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Jon and Jude shake a tree

Posted on 12 Oct 2013 | 10 comments

Normally we would have headed south from Bishkek, but we needed to go back to Almaty to pick up our visas. This meant crossing the border back into Kazakhstan and after doing all our jobs we drove straight back the way we came. Our objective was Tash Rabat, and we decided to cross central Kyrgyzstan on minor roads, firstly over the Tor-Ashuu pass with its dodgy tunnel (3,586m), through the Kokomoren River valley, past Lake Song-Kol and over another 2 mountain passes (both 3,000m+), finally crossing the main road to China from where it was only another 20km or so on a small road to Tash Rabat. Got it?!

at first we wondered if it was a one-way tunnel with potholes, but then realised it was just wide enough for 2 cars...

at first we wondered if it was a one-way tunnel with potholes, but then realised it was just wide enough for 2 cars…

It turned out to be a great decision to go this way, and not just because it avoided more police checks. The Kokomoren River valley was sensational with its incredible mountains and fast flowing bright blue glacial river. We bumped into a group of hardcore Russian rafters, using catamaran rafts to go down this grade 5-6 river. We had never seen the amount of protective gear they were wearing. We were very jealous.

check out the padding on the legs and the life-jackets

check out the padding on the legs and the life-jackets

campsite by the river

campsite by the river

We then found the perfect campsite at the bottom of a stunning red cliff, right next to the icy cold river, to top off another beautiful day. The next day was a bit colder and windier, and we drove on to lake Song-Kol where semi-nomadic families spend the summer with their cattle on the high-altitude pastures, called ‘jailoo’. Around October they start heading down the valleys to warmer pastures. We stopped at a single yurt with a row of foals attached to a line outside. This is a simple way to ensure the mares don’t stray very far and can be milked. We just happened to drive past as the lady was milking them.

milking one of the mares to make kumys (fermented mare's milk)

milking one of the mares to make kumys (fermented mare’s milk)

a yurt in Kyrgyzstan

a yurt in Kyrgyzstan

Whilst taking some photos and filming a bit, we were invited back to her yurt. Even though the yurt is used in different countries, there are some subtle differences between for example the Mongolian and the Kyrgyz yurt.

The Kyrgyz yurt doesn’t have a full door, only the bottom half has a solid door and a layer of felt is rolled up or left hanging depending on the need for warmth. It also doesn’t have a full floor, but only about ¾ is covered with sheepskin. The section near the entrance is left barren. This is where the oven / heater is and you also take your shoes off in this area.

The Kyrgyz nomads sleep on this sheepskin, take their meals on it and relax in that area. Also the frame of the yurt is slightly different. The Kyrgyz yurt doesn’t have central support beams. As it is a little smaller and has more roof beams connecting the latticework to the round window in the roof, it can do without the central pillars. The Mongolian roof beams are straight, whereas the Kyrgyz beams have a curve at the end, about 30cm long, which meets the latticework, making the yurt a little taller.

We were given chai, kumiz (fermented mare’s milk – we still hadn’t ‘acquired the taste’ for it) and homemade bread and jam. A treat! We left them with some biscuits and a bag of crisps, the 2 older kids were very happy.

inside a Kyrgyz yurt, sitting on the sheepskin

inside a Kyrgyz yurt, sitting on the sheepskin

As the weather wasn’t great we didn’t linger around the barren lake for very long, instead deciding to continue driving over the pass into the next valley. The pass down was straight out of Top Gear, zigzagging back and forth down this steep mountain. It was a bit dodgy in a few areas, but we loved it. Again a bag of crisps was opened for us when we reached the higher altitude (straight up from 700m to 3200m), simply exploding under the decreasing pressure. This time the bottom had exploded out of the bag – a bit of a mess as you can imagine.

our zigzag road down the mountain, our campsite was at the bottom of the zigzags

our zigzag road down the mountain, our campsite was at the bottom of the zigzags

cruising down the zigzags

cruising down the zigzags

We finally made it to Tash Rabat at lunch time the next day. We weren’t the only ones there, as a school class of 30 boys were exploring the ancient caravan-serai too. Some spoke very good English so we were bombarded with questions whilst looking around. The historians aren’t sure if it was a caravan-serai, a fort or a monastery, but it was beautiful and unique and we enjoyed wandering through all its many rooms.

Tash Rabat

Tash Rabat

the entrance hall to Tash Rabat

the entrance hall to Tash Rabat

We then faced about 80km back on the same track back before we could turn west towards our next destination: Arslanbob – the world’s biggest walnut forest. To get there we had to cross the Kaldamo Pass, yet another high mountain pass. This time it started to snow a long way before we reached the top, and soon the rocky and narrow track became a pretty scary affair.

When we finally reached the top at 2985m, we were driving through 15cm of fresh snow and we had to rescue quite a few locals who were driving their small trucks and 2WDs. After pushing several cars out and even getting the shovel out for one who had managed to get himself seriously bogged, we very, very slowly continued through the snow with some apples, given to us by locals as our reward. It was a bit hairy at times, but Lara managed the snow and slipperiness like a pro.

fresh snow on the high passes

fresh snow on the high passes

As soon as we reached the valley below (in the sunshine) we found a field to camp. This time a sheepherder and his son came over for a ‘chat’. They gave us a freshly baked loaf of bread for our dinner, it tasted delicious.

local herdsman and his son come around for a visit, they gave us a delicious bread the night before

local herdsman and his son come around for a visit, they gave us a delicious bread the night before

We were now in a completely different Kyrgyzstan, one with a lot more people, villages and fruit and vegetables for sale everywhere along the roads. They were also drying plumbs after kids had pitted them. When we went for a look (we couldn’t work out what they were from the car) we were given a kilo of the best plumbs ever. Yet again when we tried to pay for them, the money was refused. Instead she added another couple of handfuls of plumbs to our bag…

fruit and veg for sale everywhere along the road

fruit and veg for sale everywhere along the road

brake protection plate broke off and had to be removed

brake protection plate broke off and had to be removed

getting water is a big job every day, every village has one or more wells where they collect their water

getting water is a big job every day, every village has one or more wells where they collect their water

harvest time and every vehicle is loaded to the max

harvest time and every vehicle is loaded to the max

ever played with thin mud and made castles? somebody had done it on a grand scale here!

ever played with thin mud and made castles? somebody had done it on a grand scale here!

this sheep was particularly interested in my sandwich

this sheep was particularly interested in my sandwich

fresh snow on the peaks

fresh snow on the peaks

In Arslanbob we hired a guide to show us around. Almaz told us everything about his village, the walnuts and his future plans. The harvest was about to start and some people had already moved to the forest, with animals and everything, to camp the coming 2 months in amongst their patch of walnut trees. On the 2 of October, everybody would start the harvest. Climbing trees and shaking each branch so the nuts would fall out. This is pretty dangerous as the trees are big and vigorous shaking can cause branches to break. Every year people are injured during harvest time, sometimes even fatal!

Almaz and Jon checking some walnuts

Almaz and Jon checking some walnuts

people have already set up camp in their patch of walnut trees, ready for the 2 month long harvest

people have already set up camp in their patch of walnut trees, ready for the 2 month long harvest

those trees are all full of walnuts, as far as you can see

those trees are all full of walnuts, as far as you can see

We were there as the first skins were bursting and managed to find some nuts, even climbed one tree to shake it (not much came out yet, but it was fun nonetheless). We ended up buying some walnuts from last year’s harvest – great for in our salads – and our guide also had a bottle of honey for sale we couldn’t resist.

climbing a walnut tree for some good shakin'

climbing a walnut tree for some good shakin’

Stocked up with goodies we camped by the river that night, very cold, but with amazing views of the freshly powdered mountains. Yes, we definitely loved Kyrgyzstan!

campsite under the stars and snowcapped mountains at Arslanbob

campsite under the stars and snowcapped mountains at Arslanbob

10 Comments

  1. Re je vraag: Ik ben in Teheran en Isfahan geweest. Jullie zitten erg hoog ten opzichte van Isfahan, maar als je de kans hebt moet je daar echt gaan kijken hoor. Prachtige stad waar heel veel tegenstrijdigheden te vinden zijn. Er is een heel groot centraal plein met rondom mosks en paleizen en fantastische restaurantjes. Fijne trip verder en we blijven je volgen (ps flatje schiet al op). gr van ons allemaal

    • Klinkt goed, we zijn zeker van plan ook naar Shiraz en esfehan te gaan, we hebben 3-4 weken de tijd dus hopelijk gaat het allemaal lukken met genoeg tijd om alles te bekijken! Succes met het flatje!

  2. Its amazing that these people give so much even though they haven’t got much.
    I hope you shared your sandwich with that poor little sheep!
    Its amazing reading about these towns and I know some of the names, as I am just reading the book from the guy who rode from Mongolia to Hungary and I was just reading that bit where he traveled in that area! What a coincidence!

    • maybe one day somebody comes to listen to my stories (and pays me for it!), oh and sandwich was mine – it had yummie cheese on it 😉

  3. Eerst dachten wij dat jullie het mooiste achter de rug hadden, maar het blijft maar doorgaan.
    Schitterende foto’s en heerlijke verhalen. Leuk dat jullie zoveel contacten hebben met de locale mensen.
    Benieuwd hoe het gaat in Iran, schitterend land met heel vriendelijke mensen. Succes en groetjes uit Alblasserdam.

    • dank u, dank u (*buiging*) 🙂 En ja, centraal Asie zeker een aanrader. Prachtig hier! Wij zijn ook heel beniewd naar Iran, hebben er veel zin in. Nog een week en dan zijn we daar al! Zijn jullie daar wel eens geweest? Wij horen er alleen maar zeer goede dingen over. Groetjes terug vanuit Khiva, Uzbekistan deze keer! (Is de flat al klaar?!) Jx

  4. War een gastvrijheid daar in Kyrgyzstan,en wat een prachtig land.Bedankt weer voor het mooie verslag.Groetjes van Flip en Ria

    • graag gedaan, blij dat jullie ervan genieten en ja, zeker een aanrader zoals alle landen hier in central asia! we zien jullie over een paar maandjes al. groetjes, J&J x

  5. Erg leuk om jullie zo te volgen. Nu het hier in Nederland echt hefst is kan ik uitgebreid genieten van het verslag. ThanX!

    • oh oh, dat echt herfts vind ik niet zo super klinken, maar leuk dat je er nu tijd voor hebt om te lezen. Ik heb er weer een paar geschreven dus er komen er weer wat aan over de komende paar weken!

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