We arrived in the capital Bishkek in the afternoon and
were surprised how green it was. It looked very much
like Almaty, every street being lined with trees, but
without the trendy cafe's and fashion shops. Bishkek
is Almaty's poorer sister.
Big soviet-style squares are almost deserted, it looks
as if the place had been empty for years and is now
just beginning to be filled with life, still
struggling against the weeds that threaten to overgrow
the streets and squares. The oversized public
administration buildings in the centre leave the same
Grandmothers are selling chocolate on streetcorners,
you can weigh yourself for a few cent or throw a ball
after a pyramid of cans. We are not sure if the
attempts to make money are so benign after dark, so we
head back to the hotel early. We are careful after
what happened to a friend in Ulan Bator, who was
dragged to the outskirts of the city, before he was
Karakol is eight hours away near the shore of Lake
Issyk Kul, the second largest alpine lake in the world
(only lake Titicaca is bigger). The town itself is not
interesting, but a good base for a long trekking trip
into the Tien Shan mountain range.
We spent the first night in Altyn Arashan,
optimistically called a Spa. Really there are only a
few concrete basins with hot water but that was all we
wanted. The next two nights we walked up the beautiful
Ak Suu valley. Apart from three herders we met nobody
during those two days. Absolutely wonderful!
The toughest part came on day five. Our plan was to
walk from Altyn Arashan to Ala Kol lake at an altitude
of 3500m. To get there, we would have to cross a pass
at 3860m. Lilian had never done something like that
before and I admit, it was not easy, especially the
last 300m. It was actually thundering and we had to
wait it out until a beautiful rainbow appeared behind
us. On top of the pass we looked back over a long
green valley. On the other side we could see the lake
and the glaciar that feeds into it.
Going down to the lake was fun, moving on the loose
rocks was a bit like skiing. And then we had the lake for us and Lilian even went for a short swim (1 second).
The following day was one of the longest, hardest, coldest and wettest. Around midday we packed our tent as it started to rain...really rain...it only stopped raining two days later. We decided pretty quickly, that we would try to get back to Karakol, as all our stuff including sleeping bags was getting wet. The path was getting slippery and I fell, cutting my hand, but nothing too bad. By 6pm it looked bad, we were still 10km away from the park exit and we were beginning to lose hope. By that time we were walking in the valley on a rough jeep track and a truck came along and gave us a lift. We had to share the cargohold with 5 kyrgiz workers who did not seem to mind the weather too much.
It took over an hour to reach the park exit, we never would have made it on foot! After waiting another 30 minutes at the park entrance, we finally got a taxi to our hostel where it took three days to dry our shoes!
After brief stops in Tamchy to go for a swim, in Bishkek to use the internet and to Osh to drink tea and eat Central Asian Muslim food, we reentered China through the back door and on one of those Chinese sleeper busses that seem to take forever.
Kashgar is an old Silkroad city and also the base of operations for trips along the glorious Karakoram Highway to Pakistan. We did not want to go all the way to Pakistan, but the trip to the bordertown Tashkurgan and the pretty Karakul lake that is flanked by two huge mountains, each over 7000m high, is a must. While Lilian rode horses and camels (and later tried to cure her camel), I hooked up with two American Peace Corps teachers to hike up to a glacier. We actually reached the glaciar after six long but exciting hours, but the eeriest moment came, when we realised that we had already been on the glacier for at least 30 minutes. We just did not realise because it was covered with silt.
We had been rushing it around Central Asia and slowly we were realising that we needed a change of pace. On yet another 24-hour bustrip through the Taklamakan desert Lilian developed a fever. We just about made it to Urumqui, where she spend a day in bed. our original plan was to take trains to cross China from west to east. Now we opted for a flight to Kunming, in the far southwest of the country and close to the border with Laos. It is time we start holidaying in Southeast Asia!