Yurt living at Song-Kul Lake

The driver who brought us to Kazarman swung by before dinner and we did a deal with him to take us to Song-Kul Lake the next morning. Our routine in the Pamirs had been to breakfast at 7:30 and leave at 8, so that has become our default but he suggested 7, which was fine by us, the earlier you hit the road the more of the day you have when you get there.

We couldn’t budge him on the hefty price, but the drivers have the power because they know you’re effectively stuck. When the next morning over a quarter of the fare went into the fuel tank it felt less hefty.

He asked to bring a friend along for the drive back, we knew it was going to take between 4-5 hours and he also had to drive back. It was fine by us.

When the exhaust broke (it got pulled off and put in the boot) and we got a puncture (which we stopped in a village and got fixed so it became the spare) the price felt more and more reasonable.

In the end it took us 6.5 hours.

The scenery was beautiful and ever changing. We drove up, down and across mountains – big ones that had endless switchbacks but at the top we looked down on others – through gorges and across wide valleys and plains.

As we turned to climb up to Song-Kul Lake (which takes us back to high altitude as it sits at 3,016m) the landscape changed again and we were in a rocky gorge with straight trees. It was unlike any scenery we have seen before, it looked like how we imagine the Canadian Rocky Mountains to be. There is a warning in the guidebook that there is a diminishing population of wolves around the lake and we could well believe it in that landscape.

We climbed up the last series of switchbacks, leaving the valley far below. As we reached the plateau the lake opened out in front of us. Many of the hills circulating the lake had a fresh dusting of snow and we drove through a little sleet as we made our way to the lake. We understood why people only set up the yurt camps here for just over 2 months of the year.

We’d agreed to be dropped on the north side of the lake (we arrived from the south). We’d called the local CBT office before we lost service as the guidebook says they can help with transport between the lake and Kochkor, which was the way to Bishkek that we wanted to take the next day, and got the name of a yurt camp to go to where someone would be able to help.

There are yurt camps dotted all around the lake and we bounced along the track around it. Typically each camp has 3-6 yurts, depending on how many guest yurts they have (the family usually use 2). Eventually we stopped at a camp when we got our agreed area and they had 2 beds for us.

In Central Kyrgzstan dinner has been an extra charge at the homestays. We’d decided to decline, as we have some snacks and Marie had really bad stomach ache the night before after dinner so has decided she is off food and the only safe option is to live off chocolate – a theory proved flawed when the first thing she ate that day was half a snickers for lunch that we found in a shop while the puncture was being fixed and it promptly gave her stomach cramps. She made it to the yurt camp though before it really took its toll. That decided it though, it wasn’t some food she’d eaten disagreeing with her it was her stomach disagreeing with all food. Out came the antibiotics.

As with previous high altitude lakes it was beautiful but cold. We knew that yurts were on a shared set up with other tourists but hadn’t expected there to literally just be mattresses rammed all over the floor. Mongolian gers are much better, they look like they are less hastily put together, with more decoration and proper beds that ring the inside usually with a stove and a table and stools in the centre. The yurt wasn’t a great hang out for somewhere so cold.

Marie nuked her stomach with every drug she thought useful and then we ventured out. We set off to walk along the lake and find the camp where we could arrange our ride out. We had it sorted within about 15 minutes and with that arranged we carried on with our walk. We headed past all the yurt camps and chilled out by the lake and then had a slow walk back before relaxing in the sun outside the yurt. When a cloud past or the wind blew it was bitter but otherwise it warmed the bones.

Our hosts gave us hot water for our tea and they gave us some bread too so we cracked our pot of jam out (note: bread is always dried out and hard as concrete so that isn’t as nice as it sounds). We decided to cook up our noodles in the sun before we lost the warmth. Plain noodles and a bit of flavouring hit the spot and was nicer than most diners we’ve been made, not sure why we didn’t do this before!

After dinner we had a sunset walk towards the hills and we were stoked when no one else arrived to share our yurt. We promptly set about stealing the pillows and duvets off the other beds as it was going bloody cold. It clearly didn’t meet our hosts threshold of cold as they never lit our stove but we slept in a full set of clothes plus hats under 3 duvets and while we were warm under there it had taken almost an hour to warm up. In the morning it was frosty. Hard to believe this was the peak of summer!

Click any photo to enlarge and scroll through


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