The Russian Orthodox church in the morning (sun peeked through just for me)
I woke up at 7:30 this morning, a little cold but ready to start the day. I had bought a loaf of rye bread with coriander, a jar of vanilla-hazelnut spread and some juice so I had breakfast in the room before heading out in hopes of catching a glimpse of the cathedral at morning light. However, it was cloudy and as I approached the cathedral I noticed tiny flakes of snow. A reverent woman knelt at the altar in the church while a stern-looking woman tended the corner selling religious articles and candles for burning. The interior was beautifully renovated but photographs were strictly prohibited and announced with graphic signs everywhere. I did get to photograph the exterior, which was mostly wooden. I continued walking around town to see some of the old merchant houses, or "Russian gingerbread" that dotted the map.
An old merchant house in Karakol
I ended up back at Ak-Tilek bazaar, which was in full swing. By then the snowflakes were coming down in big chunks and the roads were already covered in a slick, slushy mess. In the bazaar I noticed several people selling big jars of a beige soupy substance. I gathered the nerve to ask if I could try some, and a large Kyrgyz woman offered me a sip from a teacup. It was all I could do to keep from spitting it out. I can only describe the taste as a form of liquid dough with bits of grain and very tart. She was willing to give me a taste of another jar full of a whiter substance, but I declined and headed out of the main entrance in the snow.
I walked back to the center and got in a taxi for the village of Pristan Prahevalsk, about 10 kilometers north of Karakol.
The Ak-Tilek Bazaar
The significance of the village is with a famous Russian explorer who happened to travel through the region and ended up dying here in 1888 of typhus after beginning his fifth expedition. Nikolay Mikahilovich Przhevalski had previously traversed Central Asia, Tibet, Siberia and Mongolia and ended up discovering many new animals, including the small horse that bears his name. Despite the snow and cold I decided to visit the museum complex near the village to honor a fellow geographer.
I fell asleep on the short ride there and woke up when the taxi driver asked where I wanted to go. We had just passed the museum, so I walked back along the road trying to see where it was. The snow was just started to dissipate, having dropped about an inch over everything as far as the eye could see.
Behind the Przhevalski museum
I walked up a hill to a cemetery and some fine views of the surrounding snow-covered hills. I saw a fence and assumed it was the museum property, and followed the fence to find the entrance. After rounding two sides of it, I came upon three horses grazing on the edge of a cliff, and realized I had chosen the wrong direction to follow the fence. I was able to catch a magnificant view of the Mikhailovsky Inlet that leads to Lake Issyk-Kul as well as the village of Pristan Prahevalsk below. The horses and I walked back around the fence to the other side and I found a large green gate to the park-like complex. No one was at the entrance booth, but the gate wasn't locked so I strolled around the grounds, making fresh tracks in the virgin snow. A large statue and nearby tomb of the explorer stood at the edge of the grounds, near the promontory where I'd met the horses.
My equine friends, with Mikhailovsky Inlet in the back
I walked on the other side, passed a locked museum and back to the gate. I saw a house adjacent to the property and walked over to see if I could get in the museum. Two children quickly fetched a nice woman who happily opened the museum and let me browse for almost an hour. It was very interesting and even contained English captions for most of the exhibits. The main entrance featured a huge globe and behind it a map charting all of Przhevalski's travels. On the walls hung portraits of other Russian explorers and his fellow companions on his expeditions. I must have caught the spirit of exploring and decided to purchase the booklet about Przhevalski, which was nicely done in Russian and English.
When I left the museum the sun had come out and everything was glistening white.
The shrine to Przhevalski
Someone had taken a snowplow and cleared all of the walkways and the main road to the museum. I started walking along the road back to Karakol, hoping I could flag down a car to bum a ride, but I only saw vehicles in the opposite direction and a couple girls on horses shepherding their flock of sheep. The rolling farmland was picture-postcard beautiful and I didn't mind the cold breeze that blew flecks of snow from the nearby pine trees. After walking a little ways, I decided I would have better luck trying to head to the village and maybe catch a taxi, but within minutes a bus came zooming up the road. I signaled to him to stop and for a moment I didn't think he was going to, but he applied the brakes, slopping slushy snow in my direction. I took a seat on the warm bus and was headed back to town where I looked forward to a hot meal.
Glistening pasture and girl on horse near Pristan Prahevalsk
By then it was after 2pm again and I hadn't had much to eat.
Back in Karakol I tried to eat at a couple of the cafes recommended by the guidebook but one was having a private party and the other seemed to have disappeared, so I walked back downtown where I knew I'd find something. I ended up at the Cafe Fakir and ordered more unusual food, this time suiyugash (noodle soup with beef bits and chile peppers) and chahohbili (supposedly a Georgian chicken dish, but instead of tomato sauce like the menu indicated, it came with a garlic sauce). Both were good, but the chicken was mostly skin, bones and some gristle, but the meat I did find was good. I had two cups of the "coffee with milk," which actually means it is from a packet of powder consisting mostly of sugar with some cream and possibly coffee grounds.
Karakol's skyline in late afternoon
Either way it did taste good and was hot. I watched a short Scottish film called Sea of Souls, which was dubbed in Russian. It took awhile to track down a place that offered Internet, but here I am. Soon I'll be back in my warm room ready for another snack of bread and hazelnut spread, wondering what Przhevalsk would say if he were writing a travel blog.