Kyrgyzstan # 2 – Lake Ysyk-Köl & Karakol – August 2014

March 24, 2018

Aside from a little road construction, our drive from our camp on Ysyk-Köl Lake was easy. Roadside Muslim graveyards were interesting with their elaborately decorated tombs. We took our time with stops near Tong and Tamga, carefully planning our arrival for Sunday morning and the start of the amazing Karakol Animal Market, the second largest in Central Asia. We didn’t want to miss this market, because our absolute date to cross the Chinese border was August 28, and that was a Thursday. We knew we would be tied up with Chinese bureaucratic paperwork most of the next two days in Turugart & Kashgar. Once we were connected with our mandatory Chinese, guide there would not be enough time to visit the even bigger animal market in Kashgar.

Gary couldn't pass up some smoked lake trout sold by this street vendor on Lake Ysyk-Köl.

Gary couldn’t pass up some smoked lake trout sold by this street vendor on Lake Ysyk-Köl.

For the moment at least, we did not need to hurry. Ysyk-Köl is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume (though not in surface area) and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. Ysyk-Köl means “warm lake” in the Kyrgyz language. With an altitude of 1,608 meters, (5,276 ft.), it is also the second largest mountain lake in the world, just behind Lake Titicaca in South America. Its depth reaches 668 meters, (2,192 ft.). Our own beautiful Lake Tahoe, also surrounded by snow-capped peaks, is 507 meters deep, (1,664 ft.), with an altitude of 1,897 meters, (6,225 ft.), and most assuredly not warm.

We visited the second largest animal market in Central Asia in the Kygyz town of Karakol on Lake Yzyk Köl.

We visited the second largest Animal Market in Central Asia in the Kygyz town of Karakol on Lake Ysyk Köl.

One of the specialties the Ysyk-Köl Lake is famous for are its smoked lake trout. At a major intersection near the lake, vendors lined up with their catch and were joined by women selling buckets of fat apricots, apples and piles of berries.

The Lake was a stopover on the Silk Road for travelers from the Far East to Europe. Many historians believe that it was the point of origin for the Black Death that devastated Europe and Asia during the early and mid-14th century. The area’s status as a byway for travelers allowed the Plague to spread across both continents via medieval merchants who unknowingly carried infested vermin along with them.

This gentleman with his festive Kalpak (felt hat) seemed very distinguished.

This gentleman with his festive Kalpak (felt hat) seemed very distinguished.

Early Sunday morning we found parking near the Animal Market in Karakol and were instantly enveloped by the smelly clatter and clamor of just about every saleable sheep, camel, horse, cow and donkey within 50km. Hundreds of horses, sheep and cattle, along with their owners and related vendors of ropes, saddles, and farming tools—and food— were spread out over several acres. There were some beautiful horses that reminded me of a good American Quarter Horse. The cows and bulls were not happy after their journey from outlying villages. The fat-tail sheep were mindless and uniquely humorous. Not often seen in the west, fat-tail sheep breeds comprise approximately 25% of the world’s sheep population. Their fatty tails are considered a delicacy, often preferred over leaner meat and their wool is supposedly the best for carpet weaving.

This local Kyrgyz was patiently waiting for someone to buy one of his fat tail sheep.

This local Kyrgyz was patiently waiting for someone to buy one of his fat tail sheep.

Testing horses was popular with potential buyers, and there was a while-you-wait farrier in one corner who made quick work replacing the shoes on customers’ rides. He used a unique system of lifting straps to stabilize the horse. It’s hard to kick when only three of the horse’s feet are just barely touching the ground and the fourth is tied to a post.

It was an exotic and exhilarating environment, a symphony of sounds and smells that make these Central Asian bazaars such a joy to visit. It was all exciting, but unless you’re looking for a horse or a fat-tail sheep, well, we had seen it in a few hours. The friendly locals were as interesting as the animals.

We couldn't forget that the Magic Girl of the Pamirs was ready to explore the world with us.

We couldn’t forget that the Magic Girl of the Pamirs was ready to explore the world with us.

Back in the town of Karakol, the local produce market was a good place to resupply.

By evening we were headed back to one of our favorite beach camps to munch on smoked trout and watch the sunset. Not far from our minds was the “Magic Girl of the Pamirs”. How could we help this young girl to get the education she so obviously wanted? There was a very prestigious private school in Khorog, the Aga Khan Lycée. Khorog was three hours from her village over a road that can be closed by rock falls or snow. Where would she live? She would need new clothes for a “city life”. She would need a cell phone, a computer & printer, none of which she had ever owned. Could she even pass the entrance test? In her local school she had had little math and no Russian nor English. We had an idea, and a dream, and we all know about the power of dreams!

 

 

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