Near Karakol (my time there gets an extra post) there is a popular tour or 2 variants with the destination of the lake Ala Kul. Certainly more beautiful and great is a multi-day trek from Valley A to the lake and then over a pass back down via Altyn Arashan and back to Karakol. But this requires camping equipment and I didn’t want that – even if people carried it for me. Another option is to hike to Altyn Arashan (there are accommodations there), climb up to the pass from there, look down at the lake and turn around again. I suspected I wouldn’t be able to do it (one day involved 1,400 metres each of ascent and descent over 20 km), but I wanted to try it anyway. So on a sunny day I went to the Marshrutka stop, drove about half an hour to the starting point and started hiking. Unfortunately, the route was not really as I had imagined it. In fact, I struggled a lot!
These 15 km (and 600 metres in altitude) are on a jeep track where some very off-road vehicles full of tourists or food or other things drive up. The route is almost entirely along a river, which is very noisy. This is quite nice for a short time, but it rather annoyed me. Then the map shows a lot of forest and I was looking forward to walking in the shade with all this sunshine. But no way – the river and the track were so wide that there was no shade from the trees. And so I sweated too much for my taste. And then there were also annoying flies that stubbornly stayed on you. I had no joy and thought that now Altyn Arashan would have to make up for everything.
What I suspected, on the other hand, was that I would by no means be alone. And I wasn’t. People came towards me, people overtook me, I overtook very few people, many people rode in cars and so there was quite a lot going on on the route. My first impression of Altyn Arashan: whew, crowded! I read that 9 years ago there was only 1 guesthouse. Now the valley was full of them, or the guesthouses were expanding and adding yurts. The one I ended up in had just added additional guest rooms, yurts with beds and another dining room 1-3 years ago. I stayed for 2 nights and the second one was actually occupied down to the last bed.
What Altyn Arashan is for, besides access to the Ala Kul, are the hot springs. There are communal bathhouses and private ones run by the guesthouses – e.g. mine. You are allocated a bathing time and can then spend 40 minutes in a warm pool where new water is constantly flowing in. Here, the guesthouse bathhouse is the one with the blue roof, the communal bath is next door. I forgot to photograph it from the inside and when I went to do so, it was locked. That’s why the photo is of the pool next door. In any case, on the first evening, which was little cold, it was great for warming up, and on the second evening, which was warmer but when I hiked more, it was great for relaxing the muscles.
Actually, breakfast is always at 8:00, which I find very late if you want to hike a lot and far. At least I could persuade them to 7:00 for me – but it was still rather late. Maps.me had shown me 7.5 hrs for the ascent to the pass at 3,900 m. I would have to hike the 1,400 m for that. And after that I would have to walk down the 1,400 metres in altitude over 10 km. At the beginning I was still within the Maps.me time, including small breaks, but then I slowed down. There was a river crossing with shoes off. I felt a bit physically unwell (the altitude? I was well over 3,000 m). The pass still looked very far away. Maybe I would have made it before dark, but if not? And anyway? No, it wasn’t really worth it for me after all. But the landscape looked great and I thought it had been worth it to go up the valley at all. There were masses of cows being herded by people together and further downhill. I was thrilled by the mountain landscape, which is what I had hoped for already much further down. You could have hired a horse (and walked the last steep 300 metres altitude). Some people did that, but in the evening they complained a lot about aching legs and buttocks. And I had remembered that since my last horse-riding in India, I never really wanted to use one again. I went back and forth between not having seen this pass with a lake view and the confidence that I might come back in a different form.
Here are now the hiking pics of that day:
I like to listen to podcasts while walking and some topics have nothing to do with where I am at the moment, so this time I listened to a long piece about Palestine (and Israel) and educated myself very well. And what’s funny is that in picture 10, there’s a little person I spoke to briefly – and she was Palestinian! (and her fellow hiker was Egyptian). What was that coincidence? Have I ever met anyone from Palestine on my travels? I don’t think so. I quite happily told her about my podcast and she was pleased that I was interested and felt I was getting good info. Unfortunately, she wanted to go higher and I wanted to go down and we didn’t meet again – I would have liked to ask her a lot more!
Also, I had company for dinner in the evening, or I had already had company the evening before from a very nice, funny German woman who was on sabbatical (and rode to the pass on horseback), and that evening there was another German couple at our table. Even if it sounds like a German cluster: to me, the travellers seemed very international, i.e. I couldn’t make out any nationality majorities at all so far. This couple had booked a self-drive car and accommodation through an agency – and a special driver for Altyn Arashan. We chatted about travel and countries etc. – and then it came out that the man had been on motorbike tour in India with an agency with which my father had also travelled from Hamburg to Delhi by motorbike and where I had briefly met the agency owner at the time. And so we had a mutual acquaintance!
And I’ll put it in here already while I’m at the travel coincidences: in Georgia, on the way to Tusheti, we met 2 New Zealand cyclists, one of whom told us that she would travel on to Kyrgyzstan. And yes, I met exactly this woman today at breakfast!
As you can see, the weather was mixed – it rained sometimes. During the night it even thundered. On the descent the next day it was much cloudier, which I found much more pleasant in terms of temperature. In general, the descent (600 metres in altitude) was not as unpleasant as the ascent and actually quite nice. Maybe because you also see better when you go down?
On the way down, I met the German couple again, whose car had just stopped because the engine wouldn’t run anymore and the driver had to repair it first. And by the way: there are also dogs here. They sometimes bark when they want to bring their animals together. But otherwise they are very very peaceful. How pleasant! But there were also a lot more cows to keep together and horses to accompany than sheep to see. Here are some more pictures:
Overall, it’s quite a nice atmosphere among people, they greet each other rather friendly and sometimes talk a few sentences. I had a feeling of having arrived just in time before the crowds showed up. By the way, the valley with the hot springs was enough for most of them, only a fraction went higher or some just up and down and others the longer trek.
For my travellers, I would probably rather offer the longer trek and if up and down is desired, possibly recommend the car for the first day. Because of the really big rocks, it should also be a fun swing.
An interesting skirmish awaited me at the end of the trek. There was a bus stop and I was waiting for the Marshrutka. A taxi driver came by and offered to take me to Karakol for 200 SOM (= 2 euros). The bus costs 30 SOM, or 0.30 euros. It wasn’t necessarily stinginess that made me refuse, but rather an adherence to the “travel style”. And then he asked me if I was from Israel. They must have a similar reputation here as in India….
And so I started the tour with frustration, but arrived back in a good mood. The landscape in the higher part was beautiful and the nice people did the rest.