Ancient paintings, lakes and tasty fish
Bulunkul Travel Blog› entry 362 of 658 › view all entries
People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), David (Canada), Sigrid (Belgium)
The first scheduled stop for the day was at some Neolithic Cave paintings, located 50km South of Murgab, at a place called Shakhty. I thought that Shakhty must relate to a village, but Julia told us that it meant 'mines' in Russian. This description was therefore not too useful, as we knew that the whole region was full of disused mines. Our driver had told us that he would find the cave paintings, and had asked around the bazaar to find out where they were. He knew that from our perspective, we had no clue and no map, and had given him the job on the basis that he could find them.
Shortly after leaving the Pamir Highway and heading off road, we stopped another van to ask for directions and it became clear that our driver had no clue where he was going. After some words were exchanged with the driver of the other van, we had to vier off the track we were following, so as to head into a small valley. Now there were no signs of life anywhere and no-one to ask, but we did know that we were supposed to be looking for some white washed stones that marked the entrance.
We spent well over an hour in the first valley, clambering up mountains and side valleys that were riddled with caves. There were white stones everywhere and it was impossible to tell if they had been white washed or were naturally that colour. We were once again looking for a needle in a haystack.
Time was ticking on and we decided to leave the valley, with the driver saying that we would try the next valley along. The odds of coming across the cave were probably 0.001% and we didn't want to waste all day looking, so agreed that if we didn't find it in the next half an hour, then we would call it a bad job and continue on our way. What was really annoying is that our driver was saying that we should have a map and making out like it was our fault. He knew what the score was when he had agreed to take us, and nothing had changed!
Driving along the second valley, i spotted a rusted sign out of the right window, but there was no sign of any white washed stones, so the likelihood was that it was a disused mine, with a warning sign not to go in. Still, it was something man made and therefore we had to go and take a look.
The sign at the top was sponsored by META and UNESCO and was painted brightly white, although whoever had put the sign up had put it the wrong way around! I can only suggest this was done by META to make it harder for independent drivers to find, meaning that if you didn't pay for their drivers, then you weren't going to find it. Also the white washed stones were all at the top of the hill and invisible from the valley below, so again stupidity or deliberate were the two words circling in my head. In the end i concluded that both these acts seemed to be petty and spiteful and was another reason why my dislike of META continued to grow.
The paintings themselves were in red ink and depicted a hunting scene, whilst the colouration was still vivid and this made for an impressive sight. After spending some time admiring the art, we left with a few of the white washed stones, which we left at the foot of the hill, in an attempt to help future travellers.
Back on the main Pamir Highway, we passed Chatyr Tash, which was a large and unmemorable stone, before stopping for a very tasty fish lunch at Ak-Balyk (White Fish) spring. The fried fish were small, meaning their bones could be devoured too, and after eating the food that we had been subject to over the last few days, the change was a real treat.
Heading further West we came first across Sassyk Kul (Stinking Lake) and then Tuz Kul (Salt Lake), which was stunning.
Having parked up in the META home stay, we were keen to set the price before moving all of our stuff into the house. Julia asked the driver if it was ok to fix the price to what we had paid at all the other home stays. The owner of this place didn't seem as keen on this at first and cited the META prices, even though they weren't going to register us. To be honest we weren't too bothered about staying in a META place, in fact we would rather not have, but in the end they agreed to the usual price.
The main reason to stop at Bulunkul is to take a walk to nearby Yashil Kul (Green Lake), which was located an hour uphill from the village. As we were leaving the housing, we came across some locals slaughtering sheep, which they would be taking to market to trade for flour. The walk up was also interesting, as there were two small lakes that we passed, and the mountains had some fascinating contours and colours.
Yashil Kul was very pretty and even had a beach to sit on, although it was too cold to do any swimming or sunbathing! David had brought his frisbee, but the wind was making it hard to play, although it was fun to be larking about on the beach at such altitudes (3734m), in a land locked country!
Back at the home stay we were served up a sorry looking portion of grechka (dry porridge) and a bowl of soup for Dinner, before retiring to our room to sleep.