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Old 3rd September 2013, 12:26   #91
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Beautiful TL and pictures! One thing that is very striking is how clean everything seems to be - even in a so-called poorer country like Kyrgyzstan.
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Old 7th September 2013, 15:49   #92
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Default Day 10: Karakol - Sunday Bazaar - Jeti Oguz - Kumtor gold mines

The Sunday animal Bazar

They said that visiting the Sunday animal market at Karakol was one of the must-do-items in Kyrgyzstan. So we managed to get up by 6:30 am and left by 7. We had not yet checked out of the hotel and planned to come back for a sumptuous breakfast and then drive out towards the Southern shore of lake Issyk Kul.

The weather was damp and it was drizzling, making it difficult to carry our cameras. The market had apparently been taking place at the same location for years now as finding it was quite straightforward. We just had to follow hoards of cars and jeeps headed in that direction.

The market typically begins early at 6:00 am and all trade is done well before 9:00 am. There were different sections for different animals. The largest area was for sheep which were numerous, the second by size was the area dedicated for horses. Goats were fewer than sheep and were mixed in with the latter. Cows did not have a dedicated area and were few. The guidebook mentioned that the area for pigs was at the back but we never managed to find it.

The park was teeming with activity. There were many children as well with a couple of sheep tethered in their hands with their parents trying to get customers. There is a curious way of buying sheep. The sheep in Kyrgyzstan are fat-tailed and are prized for that - the fatter the tail, the better the prize. I guess it comes from the fact that Kyrgyz people find that portion of fat especially delicious, a fact that we did not agree with. Men sat on their haunches behind the sheep, felt the fat tail, but did not stop at that. According to me, it was more a molestation exercise than anything else. The poor sheep bleated all around with their modesty for sale along with their hides. Some got the luxury of riding back to their new homes in trucks or mini-vans while others were shoved in the boot of Ladas. The sight of a local pushing a sheep in his small boot was hilarious, with the sheep struggling to jump out.

Sedans tow animals to the market
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Kids try to help their parents out in the sale.
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The horse section of the animal fair
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Head-shot of a sheep
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Pretty much tied down to a Lada
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A local catches a smoke while it pours down
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Now go awwwwww
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Men in the horses section looked definitely richer than those in the sheep section. Some farmers had a huge trailer towed by their expensive SUVs, some even had Nissan Patrols! Some were just brought in a mini-van or a truck. Aarti tried to pat a horse but it reeled back, and whinnied as it did. The owner came to the poor creature’s rescue and explained that Aarti’s brightly coloured umbrella had alarmed the beast. Once it was tucked away, the horses obliged, lapping up all the love!

I could see why the folks in the West would find this animal market a-must-do item, but for us Indians, it was not much different from rural India. Although being the animal lovers that we are, it was fun to be at the market, and it was great to observe the Kyrgyz people and their animals.

On our way back, I succumbed to my hunger and got some Piroshki packed. This one was fried instead of being baked and had a nice potato filling in it. I would describe it as a bhatura with aaloo filling. And like in India, the oil used was quite pathetic but Piroshki itself delicious. We were back in the hotel by 9, had our breakfast, rested a bit and were hit the road again by noon.

Apart from the animals, tourists like us were also catching everyone's attention
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The grandpa, grandson duo wanted us to shoot them
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A local flaunting his kalpak
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A boy curiously looks towards us while he is being shot
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Horses are magestic, are they not?
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A rich farmer tows his animals at the back of a Nissan Patrol
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Apart from animals, accessories (like a saddle) were also on sale
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Go awwwww, again
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The trusted Lada 4x4 tows some horses in
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Farmer John, his horse and friend
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The colorful cars of Kyrgyzstan
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Sheepishly in love
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A cute kid sits in the boot of his car, trying to fend off rain
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A good fat-tailed sheep
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Stuffed in the boot
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A lady selling Piroshki for buyers and sellers alike
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Piroshki, Yum but oily
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Hotel Madanur, our stay for two nights so far
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day10_0080.jpg
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Old 10th September 2013, 20:32   #93
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Amazing and a brilliant travelogue, Harsh. Devoured the entire 7 pages at one go. Would love to visit these countries myself. Waiting for more to come.
Full 5 star and a big thumbs-up.
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Old 11th September 2013, 15:58   #94
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Mesmerizing, awesome just felt as if I got to experience everything personally. Great pictures just no words to explain the delight.
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Old 19th September 2013, 10:52   #95
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Why Have you stopped? I have been waiting for an update... Please continue.
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Old 19th September 2013, 11:19   #96
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Originally Posted by rulerofsun View Post
Why Have you stopped? I have been waiting for an update... Please continue.
Sorry for the delay, work has kept me really busy between travel schedules and back to back meetings. Hence the delay. I should be able to kickstart again and maintain the pace next week
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Old 19th September 2013, 11:28   #97
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Awesome TL with pictures vardhan. Interesting information about those two no fancy countries. Any trips abroad will mostly be to countries where we fancy. But this is something special. Just loving it.
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Old 3rd October 2013, 13:03   #98
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Default Day 10: Karakol - Sunday Bazaar - Jeti Oguz - Kumtor gold mines - Part 2

Sorry for the delay in updating the posts guys. I had been caught up at work and had little time left for the last 2 weeks.
The log continues...

A small detour

The planned route-map of the day moving out of Karakol
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After a good nap post breakfast, we decided to head towards the Southern part of Issyk Kul. The first stop was a village by the name of Jeti Oguz, some 20 kms away from Karakol, and a 5 km detour from the highway. Jeti Oguz is famous for a bunch of red cliffs, popularly known as the Seven Bulls. According to legend, these seven stones in Jeti Oguz were once seven bulls that were turned into cliffs when they came to rest there. We reached the village in an hour or so, and stopped when we saw the red cliff. It seemed like a normal place, nothing out of the ordinary. The sun was up and it was already time for lunch, so we stopped by a Yurt next to the river. Sadly, none of the usual fare of Shashlik or Manty or Ashlan Fu was available, so while I settled for a fresh grilled fish off the stream, Aarti stuck to some baked goods which we had bought earlier at Karakol. The fish tasted nice but STANK! So much so that Aarti forbade me to drive lest the smell be transferred to the steering wheel.

This diesel pump did not inspire confidence but did not let us down either
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The route ahead towards Jeti - Oguz was a wonderful drive
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Locals had their movable apiary business there
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As always, an eagle marks its presence at a tourist location
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A young lad, trying to help his father with his daily chores
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A perfect spot for a lunch break
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The route up ahead
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We had marked a meadow near Jeti Oguz on a detour, and decided to check it out before turning back to the highway. The half an hour ride to the meadow was through a narrow canyon like the ones we had tried the day before, but the road condition was much better. All of sudden, a huge meadow opened up. Sunday meant many Kyrgyz families venturing outside for a picnic and we caught many cooking meat over hot grills. The meadow itself was beautiful but sadly we could not spend a lot of time there, as our destination was the high altitude plateau near Kumtor Gold mines.

The end of the road was a wonderful 'jailoo' (meadow)
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The stream was quite a torrent
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This is as far as we ventured out in the jailoo
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Sublime green.
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There was a rickety wooden bridge over the stream adding to the charm of this place
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The town of Jeti Oguz dwarfed by the 'seven bulls'
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We were back on the highway by 3 pm and headed towards Barskoon from where we would turn South for the gold mines. Our plan was to reach the plateau and figure out if a road existed all the way to Naryn - the southern part of Kyrgyzstan. Google Earth had showed that there might have been a road but no records were found on online sources. Since the plateau was located close to the border, we had to arrange special permits at Bishkek to go past the check-posts. Not many tourists visit this part of Kyrgyzstan, so we were prepared to camp out for the next few days. We reached Barskoon after taking a small pit-stop next to the lake and refueled to the brim to ensure maximum range of the car. Little did we know how events would turn sour by the end of the day….

Back on the highway towards Barskoon
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Took a pitstop next to the lake. That is me of course
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It was raining cats and dogs after our pit-stop so there were few opportunities for photos.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day10_0160.jpg
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Old 3rd October 2013, 15:45   #99
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Default Day 10: Karakol - Sunday Bazaar - Jeti Oguz - Kumtor gold mines - Part 3


The routemap beyond Jeti Oguz
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It was 4:30 pm by the clock when we turned south off the highway heading west towards two passes and the high altitude plains beyond. It was raining cats and dogs, and hence the wide Barskoon valley was empty with none of the locals venturing out on what could only be called a grim day. The road leading towards the plateau of Kara Sai was surprisingly very wide and in an excellent condition. Although untarred, it was as leveled and wide to boot. 10% of the country's GDP comes from Kumtor gold mines situated ahead, and thus it would make sense to keep this road as perfect as possible. We passed quite a number of heavy vehicles going in the other direction, some unloaded and some overloaded. It was left for us to imagine as to what might have been their payload .

We passed by some relics on the side of the road which were pretty odd. One was the statue of an old rusted dump truck atop a platform, making it a truck monument of sorts. We also passed by a floating head monument - a bust, as it is usually called, and realized on reading in our guide book that it was the famous Yuri Gagarin.

A monument for trucks
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The wide Barskoon valley, empty because of the drizzle
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One monument for Mr. Gagarin
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An hour later we reached a check-post. I went inside with permits in my hand and with much difficulty was able to communicate to the soldier on our purpose of visit. He raised no concerns but did ask me a couple of times if I was carrying any guns. He also asked me if I could spare some cigarettes. DT Cinemas will tell you the ills of smoking, but no one ever mentions how it can help people bond and loosen up.

The switchbacks started as soon as we crossed the check-post, and the rains gave way to a light snowfall which increased steadily as we climbed higher. It was getting quite difficult to drive with visibility dropping upon each bend and no tracks to follow. Thankfully, a truck overtook us and we found it easier to trail its marks at a safe distance.

As the snow storm grew worse, camping seemed out of the question for the night. We hoped to find some army accommodation at Kara Sai. The sky cleared up as soon as we reached the plateau. Sun was bursting out through gaps in the clouds and the sky was a bright blue. The ground was blanketed with a thin layer of white as far as our eyes could see. The plateau was barren, devoid of any vegetation or inhabitation. Up ahead, a highway patrol vehicle was parked and a commotion had ensued. A bunch of locals, out picnicking, had taken a detour in their Sedan on a dirt track off the main highway earlier in the day. They had stayed put during the snowstorm and were finding it difficult to climb back on the highway which had a layer of white on it. Upon each try, the sedan would gain some momentum, climb up the knoll a bit, spin its wheels at the crescent and then slid back into the trough where it had started. I really missed my tow rope then. I asked the locals if I could help and then gave the car to me. I tried to give it a shot but ended up with the same result. I even had one of the locals sit on the bonnet to help the vehicle gain some traction, but to no avail. While us men were trying brute force methods, the lady in the group suggested an alternate path up the knoll which had a lesser gradient. No points in guessing that the solution worked elegantly.

Driving up towards the first pass, music has been added later

Passes are called as Asooshy in the local language
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The tracks made it easier for us to follow
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Trying to pull out the poor stuck sedan
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A truck was stuck as well, but there was no hurry to take it out
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Up ahead there was a fork in the road, the left went towards Kumtor gold mines while the straight path went to another pass and to the Kara Sai plains beyond. The beauty of fresh snow and an arrow straight road tempted us enough to take the left towards Kumtor. It was still only 6 pm and we still had 3 hours of daylight with us. The detour to Kumtor gold mines was 90km back and forth, and we calculated that we would be back on the main road in about 1.5 hrs or so. Kara Sai was another 90 km on the road straight ahead. It was a close shave but we decided to take the detour and camp somewhere before Kara Sai.

The drive towards Kumtor can only be described as surreal. Not a single vehicle, or person, or a village was in sight for miles. No vehicle crossed us in either direction. The fresh layer of white glowed in the evening sun as we zipped across at a high speed. If I were to compare, I would probably do it with a white Moreh plains. Although untarred, the road was very smooth making a cruising speed of 80 kmph possible. There were signboards capping the speed limit at 90 kmph. We were cruising comfortably in our heated cabin soaking in the sights with a smile on our faces. This was the reason why we had planned Kyrgyzstan as our destination.

We were unaware of the impending troubles ahead. With so much beauty around, photo-breaks were many. On one such photo-break, we decided to take out woolens from the back and have some snacks as well. Unsuspecting, we killed the engine during this particular break. However, as we started to proceed further, the car would not restart even after multiple cranks! The battery must have been fine as the self-start mechanism was sounding fine. It felt as if the fuel was either not reaching the combustion chamber, or probably not igniting due to some reasons. I opened up the bonnet while Aarti took out the service manual but we were not able to figure out much. Hoping against hope, I took out the air filter and gave it a couple of shakes to take off some dirt. Even tried a few cranks without the air filter, but there was no positive response from the engine bay. I was unable to locate the fuel priming pump which was my second option. Strangely though, the car came back to life on the next attempt. I was a bit confused since I could not think of anything that I had done which helped it start. Nevertheless, we were both thankful that it did, but were wary of the fact that it might happen again soon. We soon reached as far as civilians were allowed on that road and took our U-turn.

Looking south towards Sook pass, we take a left towards Kumtor soon
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Absolutely a vast track of nothingness
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One would stop for a zillion times on this stretch
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The clounds hung low
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Driving up towards the gold mines, music has been added later

An arrow straight stretch for miles
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This is farthest one can go without special permits
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If you notice the knoll on the right, beyond that is Petrov lake
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Beauty shot of the TLC
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We sped up on the drive back since we were pressed for time. We were cruising at around 80 kmph when suddenly, upon a bend, the TLC started to skid wildly. My instincts took over, did their work and managed to stop the vehicle before we could go off the road or worse, topple. As soon as the car stopped, we both got out to see what the problem was. The left rear tyre was completely flat! It was scary to look at. The tubeless tyre was completely damaged with ripples over its side walls, a deep gash which had ripped it open and probably had induced the skid. I shuddered partly at the thought of ‘what ifs’, and partly because of the cold howling winds.

The task at hand was simple, we just had to change a flat tyre. We pulled out our luggage from the boot and adjusted it in the middle seats lest it get dirty in the muddy grime of that road. The spare wheel was mounted under the vehicle which had to be pulled down using a long cumbersome rod. The rod itself had to be assembled first like a lego. Damn these Japanese. The ‘crystal maze’ did not end there as the ‘lego’ rod with a screwy head had to be shoved through a narrow slit and into a slot that was rusty and squeaky. It had to be rotated clockwise to lower the spare wheel. The cold wind, the dying sun, a missing screw that held the lego together and frayed nerves made it even more difficult than it actually was. Once done, I had to lay flat on my belly to keep the jack in place to lift the vehicle up - and in the process I ended up with a soaked pair of jeans and a wet jacket.

Finally a settlement was seen on the way back
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Notice the cuts in the tyre, it was gone. Note the ripples if you can
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The jack had not been used in a long time and it was an effort to use it. The higher altitude was also making its impact. While the bolts on the flat tyre came off easily, the tyre itself would not budge! I pulled, pushed, kicked to no avail. The tyre simple remained jammed in the place it was. I decided to give it one more shot with every ounce of strength I had left in me and to my horror the entire vehicle came crunching down and the jack cracked under its weight. Ironically, it was the jammed tyre that saved this bleak situation, else the car would have landed on the axle hub and might have damaged it. I pulled the jack out and noticed that it was only the top part which had come off but it could still work. I asked Aarti to start the engine and slowly park the vehicle where the road was comparatively a bit flatter.

Aarti sat on the wheel and started the car. Or tried starting it that is. Nothing happened. The starting trouble that had plagued us an hour ago was back. It really was the icing on the messed up cake that we had before us.

However, perseverance and the lord’s small mercies worked as the TLC started about 10 minutes later. We placed it on level ground and tried to take off the flat tyre again. No luck. Try as I might, I was simply unable to remove the tyre off the hub. It was very cold and my hands were now numb. I took out our little stove hoping to light it up and get some warmth, but it was not igniting and when it did it burned fiercely, scaring me. I had to shut it down as soon as the fire was ignited. Not knowing what to do, we thought of taking a break, sitting inside the car, turning on the heater, and thinking of our options. But as luck would have it, the TLC refused to start AGAIN.

It was 8:45pm by the clock, the sun has just set behind the mountains. The dial gauge read -2°C outside, both of us were cold, wet and shivering like a leaf. We were wearing the only warm clothes we had got for the trip. The rarefied air was a bit difficult to breathe in. The car had refused to start after multiple cranks, the engine was still warm, the rear tyre was completely flat, the jack was broken and the flat tyre had refused to come out. The nerves were still frayed an hour and a half after the vehicle had skid wildly on the gravelly, slushy track on which the tyre had burst while the vehicle was doing 80kmph.

The wide plain nearby was filled with snow - and impossible to camp, and our little stove was not working. It had been around three hours since we had seen any vehicle cross us - and we had little hope of finding one during the impending night ahead. There was no in-habitation for at least a 20km behind us and 50km in front of us...

We had come looking for adventure in Central Asia, and it did not disappoint...

The Rescue

Our last and only hope was the highway patrol we had seen at the fork. Given their job description, we thought they would cross us sometime soon. Afterall, a gold mine is something worth protecting.

While we waited, we thought of what our options were should no vehicle come along. It was evident that we would have to spend the night there. Camping was not an option as the ground was covered in white and solid ground would have been difficult to find. The only feasible option seemed to be to just stay put in the car and wait for dawn. As for food, we had some snacks still left and that would suffice for dinner. The locked vehicle would be warm enough for the both of us. To ensure safety of a parked vehicle on the ‘highway’, we even thought of using our camping lantern for the entire night.

Before we could get comfortable and cozy enough to spend the rest of the night in the car, help seemed to be on on its way and moving towards us 10 kmph. In the distance, we could see some shimmering lights getting closer, although slowly. Eventually, we saw that about 5 huge bulldozer types machines were coming towards us. As they crossed, we waved our hands, shouting “help!”. A burly fellow was driving the first of these vehicles, and on hearing the word help, he stopped, looked at us and asked, “Help?”. As we nodded furiously, he dismounted from the mammoth earth moving machine and said something in Russian. I must have spoken all the Russian words I knew then, starting from Spaseeba (thank you) and ending at Pazhaloosta (please), all the time pointing at the flat tyre. The burly man looked at the tyre and before I could warn him of a broken jack, kicked it a dozen times with his huge boots. And lo and behold, the tyre was free of the hub in a jiffy! In the next two minutes, we got the spare wheel mounted on the hub and the TLC further blessed us by starting in one go! From a totally hopeless situation, we were back in control in a matter of a few minutes.

Help approaching us, slowly.
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Hapiness, is a bull dozer
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The dozer was mammoth, and even the burly man looked like a dwarf when he climbed inside
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The last shot before sun went down
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The most prudent decision was to get back to Karakol where we could expect a warm bed and get the vehicle back in shape for the rest of the drive. It was a good 150 km away but that was the nearest town where we could get a spare tyre. We were both still shaking like a leaf on what could be a combined effect of cold and frayed nerves. The heater removed the chilliness that had engulfed us in 15 min. We decided not to stop and cook anything for dinner and had a few biscuits and swigs of apricot juice. By midnight, we were back at the same hotel in Karakol where we had stayed the previous two nights. The receptionist was aghast when she looked at us covered in mud from head to toe and enquired on what had happened. Thankfully she did not pester us too much and immediately did the formalities. It had been a long and crazy day, and a warm bed was something we were blessed to have at the end. I personally was feeling very stupid by the end of it though. If you look at it objectively, it was just a flat tyre which I was not able to fix. It was a humbling thought.
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Old 3rd October 2013, 19:42   #100
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Was waiting for long for an update and when it finally comes it seems it is the best of the posts till now.
Wow, love you narrative writing skills, for example the reference to 'lego' and 'crystal maze', ha ha ha. Boy, it seems we share similar vocabulary!
It seems flat tires have a way of getting stuck in cold high altitudes, guess there sure must be a scientific reason to it.

Yours truly trying to leverage out a flat one from a much smaller and familiar steed, and in much more comfortable environs, finally had to take help from the by standing army personnel.

Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-dscf9567.jpg
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Old 4th October 2013, 08:55   #101
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Originally Posted by YanTra Makto View Post
Was waiting for long for an update and when it finally comes it seems it is the best of the posts till now.
Wow, love you narrative writing skills, for example the reference to 'lego' and 'crystal maze', ha ha ha. Boy, it seems we share similar vocabulary!
It seems flat tires have a way of getting stuck in cold high altitudes, guess there sure must be a scientific reason to it.

Yours truly trying to leverage out a flat one from a much smaller and familiar steed, and in much more comfortable environs, finally had to take help from the by standing army personnel.
I think rather than scientific reasons murphy's law come into play when we talk about punctures in places where it is most cumbersome to fix. .

Sorry for being slow with the log, had a lot of work at office that had piled up. But shall be swift in finishing this log now. I can promise that.
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Old 8th October 2013, 17:12   #102
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Default Day 11: Karakol - Camp site near Kara Sai

A campsite to remember

The previous day had been an exhausting one. We had only been able to go to bed well past midnight, after getting rid of mud that had stuck to our clothes, body and souls. Thus, the next day had to begin late. It was only after a nice relaxed breakfast that we ventured out to start the day. The hotel’s owner was kind enough to wash my mud soaked jacket and jeans and then dry them out in the sun.

A garage was open next to our hotel, and they pointed us to a tyre specialist nearby where we could get our flat tyre repaired. It took that ‘specialist’ a good half an hour before he could come to the conclusion that he would not be able to help us afterall, as he could only work with R16 while we had an R17 (tyre) installed. He directed us to a larger garage at the other end of Karakol which would be better positioned to help us out. Thankfully, this other garage was easy to locate.

This garage had two ‘shipping’ containers stocked up with tyres of all shapes and sizes. If there was someone who could help us out in Karakol, this guy seemed to be the man. After much difficulty in communicating, he explained to us that the tyre was rendered unusable now and a brand new one would cost us USD 250, while he could fix up an old one from his stock for about USD 40. I called the car rental and they too suggested going for a refurbished old tyre as a new one would cost us about USD 140 in Bishkek. So while the mechanic went about his task of jigging up a new ‘old’ tyre, we got the TLC washed thoroughly at a car wash opposite the garage for 200 SOMs (240 INR). They did a thorough job for the money they charged and even vacuum cleaned the interiors. Wonder if one can find such a cheap car wash service anywhere in Delhi/NCR.

Mud was everywhere, TLC was covered in it
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The storeroom where the guy managed to find a tyre for us
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TLC gets a bath
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We were ready to head out by 1 pm and went for a nice lunch at one of the better restaurants in Karakol. There we met up with a Geology professor at a local university, a family which had fallen in love with Kyrgyzstan and had moved from Australia to settle there. The man was quite surprised to know that we were able to get a self-driven rental car with insurance in Kyrgyzstan. He further mentioned that as a local it was impossible for him to get insurance cover for his own vehicle! After some more exchange of notes and pleasantries, he left with his family.

We too were off soon, driving west of Karakol again for the second time in two days. We had managed to lose one day with incidents of the past evening, but still decided to drive up again to the same place and further beyond towards Sook pass to get a flavor of the plains of Kara Sai.

The drive was largely uneventful, barring a lift given to two gorgeous females from the Nordic region. They were on their own, touristing the “stans” (Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) and were hitch-hiking on most legs of their route. They had been camping all by themselves on the southern shore of lake Issyk Kul. One can infer from this how safe the country must be for tourists by this nugget of information alone. I can scarcely imagine two foreigners, that too female, undertaking such a journey in our country.

We were back in the wide Barskoon valley by 4:30 pm and stopped for a quick swig of tea at one of the open shacks. By 5:15 pm, were again at the check-post. The officer was surprised to see me, and I had to apprise him of our incident from yesterday. He let us pass the barrier without further questions.

The climb up on that day was remarkably different from the day before. The thin sheet of white had melted in the afternoon sun and all that was left were some spots of white on the peaks. The clear sky also gave a more pleasant look to the surroundings than the overcast one the previous day. By 6 ‘o’clock, we were back at the fork that had taken us towards Kumtor, but this time we chose to move straight on.

A map containing markers for hot-spots during the day's drive
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Chai time at Barskoon valley
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Today, clear skies welcomed us
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The army check-post at the end of Barskoon valley
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Climbing towards Barskoon pass and peeking down towards the check-post below
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The first pass marker on the climb, Sary - Monoik pass
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Fresh snow marks this dome.
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The road, which had been 4-laned and smooth so far, gave way to a 2-laned bumpy track. It was quite obvious that the 4-lanes were maintained only for the benefit of the gold mines. The climb towards Sook pass was straight-forward through a narrow, rocky track. I had my heart in my mouth again fearing another rip of the tyre but thankfully nothing untoward happened. The descent led us to the first settlement we saw in this region. It was small and consisted of a couple of trailers and some brick houses. Kids played around in the dying light as we moved ahead.

A few kilometers ahead, we came upon another another fork and had to take a decision. Kara Sai lay on the straight path while the right went towards a village by the name of Karakolka. The straight path was well marked and documented while the road on the right did not appear on any maps we had seen on the region barring Google Earth. This road could possibly take us all the way to the Naryn province, but that was nothing more than a hypothesis derived from Google Earth. Hoping for the best we took the right fork and drove through a barren landscape devoid of vegetation, settlements or army camps. A few hare and marmots welcomed us to their country from a distance and hopped back to their burrows as soon as we came close.

The 4-lane highway gives way to this 2-lane track heading towards Sook pass
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day11_0029.jpg

The climb was straight, a bit steep and rocky
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day11_0030.jpg

The descent had some switchbacks. We descended more than we climbed
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day11_0033.jpg

The plains beyond reminded me of Hanle
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A fantastic highway heading towards Karakolka.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day11_0039.jpg

A panorama looking towards Kara Sai. If one follows those electric poles, Kara sai was located where the mountain stood
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day11_0040_stitch.jpg

Straight as an arrow
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Spotted a hare enroute
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It was an hour before we finally reached our night halt for the day. A small salty lake lay next to the track which provided for a perfect camping ground. It took us a while to choose the best off-road descent to get closer to the lake and a few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ later, we were by the lake shore. We’d bought our new Quechua tent just before the trip and we were about to pitch it for the first time. In the youtube video we’d seen before embarking on the trip, it appeared to be an easy-to-pitch tent, but in reality, with the strong wind and high altitude, it was quite a task to pin down all pegs and figure out what went where. The tent turned out to be pretty spacious despite weighing only 3.5 kgs. As the sun went down, the temperature started to plummet rapidly. We had to set up our makeshift kitchen in the back of the car to protect the stove from the wind. Dinner was a simple affair - soup, some reheated Samsas and ready-to-eat goodies. We were well tucked in by 9 pm when twilight approached and were in for a long cold night.

The quilt that we had purchased back at Bishkek was not that warm and the night was cold. Although it was not as cold as the one we had spent at Chandratal on one fine late September night back in 2010, but still it was not comfortable. Sleep came in bouts and we lit the stove intermittently throughout the night to warm ourselves. The temperature must have gone below freezing as the next morning the lake shore was frozen in patches.

Campsite selected
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Dinner prepared
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Tent pitched up
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All tucked in and ready for a cold night
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day11_0078.jpg

The first scare came about at around 10:30 pm when all of a sudden our car buzzed as if someone had unlocked it or tried doing so. Braving the cold, we ventured outside to have a look but as expected there was no one in the vicinity for miles. We assumed that one of us might have pressed the unlock button of the car keys inadvertently. The night sky was a sight to behold though. The Milky Way could be seen clearly as a strip of white ribbon running across one section of the sky. Such a sight does take one’s breath away. I was not able to coax myself to take out the tripod though, and was quite happy in warming myself again inside the tent.

The second scare must have been sometime close to midnight, a booming sound which lasted for about 5 seconds and roared in the lifeless night. It felt as if a jet had flown very close to us or perhaps a truck rumbling over a rickety iron bridge nearby. We quickly opened the flap of our tent and tried to see where that sound came from with our groggy eyes, but once again nothing was there to be seen. That sound must have reoccured at least half a dozen times throughout the night and each time we would wake up. By the third occurrence though we got used to it, and to this day we cannot positively identify the source of that sound.
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Old 9th October 2013, 11:07   #103
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Default Day 12: Campsite - Karakolka - Kochkor (Part 1)

Towards end of a road

A google earth snapshot of the first part of the day
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-001.jpg

I had a relatively comfortable night when I compare it with Aarti. When I woke up at 6:30 or so the sun was already up and warming up the tent. This had led her to a deep slumber and I thought it would be best to let her rest a bit more. I went out only to rush back inside immediately to put on some more woolens. It was still pretty cold outside. With time on my hands, I strolled around leisurely - had half a mind to climb the adjacent knoll and see if I could figure out the source of that booming sound. Half way up, I came across a big skeleton of a marco polo sheep. The species is typically found in the mountainous regions of Central Asia and is now considered as endangered. I was happy to have found at least a skeletal remain of this rare species. I wanted to bring it back home but realized that carrying it past customs will be nigh impossible. I was back from my stroll in an hour and found Aarti still resting, so went about preparing breakfast for both of us. Breakfast was served in ‘bed’ and consisted of a lavish spread which included cheese sandwiches, potato sandwiches and a cup of hot lemon tea. The view through the open flap of the tent was mesmerizing. The early sun was behind us and the calmness of the weather resulted in a near perfect reflection of the nearby mountains in the lake. It was so ‘Chandrataalish’ that the comparison is not even funny.

By the time we were done with breakfast, a nomad came by snooping on us. He was curious to see a car parked in the middle of nowhere. He had three companions with him, a stallion and two dogs. He knew a few words in Russian so our exchanges were limited to hand gestures. One of those gestures asked me for a couple of smokes to which I happily obliged. Once again a bond was made. The dogs were quite grumpy, and despite us feeding them leftovers of our breakfast, we could not forge a bond with them. The nomad soon went away and it was time for us to leave as well.

A picture perfect morning and view
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0001001.jpg

Remains of a marco polo sheep
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An abandoned shepherd's hut next to our campsite
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The make-shift kitchen
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010a001.jpg

Calmness leads to a perfect reflection
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010c001.jpg

A panorama of the reflecting lake
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010f001.jpg

Visitors at our campsite
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010h001.jpg

We resumed our journey for the day by around 9:45 am and continued to head west towards Karakolka and the supposed route onward towards the Naryn province. The village Karakolka was about 40 km away by our estimates, and given the road conditions we expected to reach there in another hour and a half. Initially, the drive was through hills and marsh land much similar to the one going towards Pangong Tso in Ladakh. Even the fauna was similar with marmots running helter skelter. Unlike their Ladakhi brethren, these marmots were very shy and ran back to their burrows as the vehicle drew near. Soon we left the hills and the marsh and reached the wide Naryn river. The origin of this river is somewhere near the mountains behind Kumtor gold mines and it runs west through entire Kyrgyzstan crossing Naryn city as well. It flows eventually towards Uzbekistan where it merges with another river and flows into the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan.

We drove on the right bank of the Naryn river for the longest time through a wide plateau sandwiched between high rise mountains to our south and smaller ones to our north. The road was untarred and dusty but in a reasonably good condition. The drive was one of the best we did in the country through vast stretches of nothingness. A comfort drive for our souls. The drive was dotted with some sporadic settlements primarily belonging to shepherds. Some seemed temporary in nature while others were brick, mud and mortar. There were many signboards enroute as well requesting people not to hunt for fauna. Apparently, the skin of marco polo sheep fetches a lot of money in the black market. In hindsight, the questions by the army officer at the check-post made sense now.

After moving west for a long time, we eventually came across a bridge across the river Naryn to take us across to its left bank. A few kilometers ahead, a settlement consisting of a single house could be seen, but it was more like a complex than a single house. We assumed this must be Karakolka and there seemed to be a road going beyond the village as well. The thought of doing an unmarked route was pumping adrenalin into my already charged up body. As we approached the settlement, all its inhabitants came out of their respective houses. We stopped as well to say hello and ask for directions. The populace was mostly women and children and a sole man was around cutting up some wood. Before I could ask questions, the lady of the house requested us to have a cup of tea with them in their house.

Marsh and hills ahead
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010k001.jpg

Say hello to the river Naryn
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Another shepherd's settlement
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010m001.jpg

Boards urging visitors not to hunt marco polo / ibex or wolves
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To infinity
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010o001.jpg

A bridge over river Naryn, the settlement on the left is where we stopped
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010r001.jpg

Kyrgyz people are known to be very hospitable, and we experienced it first-hand that day. Despite their limited income sources, the lady served us with bread, a plethora of jams, butter and of course chai. To honour their guests, the Kyrgyz people serve chai in very small quantities in saucers so that each sip remains piping hot. It also gives the host an excuse of refilling the guest’s cup from time to time. As no one knew English, conversations were a bit awkward. We relied on using our Eng-Ru dictionary to converse while they tried their best with gestures. Despite our lingual difficulties, the lady of the house was aghast when she got to know that we were still without child despite being married for almost 6 years. In that sense, Kyrgyz people are very like Indians, they value their family as much as we do here, and do not shy away from asking extremely personal questions . That is why maybe bollywood movies are such a hit there. We discussed (as much as we could) on all topics possible, including their daily lives, the difficulties they face, the education imparted to their kids. After spending about half an hour with them, we requested their permission to leave. Aarti remembered that she had some candies and nuts in the car, and treated everyone to it. This has to be the most heart warming experience we had in Kyrgyzstan.

As we were leaving, the lady informed us that the road ended at Karakolka which lay about 6 kms ahead. That really shattered our hopes of doing a new route, one that would have been completely off the radar. However, the charm of going till the end of the road was too strong. We decided to go till the village just for the heck of it. The last km of the road was very tricky as the descent was quite steep. I have always found descents trickier than ascents. The 4L mode was engaged with the central diff locked and slowly we descended towards a tributary that went into the river. As we descended, we found another track going down to the river which seemed much more simpler. Both the tracks merged and started deteriorating rapidly. The track had started moving north as well and we could see it end a km ahead. Knowing that it was futile to go any further, we took a U-turn. We took the easier ascent up and soon were back at the settlement again. I went back inside the house to fetch my camera cover which had been left inside and we were back on the road and on our long drive back towards Barskoon by 12 pm.

Lady of the house - with a young one
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010u001.jpg

She was my age!
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010v001.jpg

Men taking a break while tending to their sheep
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010w001.jpg

That is Karakolka on the right and towards South a possible route
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010y001.jpg

The wide grasslands near Karakolka
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010z001.jpg

The long road back
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Crossing the river again back towards civilization
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0010zb001.jpg
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Old 9th October 2013, 21:51   #104
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Default Re: Day 12: Campsite - Karakolka - Kochkor (Part 1)

Every time I see your post I think these are the best; but the pics and scenery, unimaginably, just keep on getting better.

Originally Posted by vardhan.harsh View Post
...a booming sound...must have reoccured at least half a dozen times throughout the night
Interesting, hmm..., avalanches, landslides ?, or could it have something to do with
many signboards enroute as well requesting people not to hunt for fauna. Apparently, the skin of marco polo sheep fetches a lot of money in the black market.
The other day I was browsing through youtube for 'Jeena Yahan, Marna yahan' from 'Mera naam Joker' and came across this. Thought would interest you

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Old 10th October 2013, 11:57   #105
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Default Re: Day 12: Campsite - Karakolka - Kochkor (Part 1)

Originally Posted by YanTra Makto View Post
Interesting, hmm..., avalanches, landslides ?, or could it have something to do with
The sound had an approach and a departure to it, so the source seemed to be moving relative to our position. Could not have been an avalanche. And 5 avalanches in one night, that would be odd. The highest probability of an avalanche is typically in the afternoon, so I hear.

Originally Posted by YanTra Makto View Post
The other day I was browsing through youtube for 'Jeena Yahan, Marna yahan' from 'Mera naam Joker' and came across this. Thought would interest you
I've seen this guy too. He is apparently quite a famous Tajik artist who sings Hindi songs in all the stans during his concerts.
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