South of Issyk-Kul

Balykchy Travel Blog

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The town of Kyzil-Suu, where we stopped for lunch

By now it was nearly mid-day, so we had to start making a serious effort to get home to Bishkek. However, it was also almost lunch-time, and so, about half an hour after leaving the Jeti-Oguz valley, we stopped at what I think was the little town of Kyzil-Suu to buy bread, after which we set off along the road that follows the south shore of Issyk-Kul right back to Balykchy at the western extremity. Along the way there were few towns or villages, and the climate here was clearly harsher than on the northern side, with much of the landscape already baked dry and brown by the searing heat; one can see why, in Soviet days, the south side of Issyk-Kul was far less favoured than the north by visiting Russians on holiday.

A Muslim cemetery on the south shore of Issyk-Kul

Particularly evident in the bare landscape were many Muslim cemeteries, usually within half-a-mile or so of the road; the sight of stars and sickles outlined on the skyline became a familiar one. For about 100 miles we also tracked a broken-down concrete conduit that ran between the road and the lake: once part of a Soviet-financed irrigation scheme, it has fallen into disrepair and disuse through lack of funding. Also evident along the shore was the strange and unexplained drop in the level of the lake; Irina's father pointed out cattle grazing on land that, a couple of decades ago, was completely under water. And I was intrigued by occasional concrete ramps at the side of the road, apparently provided so that if your car starts to malfunction you can manoeuvre it onto a ramp and then get underneath it, presumably to effect vital repairs with a hammer or monkey-wrench.

Pretty field of wild something, and were I more of a botanist I could tell you what the something was
Calling out the AA is not an option.

This was a very beautiful drive: on the right, the shining blue of Issyk-Kul, "the pearl of Central Asia"; on the left some scrubby fields, often full of wild flowers, against a backdrop of the baked foothills of the Terskey Ala-Too range; while behind us much higher snow-clad peaks separated us from China.

After about three hours we arrived back in Balykchy, from which, on the outward journey, we had begun to follow the north shore of Issyk-Kul. Here Irina's father pumped up the punctured tyre, which had gone very flat, and we admired the modern memorial to Piotr Semionov, a Russian military explorer who, in the mould of Nikolai Przhevalsky, was in the middle of the nineteenth century the first European to penetrate into the Tien-Shan range, of which Terskey Ala-Too forms a part.

Irina chatting to Piotr Semionov's horse
He was famous in his day and was awarded the title of Semionov-Tien-Shanskyi, or Semionov of Tien Shan. The attractive memorial was surrounded by trees that had clearly suffered much from the heat and dryness. We also saw, rather bizarrely, a group of yurts with little front gardens and neat paths up to their front entrances; perhaps this is the Kyrgyz equivalent to our Western standing caravans! Certainly "standing yurt" seems like a contradiction in terms.

Then we passed for a second time through the concrete edifice that guards the entrance to the Issyk-Kul region and set off on the last part of the drive back to Bishkek.

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The town of Kyzil-Suu, where we st…
The town of Kyzil-Suu, where we s…
A Muslim cemetery on the south sho…
A Muslim cemetery on the south sh…
Pretty field of wild something, an…
Pretty field of wild something, a…
Irina chatting to Piotr Semionovs…
Irina chatting to Piotr Semionov'…
Luncheon! The fruits of Irinas su…
Luncheon! The fruits of Irina's s…
Issyk-Kul: I had intended to stitc…
Issyk-Kul: I had intended to stit…
... together, so as to form a pano…
... together, so as to form a pan…
... are not quite up to it!
... are not quite up to it!
Random picture of nowhere in parti…
Random picture of nowhere in part…
Parched foothills of the Terskey A…
Parched foothills of the Terskey …
Irrigation stream, with Issyk-Kul …
Irrigation stream, with Issyk-Kul…
These yurts at Balykchy dont look…
These yurts at Balykchy don't loo…
Trees looking the worse for wear i…
Trees looking the worse for wear …
Balykchy
photo by: londonstudent