TWC'S Odyssey
Tan Wee Cheng's Travels in the Central Asian Republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

10 Jul   Karakol - Issyk-Kul - Burana - Bishkek

We had earlier agreed with S. Pyshnenko that he would drive us to Bishkek for US$100 with stops at Issyk Kul and Burana Tower along the way.  As Robert needed to find out about his luggage at the Turkish Airlines airport office, we asked if he could stop at the airport as well.  After all, we have paid so much for his services.  But S. Pyshnenko wanted another US$20.  No way, we will deal with that ourselves…

We set off about 10 am, travelling along the beautiful Lake Issyk Kul.  Passed many Russian-Cossack villages where farmers were busy harvesting their wheat.  Stopped by a near-deserted beach near Cholpon-Ata for a swim (- I merely wet my feet).  The waters were not exactly very cold, but it certainly wasn't as warm as its name ("warm lake") implies.  We have heard about the chemical accident near the lake involving a Canadian company and were a little worried that the lake might be polluted.  S. Pyshnenko said there's no danger and swam in the waters himself.  Perhaps, my feet would glow in a few weeks' time.

Stamps commemorating the declaration of independence and admission into the United Nations. Issyk Kul - the "Warm Lake" Stamp showing a painting of 
My Kyrgyz visa Burana Tower Burana on stamp

After Balykchy, we entered a region of narrow gorges and after that, the Chuy Valley.  Along the Chuy River was a thin strip of greenery with vegetable farms and plantations.  It was hard to imagine that Turan tigers once roamed this area.  We stopped by some yurts to have lunch.  Mostly owned by Kyrgyzs, but I was told that ethnic Koreans run a few yurt-restaurants as well.  We visited Burana Tower after lunch.  This was an 11th century minaret of the ancient city of Balasaghun, which was once capital of the Qarakhanid State.  Located in the middle of the Chuy Valley with fields around it and mountains in the background.  Architecturally not very significant if one compares this to the monuments in Uzbekistan, but it was an important part of modern Kyrgyzstan's nation-building effort.  Explanation panels at the site show artists' imagination of what the hey days of the city looked like.  They showed horsemen with Kyrgyz costumes in the background.  But were the Kyrgyzs in this area then ?

Also saw a number of ancient petrographs and rock carvings at the Burana site.  The collection was brought from all over the country.  Interesting stuff but a pity they were not in their original location (on the other hand, if they were still there, they would probably be inaccessible).

Petrographs: Pastoral life Plyergraphs on stamp Mysterious nomadic carvings ?
20 soms (about US$1) showing the Manas' Tomb in Talas An advertisement of Kumtor, the Canadian-Kyrgyz joint venture company involved in the chemical accident near Issyk Kul.  Kyrgyz stamp with musical instrument

We reached the suburbs of Bishkek around 5 pm.  Our relations with S. Pyshnenko further deteriorated, as he suddenly suggested that we should get off immediately, instead of the earlier agreed destination - Hotel of the International School of Business & Management (This was the best bargain in Bishkek - US$17 for a double room in the middle of the city.  See Lonely Planet for details.)  He said, "it isn't too far from here."  I responded, "then you should bring us to its doorstep!"  It took our van another twenty-five minutes to reach there - probably about 8 to 10 km away!  He had lost all our goodwill.  Even then, he had the cheek to say that, "you foreigners always think we want to cheat you, but you have to understand the way we do things as well."  Okay, there goes my earlier intention of giving his agency some free publicity on the net.
 "Without question, the city of Pishpek has a tremendous future."

  Siberia Commerce and Industry Yearbook, 1914-1915

 "…voluntary entry of the population of Kirghizia into the body of Russia…"

Soviet reference to the Russian occupation of Pishpek with the assistance of Kyrgyz chieftain Baitik

Bishkek was a pleasant city with trees everywhere.  True that most buildings were typically Soviet - large, functionalist but extremely dull.  But the streets were tidy and well-tended, unlike the messiness of Almaty.  Like Almaty, Bishkek is flanked by snow-capped mountains.  What a beautiful little city!

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Heart of the Silk Road 
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