Issik Kol to Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

Distance: 140 miles
Time on bikes: 4 hours

We must have been knackered yesterday as we both sleep very well and don’t get up until about 9 am. It always feels a little bit awkward when sleeping in someone else’s house, even though we’re in a separate block on the other side of the courtyard.

One of the first tasks of the day is to pay a visit to the little room at the end of the garden. Thankfully we’ve only had to contend with modern sanitary appliances during our time travelling through the various countries we’ve visited. In fact, Morocco was the only place where we’d seen a few places with the traditional ‘squat’ toilets. So aside from our wild camping exploits, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the facilities we’ve come across. Here however, there’s just a little concrete building with a hole in the ground. It takes a good lung full of fresh air before either of us can go in and we keep the experience to the minimal time possible.

We express our thanks to the family before getting on our way to travel further along the lake to get to the next big town to get cash and something for breakfast. We manage to get sorted in the town of Cholpon Ata, which is apparently the centre of tourism on the northern coast of the lake. It’s a busy place which has a touristy feel; but not foreign tourism. We ride out of town and it’s not long before we see a nice little beach area where we can park the bikes and walk down to set ourselves up for a few hours.

We relax next to the lake and catch a few rays of sun and also take a couple of dips in the lake. The name Issik Kol translates as ‘warm lake’ due to it not freezing in the winter months. Although it couldn’t really be regarded as warm, it is a pleasant temperature and the water is clear and refreshing. The main reasons it doesn’t freeze is more likely due to its size, being the second largest alpine lake and the fifth largest lake in the world. It also has no natural run off, so the only way for water to escape is by evaporation, leaving the water with a slightly higher mineral content than other fresh water lakes.

After spending a few hours lazing around we get back on the bikes to return to Cholpon Ata to find a place called the Stone Garden. We’ve only got a basic description of the location, being north of the airport. However, as the place is surrounded by mountains, there can’t be too much of a search area to find it. After riding through town, we soon pick the right road to find what looks like a deserted airport. It’s a dead end however, and we decide to try a track leading across to what looks like a main road. This actually turns out to be the old runway, and after leaving the track we’re a bit surprised to be riding along the runway. It looks like a while since it was last used, so we’re not expecting to be greeted by an aircraft coming in to land.

At the top of the runway there’s another track leading off and we see a minibus parked on the road nearby. Amazingly, it looks like we’ve managed to find the Stone Garden. We take a walk around and see some interesting petroglyphs on the rocks, which are littered around all over the place.

At about 4 pm we decide to try and find a nice little hotel to settle ourselves for the rest of the day. There seem to be a few around Cholpon Ata, but we decide to ride further along the lake to see what we find. The tourist guide described the town as the centre for tourism, but what it didn’t mention was that it’s the only place with hotels. As we pass through the small villages along the lake it becomes increasingly clear we’re not going to find the idyllic hotel situated next to the lake. Rather than backtracking we decide to just crack on and ride to Karakol and arrive there at about 6.45 pm.

Karakol has always been on the agenda for a stopover as it’s highly recommended location for trekking in the local mountains. It’s situated at the far eastern side of the lake and is at the foot of mountains towering up to 5,200 m above sea level. It seems to be big place compared with most towns we’ve seen and manage to find a nice little hotel quite easily. We get checked in for a couple of nights for about £16 a night and head out to find something to eat. We find a nice little cafe at first floor level and relax with a beer and something to eat. Although there’s a menu, this is slightly superfluous as all they’re serving is chicken from the rotisserie outside.

The food is good and just after we’re finished the whole town has a power cut, just as a thunder storm erupts. We decide to have another pot of tea in candlelight until the rain subsides and then return to the hotel to have an early night.

Jour 113 – Lundi 9 Aout 2010. D’Issik Kol a Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

Distance: 224 km – Temps a moto: 4 heures

Nous devions être fatigues la veille et nous dormons tous les deux comme des souches jusqu’à 9 heures. C’est un peu bizare de se reveiller dans une chanbre juste a cote des proprietaires, et nous ne savons pas trop si nous aurons un petit déjeuner ou non. Ou si il y a moyen de prendre une douche ou non…ca n’a pas l’air d’être le cas. Nous rangeons donc doucement nos affaires et prenons la route le long du lac.

Les villages suivants ont un air un peu plus touristique et nous sommes contents de pouvoir y echanger le reste de la monaie du Kazakhstan, la Tenge, en monaie du Kyrgyzstan, la Som et de faire le plein. Nous passons le village touristique de Cholpon ata et quelque kilomètres plus loin nous faisons une bonne pause et un pique nique sur une jolie petite plage. Le lac Issik Kol qui se traduit ‘eau chaude’ car le lac ne gele pas en hivers. Il est immense, c’est le deuxieme plus grand lac du monde, ca donne l’impression d’être a la mer, et l’eau y est claire est d’une température agréable. Nous en profitons aussi pour lire le guide du Kyrgyzstan et y trouvons qu’a Cholpon ata il y a des petroglyphes et nous décidons d’y retourner. Nous avons de la chance dette fois ci et les indications nous suffisent pour trouver le lieu, c’est au nord dela piste d’aterissage d’avions, et comme la piste est ouverte nous y voyons des voitures y passer et nous les suivons. Nous arrivons a un site bien indique ou il est facile de trouver de nombreux petroglyphes.

Nous reprenons la route dans l’espoir de trouver un petit hôtel au bord du lac, maisa peine sortis de Cholpon ata nous ne trouvons rien d’attirant et conyinuons jusqu’à Karakol ou nous arrivons vers 6h45. Karakol est supposee être une ville touristique mais comme d’habitude n’est pas du genre d’une ville touristique que nous immaginions. Nous sommes etonnes d’y trouver une office de tourisme, ca doit être le premier depuis…la Hongrie…mais comme il est tard il est ferme. Nous trouvons un petit hôtel facilement, c’est d’un style très vieux mais assez propre. Le panneau est en Anglais, mais personne ne parle un mot d’anglais a l’interieur. Nous arrivons a prendre une chambre et sommes contents d’avoir un endroit avec un garrage pour les motos.

Nous allons ensuite faire un petit tour en ville et y mangeons dans un petit café ou ils ne servent apparement que du poulet roti et des frites peu cuites…on trouvera mieux une autre fois.

Nous finissons juste de manger quand il semble y avoir une panne de courent dans toute la ville et il commence a pleuvoir. Nous restons donc boire un the en attendant que ca se calme un peu avant de retourner a l’hôtel.