Thanks to the CBT – Community Based Tourism – traveling throughout the country and rubbing shoulders with locals is quite easy. They connect tourists with a wide network of guides, drivers and families willing to take in guests, either in villages or summer meadows, across the country.
The CBT tour I had for 6 days included a driver, 3 nights in towns guesthouses, 1 night in a yurt, 1 night in a mountain hut…
Yesterday, we left Karakol and followed the South side of the Issyk-Kul Lake.
Overgrazing and soil degradation are major problems affecting all the Central Asian republics. The steady rise in livestock grazing has unhinged delicate ecosystems and accelerated desertification and soil erosion. From 1941 to 1991 the population of sheep and goats more than doubled to 5.5 million in Turkmenistan and quadrupled to 10 million in Kyrgyzstan, while a third of Kyrgyzstan’s available grasslands have disappeared. Since the end of the Soviet era, land has been privatized and divided. Economic hardship, a loss of effective management and a lack of governmental infrastructure have seen flocks numbers dwindle to about six million (for 5 million inhabitants).
This being so, landscapes are stoning and the three of us feel like we have never seen sheeps before !
After a few hours of driving, he get to our night camp : yurts !
We will meet there one guy from SIngapore traveling on his own and a French couple, visiting their cousin who works at the French Embassy in Almaty, Kazakstan. He will give me many advice for the rest of my trip in Central Asia, what roads I should avoid for safety reasons, where would be the best location to get a visa, etc. An unexpected briefing in the middle of nowhere, on the shore of the Issyk-Kul lake.
Karakol is the administrative centre of Issyk-Köl province, and the best base for exploring the lakeshore, the Terskey Alatau and the central Tian Shan.
Karakol is a peaceful, low-rise town with back- streets full of Russian gingerbread cottages, shaded by rows of huge white poplars. Around the town are apple orchards, for which the area is famous.
It’s not quite paradise for those who live here – the economic stresses since independence and the decline in spa tourism have led to considerable hardship, thinned out available goods and services, and returned a kind of frontier atmosphere to this old boundary post.
We will spent the night in a guesthouse a few blocks from this street. On our way, we were silent in the car, wondering where the driver was about to drop us. From the outside, the house was grey, almost creepy. But then, once the front door opened, we were welcomed by a wonderful house and a wonderful host.
We slept in cosy bedrooms, had hot water in the tubes, and wonderful diner.
She prepared porridge for our breakfast, knowing we would be walking six hours in the mountains over the day…