We crossed the Kazakh/Kyrgyz border on 8th August via the Kegen border crossing without a hitch.
Borders have a been a doddle so far, plus there are no visa requirements for Australian and British passport holders in Kyrgyzstan.
We had climbed to an altitude of 2000m by the time we left Kazakhstan and the cool breeze coming over the mountains was so welcome.
Immediately after crossing into Kyrgyzstan there were obvious changes in the scenery. Firstly and fore-mostly the dust and brown hills were replaced with a carpet of green grass, windflowers and
what looked like pine trees. It was Kazakhstan but green and lush.
I’m not sure if it’s down to our location but the rubbish disappeared too. Within a few km the road was winding around rolling green hills and pockets of forestation. We turned off the beaten track and over an old bridge, past the yurts and horses. A Stoney river presented itself and voila! We just knew it was the perfect campsite.
I had to write this section of the post as I saw it. We laid a fire surrounded by rounded stones from the river bed. The sun set as we cooked dinner and the moon emerged from the speckled clouds, highlighting the water beneath.
I left dinner to cook and sat in a chair by the fire, watching the embers jump from the flames and float off into the night. I suddenly realized that this was MY happiness. So many different things can make people happy at different points in their lives. This moment was one of mine.
The next morning we watched the cattle cross the river, wading in as far as their necks. We washed some sheets in the river and adjusted the fuel mixture on the Troopy for the higher altitude (thinner air) roads to come.
A few km after leaving camp we came to a fork in the road. We were headed for Karakol and Lake Isyk-Kul and just as we made our turn a group of Kazakhs from Almaty stopped us. They were looking for someone and it emerged that they too were headed for Karakul. They suggested that we team up with them and take the scenic off-road track to Karakol. We were so lucky to have bumped into them as their route was beautiful. Steep twisty climbs through the hills were rewarded with 360′ views of the valleys beneath.
We all stopped for lunch and the Almatians’ pried us with roast chicken legs and bread. In turn we gave their kids some chocolate bars. I’m sure the parents were grateful for that hahah. The Almaty group forked off at Karakol, headed for the Red Rocks and hot springs about 40km on. We hung back and meandered our way to the Lake, taking in the sights of everyday life in the villages that we passed.
The Krygs’ skin tone was darker that that of the Kazakhs, and they looked more Asian. Their cheeks were ruddy red and the faces were flatter and more square. As we drove by – kiddies started waving and shouting hello. We stopped a few times to hand out some sweets for a bit of fun.
The way of life here is simple, laid back and very enviable. Outside of the villages the landscape contained a smattering of yurts and horse drawn carriages with chimneys growing out of them. Donkeys and carts worked the fields and the horses munched on grass; their feet loosely tied together with rope to prevent wandering.
We got to the very slightly saline lake and using the compressor – blew up two tyre tubes and chucked them in the water.
We grabbed the water proof Go-pro and swam out before looking back in awe at the water, followed by beach, followed by hills, then snow-capped mountains.
The lake is Central Asia’s largest behind Lake Balkhash and the Aral Sea. It is also one of the worlds highest lakes. At it’s deepest it is almost 700m. The water is crystal clear all the way down to the sandy bottom.
We spent a while getting up the beach to the troopy, as wheelchairs don’t go so well in sand. Jerome has ‘off-road’ wheels that he can swap with his city wheels for such excursions. He also has a FreeWheel. The FreeWheel is an extra wheel that clips on to the front of his chair, raising the two front castors off the ground – thus providing greater stability and the opportunity to glide over uneven ground with greater ease.
We left the Lake and headed for the Red Rocks. Our instructions were to drive to a village called Saruu and turn left. Drive for 10km and the red rocks will appear. I think we chose the wrong left. We drove offroad for a few km’s before reaching a muddy bog-hole. Jerome sensibly (for once!) skirted around the hole – only to be caught out by a hidden ditch with an even boggier bottom. The troopy bottomed out on the rear diff and the wheels began to spin.
I jumped out and grabbed the sandtracks. All of a sudden a young Krg popped out of literally nowhere and with his hoe, began digging us out. He soon dropped the hoe in favour of our shovel mounted to the side of the car. He dug and I positioned the sand tracks. As Jerome reversed out the wheels sprayed up mud all over the Krg man – oops! He didn’t seem to mind at all. Within a few minutes we were free. I grabbed a small bottle of vodka and a cold beer from the fridge for him as a thank you. He was bloody chuffed and sauntered off with his haul. Everyone was happy. We continued down the track and eventually spotted the road that we should have been on – running parallel to us and separated by a river. It was dusk in an hour so we chose a flat piece of land with a crazy view of the mountains and shacked up for the night.
The next morning we got on the correct road which took us towards the Seven Bulls – a huge formation of red sandstone rocks that you can drive through.
It’s a crazy drive up through the hills and at the end there are hot springs. Our idea of hot springs are a bit more natural than the tiled concrete yurts that we were met with. We gave them a miss.
On our way back down we passed a bunch of kids playing in the water and making mini mud houses. I couldn’t imagine a better childhood, they looked so happy.
We kept moving and headed over to Barksoon before turning onto the road that leads to the Kumtor gold mine. Drive down that scenic road for about 20km and you reach a waterfall, and the face of Yuri Gagarin carved into a rock.
Yuri was sent here in 1961 for a well deserved break after his space mission – a great choice. We stopped for lunch and yet again adjusted the fuel mixture to help stop the Troopy from overheating. It looks to be working but the price is less power. We need to get the mixture right before we hit Tajikistan and the Pamir.
After lunch we continued our journey around the South of Isyk-Kul lake and then took a quick detour through a small canyon for a bit of off-roading. I was driving and had decided to follow the dry river bed. After a while a small trickle of water emerged and the bed got heaps sandy. I decided to stop about 2 seconds too late. The ground turned to a muddy mush and the drivers side of the troopy ploughed into the river bed, way up past the front and rear diffs. Shiiiiit!
Not only were we truly bogged, we were just about to roll. My first time bogging the car (or any of our cars) and I had done a bloody good job of it. I jumped out of the car and Jerome moved into the drivers seat. After a few minutes of discussing our options we decided that I would dig as much mud out from under the Troopy as possible and then lay down the sand tracks. Jerome would then try to reverse out the way we had come. Boy was it muddy! The car was listing so badly that I couldn’t get on the roof, so the sand-tracks had to be reached from the side. I grabbed the shovel and started to dig.
You could hear the Troopy groaning slightly on it’s alarming angle. The side bars made it almost impossible to dig far enough under the car so after a few minutes I stripped off and literally jumped on in, digging the mud out from under the car with my hands. It took a good hour of hand-digging and shovelling before I found the wheels again and could place the tracks down sensibly. We both knew that we had just one chance to get this right. It was windy and cloudy and we heard the clap of thunder. Bugger – better get going. Jerome threw the Troopy into reverse and I let down the passenger side tyres to 18psi for better traction. Jerome gassed it and the Troopy gripped onto the tracks and shot backwards and onto terra-firma. Thank god for that! We whooped for joy – what a result.
I felt a massive sense of achievement. Time to beetle off and find a river to wash in. We carefully worked our way out of the canyon of doom and pitched up at the Lake for one last night on its’ banks before heading off to Song-Kul Lake the next day. The beer I had that night never tasted so good!
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