It turned out that Karakol is like a trekking mecca for backpackers, and for the first time in a long time we felt like we had ended up in a quite touristed place. It was great to meet other travellers and exchange tips and tricks for Central Asia!
First stop for our adventures was the Sunday morning animal market in Karakol. Locals claim that this is the biggest animal market in Central Asia, and that buyers and sellers sometimes travel for days to get there. It was indeed very big! Horses, cattle, and sheep for sale all over the place. If you ever end up buying two sheeps and do not know how to get them home we can tell that they seem to fit perfectly in the trunk of an old Lada 😉 If you also need some hay for them, just buy it that same day and tie it to the roof and it is all sorted 😀
However, this market was also a very real window into a world where animals are just considered a commodity — most of the horses for sale here did not seem to be sold for riding.
Lake Issyk-Kul is surrounded by mountains, and off course we wanted to explore those green and white areas we could see from Karakol. We choose the Altyn Arashan hot spring “village” in the mountains south-east of Karakol. We were told that it was a great 15 km hike up there with a few options to continue further into the valley, so we packed our things for a couple of days of hiking. Not really knowing what to expect we were blown away by amazing views almost as soon as we got off the marshrutka at the trailhead.
As usual Ulrik had studied various maps and found a “camping spot” marked by some other tourists a little out of the very touristed hot spring “village”. To avoid the crowds we decided to camp there overnight. It was all great, and we had some lovely hours walking passing by clear evidence why you are not supposed to walk here in avalanche season. However, we cannot stop wondering how they manage to drive all the tourists through this. Yes, they have big military 4×4 and 6×6 “busses”, but still — how do they get them past these passages? 😉
While the sun dropped behind the mountains we found the small path leading to the camping spot. And at that point we learned that those other tourists marking the camping spot must really love sleeping with their heads uphill. At least the camping spot was marked on the really steep slope down to the river. It was not really suitable for camping. Luckily we found a very small “beach area” next to the river and pitched our tent there instead. And this spot even came with two private hot springs 😉
The next day we spent walking further into the valley towards “Pik Palatka” which according to our best Russian means “Tent Peak” — and it indeed looked like a tent! The hike was easier in this part of the valley as it is more flat, and we enjoyed some great hours of walking among groups of horses in the beautiful valley. It was all very idyllic until we woke up early in the morning and found our tent all surrounded by whinnying horses!
From that moment it was just a really long walk downhill which we tried to enjoy — although we both enjoyed the homemade burgers and red wine in Karakol much more 😉
On our last proper day with time for fun in Kyrgyzstan we rented two bikes and went to Pristan — an old harbour village down to Lake Issyk-Kul. To avoid riding on the main road with all the cars (they are not at all used to cyclists, and they go very fast) Ulrik again studied the map and found a lovely route through the rolling green hills. The only thing we did not consider was the condition of these roads! We were glad that we hired mountain bikes 😉 But still we ended up with quite sore buts 😋
So with sore buts we are on our way back to Bishkek to get the last few things sorted before we catch a plane to Nepal and after that Tibet. Our time in Central Asia has come to an end, and we may never make use of all our Russian phrases again. It has been some great 2.5 months here, but with 7 more to go we have lots of adventures waiting for us in other regions of the world. Next stop Kathmandu!