Along Lake Issy Kul

Part 8 of the Silk Road journey

Posted 25th May 2017 by David McGuinness

We started early and drove north along Lake Issy Kul. Regina told me tales of Kyrgyz history and of their pre-Islamic shamanist ways, many of which still persist beneath a thin veil of Islam. The goddess Umai (Mother Earth) and Khan Tengri (Father Sky) still pervaded the thinking of the Kyrgyz nation. We stopped in the picturesque village of Kochkor for a short demonstration of how felt yurt insulation is traditionally made.

Driving a little further on this road running by the southern banks of the vast Issy Kul lake, we reached Kizil Tuu, a village that specialises in making yurts. We were invited inside by one family as they prepared all of the components of a yurt: the fold up walls; the beautiful bent poles for the roof; and the tunduk, the roof of the yurt, immortalised on the Kyrgyz flag. These ingenious designs make it quick and easy to move home, taking about 2 hours typically to erect a yurt – a critical ability for nomadic people, as not so long ago all Kyrgyz were.

Our next stop was a quick visit to the village of Bokonbaevo, specifically to the house of Talgat. Talgat is an expert eagle hunter, and he quickly got changed into his Kyrgyz gear and showed me his skill with both a new eagle, Tuunuk, about one year old, and the older and slightly crankier, Tumara. Tumara is 14 years old and has become a little wild in the intervening period while Talgat’s attention had been on training Tuunuk. Typically eagles are taken as new hatchlings and intensively trained, a close bond developing between trainer and bird. When the birds reach about 20 to 30 years old they are usually released to find a mate, as remarkably, they can live up to around 60 years. They really are impressive birds. Talgat spotted my Bradt guide and himself on the cover, sighed, and said something in Kyrgyz. “When I was young”, Regina translated.

We drove further along the south shore of Issy Kul lake, with the apricot trees in blossom. This lake is the second highest alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca, and is about 185km long and 60km wide at its widest point. Buried somewhere in the lake lie the ruins of the 2nd century BC Usuni city of Chigu. We stopped for a lunch of borsch and plov in a former Soviet military resort of Tamga. With a vast fruit tree garden and welcoming hosts, it was a lot more inviting than it sounded.

We drove on and came off the main road to visit Jeti Oguz, a red rock formation. “Jeti Oguz” means “seven bulls”, leading me to believe the Kyrgyz have a well-developed imagination. A little further on was an area informally known as “the Valley of Flowers”. Though there were few flowers yet, it being a little early for Kyrgyz spring, the area was absolutely charming, with horses and foals grazing by a pretty river, and of course a stunning mountain backdrop. We continued along to Karakol, the capital of Issy Kul province, to spend the night.

This blog is part of an Off-The-Beaten-Track Travel Diary. Click on the links below to navigate through this journey.

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