The diaries - 12   

02 July

Karakol - Kyrgyzstan

Mick & Sue   

It was with some dismay that, while staying in the hotel 'Car' at Almaty, Sue and I found that our panniers and tank bags had been carefully searched and items stolen.  After thirty years in the police I'm convinced it was an 'inside job' by hotel staff but the manageress, while expressing concern, defended her staff and said it was impossible.  Quite frankly she didn't believe us.  My Sony video camera went missing, box of CDs (unfortunately containing our photographs recorded to date on CDs) and money was taken from a 'spare' wallet (a dummy wallet with old credit cards and a little money... in case we were 'asked' to hand over some cash etc!) in the bottom of Sue's tank bag.  Only 30$ and 40 Euros but nevertheless stolen.  The luggage had been so carefully searched that we wouldn't notice the theft immediately.  An outside thief, or other hotel client, would have taken much more! 

So, with some relief, and a little hostility from some of the hotel staff, we rode out of Alamaty and headed east towards the wild and woolly backwhacks, where at least the thiefs are honest and have a code of conduct!  We rode alongside the mountains, with people at the side of the road selling melons, tomatoes, apples, oranges and all kinds of fruits.  The road turned south before reaching China, and through mountain passes towards the Charyn Gorge and on towards Kegen.  The Charyn Gorge is Kazakhstan's answer to the Grand Canyon, but on a much smaller scale.  The mountain road, under repair (ha ha!) was just awash with loose  gravel and wet tar.  At the gorge we were invited to share food and vodka with a family picnicking, but declined... as we have had to do on so many other occasions.


on, southwards, we made camp about ten miles out of Kegan, 6,500 feet up in the hills, and lost count of the shooting stars and satellites above.  The camp site was high above the road, where we could see open-backed lorries taking horses up into the mountains to pastures new.  Below us were 'koumiss' sellers at the roadside... Sue walked down and bought a bottle!  Fermented mare's milk? You can keep it... we'll take the bier!


The next morning was bright and sunny, and an early start saw us having an easy day.  South to the border crossing with Kyrgyzstan, the road being an unmade and derelict highway. Just an hour to get through both border posts.  The officials were helpful, jovial, and good 'crack' but felt it necessary to fine Sue three horsey key fobs, and a police badge, for failing to stop at a 'stop' sign!  She says she didn't see it.... strewth, how fast will that 'bike of hers go? 


Ten miles from the border, now in Kyrgyzstan, we found hospitality at its best.  Stopping to talk to a small group of people at the roadside - jeep with bonnet up - we are invited into their yurt
naan bread and chai.  Yoghurt like you've never tasted, fresh naan bread out of the oven, laughs and shaking of hands.  We contributed apricots, biscuits, chocolate and cashew nuts. Photographs taken and promises to send copies to them.  We will, we hope they will get them.


Then.... some of the most stunning scenery we have ever  seen. "Sound of Music" comes to mind, but this was better. I've never seen as many shades of green in my life.  Sue says that the reds in Australia also have as many shades.... I'll have to go and see.  To one side we had the snow-capped mountains of the Tien Shan range, a green valley to ride along, pine trees, masses of wild flowers, and mountains to our right that looked as if they had been painted in water colour.  We were in fantasy land....


Into Karakol... we had heard of a hostel accommodation but, calling in at the Tourist Information Centre (the first we had seen while in Asia), we were directed to Jamilya's bed and breakfast, reputed to be the best stay in Karakol.  We eventually found her house, with the help of friendly locals, and were made immediately welcome, at the cost of about six pounds each for bed and breakfast and evening meal.  This was paradise... but then of course so was camping in the hills under the stars.


We talked much with Jamilya about the people and the history of Kyrgyzstan and the way the country is evolving as a prime tourist destination. The mountains, the wilderness and the nature of this land, the settled economy and friendliness of the people make it well worth a visit.


Tomorrow we head west, along Lake Isy Kul and towards Bishkek, before turning south again towards Osh.  More people, more friends....


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