After four wonderful, albeit short days in Kazakstan we make our way to Kyrgyzstan. One blissful border crossing later and we are on our way to the capital – Bischkek. We arrive at our first hotel with a pool. With the Lonely Planet assuring us there is very little to do in Bischkek the decision is made – we won’t be moving from the pool side for the next two days.
Having recharged our batteries and caught up with blogs and diaries we are prepared for the next five nights continuous bush camping. First stop is Lake Issyk Kol, the second largest alpine lake in the world. The crystal clear waters are inviting but the cold and the rain stop all but Phil and the new guide Anton jumping in. We wake the next morning to glorious sunshine, we pack up camp in good spirits ready to move to Deity Orgus for three nights.
Breakfast at Lake Issyk Kol
En route we are treated to a spot of eagle hunting. We meet a local man with his hand reared golden eagle. After we have all had a meet and greet with the eagle herself, her handler grabs a live rabbit from his car and places it on the ground. He walks with the eagle part way up a nearby hill and releases her. Within a second she has caught the rabbit and proceeds to pull it apart. Needless to say a few members of the truck are left slightly traumatised by the sight. Whilst the eagle “hunt” was fascinating but the whole thing feels very staged leaving a few of us dejected.
With the eagle
We are soon on our way again to our next long stint of bush camping. Deity Orgus takes its name from the ‘Seven Bulls’, a set of seven red rocks that mark the entrance to the valley. Deity Orgus is a spectacular valley set high up in the mountains, each summer the nomads make their way into the valley set up their yurts and live off the land until the snow sets in during September, driving them back down to lower and warmer ground. The drive up takes us over a set of five wooden bridges, unable to take the weight of the truck with 20 overlanders onboard we have to get off and walk. On the fourth bridge the truck slips, our hearts are in our mouths, although it’s nothing compared to the way Teresa must feel behind the wheel. After some careful coaching from Simon the truck makes it across, collectively we heave a sigh of relief and mutter between ourselves about how pleased we are not to have been onboard.
The truck resting somewhat precariously on a very narrow bridge
We finally make it up to our campsite, I’m sure the view is stunning but it is somewhat spoiled by the torrential rain. The whole group makes the decision to upgrade to a yurt (the nomadic home) to escape the rain, unfortunately it is five to a yurt and we get to ours only to discover an enormous hole in the roof with a river already pouring through. Laughing to ourselves we don’t feel too put out and make our way back down to camp to spend the evening with Simon, Teresa and the local guide Anton. The seven of us decide to introduce Anton to one of the great British specialties – cheese on toast with beans. Dinner goes down well and after drying off round the fire we make a quick dash through the rain to our tents.
A very wet Teresa inspecting the leaky yurt
We wake the next morning to sunshine which brightens our mood considerably. Having missed out on the riding in Kazakstan I am determined to jump on a horse in this wonderful scenery. Five of us grab the guide Anton and make our way to one of the nomadic camps to ask about hiring horses for a few hours. The locals are only too happy to oblige and soon return with five horses for us point us in the direction of a track telling us to be back in a few hours.
Riding in the stunning Deity Orgus
The evening is spent dressed up in fabulous costumes provided for us by another member of the truck. I find myself thoroughly impressed with what people have managed to pull together for just five dollars.
Funky fancy dress
Lamb spit day! After a late night we are slow to rise and miss the slaughtering of the lamb performed lovingly by Bruce. The lamb, christened Larry, has been bought and prepared by Teresa and Simon and will be cooked slowly over the course of the day. Phil, Jules and I take a leisurely walk in the morning. We pick an idealic spot for lunch where cattle and horses are herded past us. I feel like I’m in paradise. We head back to camp to wait for the roast. Once the meat has been carved we sit down for a veritable feast. The food is divine but the rain soon settles in once more and drives us all to our tents for an early night.
Our beautiful picnic spot
One of the nomads horses checking us out
Larry on the spit
After three wonderful nights in the most beautiful of settings we leave Deity Orgus as wet as we arrived. We make it back across the bridges without any incidents this time. We drive to a home stay with the promise of a shower and a bed. Unfortunately on arrival we find out that the power is out so there is no heating and no hot water. Cold showers are had by all. It is unseasonably cold for this time of year and to our surprise it starts snowing, by the time we have finished dinner a couple of centimeters have settled on the truck and the surrounding fields.
The next morning the snow has disappeared but Anton informs us it is snowing in Song Kol, our next destination. The morning is spent in the local town buying food and warm supplies for the next four nights of bush camping. We also visit a felt factory where we are taught how to make a felt carpet of our own design. This is presented to Pernille as a birthday present.
Myself, Anna, Mary and Lou with our felt creation
As we make our way to Lake Song Kol the snow gets worse and worse, snow is rare here in June. Song Kol sits at an altitude of 3600m, we make our way above 4000m before dropping back down to Song Kol. Song Kol is one of the most visually beautiful places I have ever been. As the lake, with its sweeping savannah and snowy mountains opens up beneath us we are left in awe. We arrive at camp at 7pm with eight of us deciding to upgrade to a yurt. We make our way over to the local family who have agreed to put us up for the night and are soon ushered in for cups of milky chai, bread and mares milk butter. Delicious. Anton stays with us to translate and we are all very taken by the hospitality of these wonderful people.
Song Kol in the snow
Snow ball fights
Sunset in the snow
We spend the evening drinking and eating cake to celebrate Pernille’s birthday. With the temperature dropping to minus eight we are all very grateful to be tucked up together in the comfort of the yurt. We refuse to let the weather dampen our spirits and I feel particularly privileged to have seen this spectacular landscape in the snow.
We wake the next morning warm and rested with the sun slowly heating up the savannah. A few of us decide to take a short walk up one of the surrounding hills. At this altitude any exercise is difficult and we take it slowly stopping regularly to catch our breath.
Checking out the scenery on our walk
We return to camp by early afternoon, in time to catch the game of goat polo that has been arranged for us. Contrary to the way it sounds this is not polo played on goats but a game played on horseback using a slaughtered goat as the ball. Fast paced and grisly, directly translated the Kyrgyz name for goat polo means ‘goat pulling’ and this is literally what they do. Yanking the goat carcass between them they race at lightning speed to the designated goal area and throw the goat on the ground. After an hour of this brutal game we are thoroughly enthralled, so much so that a few of the guys decide that they would like to give it a go. Hilarity ensues as these untrained horsemen try to wrestle a well and truly pulverised goat from the Kyrgyz elite.
Goat polo – played the proper way
Bruce learning how to play
The next day, still buzzing from the aftermath of the goat polo and with the snow now melted Jules, Simon and I organise three horses and head towards the lake, 7kms away. Simon’s unruly stead causes problems when it bolts at the first sign of open ground. With Jules heading at quite a speed in one direction and Simon heading equally quickly in exactly the opposite direction I spend a fair amount of my time trying to bring our small group back together. Unfortunately due to the melt water and rain from the night before the ground closer to the lake is boggy, we admit defeat and head into the mountains. We head back to camp three hours later with three sweaty horses and three exhausted but beaming riders.
Riding at Song Kol
We wave goodbye to Jules as she is led away by a nomad and his mule!
The afternoon is spent entertaining the local children and daring each other to try Kumis, a slightly alcoholic fermented mare’s milk drink that tastes like liquidised feta cheese – yummy. Yvonne has kindly organised a pub quiz for the evening, unable to exert our bodies too far we decide to exercise our minds instead. Judging by some of the answers this is something we should do more often!
More crazy but beautiful weather as a storm rolls in over Lake Song Kol
Leaving Lake Song Kol marks the end of our time in the magical Kyrgyzstan. With dreams of giving up the day job and becoming a fully fledged nomad, our next stop is China.