K8 - Yes we are still in Kyrgyzstan
This day was eventful for me, because it was my son Ben’s 40th birthday back in the UK 🇬🇧 which we missed still being on our travels. He was my first born and I can’t quite believe that 40 years have passed. I could not help but think about home and the fact that we were not in contact.
Our Landcruiser is still waiting for repairs and so Jim and I decided to go with Tamir, the owner of Tunduk hostel in Bishkek, up to Song Kul lake in the mountains where another Nomad Games was scheduled.
It gave our 3 day trip up to the lake an added lure. He also explained to us that the road we were taking, which we had travelled on several times before, was on the actual Kazakhstan border with Kyrgyzstan and that the mountains we had been peering at were actually between us and Almaty and were entirely in Kazakhstan. So it was not surprising that we kept meeting Kazakhs on our walks in the mountains as they were only a hop skip and a jump away.
On the 24th July, we had made it as far as Koshkor, part way to Song Kul and we were taken to view a rusty dusty water pump out of town, which had inflammable water!
This water came out of the ground and a bit like a Christmas pudding. If you held a match to it, it broke into flame. I kid you not, we saw it with our own eyes. Sadly blue flames do not come out well in strong sunlight, you will just have to take it from me.
I was advised to taste it too as it was meant to have medicinal properties. It sort of tasted a bit oily and tasted very medicinal!
On arrival at our homestay we found a couple of massive overlanding vehicles parked up alongside. One we had seen before and the couple with a young baby had also been caught in a stream for two days before they were rescued a few days earlier. This was reminiscent of our experience in the Pamirs, only we did not have a small baby to care for and they could not sleep in their lorry as they were worried that the electrics might catch fire! These two large German vehicles left as we arrived.
Later that evening, in the homestay in Koshkor, our hosts fed us in their Yurt in the garden and then entertained us dressed up in traditional costumes. Even Jim was pressed into taking to the floor to dance to local ballads.
On our way up to Song Kul lake the following day, we passed a large herd of Yaks grazing in the mountain meadows. We learnt that Yaks survive the cold winters up in the mountains and are only given salt to supplement their diet. They scratch the snow and find pasture beneath. Cows and sheep are all taken down to the valleys in the winter along with the Yurts.
We were now remote from the main road and heading up into the hills and trying to avoid the dust of the occasional car in front.
Not much further on we spied a BMW car hanging with its front wheels suspended over a ditch and its rear suspension collapsed on a mound of soil protecting the ditch. It’s occupants were out of the car but looking a bit stunned.
We stopped and it was pretty clear that the car was totalled and would need to be carried back into town. A tow was out of the question with a collapsed rear axel. Jim said he had noticed it overtaking us earlier and thought it was travelling a bit fast. It looked like their low profile tyres were not cut out for these rugged tracks.
We took stock of the situation and then transported one of the occupants with us to Song Kul and the other two said that they would call a garage to pick up the car. This necessitated my completing our onward journey to the lake and Yurt Camp in the boot of our hire car with the luggage! I tried to minimise the impact on my rear as we forded a few bumpy streams.
Our new passenger (who was a Hungarian American with a massive amount of camera gear) had some minor injuries where the BMW air bags had been activated on impact with the ditch, and its whole frame had come out of the car door and hit his arm. (He then had to cope later in the day with minor altitude sickness.)
Jim and I were feeling quite smug by now on the altitude front and we felt nothing when we were again at 3,031 meters.
One of his two Kyrgyz friends, James, also in the car arrived later lakeside in Song Kul having got the car recovered and en route for Bishkek.
He had to mingle around amongst the horses and spectators until he spied one of us at the Nomad Games. He too had minor leg injuries and once we had taken him to our yurts, he immediately fell asleep, also affected by the altitude.
Before the Games started in earnest, there were cooking demonstrations and also a felt rug making display. The better rugs take a very long time to make but they showed us how a simple rug could be assembled in a couple of hours. It involves a lot of beating of a pre-cleaned fleece with a rod and once assembled with a blend of coloured dyed wool, bundling it up, tying it tightly and then wetting with boiling water and rolling and stamping for an hour or two.
These Nomad Games were very similar to the previous games that we had attended but slightly more chaotic and aggressive. There was the usual dead sheep being pulled between competing teams with the aim being to drop it into an opposing goal.
There are no holds barred here and thumping, twisting, pulling and barging the opponents, and their horse is all “fair game”.
Horse wrestling is hard to watch as the amount of damage inflicted seems to be limitless.
During the games, some local spectators got into a massive fight with the event referee, who was very solid and the spectators came off worse. It was alleged that rather too much vodka played a part.
The referee did a lot of damage to at least two men. One was patched up but then lay virtually unconscious on the dry dusty ground in the full heat of the summer sun. His face was massively swollen and split. Spectators and participants alike then just ignored him.
Another injured party was receiving more care, but maybe that was because he was entirely unconscious.
When he came around some concern was shown, whereas it seemed that the severely injured older man was ignored, maybe he was in the wrong clan as no one wanted to talk to us about it when we raised concerns. It was a very long drive to a town with medical facilities. We were just meddling bystanders.
Later that night there was supposed to be entertainment with dancing displays and local folk tales. The beautiful ladies disappeared. The entertainment was cancelled!
Our night in the Yurts was an experience. Firstly we ate without lights as the sun was setting. We could not even see what we were eating! Later as darkness fell the lights came on and the brightly coloured interiors were illuminated.
For various reasons the Yurt we had been allotted became a shared Yurt and we had mats laid out for four of us. The German Swiss pair we teamed up with were delightful and one worked in Primary Care and the other was an ex-cowherd and heating engineer!
Did I mention that it was chilly? Well just to say that the socks definitely stayed on. Even inside the Yurt my thermometer registered 10 degrees.
It is at times like these that it is hard not to fantasise about a comfortable bed and warm duvet, even if the moonlight rising over the lake illuminating the horses and yurts, as the sun disappeared behind the mountains, was quite a scene.
As I write this there is still the occasional sound of galloping horses pounding past with young men still playing around, which sets off a trail of dogs barking and howling.
As we settle down to sleep. I noticed the kitchen tent next to the Yurts is still operational, as women are still preparing food, presumably for the meals to be served the following day.
It was pretty chilly in the Yurt, however, apart from waking once or twice when I tucked my hood more tightly over my head, the next thing I knew I was being woken by Jim saying it was 8am and he was going to find breakfast.
It was still dark in the Yurt when we woke, so no light coming in through the roof, when suddenly the top was pulled off and the inside was flooded with morning light.
I crept out sleepily to be met by grazing cows and horses and the sounds of people waking up. I washed in a makeshift basin, made use of the tidy blue shed a few hundred yards from the encampment and waited for breakfast to appear and discussed the merits of horse riding with Jim, who had recently discovered the merits of downloading books onto his iPhone!
After breakfast we had taken horses again to explore the Song Kul pastures. After three hours of trekking through mountain pastures and avoiding the herds of sheep, cows and horses we circled back to the Yurts for lunch. Unfortunately there is no photograph of Jim dismounting but rumour has it that several people were involved. For some reason he declined the post lunch perambulation.