At the Sanatorium

Issyk Ata Sanatorium Travel Blog

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A view from the road between Burana Tower and Issyk Ata Sanatorium, showing a strangely tilted landscape
As I was saying, it started to rain. However, the iron-grey clouds, low enough to clothe the hilltops, gave a different kind of beauty to the countryside, and on a couple of occasions, when the rain eased off a bit, we stopped for a few pictures. At one point the landscape seemed so weirdly tilted that on the photograph it looks as if the camera must have been at about thirty degrees to the horizontal, but a check with a distant farmhouse shows that this is not so! The deep rich green of the hillsides would not last; this was June, and during July they would turn sere and brown.

Our object was the Issyk Ata Sanitorium, which lies about twenty miles south-west of the Burana Tower; but our stomachs were beginning to tell us that breakfast had been a long time ago.
A picnic in the rain, with Dmitri and Natalie under shelter provided by a Kyrgyz Army groundsheet
We had brought comestibles for a picnic, and I assumed that we would have to have it in the car, British style, in view of the rain. But I had reckoned without the initiative and practical skills of a member of the Kyrgyz armed forces: Dmitri identified a suitable tree by the roadside, and slung an army groundsheet between the branches to form a canopy so that we could sit and have our picnic in the dry. This turned out to be thoroughly memorable, in a wonderful setting, in the rain, and - for me - with a continuing sense of wonderment at finding myself in such a distant and unusual part of the world.

Having disposed of all the bread and cheese and ham, and after draining the Thermoses of the last dregs of tea, we continued on the second leg of the drive to Issyk Ata, for centuries a place of pilgrimage due to the supposed curative properties of the hot spring water with which this geologically-unstable area abounds: 'Issyk Ata' means 'Father Heat'.
The entrance to Issyk Ata Sanatorium, looking remarkably fresh and well-maintained
Now it is a well-known sanatorium: the grounds and the hot spring baths are open to the public, and there is a walk through dramatic scenery that leads from the grounds to a modest waterfall a mile or two beyond. Dmitri suggested, tactfully, that they would not think any the worse of me if I wanted to abandon this part of the expedition, in view of the inclement weather, but as a veteran of countless holidays in Britain I assured him that it took more than a bit of rain to deter me from a country walk; and he, impressed (as I like to think) by my hardiness, therupon equipped me with a peculiar waterproof tent-like garment, courtesy of the Kyrgyz Army, with a hole for one's head, and a hood, and a couple of slits through which one's hands could emerge if required but which also, upon experiment, let in a lot of water.
The waterfall, at the end of a mile or two's walk from the Sanitorium; top left is my hand shielding the camera from the rain
Unfortunately, in these conditions, taking pictures was not really possible as I feared damaging my lovely new digicam.

The walk took us along a gradually-ascending path on one side of a beautiful green valley, where Natalie horrified me by drinking from one of the nearby streams; I thought that that kind of thing only happened in Constable paintings. She insisted that it was quite safe, but I preferred to put my faith in a shop-bought bottle of Legenda spring water! Mercifully by the time we arrived at the waterfall the rain had eased up a little and I ventured a few pictures, trying to keep the camera dry with my spare hand. Part of the hand appears in the pictures, for which I apologise; but the conditions were very trying! The views were certainly worth the effort expended in getting there, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
The path up which we had walked to the waterfall


We took a different route back, and found ourselves stepping over metal pipes that carried the spring water from their source to collecting tanks nearer the sanitorium; it was strange to find that these pipes, half buried in the soil, were hot to the touch. Then, entering a wooded area, we came across a stone shelter with some seats; by now the rain had stopped and we sat down for a rest. Soon an elderly and arthritic woman hobbled into view, clutching a mug - she was one of the patients at the sanitorium who had come for her regular medication. In one of the walls of the shelter were a number of cavities into which issued a perpetual thin stream of hot spring water, in one of which she filled her mug. The water itself stank of bad eggs - Dmitri and Natalie tried to persuade me to have some, but I had too much care of my insides, which up to then, and against all the odds, had been behaving themselves.
A collecting tank for the hot spring water, enveloped in steam
The woman, however, drank her noisome mugful with apparent relish and hobbled off again: the photographer in me wanted a picture, but somehow, as she was a patient, it didn't seem quite right.

The next activity was a dip in one of the open-air hot-water pools, for which there is a nominal charge. I had taken the precaution of bringing my swimming trunks, and we joined the dozen or so bathers already in the water; they were mostly visitors like us, rather than patients, with several children amongst them. I was surprised at how hot the hot water was, and enjoyed the sensation very much. Along the side of the pool are pipes carrying water under pressure that feed powerful jets that can be used to massage your back and neck muscles; if you judge things right, you can get the water to ricochet off your shoulder-blades all over the head of the guy next to you, which is fun.
This is where the halt and the lame come to be cured: in the holes in the wall you can just see issuing the continuous stream of hot spring water, ready to fill your mug ...
Indeed, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, except for one large and earnest Japanese gentleman who appeared to be following a detailed set of instructions as to violent exercises that had to be carried out in the pool, and was unpopular for creating regular tidal waves in consequence. It was such a laugh that I was in the water for over half-an-hour, notwithstanding the bad-eggs smell and the fumes from the latrines situated underneath, which, incidentally, I did not investigate. This was all, of course, in a most spetacular setting, and in winter one bathes in the hot water surrounded by snow-clad hills.

The facilities, however, leave something to be desired, with rudimentary changing-rooms; and as I had forgotten to take a towel I was still exceedingly damp when I put my clothes back on, as the picture shows.
... then you sip the foul liquid in this peaceful sylvan setting, and wait to be done good to
By now all three of us felt that it had been a long day, and it was already five o'clock - which is when we had promised that we would be back in Bishkek! It was time to head home, but of course village farmers were driving their cattle along the roads, for milking. Progress was really slow until we hit the main road, and we finally arrived back home shortly before seven.

To give some indication of costs, the total agreed sum for the day was less than 1,000 som; around 14 pounds. This included the services of Dmitri and Natalie, plus about 120 miles in their car. Of course I offered extra as we had been on the road for much longer than anticipated, but they refused point-blank, insisting that a deal was a deal. They were absolutely delightful companions for the whole day, and even though I shall probably never see them again I shall always remember them with affection, and as friends.
The wonderful view from the hot spring baths at the Sanatorium; that's me in the foreground after my immersion, and my clothes are sticking to me because I had forgotten to take a towel






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A view from the road between Buran…
A view from the road between Bura…
A picnic in the rain, with Dmitri …
A picnic in the rain, with Dmitri…
The entrance to Issyk Ata Sanatori…
The entrance to Issyk Ata Sanator…
The waterfall, at the end of a mil…
The waterfall, at the end of a mi…
The path up which we had walked to…
The path up which we had walked t…
A collecting tank for the hot spri…
A collecting tank for the hot spr…
This is where the halt and the lam…
This is where the halt and the la…
... then you sip the foul liquid i…
... then you sip the foul liquid …
The wonderful view from the hot sp…
The wonderful view from the hot s…
Rain and cloud on the road from th…
Rain and cloud on the road from t…
Natalie being treated like a parce…
Natalie being treated like a parc…
The view on leaving the Sanatorium
The view on leaving the Sanatorium
What happens when you are in a hur…
What happens when you are in a hu…
Issyk Ata Sanatorium
photo by: londonstudent