A Travellerspoint blog

Alexander's Lake

View Central Asia 2019 on Bob Brink's travel map.

May 13

I just love these wonderful high-tech rooms. It takes ten minutes to figure out which switch controls which lights. The lights do not work without your room card, which is usually a good thing to conserve energy, but not always as I found out this morning.

I woke up quite early and tried to turn on the lights. Nothing happened. I could see light coming from the closet, so that seemed not to be connected to the other lights. My bathroom facilities were totally dark. I found my headlamp (packed for our one night of camping) so that I could at least do some of my morning activities.

After getting dressed I played with all the lights, turning them on and off, and put the card in and out of the holder. Nothing worked. Then I realized that I was outside of my room with the door shut and my room card in the slot. I was ready for breakfast, so I just took the elevator down and walked to the desk. They assumed the problem was the card, and I needed another anyway, so the gave me a new one.

I went into breakfast, a buffet of course. Evonne asked for a coffee from the machine. I had not thought about that. I did the same and got a great cappuccino.

After breakfast I went back to the room armed with my new card. The lights still did not work, so no shaving today. I threw my last things into my suitcase and went downstairs to check out. I tried to explain the issues at the desk, but the two guys did not seem too concerned and just kept thanking me for staying there.

Our ultimate goal for today is a town called Panjakent (or Penjikent among other spellings), but first we have our visit to the Fann Mountains and Iskanderkul Lake.

Yesterday we heard about the kingdom of the Persian Samanis, from the 10th century. Today we are visiting Iskanderkul Lake with a history going back many centuries before that, to 327 BC, when Alexander the Great came to present day Tajikistan, battling various forces (burning and killing is another way to put it) all the way. Legend has it that it the he pursued Spitamenes, a high-ranking nobleman who was waging a guerrilla war against him, into the Fann Mountains as far as the lake. Or perhaps he made a dam which created the lake. Choose your legend. Iskander is the Persian pronunciation of Alexander, and kul is lake in Turkic.

I will write more about old Alexander in a later blog, since we are headed to Khujand, which has a lot of his history. Today will be about beautiful scenery and the wild drive.

I have been happy to have company on this trip. But already I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with company all day long. We have a German speaking contingent. They often speak German to each other. One of them seems to giggle at just about anything. Today I wanted some peace and quiet, so I watched which van they got into and chose the other one. It turned out that I chose the van of the lead driver. We were out in front the whole time.

I took a few photos of the city as we left.

There are several big houses (dachas) along the river.


One is a place for the president.

We had to share the road.

Things got really interesting as we began our climb into the mountains. It was a spectacular drive with many hairpin turns. There were several tunnels to protect against avalanches.


We then entered the Anzob Tunnel which is over 5 kilometres long. For much of it there were no lights or ventilation. It has only two lanes which are not well divided. The tunnel has had the reputation of being one of the world’s dangerous, but there have been some improvements. It was quite spooky but kind of fun, too.

The tunnel saves about four hours when driving between Tajikistan’s two largest cities, Dushanbe and Khujand. It avoids the numerous avalanches and saves travellers from having to pass through Uzbekistan, which as was necessary in the past thanks to Stalin’s crazy long-ago mapping. Sometimes Uzbekistan would close the border depending on what its leader was feeling about relations with Tajikistan.

There was certainly a class divide.

The colors were fantastic as we neared the lake.

Iskanderkul Lake

The itinerary mentioned swimming. With the cool temperatures, no one was tempted to try, but the sign seemed to say that we were not allowed.

Our lunch was beef with cabbage and carrots, very similar to what we call a Jiggs Dinner back in Newfoundland. In years past, before commercial agriculture, the Newfoundland people required a way to store their root vegetables over the winter so they built underground structures called root cellars. We would later see a Tajik version on our walk. Put grass on top and it could be in Newfoundland.


After lunch we walked to a waterfall which was described as the “Niagara Falls of the Fann Mountains”. The views along the way were quite beautiful.


I have seen Niagara Falls many times. These waterfalls are nothing like them. In fact, it was difficult to even get a good look at them. I concluded that the walk was definitely worth it, even if the falls were a bit overstated.


Our drivers came to pick us up near the waterfall, saving us a walk all the way back. We headed back through the mountains towards Panjakent. The views continued to amaze me.


Eventually the mountains ended, and we came to the green Zaravshan Valley. Much of the country’s rice production comes from this area.


We have seen police stops, but Bek has called out that we are tourists, and we have been waved through. This afternoon we were stopped, and our driver had a long discussion with the policeman. He was driving fast. We were eventually allowed to carry on. Later the driver made some arrangement (or so we were told).

We went directly to the Hotel Umariyon. It is quite basic, both in size and finishings. But the good news is that they do not use cards. You just turn on the lights.

There was an Australian family staying there, three generations. One of their boys came right over and introduced himself. He asked if I had ever been to Australia. I showed off and told him yes, and that I had been to Alice Springs, and asked if he had ever been there.

For supper we went to a place along the river. It was very peaceful. We sat outside. It was extremely pleasant. We were served lamb once again. There was a bit less food, which was a good thing. It helps that I really love lamb, which is always a bit of a special treat back home.


Back in my nice basic, low tech room I tried to use the internet to call Po. I then went out to the lobby to try. I then gave up.

Posted by Bob Brink 07:57 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan central_asia kalpak_travel iskanderkul Comments (1)

Tajikistan, Stan Number Three

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May 12

We had a very civilized departure time of 11:10 for our flight to Dushanbe. We left our guide Gaukhar in Kazakhstan. I will miss her. She is just so bright and enthusiastic. And I assume that she chose our restaurants which were fantastic.

Our two tour flights were with Air Astana, both on small planes (Embraer 190’s if that is something that interests you). The seating in economy was 2 x 2. There was no personalized entertainment system (not that it is really important on a short flights). Instead there was a monitor for several rows. I glanced up and saw that it was showing a documentary on Antonoly Tarasov, the famous Russian hockey coach. The several mentions of Canada caught my eye. As the Kyrgyz border official had said, “Canada. Hockey champions”. I actually watch very little hockey and never played. I watch basketball. No one cares when I check the Toronto Raptors’ results and say "My team won last night."

I pulled out the Air Astana in-flight magazine. There was an article on Georgia! Coincidence? Or an omen? I found out that the cheese filled bread that I love so much is called Khachapuri and is registered as part of Georgia’s intangible cultural heritage. You have to love a country that would make a cheese filled bread part of its heritage.

We were flying over mountains most of the way.

Landing in Dushanbe

There was a little delay at immigration since there were not enough forms. Finally they brought more. We waited a few minutes and were the last to pass through. After collecting our bags (mine was checked this time) we met our new guide, Farhodbek. He said to call him Bek.

We were taken straight to our hotel. Need I say that our hotel is nice? It is another luxury hotel with another big room, our second Hilton Hotel. It took me a few minutes to figure out the lights. I have a nice view from my room.


Bek took us to a Turkish Restaurant for lunch. He said it was hard to find places for lunch because so many restaurants are closed until the evening during Ramadan. We have had Turkish food a few times on the tour and each time I think back to how badly I chose my restaurant on the first night in Istanbul. Thank you again, Trip Advisor.


We could see that the city is still has lots of Soviet architecture. There was an interesting sculpture (?) beside the building next door. Or maybe they work on tractors?


Our first activity was a visit to the Navruz Palace. It was originally to be a tea house but then became more. Bek kept bragging that his contacts got us a special visit on a Sunday when it is usually closed. The palace is used for official meetings. One room is available for the public to rent for special events like weddings. It is an incredible place. Does one question the cost? Bek said that he was quite proud of it.
And here is a portrait of the president with his good friend.
Our group photo

When we finished with our inside tour, we were given some “free” time to take photos around the grounds. That is where the fun started! I really enjoyed the next couple of hours. I walked around the corner. There was a lake with paddle boats.


And then I saw the fountain.


The people of Tajikistan are Persian, in look and language. The women wear traditional dresses.

Bek took us to the botanical garden. We visited the peacocks and then walked around the lovely grounds. Everyone was so friendly.



I passed these young women who were standing under some trees. I walked on and was blocked by some bushes. Something made me decide to back up. I found them posing for me.

Bek gave us a talk about Tajikistan. Unlike the other Central Asian countries, Tajikistan suffered through a five year civil war which began the year after independence. Estimates of numbers of killed go as high as 60,000 and refugees of around 1.2 million, inside and outside of the country. The conflict devastated the economy. The country is still catching up to its neighbors. Bek blamed the civil war on outside groups.


Bek explained about religion practices in Tajikistan. According to him the people were generally not overtly devout. He said that are no open prayers and no call to prayer. The government has restricted certain religious practices for Muslims, especially related to participation in the Hajj (pilgrimage), the wearing of hijabs, and the attendance at mosques of youth and women.

Maybe some of the women in traditional dresses would have preferred to wear something else. It was clear that Bek would be supportive of Government control in this area based on his (and I would think many of the citizens) fear of fundamental Islamists and the devastating impact that the civil war had on the country.

President Rahmon Nabiyevhas been in power since the civil war. One difference between the Stans is how often you see the president's portrait. We saw lots of the ex-President of Kazakhstan when we were there. Remember, he had just recently resigned. There were no public portraits of presidents in Kyrgyzstan. President Nabiyevhas’ portrait is everywhere.


From there we went to Rudaki Park, stopping first at the Rudaki Monument. Rudaki is an acclaimed Persian poet from the 9th century.


Then there is the Independence Monument.

Bek stopped beside a giant map of the once great kingdom of the Persian Samanis, which flourished in the latter part of the 10th century. Its capital, Bukhara, was the preeminent city of the region. The silk road flourished and helped to disseminate the Persian culture and language.


The large Ismail Somoni monument commemorates the 1100th anniversary of the Samanid State.


Tajikistan has even named its currency, The Somoni, after Ismoil Somoni, father of the Samani state.

But the sad thing about the story is that Bukhara is now part of Uzbekistan. Stalin did that when he mapped the Soviet Republics and left the predominantly ethnic Tajik cities of Samarkand and Bukhara in the Uzbek republic.

One person we did not see is Vladimir Lenin. He used to be the main attraction in the area.

There were few tourists, but some locals were enjoying the park.

When we were finishing there was a group of soldiers getting their photo taken. They were very friendly. We were just asked to not take our own photos of them. There was one lone tourist. Bek was asked if he was “ours”?

We had a good dinner, just maybe not of the same high standard we have been having. There was a mural on the wall. It was the Registan in Samarkand, which should be in Tajikistan but is now part of Uzbekistan.

We had a brief look at the bright lights as we got back to the hotel. They do not compare to the ones in Kazakhstan. No one was interested in joining me for a short walk.


We will be off to the Fan Mountains tomorrow morning, on our way to visit a lake named after Alexander the Great, another big name in the history of Central Asia. 

Posted by Bob Brink 17:37 Archived in Tajikistan Tagged tajikistan dushanbe kalpak_travel Comments (3)

Day in Almaty

Or Was it Hawaii?

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May 11

Rather than my usual discussion about how I slept and my breakfast choices, I will give some facts about our home for two nights, the city of Almaty. The first things we noticed is that it is quite green with all the trees and is surrounded by mountains. It could not be any more different than Astana. Being an older city, it also has more Soviet era buildings.

The city has a population of almost 2 million. Just over 50% of the population is Kazakh but a third of the population are ethnic Russians, which is higher than in Astana which has only 24%.

Like seemingly everyplace we have been, Almaty has had numerous names over years, originally being called Zailiyskoye when established as a Russian military fortification. It became Verny and then Alma-Ata based on its Kazakh name of Almaty which means “Place of Apples” for the many apple trees in the area. At independence it was renamed to local name of Almaty.

It was the capital of the Soviet province and the newly independent Kazakhstan until December 1997 when the capital was moved to Astana (now Nur-Sultan).

One reason given for the move of the capital is that the city is subject to both earthquakes and mudslides. Almaty city has been destroyed by earthquakes several times including 1887 and 1911. There was a destructive mudflow in 1921.

The first stop on our Almaty tour was the Shymbulak ski area. We took 3 different gondolas to get up to the top. At the first level we found a resort which looked like it could have been in the Canadian Rockies. It was the last day of skiing for the season and was designated as Hawaiian day. Of course, alpine skiing is very popular in Hawaii. With the theme and warm temperatures there were young people dressed for the beach (not that I noticed the girls in bikinis).


The hunting eagle was not something one would find in a Canadian ski resort (or even Hawaii?).

The gondola went over the speed skating rink which had been an important training facility for the Soviet skaters. Gaukhar pointed out the big dam that had been built to stop mudslides coming down the valley. In 1966 an artificial landslide was triggered with explosives to dam a gorge. It was tested in 1973 when it held back a large mudslide. The dam has since been raised to 140 metres. I noticed many downed trees on the hills and assumed that they had been knocked down by avalanches. Gaukhar told us that there had been a tornado in 2011.


For lunch we went to a Georgian restaurant. I had asked about pizza before leaving the ski area. Our food came out. It was Georgian Pizza!! Actually, it was Georgian bread with cheese. I have discovered a new favorite food. I love the Georgian spicy sauces and wonderful breads. I asked about the country and found out that Begaim had been there. She told me it was a marvelous place. Georgia is another former Soviet Republic. I must know more. Is Georgia a destination for my next trip?


Our very charming guide, Gaukhar

Our first activity in the afternoon was a walk in Panfilov Park. Our first stop was at Zenkov Cathedral, which is built from wood and without nails. It is one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world. It was completed in 1907. The architect, Andrei Pavlovich Zenkov, designed it to withstand earthquakes. Gaukhar told us of the story that during the 1911 earthquake when Zenkov went running to the church to check that it was still standing. It still is. The inside is under renovation but had just been reopened to visitors.


We met some chess players.

There was a couple hitting a badminton birdie back and forth. They greeted me and asked where I was from.


I was not sure what this guy was all about. I raised my camera, he waved his hand for me to stop, I did, he then decided that I should take his photo.

We visited the war memorials in Victory Square. We first arrived at a one for the war in Afghanistan. I was momentarily confused until I thought about the Soviet war which took place before Western countries began their own ill-advised adventure.


The Soviet Glory Memorial depicts 28 soldiers commanded by General Ivan Panfilov and consisting of recruits from the Kazakh and Kirghiz Soviet Republics. They were said to have held off 50 German tanks on the outskirts of Moscow in November 1941 with all losing their lives. The park was renamed to Panfilov Park in 1942. The story was not entirely true, but the Kazakh soldiers must have suffered great losses. There are also monuments honoring first and second world war soldiers.
There were still children leaving flowers as part of the Victory Day celebrations.

We were then off to the Green Bazaar, Almaty’s market. There are sections for vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, Korean products, flowers, and meat – including sheep, pork (very small section), beef, and horses. Gaukhar got us samples of first camel milk and then fermented mare's milk. Most of us were trusting (or foolish) enough to try them. And the general agreement was that camel milk was the least objectionable, although I am not sure you can tell from my facial expressions.


There were lots of Korean vendors. In 1937 Stalin ordered the deportation of Koreans from the eastern border areas to Central Asia. More than 170,000 persons were deported. Ethnic Koreans in the post-Soviet states refer to themselves as Koryo-saram. Almaty has the largest community in Central Asia.

I found it interesting that Gaukhar chose for us to visit the apartment museum of the former leader of the republic, D.A. Kunaev. There were other museums that seem to rate higher on the visiting lists.

Outside the museum was his one and only car, a white Pontiac Grand Prix, a far cry from a Mercedes.

It was interesting to see the apartment. Kunaev had apparently lived a simple life and been extremely popular. Many of the decorations were small gifts from world leaders. And by choosing for us to visit this museum, Gaukhar showed her great respect for him.


Kunaev was loyal to Brezhnev, but was fired under Gorbachev rule. His replacement by a man who had never lived in the Kazakh Soviet Republic sparked street riots in Almaty in December 1986. This event is referred to as December. We saw a photograph of the event at the Alzhir Museum outside Astana (back on our day before tour). It was also mentioned on the chart on the of the great events that caused massive deaths to the people of Kazakhstan, but with a “?” for number.


We had one more stop for today, at the small Almaty history museum. Some of the group wanted just wanted coffee, so they went with Begaim and museum folks stayed with Gaukhar. I was torn. I really wanted the coffee but was quite interested in my history lessons. Being a travel trooper, I went to the museum. It was a relatively quick visit. There was a motorcycle at the entrance that had belonged to a Kazakh man who had travelled around the world on that bike.


I was intrigued by a video showing a Soviet “Road Show” movie, which was shown during what Gaukhar and Begaim refer to as "Soviet Times".

We had a short break at the hotel before supper. I went to the lobby, expecting to order a coffee, but Michael had opened his last bottle of wine since we were leaving Kazakhstan by plane the next morning. I accepted his offer of a glass.

Supper was at another great restaurant. Our meal was like a Newfoundland Jiggs dinner, boiled vegetables and meat. But this was spicy with whole heads of garlic. And the breads and salads to start were amazing. I could say that the food we have had in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan has been far beyond what we expected, but it is better to just say that it was been outstanding. They have taken us out for the type of meals that you would buy your friends if they were visiting.


There was entertainment.

Some of us walked back with Gaukhar. We went up a tall hotel to their roof top bar to check the view. I was impressed with the parks with fountains. Some young men tried their English on me. How are you, where are you from, and what is your name were all expected. Then he asked, “How old are you?” I hesitated and then told him. He and his friends walked on. Gaukhar told me that these are the standard phrases for the English classes.


So ended another of our long tour days. Even though we were in one city, we spent most of the day on the go, only stopping to eat lots of food. With a late morning flight tomorrow, we do not have to worry about an early morning wake up. So I did not book Pouch Cove to call me.

Oh, and for anyone following the story of my sore feet, that issue is over.

Posted by Bob Brink 17:10 Archived in Kazakhstan Tagged kazakhstan almaty kalpak_travel Comments (3)

Goodbye Kyrgyzstan, Hello Again Kazakhstan

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May 10

We keep getting pleasant surprises from Kalpak. When we arrived in Kazakhstan, we all found a welcome card and a chocolate bar from them. Aijan had joined our tour for Kyrgyzstan. She would not come with us into Kazakhstan this morning. She left out packages with personalized cards for everyone. Mine mentioned Newfoundland. She promised to read my blog. (Are you there, Aijan?) We also received tea and chocolate. But for me the personalized cards were far more important.

Of course, the biggest thing is that the tour has been well organized. The little touches would mean nothing if our hotels were bad, the guides were not competent, or the vehicles were breaking down. I had issues with both my guide and the vehicle last year in Namibia.

We were now leaving Kyrgyzstan. The drive to the border with Kazakhstan went through the mountains. The hills were a beautiful green. There were herds of horses, cattle and sheep, all moving to summer pastures.


We stopped at a pile of rocks. The legend is that Genghis Khan had all his soldiers bring a rock on their way to battle and then take it away on their return. The remaining rocks would represent the number of soldiers that were killed. It seemed like a lot of rocks, so a lot of soldiers for his army to lose.


We arrived at the little, isolated mountain border post. I would not take a photo any closer.

We had to say goodbye to Aijan. It was hard to believe that we had only known her for four days. On the Kyrgyzstan side the officer saw my Canadian passport and said, “Canada, hockey champions.” When we got to the Kazakhstan side there was a border guard controlling access to the immigration officer. He read my little entry form, did not like my answer to the invitation line (I said Kalpak invited me) and started another form for me. Our bags were searched by customs.

Gaukhar was there to greet us. Just like we were sad to say goodbye to Aijan, we were quite happy to see Gaukhar again. We had a new driver and van. We no longer had the green backdrop as we drove. Instead it was now quite dry. The road was very bad in places, but the driver drove quite carefully. He put on some traditional music for us to listen to as we bounced along.


We turned off towards Charyn Canyon. We were visiting an area called the “Valley of Castles” that is known for its large rock formations. The parking lot on top was packed. We took the staircase down into the valley. It was quite warm.

There were hundreds of local tourists. Gaukhar said that everyone was taking advantage of the national holiday related to Victory Day. We had a three kilometre walk to the river where we were having a picnic. In addition to the many tourists, stopping again and again for photos and selfies, we had to avoid the many mini-buses and taxis taking visitors back and forth to the picnic area.


It was quite crowded at the river. Gaukhar found a small opening for us to have our picnic. She even got the group next to us to give me a spot on the end of their bench in the shade. (A place for the old guy?) I could have refused and sat on the ground. I took the place. Gaukhar had arranged picnic boxes for us. Thomas had bought some caviar. The picnic food was plentiful and quite tasty, which by now was not a surprise.

With all the taxis we had the option to get a ride back. Of course, we walked. There was another option of taking a short cut up a steep path rather than walk all the way to the stairs. Several of group did that. I considered the short cut, but it was warm, and my feet, although much better, were still sore. So, I walked to the stairs with Begaim. It took about an hour. Begaim said that she had never been there when it was so busy or so hot. At the top our bus took us down to the viewing area to pick up the ones who had taken the path. I was able to take a few photos from there.


We then headed to Almaty. It was dry but with some spring flowers, a beautiful terrain. We stopped in a little town for ice cream. Some of our group chose beer instead.


We ended up on a big new four lane highway. We were driving west into the sun so I fell asleep. We went straight to the restaurant since is was now after 6 pm. We had been on the go all day.

The driver let us out on a side street, which blocked the traffic for a few moments. A car pulled up behind the bus. A man called out to me. My North American self assumed that he was going to yell at us for blocking the road. He asked me what country I was from and gave me a nice, “Welcome”.

We then had another fabulous meal. All our meals had salads and breads. Meats were a staple. This evening we had fabulous kebabs. I had a small amount of the chicken but chose to fill myself with the lamb.


Ramadan had started May 5. We had been in guest houses or private houses the past several days so had not noticed, but Gaukhar said that we would see the restaurants fairly quiet before sunset. After sunset they would get quite busy.

The restaurants here give you very small paper napkins. This evening it was crazy. We were eating our food with our hands. We kept using the very small napkins. The staff kept coming around to collect the used ones. Since they were hard to get out of the dispensers, we often had several unused next to us. The staff would try to take those as well.

We finally arrived at our hotel, about 12 hours after we left our last one. It is another fancy hotel, very high tech, the Hotel Worldhotel Saltanat. It took me awhile to find the light switches, especially the one for the toilet. .


Big hotels mean good Wi-Fi, so I could call Po and do a video to see my two girls.

Posted by Bob Brink 08:50 Archived in Kazakhstan Tagged kazakhstan kyrgyzstan central_asia almaty kalpak_travel charyn_canyon Comments (2)

Victory Day and Horses in Kyrgyzstan

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May 9

The yurt camp only offered Nescafe coffee for breakfast. But never fear, we had coffee made with a French press by our now favorite barista, Begaim. She had mentioned that she had brought coffee. Today we found out that she also brought the press. Now that is great service from your tour leader.

I took this photo later in the trip.

Just before we left I took a photo of couple of the items used to decorate the grounds, a mix of old and new.

As we were making our way to our next destination of Jety Oguz, we suddenly found our route blocked. It was a parade! Well, it was a parade getting set up. Our van stopped and before the driver could find an alternate route, we scrambled out to check things out.

The parade was for Victory Day, a holiday to mark the end of the war against Nazi Germany. Kyrgyzstan lost 115,000 soldiers during the war. Old people, young people, groups and individuals, military and old Soviet vehicles, the parade had it all. Many individuals held up photographs of family members killed during the war. We spent the next several minutes walking up and down the route taking photos (and having our photos taken). It was a very special and totally unplanned addition to our tour.


Michael is in the middle, showing the men their photo.

I took this photograph after this lovely young woman had asked for a selfie with me.

Soon after, we arrived at the valley of Jeti Oguz. The van pulled over so that we could admire “The Broken Heart”. Begaim told us a legend, which of course involved an ill-fated romance, hence the broken heart.


We drove a bit further into the town. Jety Oguz translates as "Seven Bulls", which are the red rock formations which tower over the town. We took a walk up a hill to get a better view.


From there we could see some Kyrgyz cowboys bringing a herd of cattle along the road and then up the hill towards us. This is the time for moving livestock to the summer pastures. As they passed a blanket fell off of a riderless horse. I thought I would be helpful and pick up the blanket so that the riders would not have to dismount to pick it up. Afterwards Aijan told me that I had given her a bit of a scare since I was reaching down behind the horse. I could have startled it and ended up with a good kick.


Begaim told us that this is often a starting point for trekking.

When we got to the bottom, we found Silvio having a great conversation with a local man who wanted him to stay for a few days. Everyone loves Silvio.

We then drove on to Karakol. We made a quick stop at a war memorial where young children were laying flowers, again celebrating Victory Day. Monuments are big here.

Once we reached Karakol, we first went to the Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Karakol was a garrison town as part of the Tsarist Russian Empire. A brick church was built on the site in 1869, but it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1889. This replacement was made of wood and was consecrated in 1895. From 1917 until 1991, other than a brief time after the second world war, the church was put to secular uses as organized religion was not allowed in the Soviet Union. It was returned to the church in 1991.

Begaim told us that we would not be permitted to take photos inside the church, but Michael had a nice visit with the lady inside (with Begaim’s help) and maybe because of his charm, we were allowed to take photos.


We had a brief walk in the town.


It was finally time for lunch. Once again it was in a private home, this time with a Uighur family. And it was another fabulous spread. They gave us some buns, which I loved.


And then there was our lunch time discussion. Do I write about that? I guess that is what I am doing. We have been eating so much on this trip. That talk moved on to discussing the size of our stomachs and how we are unable to avoid seeing them in the big mirrors in our various hotel rooms. Then the conversation moved on to large tummies blocking certain views. It was silly, but it showed how comfortable we were with each other.

In the afternoon we visited the Dungan Mosque, another wooden structure, this one built with wooden nails. The mosque was designed by a Chinese architect to serve the Dungans, Chinese Muslims who had fled persecution in the 1880’s. There is a wooden pagoda in place of a minaret. We were not allowed to go inside. The mosque was completed in 1910. The mosque now serves the general population.


And does the tour keep us busy? We still had another stop before our guest house. This was at a museum dedicated to the Russian explorer, Nikolay Przhevalsky. He was the first European since Marco Polo to visit Qinghai Lake in the Tibetan Plateau, though he never reached his ultimate goal of Lhasa, Tibet. There are species named after him, including Przhevalski’s gazelle and Przhevalski’s horse. He was quite the traveller which impressed our group of travellers. I was glad that we were travelling in mini-vans rather than on camels.

He contracted typhus from the Chu River on the eve of his fifth expedition and died not far from Karakol. The Tsar changed the name of Karakol to Przhevalsk in his honor. In 1991 it was changed back to Karakol.


From there we drove to Reina Kench Guesthouse.


Everyone was doing their wash, so I joined them. Our balconies soon looked like a laundry. I then went to download my photos and could not find my mouse. I suspected that I had left it in the yurt, probably under the blanket since I was using my computer when I was snuggled under the big covers. I remembered thinking that I should do a final check of my room (a standard thing when I travel). But we had to remove our shoes before entering our yurts, and I was too lazy to do that. One time I do not do my final room check and I lose something. Oh well, there are worse things to lose.

After a brief rest we were given a tour by the owner’s daughter. After independence the family was granted the land, which had been part of a collective farm and had been in very bad shape. They raise various animals including sheep (with giant bums), Angus beef cattle and Kyrgyz horses. The horses are used for racing and in the competition like polo where a goat head is chased around a field (called kok boru in Kyrgyzstan). We did not see that, which would have been fun, just the horses.



Our day was still not finished. We now had a bread making lesson. We learned how to make “boorsok” (Kyrgyz deep fried bread) which we have been enjoyed at every meal. Several of our group participated. I was happy to just document the lesson and eat the results.


We enjoyed some of their fine beef during supper. With all the boorsok we had eaten, we had to be full. But we still had ice cream at the end. And our tummies probably grew a little more.

This was our last night in Kyrgyzstan. Tomorrow we drive back into Kazakhstan.

Again, my room was next to Michael. And once again, I could hear him coughing away. Oh, please, do not let me catch that.

Posted by Bob Brink 14:50 Archived in Kyrgyzstan Tagged kyrgyzstan central_asia karakol kalpak_travel issyk_kul Comments (3)

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