Sunday, November 22, 2015

Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan - Independence Day

We got back to Kochkor from Song Kul on 31st August, Kyrgyzstan's Independence Day, low in funds and the money chargers were closed! Well, Kochkor is a small town but anyway, thank goodness for working ATM machine. ^^

Getting back to Bishkek is pretty much the same way - find a shared taxi (read: van) back to Bishkek from Kochkor. Yup, we were back to hot city of Bishkek from the cold weather. By the end of second day in Song Kul, the batteries in our cameras were flat and there was no charging point. So all the photos taken on this day were taken with a similarly low in juice seasoned iPhone 4.

By the time we got back to the hostel, it was late afternoon and hot (or course). So the balance of the day were spent doing some souvenir shopping and checked out the carnivals for Independence Day celebration.

Dinner was at the same national food restaurant near hostel. We had guero ganfan and jarenniy manty under the recommendation from the hostel receptionist.

Side note: Niece is learning a song on North America and I am looking forward to learn it from her soon! ^^

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan - R&R at Song Kul

Kyrgyzstan is the first country we travelled to in Central Asia and rightly so as we want to fit in this yurt stay in Song Kul before the shepherds pack up to leave before it gets too cold. So we have fitted this rest & relax time at the beginning of our trip.

It hailed the first night we were at Song Kul. It was getting dark and sis and I thought we would do a quick run to the toilet before get comfortable in the bed. It is extra (x100) hard to get off the bed when it is cold. As we get out of the "door" (which is a layer of wool felt), ice started to pelt down on us. We didn't know how long it would last so we ran all the way to the toilet anyway. It is always located a little further away from any yurt for obvious reason. We woke up the next morning to see snow on the ground, just outside of the yurts.

Anyway, what do one do at Song Kul? When we reached the day before (day 1), it was already evening since we departed from Kochkor after lunch time and it was a 3 hours car ride. A little stroll around and it was dinner time and thereafter rained and hailed.

Most people only stay one night but we did two with plans to do a little trek. We decided to explore a little bit more around the lake before having an earlier lunch and start our way towards the mountains. If you do a little reading on Central Asia, one of the mountains that you would come across is Tian Shan mountains. We have initially thought since we are not going anywhere near the mountains, we have given up hopes on seeing the majestic mountains. However it turns out that the mountains we see around the lake are actually Tian Shan mountains.

People who ignore signs are everywhere...

As we approaching another row of yurts away from ours, we saw a couple of children chased after some chickens. Sis had a brilliant idea that she wanted to film the chickens run and decided to get me to chase after them too. = ="

One thing led to another and I was chasing after those chickens together with the kids. Haha.

Free range chooks
We lingered around and watched how shepherds' daily life and then caught sight of 2 shepherds leading a herd of horses (is it herd?) and we stood around to see them for a bit. They were saddling the horses for riding and let us helped.

It turned out that the family with kids (the ones chasing chickens earlier) booked these horse for riding but they were having a late breakfast. So it translates to we could do some horse riding if we wanted to and we thought, why not? We have never ridden a horse before so one of the shepherds came along with us, of course we needed to pay for this time. Due to some miscommunication which was obvious (he can't speak English and we can't speak either Russian or Kyrgyz language), we only found out about this after the ride. Prior to the ride, a lady from Romania (I think) assisted with the translation.

And so, I had my first horse ride (not the ones where someone hold the rein and guide the horse) and it wasn't as intimidating as I thought. However I am still hopeless in getting on and off a horse.

Taking a photos of us
After lunch, we make a start towards the mountains. After an hour or so into walking, we noticed grey clouds were gathering quickly especially at the mountains. Whilst we really wanted to continue further, we were warned of the rapid weather change and it probably wasn't the wisest decision to press on so we turned back.

When we started out...
After a while...
By the time we reached the yurt, it started to rain but it wasn't heavy... not too sure how it was up at the mountains though.

My verdict? This is absolutely beautiful place but to make the most of the time there definitely include a little trek. ^^

The setting sun changes the landscape into golden colour...

Side note: ♬ "Continents, continents, do you know your continents? Asia, Africa, North and South America, Antarctica, Australia, and Europe too."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan - Yurt stay at Song Kul

Song Kul in late August
Song Kul is an alpine lake in Kyrgyzstan, located in the northern Naryn Province. It is the second largest lake after Issyk Kul and the largest fresh water lake. It lies at the altitude of 3016 m, about 3 hours by car from Kochkor. Given the altitude, we expected it to be cool but didn't expect the snowy mountain top especially since it was hot in Bishkek. Temperature in Bishkek at the time of our visit was close to 30°C but it was sub zero at Song Kul.

Yurt #2 - our "room" for two nights
The inside of the yurt we stayed
The source of light during daytime (aside from the door)
Given the extreme weather, it is only possible to stay in Song Kul during the summer months, probably sometime from late May/early June to early September. Our host family told us that they were packing to go back to Kochkor by 12th Sept when we were there. To make the most of it, there are varieties of option to get to Song Kul including a horse ride and if you are fit, you could trek uphill. We have seen people cycling downhill. Sis and I have no faith in our ability to trek up, cycle or ride a horse (for that far and long) which is a very fair call as our stamina level is pretty much non existence, so we organised a hired car to get there. No public transport available.

Yurt stay in Song Kul is as close to how locals would live in Song Kul as could be. The shepherds build their yurt by the lake during the summer months and their animals were left to roam about and grazed the grass.

Ok - this one doesn't graze the grass :P
We didn't know how it would be at that time and even packed along phone and camera charger (LOL!) but the only electricity available in the yurt is a small light bulb, powered by generator. Nothing else. The yurt was heated up by dried cow dung. Rest assured, there were no foul smell and you would really appreciate this cow-dung-powered-heat.

As you can see on the photo below, there is no fancy floor. The yurt is build on grass, a rug was laid on top of the grass before putting a couple of single bed size mattress and duvets/doonas (whatever term you fancy). There were 4 mattresses in our yurt. We picked the two closest to the heat source but grabbed the extra duvets to use.

The one light bulb
Cow dung in action, got to sleep before it ran out! :P
There is no running water but there is a toilet (I use the term loosely) as it is essentially a couple of plank nailed together and a hole in the middle. Though there is a door for this toilet. Sometimes there were toilet papers but other times not refilled.

There is also a "sink" with water usually earlier in the morning. The host family would fill the water in the morning (there's a lid at the top). To access the water, just push the "dial" up and the water will start flowing. In the gist, if the water in the container runs dry, no water will flow out. If you are making a list of things to bring, 3 top things to bring include hand sanitiser, wet wipes and a torch light.

It gets really dark at night, a torch light won't help much if you are walking about or even walking to the toilet. The light from the moon is quite sufficient in assisting in getting to the toilet though it was a little hard to tell what you stepped on. The torch light helps to avoid the feet stepping in the toilet hole and you probably don't want to carry your phone in case you drop it.

That blue "cottage" is a toilet...

We left our big, fat backpack at the hostel in Bishkek and brought what we thought we would need. Make sure to stock up on water and snack as there are no shops though we later found that our host family had some bottled water for sale if need be.

We also paid for meals to be provided which technically isn't really an option not to as there really isn't anywhere you could get food, unless you carry loads of dried foodstuff. The meals are simple but always accompanied with free flow of tea and bread with jam. The French couple we met must've really love the jam as we realised they polished off the jam in all the meals we had together. We have no idea what the sugar is for (possibly for tea?) but we have never used it.

Our host family don't really speak English and we can't speak Russian or Kyrgyz language to save ourselves but we could converse a little with the host mother with the help of "sign language". Also, numbers are the same all over the world so we know what time she was serving the meals. ;)

Dinner on night 1
Breakfast on day 2
Lunch on day 2
Dinner on night 2
Breakfast on day 3, just before we departed for Kochkor

Side note: My 4 year old niece taught me a song on countries in South America and so I can now memorize country names in South America! ^^

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan - Getting to Song Kul

Yes - this is the photo of the blog banner
The scenery changes and the temperature dropped the further we were away from Kochkor. I might be bias here but really, this place is absolutely stunning. So I'm going to play cheat and just put up some photos for this post.

Side note: 48 sleeps to Christmas! Lol