The goal today was to drive to the picturesque Song Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan. It is not a long distance, but the road has a reputation of being rough, steep, dusty and slow. We had a later start than we hoped because the Quokkavan has been having issues, burning oil, low on power, contaminated engine oil due to high altitudes. Pete intended to change the oil during our rest day in Osh but was unable to do so because he felt seedy all day. When we set off Pete from Quokkavan was looking for a service area to change his oil. After one no luck stop, he hit the jackpot with a fully equipped workshop.
Finally it was done but we had lost over an hour, putting pressure on getting to the lake in time. Driving at night on these roads is not an option. Off we set, heading for a town called Kazarman, where rumour has it that a new road had been built for a mining company that would be a perfect shortcut for us to reach the Lake in time.
The road was amazingly scenic as we drove firstly along a winding valley floor. Steep mountains were around us and a river was flowing by. There were many yurts with horses and cows nearby. Many Kyrgyz obviously graze their stock in these valleys in summer.
Then came the climb, a real winding road, very steep, many hairpin bends but stupendous views dragging your eyes in every direction. We saw an amazing sight as we came up to one bend, cattle covering a small glacier/ice drift. Happily standing or lying on the ice. Never expected to see that!
We climbed up to a height of 3000m and at the peak we saw a flock of sheep on our left. When we looked closely we noticed that the sheep were being butchered on the ground beside the flock. It was a terrible sight, both for the horror the sheep were facing watching what was going on, and secondly health and hygeine with respect to the meat!
We finally reached Kazarman, refuelled, and asked about the new road. Blank stares from many people, finally a policeman gestured to the west indicating no new road to Song Kul Lake. We had a long trip ahead of us, and the afternoon was already late because of the slow going winding up and then down those mountain peaks and occasional stream crossings over very dodgy bridges!
West we headed, towards Naryn, hoping to reach the lake before it got dark. At first the road was reasonable and good time was being made, the suddenly a new mountain range appeared ahead, the road worsened and became steep and dusty. Up and around we went, still encountering more yurts and livestock on the way. The landscape of mountains was like a creased velour blanket. A fantastic sight!
The switchback roads on this climb up, and then down, were incredible, first or second gear all the way and in 4WD to give safety and traction on the loose surface as there were no guardrails on the sides. One mistake and you were gone.
At many yurts the kids ran down to the road to wave when they saw traffic coming. They live such isolated lives in such primitive conditions, yet they are always happy and smiling. Many of the older kids ( I mean over 8) were also riding beautiful horses. They are probably in the saddle before they walk. At one yurt, a little girl ran to the side of the road and was calling out “hello” in English. We stopped and talked. She asked our names and examined our car. We opened up our bag of toys and gave her a couple of dolls. She beamed!
Again the road gave us the best in views and the worst in making good time. Zig-zags and animals on the road!
We finally realised we would not make the lake before dark. The access roads are renowned for being poor and slow. We decided to head for Naryn for the night. It is an important crossroad for traffic from China carrying goods to Russia and Central Asia. As well it is a centre for adventure tourism. We made it just as it was getting dark, to the Celestial Mountains Guest House . Access was down a potholed, footpath-wide, dirt road, but behind 2 large black gates was a simple, but fully equipped, little hotel with ensuite bathrooms and wifi, as well as secure parking for the cars. We had dinner in a little plastic sheet private dining shelter in the trees next to the guest house. Soup, salad, bread and sheep and cow (thats how they were described) shasliks. All washed down with a beer and black tea. Off to bed now to see Lake Song Kul tomorrow.
C-YA Andrew and Jeff
Mongolia Charity Rally 2015