If Uzbekistan has been a walk through history, Kyrgyzstan is going to be a nature walk. From Samarkand, we again go by bus directly to the airport of Tashkent to say goodbye to the Uzbek capital. The scene changes completely as we start the adventure of Kyrgyzstan in its capital Bishkek.
The trip from Samarkand to Tashkent was without any problem. We arrive at the airport around noon after having stopped to taste what would be our last Uzbek meal. The cuisine of this country has seduced us and every day we have eaten and dined in glory. In some aspects, especially fresh salads, the Uzbek cuisine resembles the Mediterranean, particularly in the ingredients. But we have also been able to taste very rich and very new things.
The last meal in Uzbekistan is going to be a great tribute that our country guide is going to offer us. After lunch, she gave us some gifts, which has made us fall in love with her and her country. She has been very diligent, very professional, very friendly and knows a lot about her country and how to tell it. The experience, in general, has enchanted us!
We say goodbye as we are invaded by the nerves of a new trip. Having already checked in, we put ourselves in line to pass immigration. The queue moves very slowly. It seems that the controls are quite rigorous. When we arrived in Uzbekistan, the arrival procedures were quite annoying, but the departure ones are even worse.
I cross the metal detector and I realize that they are opening my backpack. The officer asks if it belongs to me. In it, I carry the camera with the lenses and a hard drive where I store the photos and videos that I am collecting. Surprisingly the officer stops with a purse in which I carry some amulets and that I did not remember. Here they have hunted me!
It is strictly forbidden to take antiquities from Uzbekistan and they check it very strictly. The officer believes that the amulet, which is nothing but a piece of copper is from Uzbek. He asks me if I bought it in Uzbekistan and if I have the certificate of authenticity.
I tell him I already had it when entering the country. I never realized that this amulet could have so much value. So I did not write it down along with the description of the currencies and things of value with which I travel.
At that moment I start to get nervous. My travel companions begin to get nervous. In the end, they take me to a small room. They interrogate me. I tell them about life and at the end just as fate puts you on the ropes, at a given moment the rope loosens.
In the end, they let me keep the lucky charm and we had no other setback. The rest of the passengers passed without problem and we have all learned the lesson. On the other hand, the arrival in Kyrgyzstan is quite calm. The atmosphere in the Bishkek airport is much more relaxed. The customs agents are much more friendly.
We do not lose any suitcase on this occasion, and after completing the arrival formalities, we start our journey by car. On the way we stop for dinner and in this first restaurant, we realize that the cuisine in Kyrgyzstan is quite similar to that of Uzbekistan. Soups, salads, and stews of meat with names almost identical to the Uzbeks are repeated in the menu. We are at home again!
For the first time, we ask for the menu and until we agree it takes a while. Dinner is also late in coming but the wait is worth it. As soon as we had dinner we were tired. After changing money in a process that was much easier than in Uzbekistan, we get to the hotel and prepare for the long day that awaits us. The hotel in Bishkek is very comfortable. The rooms are very spacious and have very good services. We fall asleep soon.
Son Kul Lake
The views from the rooms are great. The horizons draw dramatic mountains where perpetual snow peaks can be seen to any point where I look in the distance. It's not 8 o'clock in the morning when we get going. We are going to take a walk around the city until the time of change of guard and after that, we continue heading east. Today we head to spend the night at Lake Son Kul.
The visit to Bishkek is very pleasant. In addition to the main monuments, we have time to take a look at the National Museum of Kyrgyzstan and arrive in time to see the changing of the guard. It is much more modest than we expected but in spite of everything it is interesting.
It is surprising the synchronization to which the incoming guards walk towards the relay as well as the outgoing ones after having completed their work shift. It is a simple but very solemn ceremony that takes place in the emblematic Ala-Too Square that presides over the Erkindik or Monument to Freedom where an infinitely large flag of the country flies.
Formerly on the pedestal from which the flag flies was the statue of Lenin. Today, as we could see, the statue, one of the few remaining standing of the Russian leader in Central Asia, rests almost unnoticed among the huge trees that give shade to the campus of Bishkek University, at the back of Ala-Too Square.
After the changing of the guard, we replenish our strength for the long journey we have to undertake. Our mission is to reach Lake Son Kul for sunset, which involves traveling 350 kilometers, many of them between high mountains since the lake is at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters.
Without wasting any more time we got on the marshrutkas, the Soviet vehicles for the transport of passengers and goods that were previously used in this region. However, our marshrutkas are all-terrain modern vehicles and in this section of Kyrgyzstan, we go in a real caravan.
The Burana Tower announces from afar the arrival in the ancient city of Balasagun. It was a strategic place, crossing different roads of the Silk Road in Central Asia, mainly from the roads that came from the south from India and Pakistan and from the east from China. Among the little that remains is the balbal, which are funeral tombstones carved in stone. The result is small and nice figures that sometimes look like comic characters.
Interesting is also the museum with the archaeological remains found after the discovery of the whole and which are preserved inside a yurt. Entering the yurt reminds us that we will sleep in one of them that night, which encourages us to get back on track. However, on this occasion, not everything goes as planned. Shortly after resuming the road, we started to climb what seems to be a mountain pass and when we took about an hour of the route, we found a block on the road.
People are accumulating to know what has happened. There are no explanations. Simply several cars block the road without allowing traffic. For a good time, neither cars come in the opposite direction. After a while, several police vehicles make their way through the shoulder. After a while, they explain to us that a mountain has collapsed and the road is impassable.
Although the adventure seems exciting, we fear a change of plans, something that we resist because we all want to see the sunset over Lake Son Kul. The sun continues its way in the opposite direction to ours. In the end, we had to wait almost 3 hours until the traffic was restored which meant that we had to change our plans.
The road to the lake is quite winding and not in very good condition so that drivers after Koshkor are afraid to venture if the sun has already fallen. The situation makes us decide against visiting the Koshkor carpet factory in order to reach the lake with light.
It is true that the road after Koshkor becomes increasingly steep and inhospitable. The landscape that accompanies us has us speechless. Sometimes we have to hold on tightly due to the oscillation produced by the vehicle. We begin to see yurts in the distance. Some herds of horses form images that are almost dreamlike. The beauty of the meadows contrasts with the dramatic nature of the mountains that begin to blur in the shade. This place is truly wonderful!
Well, if we were already late, what we did not need was a puncture in the wheel and that's how it happened. I am convinced that this happened to be able to stop and enjoy the landscape better. With the delay that is already there made us stress a bit more.
With so much mishap at the end, we reached Lake Son Kul well into the night. In fact, we had to go extremely slowly in the last section. Despite the modern vehicles in which we travel, we feel trapped in time. I began to think about the enormous difficulties that the caravans faced following this same path several centuries ago and with far fewer comforts.
We are in a very remote place away from civilization. The only thing seen in the last section were some distant bonfires in what could be guessed would be camps of the Kyrgyz nomads.
When getting out of the car the only thing we see are shadows. We cannot even see the yurts where we are supposed to sleep. However, looking at the sky, we appreciated that darkness and we were surprised with what for me has been another of the great gifts of this Silk Road.
The sky over Son Kul Lake without pollution looks as if it were within our reach. It is a place at high altitude that is very dry and there is tremendous visibility which makes us see the stars very clearly. It is a hypnotic spectacle in which every less than a minute we see a shooting star. Lyrids are among the most attractive shooting showers of the year.
The meteor shower, on the one hand, is very slow and on the other hand, there are very bright falling stars. It is definitely the prettiest sky I have ever seen in my life. After being in heaven, where I would return after dinner. The show returned to the land while we settled in the yurts. Anyone would think that the yurts are like tents. They are spacious and are perfect to the point that at night they light a kind of stove to keep at a comfortable temperature inside and not go cold.
After the heat that we had spent in Uzbekistan, the temperature drops considerably in Kyrgyzstan. This night in fact outside the yurt is cold. But with everything and that, after dinner I went back to see the hypnotizing sky, that's well wrapped up!
But the moon makes the night very bright. Many stars are not visible to the naked eye. The photographer's heart, of course, wants to catch a shooting star. But they are always on the other side of the night sky. I got a few small ones then. But what impresses me much more, are the noises in the night. Sometimes the sounds are far away, sometimes very close.
Sometimes in one place, sometimes they spread out at breakneck speed. Good that I'm not alone. I would have fallen in fear. As soon as I have calmed down again, it bangs from afar. Or closer. Is there someone? In the meantime, the fingertips are begging for warmth. For hours we are in the cold. Is it really worth it to stand here in the cold and stare into the sky?
It is also a game of hopes, expectations, and the right moment in the right place. And then they come suddenly. The eyes have become so used to the darkness that one can guess. Or is that just wishful thinking? There are some! This time very slowly, without much movement. And only very briefly. It is raining shooting stars that create a different mood in the night sky than last time they danced all over the sky.
What a moment of happiness! Short priceless moments! And yet they seem like a drug, pushing one at the moment, getting rid of the tiredness, forgetting the stiff neck, and the numb fingers. Suddenly I am excited, euphoric, happy, and addicted. I want more again. I am willing to sacrifice all night for another sight. But I do not like taking pictures anymore, as the warm bed is waiting.
I return to my bed frozen, stiff, tired. But very satisfied. I am thankful for these breathtaking moments. They do not hold on, not even on a digital photo. Their magic lives from the unique moment, from this gift, to see that with my own eyes, to stand on a starry night under this gigantic sky. It was a truly magical moment. And at some point, I even ran out of dreams because of shooting stars!
Mercilessly, the alarm clock rips us off at 4 o'clock in the morning. We are at 7 degrees Celsius. Now it is time again to put on the boots, mount headlamps and run up for an hour sleepy drunk. Sometimes I have doubts about why I do this voluntarily? But at last, when I see something magical, the hardships are forgotten again.
However, the show I have in front of me is magical and not only for the temperature outside. It is also for the collection of colors of the sky, the contrast of the plain on a shore, the Song Kul lake in the middle and the mountains of Tian Shan. background. What a postcard! Awesome Kyrgyzstan!
In the sky, the moon still plays with the first light of dawn surrounded by a rainbow. It goes from the warm orange of the sun rising on the horizon to the east, to the violet darkening on the opposite side, the direction from which we came. Although I was reluctant to go to sleep the night before, this morning I did not have any trouble getting up to enjoy the sunrise show at Song Kul Lake.
As the day progresses, although it is cool, the temperature is becoming more pleasant. After exploring the surroundings of the lake where we had the opportunity to meet a local family, our caravan gets back on track.
The steppe dotted with yurts and what begins to be outlined as the shadow of some horses have transported me back to the time of Marco Polo. It was when Genghis Khan struggled to expand his Mongol empire to Turkey, and Alexander the Great resisted him. He never arrived in China, the incarcerated territory of what has subsequently become this country of Kyrgyzstan.
We feel as nomadic as the Kyrgyz who live in these parts. The hospitality of our family of nomads made us feel at home. The first Kyrgyz peoples seem to come from the Siberian steppes who moved their nomadic customs from there when they settled here. Yesterday we got to see the spectacular landscape of this country and today, once immersed in it, we understand a little more about its culture.
The lady smiled timidly, while the gentleman planted with the typical Kyrgyz hat offered us the traditional liquor of this area. The shepherds themselves produce and which is known as Kumys. Kumys is a kind of fermented yogurt made from mare's milk. It has a sour taste and a certain sweet smell. Our guide takes advantage of the passage through the area to collect a few bottles that he says are very popular in Bishkek.
Today again we have an intense journey through the mountains to reach the Tass Rabat gorge, near the Chinese border. We spent almost the entire day traveling through one of the most beautiful landscapes of the entire trip. The mountains of the Tian Shan honor that name which in Chinese means mountains of heaven. They seem like a true paradise on earth and they will accompany us during the next two days of travel. It is what it will take us to cross them until we arrive in Kashgar already in Chinese territory.
During the trip, we make several stops in places that are strategic viewpoints from where to see the beauty of the area. From the heights, we can see how the road is lost and reappears zigzagging among the mountains. Sometimes we even get off the main road as it happens at lunchtime.
We ate a picnic that we had prepared in yurts and it was delicious. We sat in a much nicer environment, on the banks of a river where the music of running water made us have to raise the voice in some moments to be able to understand each other. That sound of the water is going to become a constant. Inevitably every time I heard it, the sound transported me to the first day of the route when lost among the alleys of Jiva.
When we wanted to reach the camp of Tash Rabat, the sun had already begun to set. The same color show that we had seen on the lake at dawn was reproduced again as the day went by, although there was no water to reflect on.
The base camp where we are going to spend the night today is on a plain surrounded by mountains that form a natural refuge. It is surprisingly well protected from the wind that has not stopped blowing since the day before we left Balasagun and began to climb these mountains.
It is also located on the banks of a river and although it is not heard from the interior of the yurts, it offers a cheerful soundtrack on the outside. It, on the other hand, is a novelty to an experience that would otherwise be very similar to that of the previous night.
With night closed in the camp, there is hardly any light outside the yurts. I see the starry sky for the second consecutive night. I am again hypnotized by the brightness of the stars and the feeling they offer of being so close. This time with the music of the river. Our caravan tonight at more than 3,000 meters of altitude is certainly closer to heaven, but also also to the doors of China.