Horses, cows and goats scattered everywhere, colossal peaks, pure air and a wide alpine lake. If anyone is thinking of escaping the city and hide in a place away from crappy TV and Facebook then we have something here you might like, it is called Song Kol.
Horses and yet another mountain pass
It is easy to forget dirt tracks and steep hills when you are surrounded by beautiful mountains and with horses running wild on them. The mountain passes in this country are breathtaking and can easily blow you away (literally, as sometimes the wind at the top is so strong that jumping is not recommended).
Tourists are few in numbers in Kyrgyzstan and most of them are cycling their way around the country. It is probably the best way to take in all the scenery and enjoy the raw nature, if your legs can take it that is. One of those brave chaps, Neil, gave us some useful information on how to get to our next destination, Lake Song Kol, via the Moldo Pass.
Little we knew about the quality of the roads leading to the lake but judging by the experience from the previous day, chances were the situation was not to improve. And it didn’t. Our convoy shared dirt tracks with all sorts of vehicles, from Hummer’s and big Mercedes to the ubiquitous Lada. Some are real gems.
We left behind the tiny village of Jangy-Talap and headed, once again, towards a mountain pass, the one that would take us to Kyrgyzstan’s second largest lake. Full of excitement and perhaps a bit worried for our vehicles, we started the climb. A reasonable dirt track was followed by a series of dramatic turns full of pot holes and rocks.
Tucked up in the Tian Shan Mountains, at more than 3000 metres, we found what we came looking for: yurts scattered everywhere, shepherds driving their cattle into the green pastures, horses running wild and a huge alpine lake. Song Kol can be translated as “The Last Lake”, and never a name represented a place with such accuracy.
Untouched and unspoiled, it is hard to put into words what one feels when you are presented with such wonder. Hopefully these pictures will make it some justice.
After setting up our camp and soaking in the atmosphere, Katie treated us to a delicious Thai curry, the perfect meal to prepare ourselves for a very cold night. Next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and realised just how lucky we were to be there in such good company. Including some unexpected neighbours.
A bittersweet farewell
The morning gave us the opportunity to reorganise our vehicle load and admire the multiple hordes of animals that came to visit our camp. Despite being in heaven, the state of the roads was still a big unknown and reluctantly, we agreed to cut short our visit to Song Kol and leave for Bishkek after lunch.
Most locals head east from the lake towards the village of Sary-Bulak, a route 85km long which is considered to be the main gateway to the lake. Again, another dirt track with pretty bad washboards along the way and loads of rocks to add up to the fun. Having said that, it is probably better this way, the best things in life are worth working hard for.
At the end of the dirt track, we found it, tarmac, at last! After two days of pot holes, rocks and dust, the convoy was flying on such beautiful road, heading for Kochkor. And 5 minutes later, the inevitable happened, two of us got pulled over for not having the lights on and for speeding. Hoping to get a good deal, we sent Paula and Josh, our toughest negotiators and.. result! No fine, just a handshake. 2-0 to the Fellowship!
A couple of hours later we arrived in Kochkor with a bittersweet taste: one of the ambulances suffered from a damaged suspension due to the horrible washboards and some members of the Fellowship were feeling unwell .The episode with the police was a warning of what was waiting for us in Kazakhstan, a country none of us was particularly fond of. But who knows, we have been mistaken and pleasantly surprised many times on this trip and more importantly, the finish line was now just 2 weeks away.
Kazakhstan: 1600km of stupidly bad roads, corrupt police… what are we waiting for?