Following the Silk Road from Song-Kul to Bishkek

Believe it or not, a new morning and yet another early awaking with my roommate (Yurtmate to be more precise) rustling through bags and crashing around.

I decided however to take advantage and dragged myself out of bed and into the crisp morning air. The sun was just rising so I took LARS for a spin – being sure to fly far enough from the camp that I wouldn’t wake anyone.

Despite my hands aching from the cold I managed some decent shots of the horses grazing and the prairies gradually being lit up as the sun rose above the distant hills.

As camp stirred I returned to the Yurt, packed up my things and headed for breakfast. Unsurprisingly by day three in the Yurt camp, pretty much everything on the tables was now stale or starting to rot which kept breakfast brief.

We loaded up the vans, posed for a few camp selfies and chatted with some random Germans we acquired who were stranded in the camp and needed a ride to town – which we dutifully provided.

From Song-Kul we headed back up the narrow dirt roads we’d come along, reaching the plateau above the lake and finally the switchbacks that descended into the valley.

I kept any eye out for the herd of Yaks which we’d seen a few days earlier and to our good fortune discovered them in the valley, near to where we’d seen the camels. We all disembarked and clambered across Yak shit covered ground in an attempt to get some photos.

Yak selfies complete we bundled back into the vans and ploughed forward, stopping only to drop off the Germans in a nearby town before heading to the small village of Chong-Kemin which was only 100km from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

We arrived mid-afternoon at Chong-Kemin, which turned out to be a small rural agricultural village, with little but fields and cattle – although the exotic chalky blue river that runs through town looked impressive as we crossed it.

Surprisingly, the best thing about the village was our hotel – large, comfortable and came with a much needed laundry and a well stocked beer fridge.

While most of the Group took the opportunity for an afternoon siesta, I sent LARS up to explore the village and get some photos of the river.

With myself and Brian leaving the group the next day – or rather them leaving us, we decided to enjoy some farewell beers – and when we discovered the owner had padlocked the fridge and gone to bed, we simply woke them up and ordered a dozen more.

The next morning we repeated the ritual of packing bags and loading them into the vans – although this time, mine and Brian’s went in one bus, while the other 12 people’s went in the first bus so that they could head straight to the airport after lunch.

The drive to Bishkek took a little over two hours and it was immediately evident we were in the biggest city. Traffic was at a stand still in places, a large factory chimney pumped pollution into the air just a mile from the city centre and the pavements were busy with the hustle and bustle of day to day city life.

The rest of the Group had been forced to take the flight from Bishkek to Dushanbe a day earlier, meaning they only had a few hours in the City. Diana our CEO decided to fit in as much as possible in a three hour walking tour, starting from the Victory Monument, through town to the National History Museum, passed Parliament and to a popular restaurant for lunch.

As I said farewells to the Group heading to the airport, I was somewhat glad to be spending an extra 36hrs in the City – I’d seen enough to want to explore more. With one bus heading to the airport, Brian and I took the second to our hotel which was nearly 3km out of town – where we shared a room before Brian’s 3am wake up call for his next flight.

After a deserved lay in to 9am, I headed out by myself which felt a bit weird after 8 days with the Group. My first stop was the Botanical Garden, which as a word of warning were neither Botanical nor a Garden – rather a creepy overgrown dumping ground which would make a perfect place to bury bodies. Realising my error I tried walking from south to north as quickly as possible but found the gates locked and the walls too high to climb so had to turn back to the entrance.

Back on the street I opted for less adventure and retraced our path from the previous day, determined to get some aerial shots of the main sights. My first stop was the National History Museum and statue of Lenin, one of only two remaining in the CIS region.

My flight path took in the Independence Square, the stunning Museum building with statues of Lenin at the rear and Manas at the front and Parliament building. With snaps down I headed to the Victory Monument and Park – my hopes of it being quite were shattered when I discovered a wedding taking place under the monument and oddly a second one queuing patiently to take their place.

I couldn’t let this one off chance pass so I quitely snuck passed and from the far side of the park sent LARS up for some overheads of the park and then across to the new National Mosque. With snaps done I packed up and walked the five or so kilometres, through parks and gardens, to the Workers Township – a suburb built on concentric circles which I wanted to photo.

Alas LARS couldn’t get the altitude nuor the signal range to get the exact photos I wanted so what I got would have to do. With the sun blaring down and me still 3km from the hotel I set off, drenched in sweat – eventually making it back to the hotel after a seven hour, 28km long walk around practically the whole of the capital city.

After a well deserved bath, it was time for bed – tomorrow it would be on to Tajikistan.

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