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Old 10th October 2013, 12:09   #106
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Again beautiful pics. Loved the reflection landscape and the snow capped mountains. This is no doubt a unique travel. Keep going
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Old 10th October 2013, 16:04   #107
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Lovely narration, you took me to that cold icy evening near the gold mines, it certainly makes us realize how big the earth really is with such huge areas of nothingness. Lovely picture of the campsite. Any reasons of not pitching the camp closer to the car? As in one of the pictures the tent looks a little far.
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Old 10th October 2013, 16:35   #108
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Default Re: Day 10: Karakol - Sunday Bazaar - Jeti Oguz - Kumtor gold mines - Part 3

Quote:
Originally Posted by vardhan.harsh View Post
Stuck!

The dozer was mammoth, and even the burly man looked like a dwarf when he climbed inside
Attachment 1147469
Strictly OT, that is Motor Grader, Dozers come with metal tracks. Looks like a Caterpillar 160M Motor Grader to me.

Amazing TL, hats of to you guys for taking a trip to these less traveled locations and sharing it with us.
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Old 10th October 2013, 16:52   #109
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Default Re: Day 10: Karakol - Sunday Bazaar - Jeti Oguz - Kumtor gold mines - Part 3

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Originally Posted by motomaverick View Post
Lovely narration, you took me to that cold icy evening near the gold mines, it certainly makes us realize how big the earth really is with such huge areas of nothingness. Lovely picture of the campsite. Any reasons of not pitching the camp closer to the car? As in one of the pictures the tent looks a little far.
The car was eventually parked quite close to the tent. I had parked it a bit far initially to ensure that we get to pitch it easily and then moved the car close. Could not take it completely close as pegs also needed some room.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jaguar.runs View Post
Strictly OT, that is Motor Grader, Dozers come with metal tracks. Looks like a Caterpillar 160M Motor Grader to me.

Amazing TL, hats of to you guys for taking a trip to these less traveled locations and sharing it with us.
You have a good idea of heavy earth moving equipment!

Last edited by vardhan.harsh : 10th October 2013 at 16:56.
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Old 10th October 2013, 16:55   #110
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Default Re: Day 10: Karakol - Sunday Bazaar - Jeti Oguz - Kumtor gold mines - Part 3

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You have a good idea of heaving equipment!
I used to work for Volvo and now I am at Caterpillar
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Old 10th October 2013, 16:58   #111
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Default Re: Day 10: Karakol - Sunday Bazaar - Jeti Oguz - Kumtor gold mines - Part 3

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I used to work for Volvo and now I am at Caterpillar
Then you are a possible customer for my company . We work indirectly with CAT (US) - mostly on analysis of gensets. Small world.
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Old 10th October 2013, 17:43   #112
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Hey Harsh, this is a supreb travellogue, and I enjoyed reading every bit of it. The write-up along with the pics is very rivetting - thanks for sharing these experiences with us!
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Old 10th October 2013, 18:29   #113
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Absolutely fantastic read and super pictures! One can feel the dampness from your images. Those overcast skies.. normal at time of the year?
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Old 10th October 2013, 19:37   #114
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Excellent travelogue. This section of the forum never seems to stop surprising. It was so refreshing to visit a place ( via your excellent narration and pictures) less frequented. Infact this is the first time I am coming across these countries as tourist destinations. Such a relief from the usual USA and Europe stuff.

Rated it 5 stars.
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Old 11th October 2013, 00:11   #115
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

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Originally Posted by PVS View Post
Hey Harsh, this is a supreb travellogue, and I enjoyed reading every bit of it. The write-up along with the pics is very rivetting - thanks for sharing these experiences with us!
Thanks PVS

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rudra Sen View Post
Absolutely fantastic read and super pictures! One can feel the dampness from your images. Those overcast skies.. normal at time of the year?
Coming from Rudra Da! that's some compliment, you've made my day .
Typically monsoon happens by mid-May in Kyrgyzstan. We had run into a bout of bad weather, which was unusual for that time of the year. (early july). But thankfully we saw limited rainy days both in Kyrgyz and Kazakh.

Quote:
Originally Posted by drmohitg View Post
Excellent travelogue. This section of the forum never seems to stop surprising. It was so refreshing to visit a place ( via your excellent narration and pictures) less frequented. Infact this is the first time I am coming across these countries as tourist destinations. Such a relief from the usual USA and Europe stuff.
Rated it 5 stars.
Thanks Mohit. Plan a trip to the region soon, it's definitely worth it.
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Old 11th October 2013, 11:32   #116
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Default Day 12: Campsite - Karakolka - Kochkor (Part 2)

Back on the lake, for the last time


The route map all the way back to Kochkor.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-001.jpg

The drive back was uneventful and there were fewer breaks as well. Some breaks had to be made to run after marmots, some to run after free eagles and one was to cook lunch. We parked by a stream and prepared some ready-to-eat goodies. There, sitting by the stream, preparing our own lunch with a panorama to behold in front of us, we were in heaven.

By half past two, we were back at the settlement below Sook pass and in another 45 min were standing at Barskoon pass. The clear skies gave way to an overcast weather which led to another bout of small snowfall. At 4:30 pm, we were back on the highway next to lake Issyk Kul.


A big flock of sheep gives one an idea of the scale of the scenery in front of you
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Back towards infinity, the drive in those infinite plains were just awesome
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Marmot (Suslik for Kyrgyz) love
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A shepherd's pen and an abandoned house
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Many vultures were sighted but few got close
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A wild eagle
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The damn hare has a perfect camoflauge and knows it too!
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Lunch break
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The sink where utensils were washed post-lunch
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Most of the remaining shots are through the wind-shield. Could not help shooting.
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Another one through the shield
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The scene towards Kara Sai, again those horses help imagine the scale.
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A village on the way towards Sook pass
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These trailers are found all througout the country
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Descending the rocky Sook pass
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The plains at the fork towards Kumtor
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Bad weather greets us on the way back to Barskoon
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0044.jpg

We decided to break our night at Kochkor, a town at the cross-roads of Issyk Kul, Naryn and Bishkek. Kochkor would probably be much more touristy than Karakol. It serves as a base station for many treks in the mountains around it, including a trek to lake Song-Kul, the jewel of Kyrgyzstan. Aarti made a couple of calls to CBT (community based tourism), Kochkor and fixed up a home-stay for us after speaking with an english speaking CBT agent. We had heard about the CBT initiative while researching on Kyrgyzstan but this was the first time we actually used their services. The initiative is a not-for-profit organization which helps the locals cater to tourists by helping them convert their homes into tourist friendly home-stays in various regions of Kyrgyzstan. They also promote the locals to sell local handicrafts to visiting tourists at market prices, thereby infusing more money into the producers rather than the middle-men.

The drive to Kochkor seemed boring as compared to the one we had done earlier in the day. To make matters interesting, we took a detour off the highway towards a jailoo (meadow) running 40 km parallel to the main highway. It was a terrible decision. The road in the meadow above was horrible. A bull-dozer had driven through the entire breadth of the road, creating ripples throughout the stretch. Our progress was painfully slow and rattled us to our very bones. The detour cost us an hour and delayed our arrival at Kochkor from 7 pm to 8 pm. The CBT agent met us at the main market and thereafter we followed her car to the home-stay. And what a pleasant surprise it was! We were expecting a home-stay on the lines of what is available in Ladakh, but what lay before us was more like a three star hotel! The room given to us was very clean and the hosts very warm. The stay package cost us 1100 SOMs for the night and included breakfast. Dinner was expensive at 250 SOMs a head, but we decided to take it as Aarti really wanted to have some vegetables for a meal. She was now getting sick and tired of the non-vegetarian fare, which I was enjoying tremendously.


Clear weather welcomes us back near the lake
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0050.jpg

The blue lake mesmerizes again.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0051.jpg

Upon on the detour the scenery was fantastic but the road was pathetic
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0053.jpg

We had left lake Issyk Kul behind us, this a resevoir by the name of Orto Tokoy
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0055.jpg

Double hump camels from Central Asia
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0055a.jpg

Kochkor sits pretty beneath mountains ahead
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0059.jpg

A typical Kyrgyz dinner setting
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day12_0064a.jpg

An hour later after we checked in, a Korean couple arrived at the homestay. When we got chatting, we came to know that the couple had been in Kyrgyzstan for more than 2 years now, teaching Kyrgyz kids Korean music. The guy explained that he had pledged to support orphan kids after the Korean war in which he was orphaned back in the 50s. I could appreciate his sentiments but still could not see logic in how teaching Kyrgyz kids Korean music would be helpful to them. Anyway, it was not my place to question his belief and I was grateful for the home-cooked sushi that his wife shared with us. We decided against going out that evening and gorged on the home-cooked food spread out in front of us.
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Old 11th October 2013, 11:35   #117
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

Harsh - Amazing TL. Feels like we are part of your journey. and Kudos to your better half for supporting such adventures.

Few questions from my side.

1. Considering the desolation/distance and since I did not see 2/3 wheelers - how do the rural folk get to places for their needs?
2. Power situation? or do people use gensets.

You did use internet at few towns I assume there will be cell phone connectivity as well - right?
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Old 11th October 2013, 11:49   #118
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

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Originally Posted by mmxylorider View Post
Harsh - Amazing TL. Feels like we are part of your journey. and Kudos to your better half for supporting such adventures.

Few questions from my side.

1. Considering the desolation/distance and since I did not see 2/3 wheelers - how do the rural folk get to places for their needs?
2. Power situation? or do people use gensets.

You did use internet at few towns I assume there will be cell phone connectivity as well - right?
Thanks buddy.

To answer your questions:
1. It is ex-USSR so before 90s, the country was decently rich and lost its fortunes after splitting. The common folk are decently rich and everyone owns a car - and thus most of them seem to be more than a decade old. Though still running. The climate of the country does not promote two wheelers as the winters are quite dreadful in this region with temperatures plumetting well into -20s.

2. The power situation was much better than ours. I have a knack of taking pictures were power cables are hidden, but everywhere you see in that country there are power cables running left and right. Even the last village at Karakolka had power connection!

Cell phone connectivity was great in all regions near the lake, and cheap too! Incoming calls were free and so 3G data plans were quite reasonable. Comparable to India actually. However as soon as one moved even 20km into the mountains the mobile connectivity dropped. So while one is at different towns, internet and mobile connectivity issues are non-existent.
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Old 24th October 2013, 12:05   #119
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Default Re: Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

So what happened next? Could you continue your posts? Waiting for Day 13...

Last edited by myashu : 24th October 2013 at 12:16. Reason: I thought my 1 liner is against the policy and non value add.
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Old 24th October 2013, 23:01   #120
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Default Day 13: Kochkor - At Bashy - Bosogo - At Bashy

Heading South


Heading South on the map towards Naryn and At-Bashy
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-001.jpg

Day 13’s plan was to keep heading south and take a dynamic decision on where to spend the night. We were to leave Kochkor for Naryn province and towards the Chinese border, hoping against hope to be allowed on the infamous Torugart pass. Many must have heard of this particular land crossing into China when reading about road trips that span Europe and Asia. It is notoriously famous for being one of the most difficult land crossings into China in terms of logistics. Our eventual plan was to do a circuitous road back towards the crown jewel lake of Song Kul and eventually head back towards Bishkek. If Issyk Kul can be compared to the Dal lake in Srinagar, Song Kul can only be compared with the beautiful Pangong Tso. It was an obvious decision to keep the best for the last.

We started late from Kochkor after having a sumptuous breakfast and an unhurried morning. The owner of the guest house had warned us that the road leading towards Naryn was not in the best of condition and the distance of 160 odd kms to At Bashy could take us more than 6 hours. Sure enough, the tarmac soon gave way to an ‘under-construction’ two laned highway. The road was bumpy and so our progress remained slow. It was through some fine landscape which was a unique mixture of barren brown and lush green. The climb of Dolon pass, situated at roughly 3,000 m ASL, was pretty straightforward and from there onwards the brown gave way to lush green meadows stretching for miles - rolling hills literally.

After the pass, the landscape turned into a mix of brown, pink, green and purple with a border of white. The fields looked very pretty, and as I stopped to capture them, I heard someone holler at me in the distance. The source of the noise were a bunch of farmers whose fields I was trying to shoot. We exchanged pleasantries after which they offered me koumiss brewed by them. I could not decline the offer but was wary of consuming it as it is mildly alcoholic. Once again, Kyrgyz hospitality was demonstrated. We continued our journey and by lunch the statue of Manas greeted us at the entrance of Naryn city. It was still too early to call it a day, so we decided to have lunch there and head towards At Bashy which lay further south.


Our lovely hosts at the home-stay in Kochkor, the lady spoke english and managed the show
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0008.jpg

A good tarmac greeted us on our way out of Kochkor
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0011.jpg

But the landscape soon turned brown and the tarmac went away
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At the top of Dolon pass, as you can imagine just a couple of twist and turns on this one
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0029.jpg

A carpet of green waited for us beyond the pass.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0032.jpg

Settlements can be seen in this huge meadow, consisting of trailers and yurts like dots on a big canvas
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0036.jpg

A strange practice. We saw carcass of a dead sheep and a dog hung from a pole. Wonder why.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0036a.jpg

A picturesque settlment
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0036b.jpg

Wide valley with a riot of colors beyond the Dolon pass.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0041_stitch.jpg

The farmers requested us to click them. Notice the golden teeth on the gentelman in the middle. This is Kyrgyz fashion statement ;-)
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0048.jpg

Naryn town wore a run-down, ex-Russian look. There were many huge apartments which lay dilapidated but seemed to be occupied nevertheless. As I drove, Aarti was furiously searching for a place to eat in the guide books. Her lone criteria for selection was the availability of an English menu. For us, that meant the liberty of actually trying something else other than Manty, Shashlik, Laghman and Ashlan Fu. She did find such a restaurant, and after finding it with much difficulty, we saw that the menu there too was only in Russian. So once again our staple food was ordered and polished off. Aarti’s ability to handle meat in all her meals was decreasing exponentially and thus she stuck to bread and sugar.

We started on our way towards At Bashy by about 2:30 pm after refuelling at a petrol pump immediately after Naryn city. Here onwards we were about to venture very close to the Chinese border and fuel stations would be difficult to come by. We started to climb towards the Kyzyl Bel pass immediately after getting out of Naryn. It was a bit overcast but the meadows that were seen from this pass were mesmerizing. The green hills rolled on and on in the distance and were fantastic to look at. The road condition improved dramatically after the pass, and a 2-lane highway was now a 4-lane super-highway on which one could easily rip at 150kmph. As we found out later, this road had been sponsored by China to facilitate trade between the two countries. This is also the shortest route to Kazakhstan and making a good road is in the interest of the Chinese.


Mr. Manas and his horse welcome us to the city of Naryn.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0050.jpg

Enroute At bashy, we get closer to the China border and chinese truck sightings become more frequent
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0054.jpg

Mr. Manas apparently got off his horse and had went to take a leak in those meadows
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0056.jpg

As we descended the pass, the valley opened up and it did not seem that we were more than 2000 m above sea level. A mountain range ran south boasting of snow-clad and 5000 m + peaks, while a shorter range ran northwards. We ripped to reach At Bashy by 4:30 pm and started to look for the lone CBT guest house in town. A Swiss couple guided us to it. As we found out later, they too were on a road trip and had rented a self-driven Lada 4x4 for $50 a day through a friend. The guy mentioned that his friend ran a motorcycle rental company in the Osh province and did not as such specialize in car rentals. This was given more as a favor than a commercial deal. Sadly, I do not remember the name of the company now, but if one searches for motorcycle rentals in Osh probably one would be able to locate this dealer.


Rolling hills of green stretch out. The trailer might give you an idea of the scale.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0061_stitch.jpg

Off-roading tracks marked this lush meadow and were tantalizingly close
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0061a.jpg

A graveyard atop a hill at At Bashy, next to the guest house
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0061b.jpg

The guest house was nice, but very full! The private rooms on the first floor were already taken up by the Swiss couple and another lone tourist from England. We were left with an option to choose the lobby on the first floor which had no door or a room on the ground floor without a bed, and we obviously chose the later. The room rental was high as per the Kyrgyz standard at 1400 SOM a night (including breakfast) but the killer part was the dinner. It was being charged at an astronomical 300 SOM per person. I guess monopolistic markets do tend to charge customers on their own accord. We checked in agreeing to the room rental but decided to have dinner outside. We still had a good 4 hours of sunlight left in the day and decided to head out towards Bosogo. In hindsight, that was probably one of the worst decisions of the trip. Neither was the place beautiful and that accident on the way back was the worst one I have been involved in so far. I still shiver thinking about those couple of seconds when I look back at it.


The routemap for the evening drive
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0062.jpg

It was only 5 pm by the clock, and to call it a day at that hour, with 4 hours of daylight still remaining, would have been a crime. However, there was only tented accommodation available beyond At-Bashy at a place called Tash-Rabat, and so we thought it more prudent to stay at a homestay that night and then rough it out the next two days in tents.

Bosogo lay 60 km east from where we were and came highly recommended by a Belgian motorist whom I had interacted with, although the place did not find mention in any of the guidebooks. As soon as we were out of At Bashy, a wide untarred road greeted us. The progress was extremely slow though as the road had been ribbed and it was not for our pleasure. It was a pretty drive, flanked by fields which in turn were bordered by villages and on the edge of that were snow clad peaks.


The picteresque colorful fields near At Bashy
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0062_stitch.jpg

Looking towards northern periphery of the wide valley, towards Naryn
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0068.jpg

The untarred road towards Bosogo.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0090.jpg

The settlement of Bosogo came and went by, with only GPS to advise that we had reached!
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0091.jpg

Taking a turn back towards At Bashy.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0092.jpg

The mountains south of valley in which At Bashy lay. 5000m+ peaks I guess
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0093_stitch.jpg

A colorful bird, ID anyone?
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0093a.jpg

One of my favourite snap of the trip. The sunset was mesmerizing.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0093c.jpg

The road went on and on, and Bosogo came and went by, however there was no dramatic change in the scenery. Pretty as it was, it was exactly like At Bashy. After driving for a good 2 hours we took a U-turn and decided to head back to our halt for the night. The road was still untarred and gravely to boot. The rays of the golden sun made the scenery look even more beautiful. We were cruising at 60 kmph or so when all of a sudden the car swerved wildly to the left. My instincts took over, the way they had a few days ago near Kumtoor. I dont know if I was turning into the skid or out of it, but in those few seconds it was clear that the car was not going to get back under control. The brake was not helping either. A couple of swerves later, we were ready and bracing for impact! The road was elevated by about 2 foot or so and on either side it was a bit marshy. The car must have been doing around 20-30 kmph by the time we were at the edge of the road and about to fly off into the marsh. Thankfully, instinct made me align the vehicle perpendicular to the road so that at least we do not go off at angle. I shudder to think what could have happened otherwise, probably an overturned Land Cruiser!

Since we were perpendicular to the road, the landing in the marsh was soft and all the tyres landed together. The mud broke our momentum and we came to a halt immediately. All the 4 tyres were stuck but it was soft mud hence the car swiftly came out of the bog and we were back on the highway. We were both shaken and stirred! Our first thought was of a flat tyre but each one of them was perfectly fine. We went back to see what had caused the skid in the first place. We could see where the skid started because of the tire marks, and like in a movie it zig zagged a couple of times on the road before flying off into the marsh. At the beginning of the skid marks, there was a slight inclined trough in which the right tires went, and because of the gravel when we came back up from the trough the skid started. And once it had started, it had become difficult to control. The car was fine and there were no creaks or other sounds, but it had been a close shave.

We drove back in near silence, each trying to soothe the other’s frayed nerves intermittently. We took a different route on the way back, and went a bit further to join the highway. The route was longer but the latter half was on a magical tarred road. When we were about to join the highway, a car stopped next to us. The driver rolled down his windows and asked us where we came from. On hearing India, he seemed to be very pleased and offered us the vodka he was drinking. We had to politely refuse.

Back at At-Bashy, we went to the center of the town and had our dinner is a run-down cafe. The only thing on the menu was laghman, which is essentially our Thupka. Another tourist came by and we got talking. The guy, a Britisher, had been traveling for 6 months and had come into Kyrgyzstan a couple of days back after spending the rest of that time in China. I wondered when it would be possible for us to ever take that kind of a break.

It had been a crazy evening and thankfully we had escaped unhurt. We thanked our stars and hit the sack. The next day was going to be another long day.


Hurrying back towards At Bashy with frayed nerves
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0101.jpg

We were too psyched to stop and take pictures
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0104.jpg

Laghman, a quintessential Kyrgyz cuisine of thick noodle meat broth.
Central Asian Diaries - Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan-day13_0107.jpg
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