Sunday, April 19, 2015

Issyk Kul. The Road Trip Continues.

At Issyk Kul

Leaving Burana Tower and the cute balbals behind, we continued our roadtrip towards Issyk Kul.

By now, the landscape was a long gone novelty.  We turned inward and chatted a wee bit to pass the time. Like me, Pat isn't much of a talker so there's more quiet thinking than verbalizing.  Lilya and Bakhryt had struck up their own conversation.



Somewhere along the way, we pulled over into a gas station so Bahkryt could fill up the tank.  We took the opportunity to use the facilities.  On that note, I have to say that for the most part, the public facilities in Central Asia have all been pretty clean.  The toilets are commonly squat toilets and toilet paper is still not commonly used here so bring along a roll as Pat and I had done.

As with so many gas stations, this one had a small convenience store.  Out front was a refrigerated compartment filled with drinks.  One in particular caught my eye - the green colored bottle stood out on shelves filled with bottles of soda, fruit juice and tea.  I asked Lilya what it was and she replied that it was a drink made from birch sap.  I was intrigued and so we bought a small bottle to try.  According to Lilya, it's a popular drink in Central Asia and I suspect it's popular in other countries where birch trees grow.  I'm sure it was the shelves in the grocery stores in the Baltic countries we went to but I just never noticed.

Back in the car, I took a sip.  It was slightly sweet, slightly tart and slightly fragrant.  It tasted like a watered down apple juice but much nicer. I found it to be very refreshing and I actually enjoyed it!  Pat took a sip and came to pretty much the same conclusion.  I much preferred it to water and decided that we needed to get more!  Apparently, the brand we were drinking was a Kazakh brand so we'll have to keep our eyes out for a Krygyz one to try out as well.  Oh....and it's the bottle that is green colored plastic.  The birch sap water itself is clear.

Drink or no drink, the scenery here was so beautiful, you really can't ignore for long.


We drove alongside meandering streams and zigzagged our way up and down mountain passes.  All the while, the magnificent snow capped peaks of the Tian Shan mountains were looking down upon us.


Before we knew it, it was lunch time.  The road we were on is pretty much the only road that runs from Bishkek directly to Issyk Kul.  Whatever road is popular with travelers will have its fare share of roadside eateries.  Bahkryt pulled over into the parking lot of one of them.

Pat making her way in.  That's our van!

Inside was Pat's worst nightmare - a cafeteria.  She's not keen on cafeteria food.  As she points out, you have no idea how long the food has been sitting in the metal containers.  She'd rather order from a menu and at least have food cooked up fresh.  I can understand her point of view.  Unfortunately, we had no choice so we each grabbed a tray and went on down the line.  The place was empty except for us and a few other people.  So, we had some very attentive servers helping us out.




I ordered a shepherd's pie looking thing and Pat had the shashlyk, served with mashed potatoes.  We shared a plate of fried pelmeni and we each had cups of tea.  It wasn't half bad - I've most certainly had worst meals on this trip.


Before we left the place, I checked out the snacks for sale.  Hmmm....the roast chicken flavored peanuts got me curious but this time, I didn't buy.  Next stop.


Back on the road, we soon left the lush green lands of farms behind.  Snow capped mountains disappeared. 

Just in case we didn't know what country we were in, we could just read the mountainside :-)

As we left the mountains behind, water came into view.  At first, it was a barely discernible strip of turquoise colored waters.  The cloudy and hazy sky made it difficult to see but we knew that was Lake Issyk Kul.


The road ran alongside the lake.  It's a very large lake.  Occasionally, we would pass by a small village - vacation spots for visitors coming to spend time at the lake.

In the far distance are snow capped mountains.  Today, our view was obscured by clouds and haze :-(

Bahkryt turned off the main road and drove for a short distance.  We passed by small, two story buildings nestled among trees and well tended gardens.  We were driving through the grounds of the Raduga Hotel.  This was where Pat and I would be spending the night.  As Lilya got us checked in, we walked the grounds near the entrance.  Nice place!  But eerily empty of people.  There were some small cottages that looked to be hotel rooms but the were shuttered up.  Perhaps we're here well before the start of when most tourists come to this place.


A cute Kyrgyz squirrel, furry ears and all, wondering who I am.

I was hoping we would get those cottages but instead, we got back in the car and drove to another section of this place.....which is very big.

Bahkyrt stopped the van outside one of the two story buildings and Lilya led us inside.  Our room was on the second floor.  As far as I can tell, we are the only two residents here.  A woman, who works at the hotel, let us into the room.  It was incredibly hot inside, the heat had been turned on.  The woman turned off the thermostat and I threw open the balcony door. Hopefully, it would cool down otherwise, there will be two people complaining.


Before she left, Lilya handed us a map of the place and showed us where the dining hall was - literally, right next door.  She was so worried we wouldn't find it that she insisted we follow her down so she could point out the place to us.  I smiled at her and told her we were fine.  We would meet back up with her and Bahkryt tomorrow.

The view from our balcony.  Not a soul around.

Back in the room, we took a few minutes to settle in.  Looking at the map, we were quite a distance from the lake.  Considering how empty this place is, you would have thought they would have found a lakeside room for us.  Soon, we would find out why this was not possible.

The hotel itself is not all that large but it appears it's part of a community of what appear to be privately owned homes.  Looking at the houses, this is obviously a very high class place.  Our walk towards the lake took us pass many of these homes, which all look to be shuttered up for the season.


Where the houses ended, the beach started.  It was pretty broad beach.  I can imagine how popular this place must be in the summer months.



A wooden boardwalk led to pier.  We decided to check it out.




The pier was interesting.  On either side of the main walk were small platforms.  Most had a picnic table and benches.  From there were steps leading down to the water.  So you could either step down for a swim or perhaps, bring your kayak or canoe up to the steps and climb up. I think the platforms that were further away from shore could probably welcome a small boat.



Except for the two of us and whatever fish might be swimming in the lake, there was no life here.  It was too cold to even just sit and take in the view.  We walked to the very end of the pier and then turnaround and went back to shore.


We had noticed that there were several streets, running parallel to each other, that led down to the lake.  We had walked down one street and so we decided to return via another.....just to see something different.  It was remarkably how well kept this place was.  It's such a stark contrast to what we've seen so far in the parts of Kyrgyzstan we've been to so far.  This is what money can buy you in Kyrgyzstan - no different than anywhere else in the world.


Curious as we are, we tried to peek inside a few homes.  Most had the curtains drawn.  A couple were being worked on - men were busy constructing something or other.

A Kyrgyz garden gnome.

More yard art!

By the time we made it back to the room, I realized we had been barely gone an hour.  I have to say that being here at Issyk Kul is not what I expected.  I had imagined us staying in a small lakeside accommodation.  The sun would be shining brightly and we would be soaking in views of crystal clear turquoise waters with snow capped peaks as the backdrop.  Instead, I felt like we had been stranded in a large, albeit very nice, 5 star resort that was so empty it was like being in a high end ghost town.  Truthfully, there was nothing to see or do so I did some a laundry to pass the time.  With no one around, I figured it would be okay to drape my clothes out to dry on the balcony.

We were told that dinner was at 7pm and so with nothing else to keep us occupied, we showed up on time which turned out to be early.  We stepped inside the large dining room. Three tables had been set up and based on the number of dishes that had been set out, we concluded the one with just two plates on it was ours. We sat down.  Pat had our meal voucher and we kept looking for someone to give it to.  Soon, a woman came by and Pat gave her the piece of paper.  The woman went behind the bar and looked to be writing something down.  I presumed she was recording that we had attended dinner.  I went to try and get the paper back from her as I thought we would need it for breakfast tomorrow but even with no English words spoken, she was able to gesture to me that she was keeping the voucher.  Okay.


In addition to the two empty plates, there were already three dishes.  One was a radish salad, one was a tomato cucumber salad and the last was a plate that had two small muffins and a turnover looking thing.  Maybe that's our dessert??

It's a lot of radishes.  Much more than the two of us could eat!

As we munched on our salad, a young family sat down at the table next to us.  It was mom, dad and a baby.  The diner at the one remaining table had not yet shown up.   So, we were right about this place being empty.  You could literally count the number of guests on one hand!

For our main course, they served us manti.  We each got five on the plate and for me, two would have been more than enough as the dumplings were quite large and not all that tasty.  This may be a high end place we're staying at but the food was far from high end. So far, this ranks as one of our worst meals.


After our uninspired meal, we headed back to the room and relaxed until it was time for light's out.  I guess I had expected way too much of Issyk Kul because so far, I'm disappointed by what I've experienced.  Hopefully, things will improve when we explore more tomorrow.

Goodnight from Issyk Kul!