We had to get up early in the morning. We planned to travel to the mountain lake Song Köl, which is about 300 km from Bishkek, but it takes about 5 hours to get there – not only because you have to go through mountain passes, but also because you have to stop several times to admire the sceneries which open in front of you during the travel.
In the beginning, the journey was not exceptional. We passed smaller villages, fields and meadows. The hay had already been harvested and tied up into cubes was waiting to be removed. The scenes that appeared through the windows of our car were framed by the mountain ridges of the Tian Shan in the background.
The tracks of the only functional national railway line which connects the capital with Lake Issyk-Kul, a popular excursion destination, ran along the road. We also passed several cemeteries, metal structures in the shape of yurts or cages were lost in the shadow of brick mausoleums, the tombstones were mostly decorated with a Muslim crescent, but we could also see a five-pointed star as if someone had dreamed his eternal dream of communism here, which was built in Kyrgyzstan when the country was part of the Soviet Union. Today, almost 90% of the population professes Islam – the mosques we saw were very similar to each other, it was clear that they were built in the new era. And of course, there were electric poles and wires…
The first photo stop was at the Orto-Tokoi dam. The turquoise color of the dam lake surface contrasted with the muddy shores and gray-brown raw surroundings with almost no vegetation. The Tchuj River soon appeared, with its fast-flowing muddy water. It had rained a little before, the clouds in the sky began to disperse and in rapidly changing formations, they completed the dramatic atmosphere of this scenery.
There weren’t many cars here, which tempted to gun the engine. Despite that, be careful! We had to pay a fine for speeding. The administrative center of the area is the city of Kochkor. Here, we stopped for coffee sold in a trailer with a slightly unusual name for this region – Giraffe. Kyrgyz mainly drink tea, but the coffee from Giraffe was also quite good. Kochkor is the last place where you can buy food, water and other things to stock, which should be done especially if you plan to spend more days at Lake Song Köl because there are no shops there. Fruit and vegetable vendors were happy to see foreigners, they warmly welcomed us and tried to persuade us to buy tempting-looking fruits from them.
Along the road, village women offered baked corn. As the kilometers grew, the number of inhabited houses decreased, the quality of the road became worse, even though the road was still good and traffic was minimal. The country starts to change dramatically from that point.
The area belongs to the least populated and least cultivated in the country. We left the small village far behind and found ourselves in the Tölök Valley. Other cars also stopped here, everyone wanted to take a picture of this special place.
The eroded, wrinkled formations were truly unique. At an altitude of 2,500 m, nothing grew here except small grass clumps. The hills and mountains that surrounded us seemed so vast and so endless. Only a thin strip of the road (and electric poles) intersected this image. The vast plains, stretching in front of us in their entire width, resembled a lunar landscape. Only instead of the moonwalker, there was our car and instead of the flag confirming the conquest of the place, an empty (not our) vodka bottle was left here…
Later, more greenery and more life began to appear again. A car and a horse stopped in the distance in front of us, we laughed that they wanted to take him as a hitchhiker until we noticed that there was also a man with the horse. And another saddled horse nodded to us with its tail.
And then we found ourselves in one of the most beautiful places with scenery like from Swiss postcards. Deep green alpine meadows, blue mountains, the ridges of the last snowdrifts shone in the gorges, the winding paths of the river carved their way through the grass, which merged in one place and happily hit large, round stones, some of the stones were covered with orange lichen.
Two horses grazed far in the background, and an older man and a woman were picnicking at the clearing. They must have been very surprised to see us foreigners on our knees or almost on our bellies on the other side of the road trying to capture at least a bit of that beauty which spread in front of us like a colorful carpet in our cameras. The meadow was dotted with thousands of different flowers, of which we were especially fascinated by edelweiss. I have never seen such species and so many of these soft, felted white flowers before. Fine hairs on double stars as well as small and larger balls in the middle protect the plant from cold and dryness.
Even the thistles were beautiful and photogenic here, and a bird sang to its full throat in a place where its feathers perfectly matched the flowers in the meadow.
A beautiful palette of flowers and nothing else that would block the sky, just above the distant mountain range, the wind blew through torn clouds that looked like fluffs of cotton wool. So the following photo was created, which is one of my favorites from all over Kyrgyzstan because it captures one of those rare sad-happy moments that sometimes completely overwhelm me when traveling… In this photo, I always remember the words of the greatest Kyrgyz author Chinghiz Aitmatov: “Clouds know, when it’s hard on your soul, that you would rather flee somewhere where no one would find you…”
In the following valley, a herd of horses grazed on an alpine pasture. I especially liked one of them – his white spots looked like the spots of snow which still reminded us of the recent winter, but also like the clouds hovering above the heads of the horses.
At the highest point of the road – Kalmak Ashu Pass, 3,458 m above sea level – the snowdrift was higher than the car and was also admired by one Kyrgyz family. There was a breathtaking view of the place (see the cover photo). The horses we had just seen drinking from the clear river seemed like scattered ants from here.
The massive mountains that rose before us were fascinating, their majesty can hardly be described in words. Two eagles flew to the scene and we just envied them that they could even touch those beautiful mountains…
The road began to descend slowly and again, a surprise was prepared for us. Yaks grazed on the mountainside. I also have great respect for cows, so I didn’t dare go closer to these huge short-necked animals as they bent their large heads with horns (or without) over the green grass. After all, adult males weigh half a ton!
Yaks were black, rusty, white, cream and piebald. The long fur on the stomach almost touched the grass. Some yaks looked at us for a long time. A fairly strong wind was blowing, making a howling sound, but we could still hear the animals eerily puffing through their nostrils.
Kyrgyz people keep yaks for milk, fibre and meat. They also dry their droppings which is a very important fuel in these high treeless areas. Just as there is one black sheep among the sheep, in this herd, a creamy yak with white spots was the disobedient creature. The shepherd on horseback had to chase the boisterous animal all the time.
One of the calves watched us closely as well, maybe it was worried about its food. While the meadow with the yaks was already massively consumed, on the other side of the road we still admired the violet daisies and primroses.
The winding narrow river led us further until a lake appeared in front of us, the destination of our journey.
The trip to Song Köl Lake was certainly one of the highlights of our stay in Kyrgyzstan, but in my mind, I hoped that the destination of this journey would be even better. Well, we’ll see! 🙂
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri