Overland travels through kyrgyzstan

Hello, it’s the return of the BLOG.

To say the blog has been a bit rubbish lately would be an understatement, but in terms of must, needs and wants the blog has been on the want list for quite some time.

Pete, now very grey on the head from all the stress, has flown to India, We, Tim and Cher, are currently in Ashgabat …Again.

But what of the intrepid bunch of travellers that have made all this adventure possible? Well, they have soldiered on to India to book themselves into hotel Good Times in Delhi. Flying from Almaty, the new capital of Kazakhstan and the home to everybody’s favourite comedian, Borat (well maybe the Kazaks don’t hold him quite so close to their hearts, but some I hear are still looking for his sister).

We left off in the Fergana valley in Uzbekistan and the next morning we were heading for Kyrgyzstan and the border town of Osh. A non eventful border crossing introduced us to our new Local guide Asel. Mad as a box of frogs. That was generally the most approved statement when it came to describing our lovely friendly local guide for Kyrgyzstan. Daughter of two dentists, with a smile to boot, she would prove to be a great help and entertainment for us all over the next 23 days.

Our entertaining and informative local guide, Asel

So off to Osh and a local home stay, nice little house with good clean rooms and a good dinner out in a local café, with Assele to translate the endless menu of which they only stocked about 5 options. But, the beer was cold, the few options were tasty and the mood was high, so all good.

Early the next morning after a breakfast of eggs pancakes and compote, we headed down to Osh’s sizeable local market to stock up for the coming days of bush camping. As we were pushed for time the whole group joined in haggling prices and carrying bags of fresh produce.

The meat market got a few laughs from the locals and us, as the touts slapped their prime cuts of beef and lamb to gain our attention. Meat is a pleasure to buy in this part of the world as it is always fresh and they don’t differentiate between T-bone and brisket, needless to say we left with two huge bags of meat and there was definitely no brisket between them.

Stocked up, we were back on our beloved Penelope, heading for one of the trip highlights, Lake Song Kol. As it was a good 900 km drive over some terrible roads, we had to break the journey up with two bush camps.

The first spot was up on the shores of Lake Toktogul, a man made dam built for a massive hydro electric plant. Being fed mostly by glacial water it has a stunning turquoise blue glow and crystal clear water. We BBQ’ed some of the fresh meat we had bought and conversations of treks, hikes and horses filled the air around the camp fire as everybody got ready for bed.

A big day’s drive covering many a bumpy mountain track revealed even more incredible scenery as we drove past massive gorges and towering snowy peaks. Stopping at around five o’clock at another spot Pete had found on his previous travels, we pitched camp a short walk from the river, spectacularly at the foot of a massive bright orange slip face. Nothing lets you know how small you are on the planet than the magnitude of nature and this slip face dwarfed us with ease.

Mike got out his fishing hat and rod and we all had Lamb stew for dinner, and toast and corn flakes for breakfast, and no fish for lunch. Take from that what you may.

The next day we headed for Song Kol , referred to by the locals as a holy lake , and at the centre of a massive plain of green grass, fattening up the herders live stock which they take up to graze every spring. This would also be the first time we would get to see traditional nomads, living in their yurts and the first time we would experience altitude at just over 3000 metres.

We arrived at around four o’clock and the search for the perfect spot was on. When you have a lake shore stretching for miles in both directions, and the biggest, grassiest camp site you have ever seen, finding the right spot can be quite a challenge. Not that any spot would be bad, but there must be a right spot… surely.

Eventually we stopped about half way down the lake, with the crystal clear water a good couple of hundred meters distant, and the hills, then massive mountains, reaching to the sky, towering behind us. We set up camp, most making use of the space and soon the Odyssey village was built.

Ablutions were set off a respectful distance away, with tarp being rigged and a vacant, in use sign, being decided on (a small flag flying from a pole meant the loo was free).

More of the lovely meat was prepared and the fire started, roast was the order of the evening with baked potatoes done on the fire and veggies and salad and for those with a bit more space in their tummy’s, loaves of hot garlic bread. Once more, a happy bunch of travellers, in a truly unspoilt piece of the world.

We packed a breakfast and lunch box that night with fruit, chocolate, bread, meat, tomatoes and cucumber for the hikers, as they had planned a truly ambitious walk the next day, to the tallest peak in the distance. NEVER! I heard the less hiker types say. It cannot be done! They all shouted. The look of determination in the hikers eyes flared and their walking boots quaked in terror. Early the next morning we could all hear them saddle their rucksacks and crunch the morning dew under foot, as they left on what would prove to be a hike and a half.

The lesser hiker types eventually arose a few hours later and took up station with several pairs of the truck’s binoculars, sitting in a line of chairs peering at the group soldiering their way up the ridge in the distance. All experts I would say, as the free advice was flowing as easier routes were spotted from the comfort of the Odyssey camp chairs.

In the mean time, a group headed off to a local yurt camp about 150 meters away. We were invited in, and in the traditional manner, were treated to a morning snack of fresh bread, delightful jam and fermented mare’s milk. Now I like to try everything once, but horsey milk is not my cup of tea.

A few of the folks were quite keen on ridding and 5 horses were arranged. Soon riders and non riders alike were trotting about on their steeds, heading of in all directions. Some folks seemed to lack the necessary control, but most the horses were fairly relaxed and fitted in with the group well.

The panel of experts were still deciding if the hikers had chosen the best route while lunch was served around midday.

Next the mission to full up the solar showers was on. We have five solar showers on board the truck and each one takes twenty litres of water. As the lake was some distance off, we roped a horse in and demoted it to donkey. Half an hour later we were leading our trusty mule back up from the lake with showers strapped over its saddle, I’m sure I saw it looking from side to side to see if any of its friends had noticed. Once back in the camp, the kitchen tent was quickly reincarnated as a shower block with a make shift divide and the showers put out in the sun to heat.

At around four that afternoon the hikers returned with their tales of woe and photos to back it all up. They had indeed reached their summit, only to find an even bigger valley stretching off in the distance with higher snowy peaks. But their main prize was the truck GPS they had taken along as a navigation aid. It was paraded around the camp with a max altitude reading of 3800 metres. Quite some feat for a day’s walk.

Once more the kitchen group clammed into action and a beef goulash was set into motion. Some folks headed off for the showers as they had warmed nicely in the sun and many a clean smiling face appeared from the tents. Dinner was served and the fire stoked as we sat around and discussed the plan for the next day.

Goat Polo

In Kyrgyzstan they have a national sport of which they are particularly fond. I don’t expect we will see it at the Olympics any time soon, even though the level of sportsmanship is something to wonder. It’s called Goat Polo. No, not Polo played on goats but rather Polo played with a goat. Some folks will find it rather squeamish, but there is no “nice” way to explain it.

A goat is chosen from the flock and bound accordingly, it is then slaughtered in the traditional manner , its throat cut, decapitated, and then its legs amputated at the Knees. This becomes the “ball”. The horsemen are divided up into teams of two and four, and a small carpet is placed some distance off on the massive plains.

The playing field stretches as far as the eye can see and included the tents of our camp, the crowd of onlookers’ and any other place the riders may choose to use to their advantage. A good rule of thumb is, if you ever find yourself watching a game of goat Polo, stand near the locals, if they start to run, try and run a little faster.

The goat is then taken off some distance from the rug and placed on the ground. The two teams of either four or two stay near the rug and await the signal from a village elder, who is adjudicator.

Once the signal is given, they charge off into the distance to grab the goat, throwing themselves nearly out of the saddle so as to reach down and grab the carcass. Once one of the players has the goat firmly tucked behind his leg, he tries to charge off towards the carpet. His other team mate runs interference, trying to block the impending attack from the opposition.

Going back to the adjudicator, apart from starting the game and deciding when to end it, he plays little part as there are no rules. Grabbing your opponent’s reigns, wiping his horse, pulling of ears, etc. is all quite acceptable. The horse’s melee around and around each other, barging, pushing, kicking and biting. The squabble goes on and on until either the other team manages to grab the goat or somebody breaks away and drops the goat on the carpet, normally at full tilt with three other horses galloping beside them.

A game lasts about fifteen minutes as it is very tiring for players and horses. Every time a point is scored a bit off money is placed in a hat for the teams to divvy up afterwards. Though it is a ruff game and the horses ridden hard, they take great care of the steeds as they are prized possessions. I was introduced to the champion pony that has since retired from the demanding game and now exists solely as prize stallion, being pimped out by its owners for a sizeable fee to pass on the winning genes. Even though the game is harsh, respect plays a major role. Just before the goat is slaughtered a small prayer of thanks is offered. Once the game was over, we were offered the goat as a gift but declined, and as such it was given to a family that the locals think is deserving, maybe a newlywed couple or somebody who has fallen on hard times. Nothing goes to waste in the harsh lands.

The game was all over by four in the afternoon and most folks retired to bury their nose in a book or sit around in groups and chat. The showers had been refilled and proving popular as everybody got ready for another excellent camp meal.

The next day we would be heading off to Bishkek, a large city where we would be applying for visas for Pakistan and Kazakhstan, to carry on our journey of the amazing Silk Road.

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