Issyk Kul Lake
Cholpon Ata Travel Blog› entry 346 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)
Our taxi trip from Tokmok lasted around two and a half hours, in which time the driver had managed to annoy Julia with constant digs about how rich we must be and stating that we should therefore pay more money for everything in Kyrgyzstan. I told her to remind him that he was the one with a big people carrier, a house in Bishkek and a country house by the lake. I really hate how its always the rich people of a country bitching and moaning they want more, whereas the majority of the really poor people seem to hold more dignity and respect for themselves and others.
Lousy Planet recommended a cheap guest house in the centre of Cholpon Ata, which supposedly had rooms for 200Som ($5.50), so we made this our first port of call. The lady had clearly gained a big head about her inclusion in the book and subsequently hiked the cost of a room up to 700Som ($19.50). We politely declined the chance of staying there, even though she claimed to be the cheapest place in town and where all the foreigners stay.
Walking 500 metres up the road, we came to Pegasus Guest House and although the price was the same, the lady was polite and breakfast was included.
The day was drawing to a close and thus it seemed pointless to walk down to the lake, so instead we went to Cafe Suusamir for Dinner. Two cutlets with mashed potatoes and some salad cost a reasonable 65Som ($1.80) and some milky tea helped to warm us up, as the chilly wind began to pick up a bit. Leaving the cafe, Julia went and got her hair cut for 100Som ($2.80), and i think it looks really nice. There were a couple of bars that had music playing from them, but neither of us were particularly keen on checking them out.
The following day, the friendly owner Tatiana said that although there was now water, there wasn't any pressure in the shower. I figured that this meant that we would have to go without, but she kindly filled a large tub in the shower room with piping hot water, so we could take a scoop shower. I know plenty of places would have just let us go without, so i thought it was really kind.
The second happy occurrence of the morning was when we were brought our breakfast. I had expected a small portion of pelmeni (dumplings) with tea, but instead we got a banquet! There was a portion of pelmeni that could have fed a small army, salad, cakes, bread, cheese, butter, jam, and a huge pot of tea.
Originally we had planned to walk up the ancient rock carvings and pay for a guide when we got there, but Tatiana said she would drive us up there and her knowledgeable sister Elmira could give us a guided tour. I expected they would try and charge quite a lot for this, so it came as a pleasant surprise that they only wanted 50Som ($1.40) per person for themselves, plus the 25Som ($0.70) entrance fee. They said it cost more if you didn't stay with them, but they were happy to do it for us at this price, as we were.
The ride took 10 minutes up a bumpy road, before the landscape opened up into a vast field of stones, located in front of an impressive mountain range.
Not only were we going to learn about the petroglyph's, but Elmira also wanted to give us some background information on the area. Firstly we were told the story behind the naming of the town, in which a father (translates to Ata in Kyrgyz) was trying to marry his daughter, Cholpon, to a rich Khan's son. Inevitably she loved a poor man, so in her despair she ran away and jumped off one of the mountains. The next day her father went out looking for her and found her dead, so in his despair he turned to stone. There are two stones nearby said to resemble a woman lying face down and a man hunched over her.
Looking from the site back down to the town, there were terrific views of Issyk Kul Lake, with another snow capped mountain range running along the far side of the Southern shore.
It is believed that people settled in this area as far back as 300,000 years ago, although the petroglyph's that we had come to see dated from between the 15th Century BC and 7th Century AD.
Over the next hour, we were shown to a number of interesting petroglyph's and offered explanations throughout. Most showed pictures of long horned ibex (sheep like animal) and men, whilst others had hunting scenes including tamed snow leopards chasing ibex.
Some of the stones were huge, measuring well over a metre, which we were told was very rare. Also unique to the area was the way that the petroglyph's had been created. In most circumstances, the sculptor would simply scrape their drawing into the rock, whereas some of the ones here had been created by chipping and dotting the design.
Other points of interest were the burial sites, the stone circles that were believed to stand on magnetic fields and the the boulders that clearly marked the end of one tribes territory and the start of another's. The terrain was also variable in height and it is believed that according to rank, your living quarters would be placed higher up the slope.
Sadly what we went to see today is only a patch of what once existed, as there used to be up to 10,000 different petroglyph's, of which only 1,500 to 2,000 have survived. Incredibly many of them were taken away to build a nearby airport, whilst the two most impressive ones were destroyed through 'conservation' work. The team assigned to maintain the clarity of the rock carvings actually applied a solvent that acted like an acid and eroded away the face of the rock! A scene illustrating a military parade with people, camels and horses has subsequently been lost forever.
Unbelievably one of the rocks that we had gone to see today had also vanished, that depicting a headless horseman. It was a shocking development to the day and one which saddened me. There were no barriers or fences that cordoned off the area, so in theory people could just walk up and take whatever they wanted. The really sad part is that these millenia old stones would probably end up as no more than building materials!
It had been a fascinating and informative tour, and one that i would highly recommend. Tatiana dropped us back at the Guest House to grab our swimming gear, and even though we had checked out, they let us store our bags in the room and keep the key for the lock. This might not sound much, but we had encountered plenty of other places where baggage storage wasn't allowed.
It was a cloudless day and even though i had sun cream on, i didn't want to spend too long in the midday sun, in case i got frazzled, as so often happens. After an hour we left so as Julia could go and get her hair dyed and i went for a beer in Cafe Suusamir. Julia came an hour, later looking lovely as ever, and we had our lunch before returning to the hotel to collect our belongings.
It was a 20 minute walk to the bus stop, where after some quarreling we got a seat in a minivan to Karakol for 100Som ($2.