Beautiful Song-Kol Lake - the ultimate ethnoshonk

Trip Start May 16, 2005
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Trip End Nov 01, 2006


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Flag of Kyrgyzstan  ,
Monday, June 20, 2005

Our hearts sank when we saw our transport for the
hardcore roads to lake Song Kol - a 30 year old Lada.
This tiny piece of aging soviet technology was not
exactly the hardy jeep that we had
envisaged.

We were expecting a fairly interesting road up to Song
Kol but the route that unfolded blew all our expectations
away. For hours our trusty Lada battled against
horrific inclines at high altitude. The driver even
plucked up the courage to overtake several Chinese
lorries headed for the border in his demon machine.
But eventually the poor thing was overcome with
fatigue, or more precisely an overheated engine. The
hood was opened, several buckets of icy cold water
from a nearby stream were duly thrown over the engine
and we were off again. After a brief stop to walk to
a waterfall, we then undertook the final steep pass
with 32 hairpin bends which eventually brought us out
by the stunning lake.

After another hour of driving, we eventually reached
a yurt. The driver asked the shepherds if we could
stay, they agreed and all was set. The family we
stayed with were professional shepherds - people in
the villages below pay them to graze their animals over the
summer months. At the time of our visit they had 300
sheep, 30 cattle and 20 horses. Four days before we
arrived, wolves had attacked and killed two young
horses. Their remains hung as a grizzly reminder of
the harsh realities of life as a shepherd. That
evening two friends of the family joined us for dinner of boiled sheep's head
- their occupation.....wolf hunters! Dinner was a very polite affair - slurping of tea, monstrous belching mixed in with a healthy dose of flatulence. Surprisingly, the aforementioned was not the work of Sonia but of our hosts. All in all a very amusing episode. They took a great deal of interest in our picture postcards that we had brought from Scotland. They insisted that we were mistaken and that the highland cow was in fact a yak.

After dinner, the table and cooking equipment was
removed and the bedding was taken out. The shepherd,
his wife, the driver, Sonia and I all settled down for
the night. Even in late June, the nights are bitterly
cold at this altitude (3000+ metres) and we awoke to
find a substantial layer of ice on the car.
Our second day involved a 5 hour horse trek up into
the surrounding mountains and then down to the lake
itself. This was a wonderful way to appreciate the
beautiful scenery around our camp. We rode up valleys,
across stream and through wide pastures containing
inexhaustible supplies of wild garlic. Sonia gathered
loads of the stuff to have with our dinner. The plan
was to have trout with potatoes and carrots served
with butter and wild garlic. We had everything we
needed aside from the trout... I'll leave you to
guess the next part of the story but needless to say
the trout in this part of the world didn't appear
ready to cooperate with our dinner arrangements.

The following morning we said goodbye and headed back
to the relative civilisation of Bishkek. Unfortunately, the taxi driver who took us back to Bishkek was without doubt the worst driver we have ever come across. His old Audi 100, like the thousands of other Audi 100s in Kyrgyzstan was primarily used as a street going racing car. Despite the pouring rain and perilous winding roads, this idiot insisted at driving flat out the whole way. At one point he got into a race with two other Audi 100s, tailgating each other at speeds of over 180 km/h. Both of us were petrified and we were delighted to make it to Bishkek alive. I fear that at some point in the future, passangers of his will not be as fortunate.
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