Silk Road Part 9 of 17.
Before leaving Karakol we stopped to visited 2 religious sites, both given new leases of life after being reassigned under Soviet rule. The first was the beautiful Russian Orthodox cathedral of the Holy Trinity, made from pine imported from Siberia, which had been demoted to a dance hall under Soviet times. The next was the Dungan mosque, a pagoda style mosque reminiscent of the mosque in Xi’an, decorated with fruit designs and bright colours. The town itself was full of examples of 19th century Russian architecture, houses of former merchants for the most part.
A little out of Karakol is the memorial to the Russian scientist, explorer and probable government spy Nikolai Przhevalskii (it’s pretty much a given that any British or Russian explorer in Central Asia at the time also did a little spying – on the side, at the very least). A small museum shows various exhibits from his trips and his ultimately unsuccessful goal of reaching Lhasa. Instead, he caught typhus and died, requesting to be buried on the lake. For many years the town of Karakol bore his name. The signage is all in Russian and Kyrgyz, so Regina decoded for me. Definitely worth a visit, I felt.
Our next stop along the North Issy Kul Shore was for lunch at a lovely farm, Reina Kench. Derived from an old Soviet-style farm, the owners train horses, plant numerous local fruit-bearing trees, and have successfully brought many non-native animals to the area. They have also built a small lodge for tourists and run bread-making classes, offer fishing, horse riding and a general break from urban living. We were offered tea, which started with snacks and soon ended up with full blown hot meal with chicken and rice. It was delicious, and our hosts were delighted when I mustered “Dam do”, “delicious” in Kyrgyz.
As we left, we witnessed a black kite pair, the male swooping to catch a mouse, uncovered by a tractor ploughing, and drop it 15m to the female who caught it in her free claw, the other already holding a mouse. Impressive skill.
We continued west along the north coast of the lake to Cholpan Ata, where we visited an extensive park of petroglyphs dating back to Scythian times, perhaps 8th century BC. They contained ibex and other local animals, as well as hunting scenes. There were also some Usunni burial mounds from the 3rd century BC. These were the tribes whose former capital now lies under lake Issy Kul. We drove on past roadside fish vendors to the turn off for the lovely Chon-Kemin valley and up to Ashu village, where we stopped off at a delightful but simply-furnished lodge for dinner and overnight.