As we crossed from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan, the change in country gave way to brilliant roads that were tarred and pothole-free and vastly different scenery: snow-capped mountain ranges were replaced with lush rolling hills that were dotted with red mountains and brimming with livestock. Passing through a number of villages, it was clear that this was a vastly more populated country too.
For the first two days, we drove west to east across the country along unpaved roads through spectacular scenery. Initially, we drove through rolling hills and farmland before that gave way to a scene of mountains I can best describe as a smattering of islands with a sea long departed. We headed over a pass whilst chasing the sun and it was both the toughest and most exhilarating piece of driving I’ve ever done – a steep and windy mountain pass with super-sharp hairpin bends, shadows hiding potholes and at times a glare that necessitated I drive by sticking my head out the window!
On day two, it felt like we were heading through the Wild Wild West with a barren and vacant land that was dotted with sandy mountains. Those mountains were almost scarred as pieces had been ripped away. Crossing over another pass, that scene was replaced once more by lush rolling hills and yet more livestock.
We also visited Song-Kol Lake in the center of the country and while the lake was not as spectacular as Adam had read, the setting and scene around the lake was something I’ve never experienced – vast tracts of pasture dotted with yurts and huge herds of cattle and surrounded by mountains. Farmers move here over the summer to herd their livestock and take advantage of the acres of land and it felt so remote sleeping under the awning of the car.
Whilst leaving Songkul, our beloved bash-plate Morris decided enough was enough! As we lay in the mud trying to keep him breathing with bungee-cords, we could only smile – this after all is what the Mongol Rally is all about . I’ll be writing a specific blog on our car issues once back in London so I won’t go into further detail here. Suffice to say, we were able to save Morris and he continues to keep Julie protected to this day.
Hiking is one of my favorite things to do and we ended off our week in the country with some great walking/trekking: we headed to Arslanbob for a super morning’s hike up to a waterfall and a view of the world’s largest walnut forest before making our way to Karakol for a spectacular three-day, two-night hike. Adam unfortunately wasn’t able to join Dyl, Mark and me but he had an awesome time round Karakol which he’ll be writing about separately so keep an eye out for that.
Day one of our hike took us for five hours along a raging and overflowing river before we left the Arashan valley and headed into the forest. The sky had slowly been gathering clouds all afternoon and we started bashing our way through the dense forest, the heavens opened and within minutes we were soaked. Thankfully after seeking shelter under a fir tree, the rain lessened to a drizzle and we dripped-dry as we continued walking. As we exited the forest into a clearing, the sun decided to join the wild horses we’d stumbled on and provide some much needed warmth as we set up camp.
On day two, we headed up quite steeply along the river to the base of the pass before the real climbing began: a four-hour 1,000m incline on lose gravel and rock took us to the top of the pass (or so we thought) below which lay the stunning turquoise Ala-Kol Lake (3,532m). The lake is hemmed in by a range of mountains with a glacier off to the one side. We thought our climbing was done for the day and we would be heading downhill to Altyn-Arashan and a soak in a hot spring but we were wrong! As we rounded the edge of the lake, we were greeted by a large incline which would end up taking a further two hours – the real summit of the pass (3,800m)! All the while climbing, the lake remained on our right as we headed higher, a second range came in to the view – the snow-capped Tian-Shan range with it’s mostly 6,000m peaks.
Descending the mountain was frankly quite scary and we initially had to get down on or backsides as it was simply too steep to risk walking down. After removing half the mountain from our socks and shoes at the base of the mountain, we continued through the flat and lush valley with the sun at our backs. Late in the day we would unfortunately take a wrong turn which would mean we were unable to cross the river and would need to back-track over an hour to where the raging river could be crossed. That error would mean we were still walking as light began to fade.
Our map indicated we needed to veer away from the river to get to camp but as darkness enveloped us, we realised this was not the case. With only our head-torches to guide us, we had no option but to continue and we descended through another forest to camp by the river. Both soles of my shoes had come off crossing the river so I was effectively walking barefoot while my knee decided now was a good time to lock up so it was more sliding down the forest for me! While the last two hours were certainly not fun, it didn’t detract from what had been a phenomenal day’s trekking through simply stunning scenery.
It wasn’t the most comfortable night we’ve ever had camping but we were up at first light and an hour or so later, we finally saw the tiny village we thought at one point no longer existed! We soaked away all our aches and pains in a super hot hot-spring inside a wooden cabin before walking the five hours to the town of Ak-Suu where Adam was waiting to take us to the Kazakhstan border.