Fri, Oct 11, 2013
Something happened yesterday that is causing problems today… at the amusement park (Ferris wheel) yesterday, in my excitement, I tripped on a pipe that contained electrical wires. In an attempt to protect my camera which was hanging around my neck, I bumped my knees, elbows, and most significantly my chin on the cement pavement. I was fortunate not to get hurt worse or break a tooth or bone. However, this morning I have a big black and purple bruise on my chin about the size of a quarter. Surprisingly, it doesn’t really hurt much but I’ll be sporting this bruise for a while.
Anyways, it is our last morning in China so I went out and got some local bread and juice for breakfast before we left at 9:30. After a nice drive, we arrived at China departure around 11:15. The officials checked us all out of China but then we had over 100 Km drive to exit China…the road got worse and worse the closer we got to Kyrgyzstan and took forever as we went thru several checkpoints. I think this will be my last trip to China – after visiting Beijing and Xian last year and Tibet and western China, I’ve seen most of the important sites and I’ve decided China is just too frustrating, regimented, expensive, and crowded for me to want to visit again. Near the border, we crossed over the infamous Tougart Pass, the most famous pass in Central Asia.
After a couple miles after the final Chinese checkpoint, we crossed thru Kyrgyzstan immigration. What a breath of fresh air. It only took them about 15 minutes to check us and the truck thru and visas for all of us were free (compare that to the 6 days of red tape + $225 visa fee to get into China). The lady at immigration looked at my picture and then looked at my bruised chin and pointed. I made a falling motion with my hand. Our Kyrgyz guide was also standing there and asked if I was drunk when I fell but I told him unfortunately I was sober.
We gained 2 hours from the time change at the border. The landscape changed almost immediately. The air cleared up – no smog and dust like in China. There was a stunning blue-green lake right over the border and we stopped for a late lunch there. Since we were at such high elevations, it was close to freezing with the wind chill at mid-day. The guide said that they had had their first snow of the winter season last night. The mountains were beautiful and there was very few homes – the homes that we did see were in sort of gypsy homes (a railway car on wheels) as these people are nomadic with their animals.
We drove for a couple hours to Tash Rabat, a small settlement of yurts near a Caravanserai (an ancient stone hotel for people and animals on the old silk road). In addition to running yurt stays and meals for tourists, these are also working nomadic farms with lots of livestock (sheep, goats, cows, yaks, and horses). We had some free time so I looked around the Caravanserai and hiked up the canyon hill to a saddle where I was hoping to see the sunset but instead there was another big hill but really great views of the surrounding mountains.
Since Tash Rabat is at 3,600 meters it gets quite cold at night so I headed to the dinner tent to warm up before dinner. What an amazing dinner spread we had – several types of bread, a cucumber and tomato salad, meat and noodle soup, potato/cabbage/meat stew, a type of tomato/garlic salsa, strawberry jam, honey covered bread pieces, and lots of fresh tea. After dinner, we joined the other half of our group and had a meeting to learn about the itinerary for the next 2 weeks in Kyrgyzstan.
We returned to our yurt with our charcoal and yak dung fireplace and it was roasting – it had to be about 100 degrees inside – and earlier in the day we were worried about how cold we’d be on this “camping” night in the mountains. It’s amazing how warm it is with just a single stove and the heavy felt interior to hold in the heat. It was so hot, we opened the felt door half way to get a better sleeping temperature.
Sat, Oct 12
We were told that the temperature was as low as 9 degrees F overnight and there was not new animal dung added to our stove after night began so it was really cold in the tent that morning. Today was a free day in Tash Rabat. Most people were planning on horse-riding today, but since I’m allergic to horses, I planned on heading out on a hike. Breakfast at 8:00 was a few pancakes, bread, and homemade jams. By 9:30, I headed out with Bruce and Judy for a hike up the canyon from Tash Rabat. They were planning on returning to the yurt camp for lunch but I had a huge breakfast and an apple along for my lunch so I was planning on hiking most of the day.
The stream in the canyon was partially frozen – some amazing ice formations along the way. After a couple hours, I separated from the others and moved on to see how far I could get, following the stream.
At one point, the stream broke into a Y-shape and I chose the left side as the trail looked a little more well-worn. After some more hiking, I could see a mountain pass ahead so I decided to climb up to the pass to see what I could see. The climb was a bit challenging, hiking though a couple hundred yaks in some thick grass so I walked up the rocky dry creek bed.
There was a great view from the top. I took my time descending the hill and when I got to the Y in the creek, the lady that lived in the house there invited me in for tea. She also served me fresh bread with 3 types of homemade jams and home churned butter. With her limited English, I found out she was 29 (she looked older). Her darling daughter and son were 5 and 3 years old. If I understood her correctly, she said that her family had 300 yaks – that’s an absolute fortune worth of yaks. After 4 bowls of tea (she convinced me to have the 4th cup since I had been walking all day), I let her know that it was getting late and I needed to get back to camp so I thanked her for the tea and bread.
It took about 2 hours to walk back to the yurt camp and I went for another visit to the Caravanserai and then headed to find the warmest room at the camp to warm up after my hike. We hung out in the room until it was time for dinner.
Look at all the other great stuff I did in Kyrgyzstan.
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