Yurts and Lakes

This post is about the tour I did last summer in Kyrgyzstan with Urs. Some photos are from Urs, who also helped me writing this.

After a last lagman, a last shashlik and a last visit to the bazaar
it was time to leave Bishkek: one day was enough for Urs to see a few
Soviet buildings and enjoy some good food, we were both willing to
start riding towards the Kyrgyz mountains.

Out of Bishkek
Leaving Bishkek

But probably the food was too much (and too unhealthy) and the warm
weather didn’t help too – especially without having water for 2 hours under the plain sun: after just one day of riding Urs was sick and
we spent more than one day in our tents, resting and trying to recover
before the big climb ahead. At least, under the shade of a tree and
close to a river, it was a good camping spot.

Camping out of Bishkek
Not a bad place to spend a day after all

Once we made it to the top, we met other cyclists, they were from Estonia and had no panniers. Soon a support bus followed, with other
people inside: they were on a guided tour of Kyrgyzstan with a small
bus and bikes insides, they just rode the bike whenever they liked,
spending the rest of the time inside the bus. Only four of them made
the climb, but everybody rode the following descent and I appreciated
the beer they offered me at the top – Urs still struggling with his stomach.
We soon abandoned the main road, its traffic and its smell of burned brakes, turning left towards the village of Susamyr and Song Kol.
The road turned into a dirty track, which was soon covered by mud when
it started to rain. The rain and the bumpy road took their toll,
the smallest ring in the chainset on Urs’ bike – the one used
when climbing, especially if riding a loaded bike – broke. We hoped to
be able to repair it in Chaek, the biggest village we were going to
cross before Song Kol, but we found no bike shops. Not being possible
to do the big (and unasphalted) climb that lead to Song Kol, a lake
surrounded by mountains at 3000 m of altitude, with a broken chainset
it was time for a new plan: we squeezed warm clothes, noodles and
camping gears into our small backpacks and improvised a trekking to
Song Kol. It proved to be a great idea.

Towards Susamyr

Out of the main road
Dirt road
It was around here that Urs’ bike broke

Taking out our backpacks

Direction Song Kol
Left out bikes in a homestay in Kyzart, where we also managed to
obtain an old Sovietic map of the lake, we headed towards the
mountains behind which, after one day of walk, appeared the lake – a
blue circle surrounded by green mountains. As we touched its shore we
immediately went for a very short swim in its cold water, before
setting up camp not far from some yurts. We soon attracted the
attention of some Kyrgyz children who came to play with us, having a
lot of fun with every piece of our equipment and trying to understand
how to pitch such a small tent. The eldest of them however
remained a little bit too long, and we had to spend our dinner saying
‘No’ to all his requests of having something: he just pointed
at something around us and then asked if he could have it, something
he annoyingly came to do again the following morning during our
breakfast.

Towards Song Kol
Behind those mountains there is Song Kol…
Song Kol
… at the top

Child at Song Kol

The next two days were spent walking at a very relaxed pace along the
lake. Nights were silent and cold, barely above freezing, and we were
very soon inside our warm sleeping bags, whereas during the day we
would walk under the sun, between animals, enjoying the blue sky, the
rare peace of the place and occasionally passing a yurt.
And then it was time to say goodbye to the lake, we started walking
away from it when we crossed a group of yurts: we were invited for
kumis, something we both liked, and for a big, plov-based lunch, a
welcome break from our instant noodle diet.

Camping at Song Kol

Yurts and animals around Song Kol

Walking along a lake in the mountains has been a welcome break from
the bike, the backpack will now remain inside my panniers, ready for
some other improvised trekking. But this trek was over and it was time
to get back to our bikes and ride towards Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan
biggest lake. Our last day on the road was actually a rest day, idly
laying on the shore of the lake, between a few Kyrgyz families, with
the short unwanted company of a drunk man who didn’t want to leave us alone.

Towards Issyk Kol
Towards Issyk Kol

Camping at Issyk Kol
After a refreshing morning swim, watching the sunset, we headed towards Balikchi, from which we took a train
that in only 5 hours covered the less than 200 km to Bishkek – a real
Sovietic experience. In Bishkek I found with relief that the best spot
for the tent in the garden, the one under the shadow in the morning,
was free and that, most importantly, the lagman restaurant was open
also at this late time.

Sunrise at Issyk kol

Balikchi train station
Balikchi train station, really Sovietic

And then, after having cycled less than expected Urs went back to
Germany and to his new job, for me it would have been easy to start
again with a lazy routine in Bihskek, but my Chinese visa was
ready and I didn’t have too much time left before entering the
country.

Camp cooking Containers along the road Shortly after the rain

After Susamyr

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