Day 5. Thursday, August 3rd. Karakol to Tong. 135km, 461m of climbing.
We had glimpsed Issyk Kul lake as we rode into Karakol on Tuesday for our day off yesterday. We knew it was big and we knew it would be a treat to spend most of today riding down it, plus more tomorrow too. But it turned out to be even more spectacular than we imagined.
It is huge – the second largest Alpine lake in the world after Lake Titicaca in the Andes; crystal clear and only slightly saline; the south side, which we rode down, is sparsely populated though with some small holiday towns that draw people from Almaty and other places beyond the barely populated north shore.
The route was essentially flat with only some long easy hills with rewards on the downside. And it was not as hot as recent days. The only minor inconvenience for me was what I’ll call Sudden onset Diarrhoea (SoD hereafter, because this, apparently could be a recurring hazard on the tour). Fortunately, I made it into the roadside bushes just in time.
But – and this is a very big “but” – there were roadworks. They began with just a few diversions off the existing road where new stream culverts were being laid. But after lots of those, the road degenerated into a full-blown construction zone for about 40km after lunch. The surface we shared with sometimes heavy traffic was stony so our speed dropped markedly. I came to term it “rodeo roadworks”…because I felt as tho I was atop a bucking bronco.
So it was a long day for me, as one of the slower riders. I was on the road from 7am until after 4pm, but that did include another long shady lunch stop. My average moving speed was only 15kph.
The last 1.5km of the ride took us from the main road down to a family-run yurt resort right at the water’s edge. They were wonderful hosts…the traditional yurts, well furnished with carpets and beds, each slept three of us. First up, tho, a long reviving immersion in the lake!
Before dinner, two local eagle hunters gave a demonstration with their golden eagles. Then the family laid on a traditional dinner for us in their big yurt-shaped dining area.
Our meal was accompanied by a family of local musicians – mother, father, two sons and a grandson.
They played a variety of traditional Kyrgyzstan string and wind instruments, which they played magnificently and sang beautifully. One story the father told (via our translator Vadim) before he played his accordion – in the mid 1930s, his father was friendly with a Russian engineer who’d come to work in the area. The father coveted the accordion and the Russian the father’s dog. So they swapped possessions…which the son, now a luminous elderly gent, played evocatively for us.