(47) Southern Shores of Issyk-Kul: Peace and contemplation

Ahh, Tamga.

My original intent was to village hop along the southern shore of Issyk Kul. But you know when you find something you love, you stick with it?

For partially these reasons, and for just wanting to flat out relax and enjoy my last week in Kyrgyzstan, I spent 6 days in and around Tamga.

I admit, I spent a lot of time writing. Writing these blog posts. Writing thoughts about my masters research and sections of my research proposal. It was really productive, but in a really slow way. I should take working vacations more often. 

After my first night, a retired Russian couple from Bishkek invited me to go with them on a drive up one of the nearby valleys. It was a gloomy morning, but it wasn’t raining. I walk out of the building I’m staying in, and the husband points at my Teva sandals. 

“Mistake,” he states. Apparently this is a hiking boot kind of trip.

The drive heads up a well-maintained road, through a picturesque river valley dotted with increasingly large waterfalls. The road heads towards a gold mine (the 8th largest gold field in the world) at 4200m operated by Komtor, a Canadian company. The revenue generated by the mines accounts for something crazy like 18% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP, which speaks to both the size of the mine, and the size of Kygyzstan’s economy. 

The wife likes taking pictures as much as I do, so we stop a lot to get the shots we want. We stop for longer at two different points along the valley. The first at a great open spot with a wide view of the largest waterfall in the valley. We walk a bit, and I sit a lot. I’m in a very contemplative mood at this point in my trip (though I tend to think a lot at anytime) and I just sit, watch the river water ripple over rocks, and sing a little bit when I think everyone is out of earshot.

We are also stopped because the car is almost out of gas. The husband waves down the operators of a grader, and when they’re done a run they siphon two buckets of gas for us. 20% above pump prices, of course. 

The second stop is just before the road really starts to climb toward the mine and the road that heads south of the current range of mountains. Lots of flowers still dot the pastures at this time of year.  

On the way back, I have to ask to pull over just minutes from the guesthouse. I’m sick again. After a week with my appetite back, I’m afraid to lose it. I spend the afternoon napping and swear off tap water tooth brushing and morning coffee, which for some reason I had opted for this morning. The couple gives me some pills to take before my next two meals. I thank them, but know I won’t take them. 

The next morning I make plans to wander to some Tibetan inscriptions. I have absolutely no idea what they are about, how old they are, on what they are inscribed, but it’s a destination that gives my morning purpose. Lyuba, the guesthouse owner, draws me a map of how to get there. I promptly forget it in my room.

I realize this omission about 500m into my 6km walk to the site, but I figure I can remember it. Take the road to the right when the village ends. Pass the electricity station and the cemetery. A small stream I can walk through. Then a bigger stream – take the iron bridge to the left. A gate on the left that looks closed, but it’s not. Trail follows beneath hills. When the path forks, go along the river, not between the hills. Tamga Tash is up ahead on the right. Plus lots of references to small houses, big houses, fruit trees, gardens. 

No problem. 

The inscriptions are short. Looks like one phrase, or one word, sculpted large on the flat face of a large boulder which has worn down with the weather over time. The bushes surrounding the rock are filled with colourful Tibetan prayer flags, plus small cloth strips tied to branches like those found so commonly at shrines all throughout my trip.

I sit in a patch of shade and enjoy the view that snakes around the hills back down to a small ‘v’ of Issyk Kul I spot in the distance.

I’m feeling good, and whatever the view might be around the corner is tempting, so I push on. First through lush pastures knee deep in grass and purple flowers, and ankle deep in water running down from an overflowing irrigation canal above. I join up with the rough valley road after hiking up my pants and wading through the Tamga River. I chase butterflies and touch the flora. I have one unfortunate incident with some sort of shrub that stings me. The resulting pain and swelling lead me to think my finger might fall off. I don’t know the name of the plant but call it “fuckweed” and make sure it knows its name whenever I pass another one.

The valley is just beautiful. Like what I expected Kyrgyzstan to be like all along, but hadn’t actually seen yet. The valley made crooked by many years of river flow is the kind where a whole other stunning vista awaits around every corner. 

So I push on.

Around one corner, then another corner, and then another.

The valley is fairly void of signs of human life – four houses since I left the inscriptions, a few spots for herds to take shelter. A few men fishing. An abandoned van. I add this area to the list of places I could imagine living. So far on this trip Zagreb-Croatia, Bachesaray and other spots around Van-Turkey, and Khorog-Tajikistan all fit the bill. And curiously, they are all pretty similar to BC. Temperate climates. Mountains. Trees. Snow. Water. Sun. It’s probably about 25 degrees with clear sky and light wind. Perfect.

I daydream about refinishing one of the seemingly abandoned (though likely just in a state of disrepair) houses in the valley. I have imaginary conversations with travel guide writers and tourists in my head.

I end up going about 2 hours further than the inscription. I stop when I hit denser trees. Some men I passed earlier in my walk mentioned “wolf” and I didn’t know if they meant that wolves generally lived up here, or that a wolf has been causing shit and attacking people. 

I also knew that the corners that lead to more beautiful views weren’t going to run out anytime soon, and I still needed to walk back. If you had of told me in the morning that nice views awaited if I wanted to walk for over 6 hours, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But I’m glad the corners tempted me further than expected.

On my walk back down, I pause to see if the clouds hanging over some eternal snow on one of the peaks will pass so I can take a photo. Nope.

The men I had passed earlier were heading back down the road in their Russian jeep, so I tagged along for a few km before they took another fork. Earlier in the day I had assumed they were military based on their clothes, but the large proportion of men around here that seem at first to be military lead me to believe that men around here actually just like wearing camouflage.

On the way back down, I considered ways to come back up here. Perhaps on a horse on an overnight trip (but remember how much pain you were in last time?). Perhaps on another walk up the valley (but by the end of this walk, one of my feet was aching). By the time I got back to Tamga village, I had decided to just leave the valley alone, and keep my memories and photos. 

And the foot pain that wouldn’t go away for days. After resting for a bit back at the guesthouse, I could hardly walk. 

My peaceful time in Tamga was also dotted with:

  • Swimming in lake, Issuk-Kyl. The pristine, Okanagan-like lake, but with NO motorized boats etc.
  • A trip over to Bokonbaevo. Got my hair cut (it’s almost the end of my trip, it’s what I do). Checked out the market, expressed curiosity at the school uniforms for sale that looked like french maid outfits. Explored outside of town towards the mountains, enjoyed scenery of canals, fields, and graveyears. On the way here I had spotted a nice isolated beach to stop at on the way back, so asked my shared taxi driver to stop in the middle of nowhere when it was time to head home. Enjoyed more peaceful, warmish, clean water. Headed back up to the road and chatted up a family that had also ventured to (another part of) the beach. They drove me home (other recipients of mailed photos).
  • Enjoying the view of mountains during the Golden Hour.
  • The guesthouse. Good, though basic, food. The orchard with apples, pears, apricots. Flowers. Quiet.