Fly to: Almaty Kazakhstan
Internal Transfer: Almaty (Kazakhstan) to Karakol (Kyrgyzstan) in minibus (9hrs 30mins)
Karakol, Kyrgyzstan - Inylchek (9hrs) in an Ex-Soviet off road Military Truck
Ex-Soviet military helicopter flight up the Inylchek glacier (35mins)
Visa required: Yes if British for both Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan
Currency:Tenge (Kazakhstan) & Som (Kyrgyzstan)
Time Zone:+6hrs GMT
Day 2, 20/07/08: Tien Shan
As we left the airport we were swiftly met by our mini-bus; the journey was to take 8hrs 30mins and would take us across the Kazak/Kyrgyzstan border; the destination: 'hotel Amir' in Karakol. The route took us past numerous street stalls predominantly selling watermelons & tomatoes; there was also a liberal scattering of local policemen receiving bungs by the roadside. This 1st stage of our journey (Kazakhstan) took us through some extremely striking, 'Indiana Jones' style desert mountains, we also passed a number of bee keepers & traditional Yurt farmers. Our bus driver cut some bread, watermelon & tomatoes for lunch - which was greatly appreciated as the heat was intense.
When we reached the Kazak/Kyrgyzstan border it was like a mini military operation, quite clearly these guys had been waiting their entire lives for the sight of people. With blinking, dazed eyes they rushed into action (well rushed might be an exaggeration!) we had our pictures taken (obviously for the upcoming issue of Kyrg-Vogue) and had to depart the vehicle, walking 150metres to cross the border on foot. This was certainly a unique experience as we were closely monitored by armed (vodka ridden) members of the ex-soviet military.
The minute we entered Kyrgyzstan the scenery changed to dramatic 'Mongolian' style grasslands (after all we were now in Genghis Khan territory); framed by severe jagged peaks. I was starting to think I'd under packed as everyone else had so many clothes & so much gear! Oh sh*t - hmm too late to do anything about it now!
Karakol itself looked both very poor & very concrete; there was no mistaking it had past Soviet connections; statues of Lenin rose from each corner. Set amidst the dusty, beige looking back roads, like a surreal apparition was a modern, muliticoloured building abstract in design - it was the Hotel Amir.
We settled into our rooms, quickly showered and it wasn't too long before we found ourselves at a local restaurant. As we ordered our food we were soon alerted to the small fact that they didn't accept dollars or euros; hmm slightly concerning as none of us had any Kyrgyzstani Som! Oooops! The food was interesting & suprisingly it was partially edible though first appearance suggested otherwise! It seems the Kyrg's are not fans of the actual meat but more of the animal 'fat'; apparently it's quite a delicacy. Two brave members of our team opted for the 'traditional' Kyrgyz option; brave but not so clever as neither managed to consume more than a delicate nibble! We eventually managed to pay for the meal using dollars & a conversion table, the price worked out at approximately 9p per meal - not bad! Hey that's better than Asda price!
Darkness was falling as we left the restaurant; we were 8 budding explorers & none of us could remember the way back to the hotel; hmmm a little unsettling as there were people running past with Kalashnikov guns! As we searched for something familiar we passed numerous statues of Lenin, well probably the same statue numerous times! All of which which seemed more imposing & daunting as the dusk settled. After walking aimlessly for approx 1hr we managed to flag a taxi who took us back to our hotel (good job because we'd actually managed to cross into a different town!).