Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Bit of Kyrgyz Mother Nature. Ala Archa National Park.

Central Asian beauties :-)

Yesterday, when Lilya went over our Kyrgyzstan travel itinerary with us, she mentioned that we would be going to Ala Archa National Park and that because the weather has been very unpredicted, we should be prepared for cold temperatures. After our chilly, windy visit to Kunya Urgench, I have just left my down jacket in my back pack so I have it with me at all times. Today, it was overcast all morning in Bishkek and since Ala Archa is located only about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Bishkek, I was expecting it to be cloudy there as well.  The park is situated at an elevation of about 2,100 meters (6,890 feet) so I expected it to be chillier than Bishkek.


After our lunch in downtown Bishkek, we all got back in the van....which by the way, is missing a step so we have to really climb up to get into it.  I know I shouldn't be surprised by now but Pat can get up and down the van with little problem despite her two artificial knees.  It's a true testament to her physical fitness at her age!

It was a short drive, through Bishkek, to the park.  The city has lots of tree line streets, all filled with Soviet era buildings.  Bishkek looks a lot like Tashkent.  Both cities have a pretty relaxed vibe to them....I think in part because they are relatively small, by US standards.



Near the outskirts of town, we drove along a stretch of road that was flanked with beautiful white barked birch trees.  Somewhere in this lush, green tree filled area, Lilya pointed out the presidential palace - not the place where the President works but where he lives.  

Lilya sitting in the front passenger seat on the left side.  Yes, the steering wheel in our van was on the right hand side.

It was a short drive to get to Ala Archa National Park.


Lilya paid our entry fee at the guard station and we continued to drive until the road ended in a parking lot.  


Smart Bahkryt decided to hang back, staying inside the warm van.  The three ladies got out and immediately began to button up and zip up jackets.  It was indeed cold here!

The mountains were dusted with snow.  A newly renovated A-frame shaped lodge marked the entrance to the park.

Established as a national park in 1976, Ala Archa is located in the Tian Shan mountains.  In Kyrgyz, the word *archa* refers to the juniper that Kyrgyz people traditionally burn to ward off evil spirits.

The park covers about 200 square kilometers and ranges in altitude from about 1,500 meters (4921 feet) at the entrance to 4,895 meters (16,060 feet) which is the height of its tallest peak.  There are numerous glaciers, mountain peaks, rivers, streams, waterfalls and gorges within the boundaries of the park.  It's no wonder its a popular destination for weekend picnicers, hikers, horse trekkers, skiers as well as mountain climbers looking for challenging ice, rock and mixed routes.

We took the Ala Archa River Trail into the park - it's a short walk though I had no idea what was at the end the path.


Seeing the evergreen trees is such a nice change of pace - it's nice to be in the mountains.  Fog hung over the mountain peaks, keeping the rays of the sun at bay.


I let Lilya and Pat walk ahead of me.  Surrounded by nature's beauty, I soon got lost in the quiet solitude of the park.  With all the snow on the ground, I felt like I had been transported from spring back to winter.  This is about the amount of snow I see when it falls around my home.



At first, it was just one drop of water gently falling on my cheek. Seconds later and it was gently drizzling.


We were all dressed for the weather so rain or now rain, we continued our walk.  The path we were on followed the twists and turns of a small stream.  I didn't have to put my fingers in the water to know it was icy cold!




Drizzle soon turned to snow.  That prompted to wish that it would continue to fall lightly as we were definitely not prepared, clothing and footwear wise, to deal with much more than that!


The path ended in what looked like a field of rocks. I'm no geologist but based on the pattern of the rocks, my guess is that we were looking at either a dry river bed or the remnants of a glacial flow.


We took a quick look at the landscape around us.  It was beautiful here and I can understand why this would be a popular destination for locals to come to and soak in a bit of nature.

From here, we turned back and headed back to the entrance where we mete up with Bahkryt who had wisely spent his time, inside the warm van, enjoying a short nap.


Modeling my souvenir.  Do I look Kyrgyz? :-)
We headed back to Bishkek where Lilya offered to take us to an ATM so we could get some money.  Pat and I did a rough calculation of what we thought we would need to cover us for the next few days and we came up just a wee bit short.  The first ATM Lilya took me to would not accept my debit card.  So we went to another one, located inside a local shopping mall.  That machine gladly accepted my card - we knew it would all be okay when I got a personalized greeting message on the screen once I entered in my PIN.  Unfortunately, all we got were big bills so next we went to a currency exchange where I got some small change.

Now that we have money, it was time for some souvenir shopping :-)  We ended up at a very nice,upscale store call Tumar that sells mainly items made from wool felt.  The designs were modern but took their influence from traditional Kyrgyz arts and crafts.  I really liked what they had.  I fell in love with a hat. I don't usually wear hats but with winters as cold as they have been recently, I might just break down and start wearing a hat.  I loved the colors and the traditional symbols in the design.  The underside is lined and overall, it's very well made. I now have my souvenir from Kyrgyzstan!

It was late afternoon by the time Lilya and Bahkryt dropped us off at the hotel.  We had some time to relax before dinner.  Of course, that also meant we had some time to take care of a couple of overdue tasks.....like doing the laundry which we hadn't done since leaving Bukhara more than a week ago!  Yikes!

We strung up the laundry line to dry the clothes and then took our turns using the sink.  We are veteran travelers to remote places and our clothes were always acceptably clean!

Pat's method of wringing out water from her newly washed clothing items.

Daily charging!  We both had our iPads with us on this trip.....and yes, that is a bra hanging from the laundry line.

For dinner, we had spotted a Turkish restaurant just about a block away from the restaurant.  We decided to check it out.  I was looking forward to a Turkish meal but unfortunately, the place turned out to be more of a nargileh bar then a restaurant.  The smoke was too much for either Pat or I so we decided to leave.  Disappointed as we were, we decided to walk down the street to see if we could find a place to eat.  Just as we were about to give up in vain, we spotted large red lanterns.  I jumped to the conclusion that they marked the entrance of a Chinese restaurant.  Given the sizeable Dungan Chinese community in Bishkek, Chinese restaurants are plentiful here.  Pat was more than willing to walk the two blocks to get to the place so we marched on.  As we neared the place, our hopes were realized.  It was indeed a Chinese restaurant.  We were excited and headed inside.


The large dining room, decorated in very typical Chinese banquet dining hall style, was filled with patrons though there were enough tables that Pat and I were easily seated without a wait.  The waitress handed us the menu which was written in Chinese and Kyrgyz.  Thankfully, there were pictures for each dish.   The waitress didn't speak any English so we just pointed to what we wanted.



We ordered two dishes to share - a plate of beef stir fried with bamboo shoots and a plate of long beans stir fried with eggplant.  This was the most veggies we've had, in a single meal, since arriving into Central Asian!


The food was absolutely delicious!!  And I'm not saying that just because I'm Chinese or because it was different from the traditional cuisine of Central Asia.  No, it was delicious in its own right.  Best part was that the bamboo shoots were not those that you get from a can. No, these were fresh shoots and spring is the time of year to enjoy them!  There was so much food, we actually left some behind!  Amazingly, the entire meal cost us less than $6 USD per person!

Pat can't use chopsticks.  I told her they have instructions on the package.  Too bad the words are in Kyrgyz. :-)


As we waited for our bill to arrive, Pat made her way over to some nearby tables where a large group of young Americans was having their meal.  She was curious where they were from.  Turned out to be an exchange group.  They looked like they were really enjoying themselves and their meal.

We were stuffed to the gills by the time we waddled out of the restaurant.  It was too short a walk back to the hotel to burn off anything more than just a handful of calories.  I will go light on breakfast tomorrow.  Tomorrow, we are checking out of the hotel and heading out of Bishkek!  Excited!

For now, I need my Central Asian beauty rest!

Goodnight from Bishkek!