It’s our fourth and last day at Bel Tam, the yurt camp near Bokonbayevo at the southern shore of the Issyk-Kul lake. Today we will leave for Kochkor, a two hour drive from here, from where we have planned a 2-day trekking to Song-Kul, another beautiful mountain lake. We go along on this trekking with the Berliners Sarah, Tillman, Mario and Olga (she’s Kazach actually but lived in Berlin for a while), who we met on the first day in the camp. We have had some great days here.
When we just arrived in the yurt camp from Bishkek I have to admit that I had my doubts about staying here for 4 days. The yurt was lovely, nothing wrong with that, but I couldn’t see how to spent the day here. No other guests. There was little shadow, no relaxed place to hang out. And in general not much else to do. At least, that’s what it looked like at first glance. But things started to change quickly. In the evening other guests arrive. Among them the Germans. Dinner was nice and we had a great evening together sharing stories, vodka’s and a bottle of beer.
The days after only got better. We found out that the Issyk-Kul lake, which is the worlds second largest alpine lake (after lake Titicaca in Peru), is actually very nice to swim in. And that there are even a couple of sandy beaches nearby. We even tried some snorkeling but as we didn’t spot any form of life in the lake this wasn’t a great success.
Yet the best of all are the views. Picture this: a huge dark blue lake that’s so big that you can’t see the other side. It feels like you’re at the sea. Then there’s the backdrop of the mountains that surround the lake. From the yellow sandy shores that are dotted with grass and bushes they climb up gently. First some red-brown sandstone rock formations with deeply carved canyons. Followed by dark brown rolling hills and finally the snow capped peaks, some of them over 5000 meters high (the lake itself is already at 1800 meters). It’s a surreal view looking at it while floating in the water.
With other guests come and go we and the Germans sort of become part of the inventory. The Kyrgyz girls working at the camp are lovely and cook us some great dinners. Each day they prepared us something else. The vodka’s after dinner are a good start for some entertaining nights. Specially when a local music group comes to play at the camp fire. I think they we’re hired to perform for an Israeli tourist group but then we happened to be there too. Lucky us. As the camp gets busier and we don’t have a reservation we have to downgrade our accommodation from a yurt to a tent. Not so bad actually since our last yurt smelled a bit like wet goat. It’s all part of the experience so to say.
But the highlight of our stay and the main purpose of our visit to this area is the Bird of Prey Festival which is held at our yurt camp. When we first heard about the festival we thought it would be a local festival but it appeared to be organized specially for the tourist. A bit of a disappointment at first but as it wasn’t a smoothly running weekly performance it was kind of funny and heartbreaking at the same time. On the day of the festival someone in the village thought it might be a good idea to work on the power system so no electricity in the camp. And so the water pumps for the toilets (they had western toilets and even showers at the camp) stopped working which created a bit of a mess with over 80 visitors.
After shipping in a couple of batteries to get the sound system working, the festival could finally begin. Some music and dance performances to begin with and after lunch the long waited bird of prey demonstration. Two falcons and a big eagle showed up along with their hunters. Eagle hunting is a national sport here. They steal a young bird from the nest and as the bird grows up he gets used to his hunter.
As with any demonstration nothing goes according to plan. One of the falcons flies away and doesn’t seem to have any interest in the prey. Then a pigeon who’s supposed to be the prey manages to escape. The rabbit who is designated to be the prey for the eagle runs away too and at the same time the eagle doesn’t appear to be very hungry. After getting the rabbit back he finally attacks and kills the poor animal. More demonstrations follow. Now with horses. The Kyrgyz sure know how to ride those animals. It gets a bit tricky when one of the horses suddenly takes a left turn and runs straight towards the lake. The rider can stop the horse just in time.
Later that night, when the majority of the tourist have left, there’s a party around the camp fire. The girls from the camp and some more locals are having a great time too. It’s also their festival. There’s lots of vodka. The moon is shining bright. It’s not full moon but I take it for one of the best almost-full-moon parties I have been to.
I love Kyrgyzstan already.
P.S. See the photo album for pictures.