Sun, Oct 13, 2013
It was 30 degrees in the yurt when we awoke. It wasn’t that cold though, since we all had a sleeping bag + two large duvet covers. We had another awesome breakfast at the Yurt camp – crumpets with strawberry and cream and a custardy egg dish. We were supposed to leave at 8:00 but the cold weather had frozen the diesel line, so a few of us decided to walk towards the main road and get picked up when the truck was functioning. We walked until about 10:00 thru the beautiful canyon before our pick-up. The first hour of roads were very good but then we had very bumpy roads for the remainder of the day. We stopped for lunch at a roadside kebab grill where we could eat the truck food (spam, cheese, veggies, and awful sweet 5-day old Chinese bread) or have some mutton skewers. I’m not a fan of mutton so I had a spam salad.
We arrived in Kochkor by mid-afternoon where we visited a women’s cooperative that makes goods made from felt. We all participated in the making of a small felt rug (about 1 foot x 1 foot). It took us about an hour to make the little rug… to think that they make whole yurts using this same process is crazy. We continued to our homestay in the town. Our group was split between 3 local houses, with the rooms all decked out in colorful felt rugs.
The tour group had arranged for local live pre-dinner music. We all joined in the largest of the 3 homestays for an hour of Kyrgyz music with 4 musicians – an older gentleman and women along with 2 teenage girls. There were group songs and solos with the girls playing the local 3 string instruments, the woman played a couple types of mouth harps, and the guy played the accordion. The guy was really cheeky and had us laughing alot.
We had a nice homemade dinner of meat in gravy, rice, barley, salad, and lentil soup followed by cookies and candies (this seems to be the common dessert here). I returned to our home for the night and had my first shower in a few days and it was semi-hot!
Mon, Oct 14
It was nice to wake up in a nice warm bed. We had breakfast of pancakes, dried fruit, fresh fruit, jam, honey, and yogurt at our homestay. We had an hour of free time in the town of Kochkor since people needed to obtain Kyrgyz Som currency (using the ATM was easy), we needed to shop for food for the next few nights of camping, and unfortunately one of the passengers needed to visit the local clinic because he had been feeling very ill. Due to heavy coughing, they did a chest x-ray which cost him about $2.
We spent most of the day driving along the southern shore of Lake Issyk Kul, the 2nd largest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca. Just before lunch, we had the opportunity to watch an eagle hunter. This is a Kyrgyz tradition. We got to meet the hunter and he explained the sport. He let us all hold the eagle after we donned a long leather glove. The golden eagle was heavy – over 12 pounds. While holding the eagle, the eagle was wearing a leather hat that covered it’s eyes to prevent too much stimulation. We had arranged to “buy” a rabbit that would be prey for the eagle. A boy let a rabbit free in a grass field and the eagle hunter climbed a nearby hill, unmasked the eagle and let her fly. The eagle soared down and caught the rabbit in the first try, and immediately started to tear it apart. After the eagle had its fill of rabbit, the eagle hunter had the eagle
To see the Graphic Story of the eagle hunter, see here.
After lunch, we had a long drive to Jeti Oguz (Djety Oguz). We happened to cross another overland truck from the Dragoman company on the way. We stopped at the roadside and chatted and shared tips since we were going opposite directions.
Jeti Oguz is a gorge on the south end of Lake Issyk Kul. We drove by the 7 bulls rock formation on the way into the gorge, as well as crossed 4 wooden bridges that are narrow and not super strong, so the passengers all needed to walk across them to lighten the load of the truck.
We found a really nice grassy spot in the trees to lower the windiness at the campsite, as we knew it would be really cold overnight. There were many signs of a busy campsite in summertime (bare spots in the grass where yurts have been, fire pits, potty tents, etc.) but we are visiting at the absolute end of the season and seem to be the only people camping on this night.
The temps were actually pretty mild. We had chicken curry for dinner and I hung out until it started sprinkling and then went to bed.
Tues, Oct 15
I was on cook group today so I needed to get up earlier than most so I could serve breakfast at 9:00. This was the first time of the trip we were bush camping at the same place for two nights in a row so this was a hot breakfast morning. We prepared toast, bacon, and fried eggs for the group.
Immediately after breakfast, Mindy, Sam, Barb, and I headed out on our day hike. We had heard disagreeing info on how close we would get to a glacier – possibly reach the glacier vs. just having a view that was 15-20 Km away from the glacier. We walked uphill thru the gorge for a couple hours before seeing the glacier. It’s amazing how green everything is here and lots of pine trees too. This is the most greenery we’ve seen since Nepal over a month ago.
We knew our time was somewhat limited due to the late start this morning but we decided to go as close to the glacier as possible by 2:30 before we’d have to turn around. We had our lunch overlooking the glacier and then we separated – Barb and Sam headed up the hill, Mindy waited at the junction of 2 rivers, and I crossed the two rivers to try to approach the glacier from the other direction. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to make it to the glacier. I’m sure it’s a one day trip if a person left earlier in the day.
I returned to the meeting spot by 2:30 but Barb and Sam weren’t there. Since I was on the opposite side of the river, Mindy agreed to wait for them and I started back to camp. After over an hour of walking, I passed by a yurt with a horse outside. This was unusual because all the other yurts had been abandoned for the winter. A young man came outside and once again, I was invited in for hot tea as a break from the hiking. He let me dry my feet by his small horse dung stove. He had limited English so communication was limited but I found out he had studied forestry, was 25 years old and lived there alone until November when he would move down to the city. It was a very basic tent, and he was listening to the radio while serving stale bread and had put out an apple and knife. Much more basic than the lady with an assortment of homemade jams and butter.
Eventually, we met up with Barb and Sam who had hiked high on a hill to view the glacier from above. After some very fast hiking, we arrived back at camp just before 6:00. Dinner was potatoes baked on the campfire with toppings like baked beans, cheese, and sautéed sausage and veggies. For the first time, we had a dessert of bread pudding made with raisins purchased in Kashgar.
Wed, Oct 16
We weren’t leaving until 9:30 and I was awake a bit early so I had a 40 minute walk along the river before breakfast. After breakfast, since we were packed a bit early, we were allowed to walk a bit and get picked up by the truck on the way out of the gorge. We crossed the same 4 bridges where we had to get off the truck and walk across, having a group photo taken at the last bridge.
On the way out of the gorge, we stopped at two famous rock formations that have local legends for them. One is the “Seven Bulls” and the other was the “Broken Heart”. Both were formations of very red rocks, similar to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.