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Central Asia is booked!

August 9th, 2014 No comments

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve booked my next trip. In May 2015 I’ll be jetting off to Central Asia to overland with Dragoman through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, via Istanbul.

This is a region that I’ve had my eye on for a while, ever since I travelled with Dragoman in 2009. After returning from Africa I decided to research other trips that Dragoman offered and a photo of one of their trucks next to a mountain lake got my attention. After some research I discovered that it was a photo of a trip through Kyrgyzstan and it looked so beautiful I decided to add it to my to-do list. I kept getting distracted by other destinations, such as North Korea and Myanmar, but the time has come to go!

Central Asia is best known for being the region through which the Silk Road sliced on its way from Turkey to China, and we will be visiting some of the old Silk Road cities, but the main focus will be the beautiful scenery we’ll see on the way.

The route will be as shown below.

The route of the land portion of my trip

The route of the land portion of my trip

The entire route I'll be taking, including the flights.

The entire route I’ll be taking, including the flights.

I recently stated that I didn’t expect to be doing any more camping trips but once you’ve tasted overland travel you can’t stay away for too long. The way of life on the road, the sights you see and the experiences you have just trump any other form of trip and help you grow as a person.

I’m really looking forward to the trip. It’ll be the best part of a year before my blog is online but expect tales of pristine landscapes, new cultures and great experiences from a land that’s off of the main tourist trail.

To see a Google image search of images from Kyrgyzstan, to see some of the sights I’ll encounter, click here.

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I’m on my way to Central Asia

May 22nd, 2015 No comments

Central Asia is an area that I’ve wanted to visit for a while, so I’m glad to finally be on my way.

When I travel I like to visit new places, maybe places that have a unique culture, but definitely places that I believe I’ll discover things and experience something new. That’s one of the things that appealed to me about Central Asia – the area has had influences from so many cultures over the years from Europe, the Turks and Chinese during the era of the Silk Road, to the Russians more recently. This, from what I have read, has allowed the area to develop into a melting pot of people and ideas from around the region while still maintaining its own identity.

The second reason I wanted to visit the area is because it just looks so beautiful. Several years ago I discovered a photo of a Dragoman vehicle and tents next to a beautiful lake and thought “I don’t care where this is, I want to go there one day”. I later discovered that this photo was taken in Kyrgyzstan and so when last year I discovered a sale on flights to the region, and a special offer with Dragoman, I thought I had to jump at the chance!

I’m at London Heathrow waiting for my flight now and I’m really excited about my journey ahead, although for personal reasons this will be an emotional trip. There were the usual last minute rushes to get read but I got here with plenty of time to spare in the end. My mum decided to accompany me as she had the day off so we had a meal at the airport before I went through security.

The next couple of weeks should be amazing, as long as the group are nice and relaxed, so expect lots of updates to the blog and lots of photos. Although just a reminder that all of my travel blogs, due to the locations I travel being generally away from reliable internet connections, are typed up after I get back based on notes that I make on the road.

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Journey to Tashkent

May 24th, 2015 No comments

I have finally made it to Tashkent in Uzbekistan and I’m absolutely exhausted, but I have seen and done loads since leaving London.

My flight from London to Istanbul was pretty uneventful. I didn’t get much sleep, and Turkish Airlines have very little leg room, but they have a good entertainment system which kept me entertained. I picked the flights I did, with a long layover in Istanbul, as this made me eligible for a free Turkish Airlines city tour. It meant having to pay for a Turkish Visa but meant I would see a lot more than if I stayed in the airport. I arrived in Istanbul in the early hours so after putting my name down on the list for the free city tour I had a drink in the 24-hour Starbucks before napping on the sofas for a couple of hours.

If you have a long layover there are two city tours you can take, either from 9-3 or 9-6, which include food and all entrance fees to the sights that you see. I didn’t have enough time for the long tour due to the time of my connecting flight but both tours still show you the best of Istanbul.

Breakfast in Istanbul

This is where we stopped for our free breakfast

Overall I found the trip to be a good introduction to the sights of Istanbul. After breakfast, which was included, we were taken on a walking tour of the centre and shown sights such as the Blue Mosque, Topkapki Palace, some obelisks and a number of other sights. We were given some time to explore the Topkapki Palace, which was good to walk around and gave us some good views of the Bosphorus, but unfortunately the queue was too long to be able to enter the Blue Mosque. The tour was given by a professional guide, in English, and we were given headsets to be able to hear everything that was being said without standing right next to her.

Istanbul

An obelisk in Istanbul

Blue Mosque

The Istanbul Blue Mosque

Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Inside the Topkapi Palace

The Bosphorus

The Bosphorus

The final activity of the tour was the free lunch that was included in the tour, and we were then ushered back onto the coach for the journey back to the airport. During the tour I had been speaking to somebody from South Africa who was flying to Tashkent on the same flight as me so we grabbed some food and drinks together at the airport to pass the time while waiting for our boarding time.

The flight to Tashkent wasn’t as good as the flight to Istanbul. There was even less leg room, my seat was broken and due to delays we arrived 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival time. Normally in most airports this wouldn’t have been an issue but it was already after 2am, and the arrival process was so chaotic that I didn’t get out of the airport until 3am.

After surviving the gauntlet of taxi drivers touting for business I made my way to the hotel to check in. It’s approaching 4am now and the sun is starting to come up so I’ll be heading to bed so I have enough sleep before the group welcome meeting at 10am.

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A day in Tashkent

May 24th, 2015 No comments

I have another night on my own tonight as my room mate still isn’t here due to flight delays but I can’t complain as it gives me a chance to have a good nights sleep before the start of our overland trip tomorrow. Although I wonder what state he’ll be in after being delayed for so long.

Uzbek Money

A couple of days supply of Uzbek money

The view from my room

The view from my hotel room

For me today was definitely better as I had a chance to explore the city and see some of the things that Tashkent has to offer. We grabbed a taxi into the centre and decided to start at Amir Timur Square for a couple of reasons – firstly it was somewhere that we could describe to the taxi driver and secondly as it is a good focal point in the city.

Amir Temur Square

Amir Temur Square

Amir Temur Square

Amir Temur Square and the Hotel Uzbekistan

Amir Temur Square itself was really nice. It’s a sun trap, surrounded by a main road, right in the middle of the city and is centered around a statue of Amir Temur – a leader of the local people who unified a number of nations during the 14th century. We spent some time wandering around, taking photos, and watching some sort of promotional video shoot involving local school children but as this was our only day in the city we didn’t have time to take in the atmosphere for as long as I would have liked.

We spent an hour or so wandering around the city taking in sights such as mosques, a museum, open air art sale, Independence Square and numerous other impressive buildings before finally ending up at the park next to the Uzbekistan Senate building. One thing that’s fairly obvious as you walk around Tashkent is that the Soviet Union had a huge influence in the way the city was set up and the way buildings were designed. This gives the city a familiar feel, having been to Kiev a couple of years ago, but at the same time it has managed to hold on to its own heritage. It is this heritage that I was keen to see, even though most of the city is new, due to the fact our time in Uzbekistan is limited on this trip so we made plans to visit the Khazrati Imom complex after lunch.

Walking around Tashkent

Walking around Tashkent

Art sale in Tashkent

An art sale in Tashkent

Me in Tashkent

Me in Tashkent

Uzbekistan Senate

Uzbekistan Senate

Lunch was a simple Shashlik kebab with bread and tea at an open air food market but it was really nice and seems to be a favourite with the locals. If it’s your sort of thing then head down to the Chorsu Market area and you won’t be disappointed. It wasn’t imaginative food but it was tasty, cheap, filling and good quality which is the main thing.

Lunch Time

Time for lunch

Uzbek food

This is what we had for lunch

After stocking up on supplies at the market we made our way to the Khazrati Imom complex that I mentioned earlier. The buildings here are built in the traditional style, although not all of them are original, and they are featured on the front of countless guide books on the country. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Tashkent and won’t be visiting other parts of the country which have a wider selection of original buildings. However the buildings here are an attraction in their own right and include a mosque, a palace which is now a market and museum containing a large selection of Korans including one of the oldest copies in existence. I must admit I don’t know much about Islam but I found it really interesting to see all of the copies there and if you visit I’m sure you will too.

Walking around Tashkent

Walking around Tashkent

An ancient Koran

This building contains what is believed to be one of the world’s oldest Koran’s

Walking around Tashkent

Walking around Tashkent

It was starting to get late by this point, and the weather looked like it could turn at any moment, so we made our way back to the market area in order to catch a taxi to our hotel. Instead of taking the main roads, now that we knew the route, we took side streets through local areas which gave us an insight into what it’s like to live in the city. One thing I didn’t understand, while walking through the area, was why the gas supply to the houses looks like this.

Tashkent gas supply

Tashkent gas supply

We had to shelter from the rain for a while before catching a taxi back but this gave us a chance to people watch.

Dinner was interesting tonight. We decided to have a group meal in the hotel restaurant tonight to get to know each other, and say goodbye to the people leaving the Dragoman trip in Tashkent, but I’m not sure we made the right decision as the service was among the worst I’ve experienced while travelling. Once we ordered it took forever for food to start arriving, people who ordered the same thing ended up being served a long time apart with meals that didn’t look the same, the people served first had finished their meals by the time 50% of the group had been served and one person was told that they had run out of what he ordered well over half an hour after our order was taken. The food, once it arrived, was actually quite nice but if you’re staying at the Grand Orzu hotel I’d recommend just heading out to a local restaurant. The service didn’t spoil the evening, however, and it seems like I have a nice bunch of fellow travellers. I look forward so travelling with them.

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The start of the trip

May 25th, 2015 No comments

So much for the good nights sleep I was looking forward to last night as at around 3.30 this morning I was woken up by my room mate finally arriving almost 24 hours late. Although I needed the sleep I can’t really complain as he has had a rough time and after speaking to him it turns out I almost ended up in the same situation.

I had originally planned to fly our of London Heathrow on the late morning flight with Turkish Airlines, which would give me a 3 hour connection for my flight to Tashkent, but as mentioned earlier in the blog my plans changed once I heard about the free Istanbul city tour and I flew out the night before instead. Jon, my room mate for the night, left London on the flight I had planned to take but it was delayed due to a technical fault which meant that he missed his connection in Istanbul and had to wait 24 hours for the next flight with space. Not only that but when he arrived in Tashkent he found out that his bags were still in Istanbul – for once I had a lucky escape!

After a quick breakfast we all jumped in taxis that had been booked to take us across the Kamchik Pass to the Fergana Valley. This is a requirement as large passenger-carrying vehicles are not allowed over the pass due to a high rate of fatal accidents. Normally no large vehicles are allowed over the pass at all but our local guide knows the local chief of police and is able to barter, for a large sum of money, permission for the truck to travel as long as it is done overnight.

Uzbek town

An Uzbek town that we passed through

The scenery as we left Tashkent wasn’t anything to write home about but the scenery that we were presented with when we stopped at a viewpoint on the Kamchik Pass was absolutely breathtaking. I’m told that the scenery gets better and better throughout the trip so I’m really excited as the landscape and remoteness were major factors in me deciding to visit this part of the world.

Kamchik Pass

The Kamchik Pass

Kamchik Pass

The view point on the Kamchik Pass

Lunch time

This is where we stopped for lunch

Lunch today was at a cafe at the side of the road and, except for the fact they forgot my order, was really simple but nice just like in Tashkent. I’m getting a feeling this is a sign of things to come, which I’m pleased with as I’m a fussy eater, but hopefully the service will improve.

We stopped in the town of Kolkand along the way in order for us to visit an old palace which has been turned into a museum. According to our guide today is the final day of primary school which explained the large crowds in the park next to the palace but meant that we got a lot of attention. One of our group, Sam, is a tall Austalian with blond dreadlocks and apparently this is the description of a legendary character from an Uzbek folk story which of course meant that everybody wanted a photo with him. A few people we wouldn’t have minded – even I had that attention and had to pose for three photos – but at one point there was a crowd of several hundred people surrounding Sam!

Sam's fan club

Sam’s fan club

Sam's Fan Club

Sam’s fan club grew quickly

Inside the Museum

Inside the museum

Inside the museum

Inside the museum

Inside the museum

The museum courtyard, with some of the kids who followed us

Kolkand

The park outside the museum

The museum itself is worth a visit if you’re in the area as it tells you about the history of the valley from ancient times, to the days of the silk route, all the way up to modern times and includes photos, maps, artefacts and more. Some of the original palace was destroyed when the building was used as a Russian Army garrison but I enjoyed looking around the remaining sections.

Before making our way to our final destination we stopped at a silk factory for a pre-arranged tour. We were shown the entire process from the breeding of silk worms to the cooking of the silk, the dying process and the manufacturing process. Most of the group, myself included, found the visit quite boring but it was nice to be able to get out of the cars and stretch our legs and there were several members of the group who could have easily spent hours there due to enjoying the experience so much.

Silk Factory

Cooking the worms

Making scarves

Making scarves for Uzbek Airlines

Tonight we’re staying in a hotel with a pool in the city of Fergana, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan. We didn’t see much of the city as we arrived late but after a quick swim in the pool there was time for a group meal at a local restaurant. I ordered Shashlik and chips – the quality was nice but once again the service was slow and my drink never arrived. I’ve been partnered with Sam for the night – it looks like we will be mixing and matching room mates throughout the trip.

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Into Kyrgyzstan

May 26th, 2015 No comments

Today we made our way across the border and into Kyrgyzstan, the country I have been looking forward to ever since seeing that photo. It is a shame that we didn’t see more of Uzbekistan as there is so much to see but it Dragoman do offer a segment of overlanding between Turkmenistan and Tashkent for people who want to see more. I would have loved to have done the entire month between Ashgabat and Bishkek but unfortunately I can’t take that amount of time off work.

We had an early start in order to give us a head start with the border crossing and I’m glad we left when we did as it took a long time to cross. It didn’t take time as the border guards were lazy it took a long time as they were very, very thorough. We had our passports checked several times before getting to the immigration desks and, after filling out lots of forms, we joined a slow queue for the final passport and customs check. This wasn’t the end of the process, however, as we had a detailed bag search before we were able to leave Uzbekistan and walk across no-mans land to Kyrgyzstan. I assume the checks were to stop drug smuggling but I can’t be sure.

Inside the truck

Inside Helena the truck

Heading to the border

Heading to the border

There were a number of passport checks on the Kyrgyz side but the whole process went a lot quicker. We were through immigration and stamped into the country in no time and as a result my first impression of the country is exponentially better to that of Uzbekistan. The people seem friendly too – after being stamped into the country I was making my way out of the building and a Kyrgyz Army officer was attempting to come in at the same time. I stopped to let him pass first, naturally, but after enquiring whether I was a tourist he said “No, you are a tourist to my country. You first” before stepping to the side to let me pass which was really nice of him. If only border guards and officials could be this friendly everywhere *cough* America *cough*.

It took a while for our truck to go through the border so we had a chance to get to know our local guides before finally resuming our journey. Our first stop in Kyrgyzstan was Osh, the second city of Kyrgyzstan. It seemed a nice place but we only spent enough time here to change some money, have lunch and stock up on personal supplies for the trip. I changed $140, thinking this should last me until I am able to work out how much I’ll need for the entire trip, but judging by the price of lunch I don’t think I’ll need to change any more – including drinks and tip I only paid $5!

Osh

Arriving in Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Lunch in Osh

This is where we had lunch in Osh

Osh

The town centre of Osh

As we drove from Osh towards Arslanbob, where we are staying tonight, the scenery kept changing so quickly that I almost didn’t have time to take photos of everything. Due to the delays at the border we didn’t have a chance to stop and take many photos, unfortunately, except for having to stop for 20 minutes next to a lake so that the President of Kyrgyzstan could drive past. No I’m not joking.

Scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Waiting for the President

At the lake

Helena the truck

Helena by the lake

The President of Kyrgyzstan

The President of Kyrgyzstan passes

Kyrgyz lake

The lake we stopped at was beautiful

Kyrgyz people

Kyrgyz riders

The last leg of today’s journey was the final ascent into Arslanbob, after one more quick stop to buy supplies. We are staying in home stays for the next couple of nights and the house I’m staying in is really nice. It has a little stream passing through the garden, has lovely views, a working power supply, nice beds and the family seem really nice. The food is plentiful too, judging by dinner tonight, and I definitely won’t go hungry!

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

A donkey

A donkey blocking our path

Dinner time

Dinner in the home stay

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Walking in Arslanbob

May 27th, 2015 No comments

The scenery is beautiful in this country, in fact it’s one of the main reasons I decided to pick this trip, so even though I’m not much of a trekker I decided to join the group for a trek in the mountains to see the scenery. After breakfast in the home stay we made our way up into the town and met near the Mosque in the town centre.

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Walking up to town

The walk itself, for somebody that isn’t used to hills, was fairly challenging but not as challenging as the hill climb in Myanmar last year. It was about 4 hours long and took us up some hills, through a couple of villages and down some lovely paths to a view point. The view point chosen as our destination was a bit of an anticlimax considering how exhausted I was but I was glad I took part.

Walking

Starting the walk

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Mountains

A good view of the mountains

Kyrgyz kids

Kyrgyz kids came to say hello

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz scenery

This is where our walk finished.

On the way back I had a string of bad luck including losing my sunglasses, falling over and hurting my ankle, getting wet from rain and then sinking up to my knees in mud that was hidden under some dry-looking ground so I was glad when I found out that the group leaders had organised some transport for us to get to the town quicker. Only a handfull of us decided to take up the offer of transport, and it was a fairly uncomfortable ride, but I was in an amount of pain by this point so it was very welcome!

Lunch today was in a restaurant in the centre of the town which, as we found out when we left, was built out over a gorge created by the local river. Food in this part of the world is nothing special but it’s filling and after a hard day of walking we were all glad to sit down, fill our stomachs and chat for a bit.

Arslanbob

Arslanbob market

Lunch

Lunch in Arslanbob

Lunch with added danger

The tables were over the edge of a gorge!

A few of the group decided to try to find beer, although this was extremely difficult as due to the high proportion of followers of Islam in the town, only one Russian-owned bar was serving anything alcoholic. I gave the alcohol a miss and decided to head back down to the home stay, somehow finding my way back despite not paying attention to landmarks on the way out this morning.

We relaxed in the garden of the home stay for a few hours, and I was able to wash the mud out of my trousers, but heavy rain cut short the social activities and we had to hide inside for a while until dinner was ready.

Walking back to the home stay

Walking back to the home stay

Overall today was fairly uneventful apart from the walk but it was nice to see some of the amazing scenery that this country has to offer!

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Camping in Kyrgyzstan

May 28th, 2015 No comments

After leaving the home stay this morning we proceeded to a local market in the town of Kochkor-Ata to buy supplies and I was surprised how cheap the prices were! We were given a budget of 5000 som to buy dinner, breakfast and lunch for the group but only ended up spending 3250 (around 40 US dollars). Not only was the market so cheap compared to prices I am used to it was fun to browse around. Luckily the local guides were on hand to translate at the butcher so that we could get the cut of meat we wanted and have it chopped into cubes for dinner. The only problem was that the money had recently been drawn from a bank so our money was a 5000 som note, much to the annoyance of the first stall we went to where we only spent 350.

My room

My room in the home stay

Dining area

The dining area of the home stay

Our home stay

Leaving the home stay

Helena the truck

Helena parked up by the home stay

Market

The market in Kochkor-Ata

Lunch today was at a quarry overlooking a lake and was really beautiful so I was glad when we were told there was some free time to wander around before we would have to head off. I just can’t get used to how quickly the scenery changes in this country – what you see in these photos is the third area of drastically different scenery that we have seen today.

Animals in the road

One of the smaller herds

Lunch

Lunch at the side of the road

Lake photo

The lake where we stopped for lunch

Marker

A common sight in the former USSR

We had to travel along a few narrow roads to get to our final destination today and this wasn’t easy due to the huge herds of sheep and cattle being driven to new pastures that had to be avoided, with oncoming traffic making a point of pushing through aggressively, however when we arrived at the lake it was worth the hassle as the view was breathtaking.

The lake, as we found out this morning, is the result of soviet-era dams and powerplants which flooded the area in order serve the needs of Moscow. The lake it created is a bit green, as were some of the suspicious looking leaves growing in the surrounding fields, but the locals didn’t seem to mind swimming in it. I opted to stay on the banks and have a walk around before it was time to get ready for dinner while the others either drank or chatted to some Swiss people that they had seen a couple of times in Uzbekistan.

Camping in Kyrgyzstan

Camping with a view

Helena

Looking back towards Helena

A lake

The lake was lovely

Suspicious

These were growing sporadically around the field

I was in the cook group tonight, for the first time all trip, and we put on a lovely feast of stir-fried beef with rice and vegetables. I thought that we had cooked way too much, which was surprising considering the cost, but everything was eaten except two servings of rice which made me happy.

We chatted for a bit before calling it a night. I’m starting to get exhausted but I’m having a great time.

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Real coffee and another home stay

May 29th, 2015 No comments

Unfortunately I didn’t get much sleep last night. The ground was so hard, my tent mate snored loudly, and he also woke up early in order to prepare breakfast but this gave me a chance to do a bit of walking and take some photos before everybody else got up.

The Lake

The lake by morning

Helena the truck

Helena by the lake

Helena

Helena and the lake

Breakfast was a nice huge portion of scrambled eggs, which went down a treat, and was very welcome due to the long driving day ahead. Our guides cheered us up by telling us that we would be stopping for lunch at a service station which served real coffee. Anybody who knows me knows how much I like coffee and how much this piece of news would have excited me!

The long journey was worth it today as we saw so many scenery changes, all of which showed us something that was more beautiful than before. I have said it so many times but it is so beautiful in Kyrgyzstan and is worth the long travel days and lack of sleep. Our first scenery change was a mountain pass which we needed to travel along in order to reach our destination and, at 3150 metres, was freezing cold and covered in snow. We were allowed out to use the toilet, which was just as basic and horrifying as the truck stop I visited in Uganda a few years ago, before having some time to take photos of the scenery and start our first snow ball fight of the trip.

Scenery in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz scenery

Me at the pass

Me at the mountain pass

Lake

The lake, which the toilet dropped into

Lunch was at the previously mentioned service station where we set up in the car park out of the way of vehicles. My job within the group is to fill up the water tanks when we stop and this was the first place I was able to for a few days, however it had to wait as I was in need of the long-awaited real coffee inside. It was only from a machine, rather than a coffee bar, but was great. They even had almond syrup which is my favourite!

Lunch

Lunch time again

Lunch time

Lunch at the service station

Riding a horse

Another Kyrgyz horse rider

This afternoon I had a chance to sit up on the roof of the truck while we drove through a canyon and it was a perfect opportunity to see the lovely scenery pass by. This was the first time I had ever sat on the roof of the truck while travelling with Dragoman but it was great so it’s a shame we didn’t have a chance while in Africa. The journey took us along the side of a river, through a couple of valleys and past the construction sites of some new power lines that are being installed – the construction workers seemed to enjoy seeing our truck and waved when we went past. One thing that struck me today, even more so than in previous days, is the diverse and rich colours that the landscape is composed of. I’ve been to some pretty amazing places before but Kyrgyzstan is already the most beautiful country I have visited… and apparently the best is yet to come!

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery as we enter the gorge

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Workers

Construction workers say hi

On the roof

Riding on the roof of the truck

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

The original plan for tonight was to wild camp somewhere near the river but our local guides found us a home stay that was available in the nearby town of Chaek. It was a large compound that was previously owned by a local politician who was killed in some sort of accident and the workers keep the house available for people hoping to stay in the town. Toilets were the usual drop variety but we were all in one building, it was hot, there was laundry available, the food was brilliant, the power worked all the time and most importantly we had hot showers! In the west we take things like a hot shower, laundry facilities and power for granted but when you travel to places like this they are a luxury which you are happy to see when available.

Chaek doesn’t have much to do but after my shower I spent some time wandering around, taking in the sights, taking some photos and stretching my legs. Some of the group stocked up on supplies in a local shop and apparently the prices here are the cheapest they have seen all trip so I’ll have to make sure that I buy anything I need before we leave tomorrow.

Chaek

The town of Chaek

Chaek

Monuments in Chaek

Chaek drinks

Socialising before dinner

I sat on the porch of the house chatting to a few of the group while waiting for dinner and it was nice to be able to get to know some of them more. I haven’t connected with anybody as much as I did on the Africa or Central America trips yet but they’re a good bunch of people and are fun to travel with. We chatted some more over dinner, which was sit-down style in the large dining room. The food was so nice that we asked for extras to be cooked to take with us for lunch tomorrow!

At the moment I’m sat on my traditional bed in the room reserved for the guys. The others are mainly outside drinking on the porch but I’m ready for sleep so decided not to join them as we leave for Song-Kul lake in the morning and I’m really excited so want to be awake!

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Arriving at Song-Kul Lake

May 30th, 2015 No comments

What a place Song-Kul Lake is. After seeing it for myself I’m not sure that this is the lake in the photo which inspired me to visit Kyrgyzstan but it’s the place I was looking forward to the most. So remote, so beautiful and with the freshest air I have ever breathed (depite the low pressure due to altitute).

The day started with breakfast in the home stay in Chaek, before a chance to stock up in the local shops. The guys were right when they told me about the prices here yesterday – I bought two large bottles of vodka, one large bottle of fanta and one large bottle of water for the equivalent of 4.5 US dollars. You wouldn’t even buy the fanta and water for that price in Europe so take my advice and stop at the little stores in the villages if you visit this part of the world. They may not have the range that supermarkets in the larger towns do but they are cheaper and you will be supporting the local people rather than businessmen in Bishkek.

Chaek

Leaving Chaek

Cheap shopping

This is where we stopped for cheap supplies

Scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

We are the first overland vehicle to visit Song-Kul lake this season. Apparently there was a high amount of snow over the winter and the first pass has only just opened up enough for us to get through. This means that we had to go the long way around but that there is still plenty of snow for us to see. There isn’t much to tell you about the journey up to the lake as until we began the climb up to the pass it was all on paved highways. We stopped for lunch just before starting the climb, remaining inside the truck due to rain, and then it was time for high altitude!

Mountain Pass

Stopping at a mountain pass

Scenery

Some more diverse scenery

Lunch in the truck

Making lunch in the truck

The start of the climb was ok, and was mainly through farms and valleys, but we were soon travelling along mountain roads with only just enough room for our truck to pass and with steep drops on the side. After surviving the climb we stopped at the pass to take some photos, although at 3500m altitude it was freezing so we didn’t stay long. This is why I’m here though – to get away from it all, relax, see some beautiful mountains and maybe discover some things about myself along the way so a bit of cold won’t stop me. The high altitude is likely to get me before the cold does as 3500m is 11500 feet, which is higher than the altitude at which you can start to develop altitude sickness unless you take precautions!

Mountain scenery

The scenery is definitely more mountainous now

High pass

Me at the highest we have been all trip

After arriving at our Yurt camp on the shores of the lake a few of us decided to go for a walk along a bar of land that stretches out into the lake. It looked from first impressions that you could walk all the way around in a big loop, and indeed some people tried, but apparently the land became too marshy and they had to turn back. We later found out that officially that area of land is off limits, we just didn’t understand the sign in Kyrgyz along the shore telling us. I treated the walk as a chance to acclimatise to the altitude and get away from the truck for a bit. On these sorts of trips the truck is your home away from home but you do need to get away occasionally so you don’t go mad – I can only imagine how the leaders feel being stuck on the vehicle for 8 months at a time.

Yurts

Song-Kul Lake yurt camp

Song-Kul Walk

Going for a walk at the lake

Song-Kul

Song-Kul Lake

Song-Kul

Skipping stones during our walk

Lake

Song-Kul Lake

Song-Kul

A small bay on Song-Kul Lake

Dinner was served in a separate dining tent and wasn’t served in particularly large portions but it was tasty and filling. We also had a table full of snacks which we could load up on. Some of the group are outside drinking but I have decided to head to bed. It’s not even 9pm but I’m getting really tired for some reason, perhaps the altitude, and it’s also too cold outside. Way too cold outside! I have taken 3 spare blankets from the pile but I have a feeling this is going to be one of the coldest nights I have experienced.

Dinner

Dinner at Song-Kul

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