The past week we’ve made our way from Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek in the north of the country to the country’s second largest city, Osh, in the south. Again the scenery along the way was amazingly beautiful. Kyrgyzstan just doesn’t stop to surprise us.
Driver without a clue
We rented a car with driver through a travel agency for three days to first take us to Song-Kul lake, where we camped in a yurt at 3.000 meter altitude for the third time during our trip. Although the lake is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country, our driver surprised us by starting asking for directions once we reached Khorog, the starting point for many tours to Song-Kul. Apparently he had never been here before.
He had to stop several times to ask for directions, but eventually we made it to the lake, our driver clearly not expecting the last 50 kilometers being on sometimes bad, unpaved roads. We were already surprised he had shown up in Bishkek with a normal sedan instead of a 4WD. This would have been more suited to the route we wanted to take.
Song-Kul lake is the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and is broadly advertised as a great place to go hiking and horseback riding, but we have seen many more places in Kyrgyzstan the past few weeks that we think are much more beautiful for this. The lake was ….. just a lake, surrounded by grasslands (jailoos) and low mountain peaks. Pretty, but not the best we’ve seen here.
The travel agency we’d booked our car and driver with had told us that our driver would be able to assist in finding a place to stay along the way, but as soon as we had arrived near the lake he stopped and asked us where we wanted to stay. He clearly had no idea. Luckily we’d just passed a sign pointing toward the CBT (Community Based Tourism) yurt camp 10 kilometers further down the lake, so we ended up there.
Just like our previous yurt stays it was pretty cold sleeping in not too comfortable beds and the bathroom facilities were rudimentary, the toilet being a corrugated iron cabin with a hole in the ground. But there was enough to eat for both breakfast and dinner. With all the cookies, chocolates and candy on the table – something that’s standard at homestays and some guesthouses too – we think we’ve gained some weight the first weeks on the Silk Road.
So we found the lake okay, but the drive in and out was beautiful, especially crossing the mountain pass to get there, seeing yaks and camels both times. The second day drove for ten hours taking a little traveled route through central Kyrgyzstan. Again our driver was not familiar with it. To his dismay about seventy percent of the time we were driving on bumpy, unpaved roads. Every time he thought he finally had some good tarmac under his wheels, we had to turn onto a gravel road again.
Especially the road passing Kyzyl-Oy to the Suusamyr valley was spectacularly gorgeous. Following the course of a scenic rushing river the mountain scenery changed constantly. After overnighting in a roadside hotel on the main Bishkek to Osh road our not one word of English speaking chauffeur drove like a madman to get us to the little town of Arslanbob, where we said goodbye to him.
Arslanbob, something different
We stayed at a lovely homestay for three nights in Arslanbob, a small town that was completely different from what we’d seen earlier in Kyrgyzstan. We’d grown accustomed to empty landscapes and landscapes dominated by pine trees but now we mostly saw deciduous trees, huge poplars in particular. It’s also home to the world’s largest walnut forest.
What made the town different as well was that it had a predominantly conservative, Muslim Uzbek population. Our hosts were Uzbek as well. It made for a good spot for Eugénie to buy an appropriate outfit at the local Wednesday bazaar for our visit next month to Iran. We also did an easy five hour hike with a guide from the local CBT office to a small waterfall, the walnut forest and a nice panorama point.
Osh, Kyrgyzstan comes to an end
From Arslanbob we took an early morning direct marshrutka (minibus) to Osh. The city was pleasant enough to spend 1,5 days in, but real great sights are missing. We visited one of the tallest Lenin statues still standing in the former Soviet Union countries, saw some great old Soviet wall mosaics, climbed holy and Unesco World Heritage listed Sulaiman-Too mountain and shopped at the local bazaar, reputedly one of the biggest in Central Asia, which was less bustling than anticipated.
Our main reason to go here, though, was to prepare for our next great adventure: crossing the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. We’ve arranged for a 4WD with driver (who speaks English and knows the way, we are assured) and have stocked up on Tajik somoni, back-up food and water for the next six days. We are extremely psyched to do this. Fingers crossed for good weather. Until now we’ve been extremely fortunate in that respect.
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