D248. May 7. Driving along the legendary Issyk-Kul Lake

0 Kirghizstan

The two days I have spent in Bishkek enjoying Constitution Day have also been needed to organize my exploration of the country, starting with the Issik Kol Lake, east Bishkek, just below the Kazakhstan boarder.

1 train

The train only carries goods…

2 horse

I don’t ride horses…

3 car

So I’ve decided to explore the region on a 4WD. At the tourist information center, I’ve met one Scottish guy and one English guy who were about to organize the same trip, so we have decided to travel together to share the costs. In the last 4 days, we will drive 1000 km around the lake, spend a couple of afternoons hiking in the mountains, will sleep in a guesthouse, in a mountain hut, in a yurt…
Let’s the journey start…

4 dry

The western road access to Issyk-Köl is a 40km-long canyon called Shoestring Gorge (Boömskoe ushchelie), which climbs into the East, with a howling wind funnelling up it most of the time.

5 lake

Then you discover the lake… Lake Issyk-Köl means « « warm lake ». A combi- nation of extreme depth, thermal activity and mild salinity ensures the lake never freezes; its moderating effect on the climate, plus abun- dant rainfall, have made it something of an oasis through the centuries.
Over 170km long, 70km across, its isthe second-largest alpine lake in the world (after Lake Titicaca in South America).

6 lake

After tsarist military officers and explorers put the lake on Russian maps, immigrants flooded. Health spas lined its shores in Soviet days, with guests from all over the USSR, but spa tourism crashed along with the Soviet Union, only reviving in the last few years thanks to an influx of moneyed Kazakh tourists.

8 mountain

On the North side of the lake, the Kunnggoy Ala-Too mountain chain. Just behind it: Almaty, former Kazakhstan capital city.

7 mountain

Even the birds look surprised about it.

11 plaine

After discovering the lake and passing the mountain valley, we enter an agricultural plain…

12 plaine

Agriculture is a major sector in the country: 35% of the GDP and 5% of the employment in 2002 (I don’t have a speedy internet, research are tedious, so no more recent data to offer today). Main crops include wheat, sugar, beets, potatoes, cotton, vegetable and fruit.

13 plaine

As the price of imported agrichemicals and petroleum are so high, much farming is being done by hand and by horse, as it was generations ago… It reminds me of Romania, where I was three years ago and where the situation looks even worse than that…

9 plaine

The country suffered from the collapse of the USSR, on one hand because it meant the loss of a vast market, on the other hand because state farms collapsed… The economy has been improving since the turn of the century though…

10 plaine

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