30.05.2019 - 03.06.2019
30th May (continued)
We had a short 30m walk to the Kyrgyzstan border post and were stamped into our 5th and final stan.
This is their flag.
The population of Kyrgyzstan is relatively small, roughly five million. The country is land locked and shares borders with Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Over 90 percent of the country is covered by often-arid mountains. The scenery was again lovely. It was so green and there were a lot of nomadic people with their caravans.
Along with some permanent looking homes.
We travelled another 200km to Karakol. This town was founded as a Russian military outpost in 1869; the population surged during the 1880’s when thousands of Chinese Muslims (Dungans) settled here, fleeing persecution in China. The name of the town has alternated between Karakol and Przhevalsk several times over the past century. The Russian explorer, Nikolai Przhevalsky died here in 1888 of typhoid while preparing for an expedition to Tibet, thus the city was renamed in his honour. After local protests, the town returned to its original name in 1921, then again to Przhevalsk in 1939 and finally restored to Karakol in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.
We headed straight to dinner at a local family’s house where we had salad, soup and yummy dumplings. We then checked into our hotel. Travel time had been 13 hours today so it had been a long but adventurous day.
As we checked in to the hotel late last night, we had no idea what the hotel or views looked like.
This is our hotel.
We were lucky enough to get one of the front ones with a balcony. This is the view we had.
As we had a late start today, we decided to have a wander around town. We headed to two parks.
The first one had a couple of monuments. The first was a statue of Lenin.
Then there was a lovely monument with a horse. We are not sure of its significance.
We then headed to Victory Park which is a memorial for World War 2.
There were large busts of what we assume were heroes.
There was also another monument which was quite colourful.
We then visited the striking Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral. The Karakol Orthodox church was a highlight. It was the first church in Karakol and was built when the city was founded, in 1869. Its purpose was to serve the troops stationed in Karakol, which it did until it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1889. A new wooden church was built on the same spot over the course of six years and was consecrated in 1895. Upon its completion, the spire of the new Holy Trinity Church was the tallest building in Karakol, at 26 metres tall. The church was active until 1917, when it became property of the state, and was used as everything from a theatre to warehouse. In 1947, the church started holding services again, but in the 1960s was again used for other purposes. After independence in 1991, the building was returned to church authorities, who started repairs and reconstruction of the damaged interior and exterior. Today, the church is one of the more famous sights in Karakol.
The rear of the church.
There was also a pretty wooden mosque built by Chinese artisans for the local Dungans between 1907 and 1910. Completed in 1910, the mosque was built to serve Karakol's community of Dungans (Chinese Muslims who fled persecution in the 1880s). Designed by a Chinese architect, the building is constructed entirely without nails and much of its imagery, including a wheel of fire, reflects the Dungans' pre-Islamic, Buddhist past. Instead of a minaret the mosque has a wooden pagoda. Despite being closed by the government from 1933-43, the mosque continues to be used as a place of worship. These days worshippers are not exclusively Dungan and include a large Kyrgyz contingent. The 'Dungan Mosque' has therefore become simply 'The Mosque' to the locals.
In the afternoon we travelled 30km to the Valley of the Flowers and Jety-Oguz where we hiked in the canyon. Jety-Oguz is the name of the stunning group of rock formations which guard the entrance to the valley. The “seven bulls” are quite red and rise out of the greenery.
There is an unusual mosque there too.
Once in the valley, the scenery was lovely as we walked alongside the river.
We came across some of those unusual fat bottomed sheep.
On our way back we even had to get out of the way as stock came up the path.
We passed several honey gardens that had been set up. There were bees everywhere.
We also stopped to see a Golden Eagle. He was beautiful and quite big. Shane took the opportunity to dress up and hold him.
This morning we headed to our next adventure and enroute we visited the Museum of Nikolai Przhevalskii.
He was one of the great explorers of Central Asia. There was a map showing the extent of his travels and a collection of artefacts.
His monument was lovely. There are 10 steps for the 10 years that he was funded for his exploration. There are 22 sections to the monument for the 22 years of his total exploration and it weighs 365 ton for 365 days of the year.
He wanted to be buried by Issyk Kul Lake.
For those of you who have been to Monarto Zoo and seen the Przhevalskii horses, they were named after this famous explorer.
Our next stop was at a burial site from around the 2nd century BC. We climbed to the top and there was a crater in the top where it has been raided and any articles removed. This was a burial site for an individual and their horses to take them to their new destination.
We then headed to the Semenov Gorge. It is approximately 30km in length. Flowing through the gorge is Ak-Suu River, which begins as a glacier. We went for a hike in the gorge.
It is amazing how any old item gets used. There was a chassis of a truck for a bridge.
An old truck body for an animal shelter.
There were some families set up there. They had blue plastic over their yurts for water proofing.
They were milking a mare.
We then drove two hours along the northern shore of Issyk Kul. Issyk Kul is a lake in the northern Tian Shan mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume and the second largest saline lake. Issyk Kul means warm lake, although it is surrounded by snow capped mountains, it never freezes. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so it was difficult to see the mountains.
About 40 km from Issyk Kul is the town of Cholpon-Ata. It is a resort town on the northern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. During the Soviet era it was frequented by vacationers brought there on mass from other parts of the USSR. We had lunch here and while there we went to see the open-air site with about 2000 petroglyphs dating from around 800BC to 1200AD.
As you can see there were literally thousands of rocks. It was fun to go searching for the petroglyphs.
We then continued another two hours to Chon-Kemin Valley for an overnight stay in Ashu Village. This valley measures almost 80km.
We had lovely rustic accommodation. Including an amazing piece of art.
They had lovely quilts on the wall in the room.
This morning we took a walk around the small streets near Ashu Village and got to experience traditional Kyrgyz village life.
We also went down to the local sports ground, which was pretty much a weeded area with white stones around it. This was where we were to experience a variety of nomad games that they play and see how good their horseman ship was.
We turned up for a 10am start but no-one was around. All of a sudden there was a herd of men on horses flying across the countryside from nowhere.
The first demonstration was on horseman ship. They had to try and pick up a red rag from the ground while their horse was galloping pretty fast.
They then had a game of tug of war.
They then showed us Er enish which is a game where a horseman tries to pull his opponent from his horse, so he touches the ground. When the referee calls the beginning of the match, the opponents grab each other with the aim of pulling the other from his horse. Winning requires not only strength, but also dexterity and endurance from the rider and the horse. These are valuable skills for men and horses, and so er enish competitions are valuable ways of helping men hone their abilities.
And finally, the best part of all was the game of Kok-Boru, in which they use a headless goat carcass. Yes, that’s correct a real goat carcass. It is also called dead goat polo. The meat gets nice and tenderised for them to eat afterwards.
Kok-Boru is the highlight of any traditional sporting event in Central Asia. Two teams of horsemen fight for possession of a dead goat, which they then manoeuvre into raised goals to earn points. The gameplay was exciting and often violent, even though it was supposedly only a demonstration. Kok-boru builds teamwork among players and toughens both men and horses, which would have been necessary for hunting and war. The game starts with the teams lining up at the edge of the field, they then circle their goal.
Then of course they shake hands.
They then approach the middle of the field, where the referee has placed the goat on the ground.
Players must then fight to grab the goat off the ground while the other team tries to gain possession of the goat by force. See what you make of all these photos.
They then have to carry it to their team’s goal and throw it in.
They even fall off when it gets really rough.
They were pleased to pose for photos after the game.
They showed us how the carcass is carried while they are galloping up the field.
After lunch we set off for Bishkek. Along the way we stopped at the Burana Tower. It is a large minaret in the Chuy Valley. The tower, along with grave markers and the remnants of a castle and three mausoleums is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun, which was established by the Karakhanids at the end of the 9th century. The tower was originally 45m high but over centuries a number of earthquakes caused significant damage. The last major earthquake in the 15th century destroyed the top half of the tower, reducing it to 25m.
There were lots of marvellous tomb stones.
When the Muslims arrived, they were not allowed to have faces only writing on theirs.
We then arrived in Bishkek. This town was formerly Pishpek and Frunze and is the capital and largest city in Kyrgyzstan. In 1825 the authorities established the fortress of Pishpek in order to control local caravan routes. In 1860 Russian forces destroyed the fortress. In 1868 a Russian settlement was established. In 1926 the Communist Party of the Soviet Union renamed the city Frunze, after the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Frunze. In 1991 the Kyrgyz parliament changed the capitals name back to Bishkek. The city is situated at an altitude of about 800 metres. The city has a lovely backdrop of mountains that rise to 4,855 metres. Due to the weather we could not see them.
While in Bishkek we visited the Ala-Too Square. It was built in 1984 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Kyrgyz SSR, at which time a massive statue of Lenin was placed in the square. It was known as Lenin Square until independence in 1991. In 2005 the square was the site of the largest anti-government protest. After several weeks of unrest, over 15,000 people gathered. Two people were killed and over 100 were injured when the protesters clashed with government officials. In 2011 the Manas Monument was erected to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the nation's independence, the statue portrays the main protagonist of a national epic written in an 18th-century Persian manuscript. It is 17 m tall equestrian sculpture holding a sheathed sword with his left hand.
We also got to see the changing of the guard.
I love their big hats.
During the unrest the protesters took over control of the square and stormed the White House forcing Kyrgyzstan’s first president to flee the country and later resign from office. The names of the people who died are listed on a plaque on the fence.
This monument was right next door.
Opposite the square are old soviet buildings that hold government offices. They have brightened them up with the billboards on them.
This monument was in another square we visited.
The statue of Lenin was moved in 2003 to a smaller square in the city.
This is their Parliament building.
We also visited Victory Square.
Today we farewelled the 5 Stans. Our flight left at 5am in the morning so we were up at 2.30 to head to the airport. What a fantastic time we have had and so many highlights. That’s us signing off from another great adventure.