Tourist pulling The Boys outside their yurt Enjoying the evening sun ... ...and the view from our yurt.

On to Tash Rabat

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