A hint of nervousness remained with us for the ride up to Song Kul. We had to ride through Naryn, where the lake security force had been trying to take us. It was no big deal, but there weren’t any plans to spend all day lingering around the town waiting for one of them to spot us. Turned out there was no need to worry and we had no trouble at all. A ways after Naryn, a left turn gets you on the route up to Son Kul Lake. The warmer temperature is left behind quick as you automatically begin ascending into the mountains.
A steady climb over rolling hills spits you out into a valley that keeps heading west towards the lake.
Eventually a river joins you for the voyage, which leads you to an all-star switchback climb straight up a mountain side.
When your approaching the steep face, the road is just barely visible and you start trying to figure out where you’re being led. It’s like a humongous snake died while slithering it’s way up the mountain side and decomposed leaving a road to the top.
The gorgeous valley is left behind and the top treats you to one last view of your past.
The climb arrives at a high plateau. A completely new scenery explodes in your face. It’s like a massive grassy plain has been carved by rivers and streams to expose the rocky earth below.
Shepherds herd their flocks around the never-ending fields of food.
As the road gradually comes down, the first glimpses of Song Kul Lake appear.
We were arriving to the lake along with a massive storm. At the exact moment we pulled into a Yurt camp along the lake a drizzle began to fall and the wind began gusting. Dark angry skies surrounded us on all sides. Trying to set up a tent was an adventure. We stayed at the CBT Yurt Camp on the northeast side of the lake, but like before, all of us except for two camped next to them. Darkness brought bone-chilling cold. The tent where meals are served is the greatest place in the world when the cold hits. The thick rug walls keep in the heat from the stoves, which also boil the tea. Thank god for the animal poo that fuels the fire. We crawled into our tents and braced for a rough night. The night became legendarily miserable. A snow storm whipped over the lake and surrounding mountains. All of my warm weather clothes were in use and my tent is indestructible, but my sleeping bag is a sad sack of crap. Apparently the twenty-dollar “Northface” sleeping bag I bought in Kathmandu isn’t really rated for -5 degrees Celsius as is sewn into the fabric. It was one of those nights shivering and waiting for the sun to come up. The worst part was my ankle. The cold weather makes it throb and feel like the screw is expanding in the bone. When the day finally began and we crawled out of our tents, around the camp had already melted, but the surrounding mountains were covered in fresh snow.
The air was bitterly cold and no amount of clothes could keep it out. I didn’t feel so bad for myself when I saw the poor animals with ice clinging to their fur. A donkey stood solemnly in the same spot since the day before, tied to its post.
His sole job at this point in life is being the water collector. For the people of the area, the lake is their fresh water source. Whenever the big metal pots are empty, a young boy ties one to each side of the donkey, rides him down to the lake, fills them up, delivers them back to camp, and ties him back up to his post.
His next life he deserves to come back into a life on a tropical island. In the afternoon I led him to the best watering hole in Kyrgyzstan.
The camps hunting dog was tied up to his post in the field as well. I’m not sure if he was on the verge of insanity because of the freezing cold or because he wanted to run free. We took him for a couple runs around on a leash and had him come chill with us.
The poor guy was starved for attention, and you could tell from his facial expressions to the world around him, he wanted nothing more than to run free and chase after things. The storm had passed and throughout the day the sky traded dark colors for bright blue.
The people who live up in this environment have to be some of the toughest on earth. The harsh terrain has no ability to grow crops. Everything except the meat, cheeses, and milk, have to be brought from other areas. Meat is a big staple in their diet. When killing an animal, they don’t just cut out the nice pieces. Everything is used. During the afternoon, they butchered a goat next to camp and nothing was wasted.
The red meat, the organs, the head, and the skin will all be used. I imagine the goat skull will end up just like the ones in Kashgar, being eaten clean. An old man used a torn to singe off all the hair.
It’s such a simple life that the people live. Horses are an important part of that life and they’re a constant presence.
Everyone is a great rider from the old men to young kids.
What a unique way to grow up, and it must make you a strong person physically and mentally.
The lake is a beautiful blue and the white mountains come straight down to it. Song Kul is an alpine lake, and the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan behind Issyk Kul. Local herders converge on the broad summer pastures during the summer months.
We got our first taste of the national game, Kok Baru, which is a bit gruesome. To play, all you need is a sheep, a bunch of guys on horseback, and a bit field with a circle (goal) at each side. This time they weren’t playing too seriously and there was just one goal for both teams. To get the action underway, a sheep had it’s head cut off, and the body became the “ball” for the game.
The body was placed at the other end of the field away from the two teams and all at once they galloped as fast as they could towards it.
The objective is pretty simple, reach down, pick up the sheep by one of it’s legs, lift it up and hook it with your leg, run to the circle, and drop the body in to score. It doesn’t sound too difficult until you throw in all the other guys slamming their horses into yours and whips flying everywhere.
It’s definitely a bit violent for the horses and the people. This scrimmage along the lake was a preview of what was to come in Bishkek for Independence Day. Sunset over the lake was another gorgeous show. Something about a sunset over water just takes it to another level.
Like at Chatyr Kul, looking at the sun going down filled your eyes with different shades of orange, and looking away from it gave them a show of pink and purples.
It was an awesome couple days at the lake and one of the highlights was the food. The family fed us huge breakfast, lunch, and dinners. The food in Kyrgyzstan is hearty and much different from the countries I left behind. I like the food there, but was about to go crazy for something new. Next up on our Kyrgyzstan Lake Tour was Issyk Kul, which is the big boy of the country. It sits up in the northeast corner near the Kazakhstan and China borders. It’s the second biggest saline lake in the world behind the Caspian Sea. The name means “Hot Lake” in Kyrgyz language because it never freezes. It’s fed by over a hundred rivers and streams, hot springs, and snow melt. We drove to the south-side of the lake to start heading around it counterclockwise. During the first stretch, you can just barely make out the other side. If it wasn’t for this it would feel like you were looking out over a tropical ocean getting ready to go scuba diving.
The shore is dry and sandy with little shrubs. A mountain range explodes into the sky on the other side of the road. I was having flashbacks of look-a-like places I’d been before. At first, it reminded me of riding a bicycle down the coast of Croatia. Then it felt like parts of west Maui, Hawaii where the highway runs along the flat ocean. It’s good to be in shorts again.