Situated at an altitude of 3016 m, Song-Köl is definitely a must-see inside the spellbinding panorama of Kyrgyzstan. It is a beautiful alpine lake enclosed by snowy mountains, thriving pastures and nomadic yurt camps, partially dedicated to tourists as well.
We chose the cheapest and most fascinating way to arrive there, that is from the northern side and the small village named Djanaryk. Although a bit remote (from Toktogul we had to hitchhike four times), this is the closest point on a national road from which you can try the approach to the lake.
We slept in a village homestay to be able to set off early the following morning. Our plan was to cover the 24 Km to Song-Köl on foot, walking on a well marked path across the Tuz-Ashu Pass (3400 m). The entire trail takes about 5-6 hours to be completed.
The road is even suitable for horses and cars. The first half of it is a flat, scorching track without much sight and emotion. Gripped by doubt, we had to inquire a few times and use the GPS to confirm the correct way.
After 12 Km the road suddenly turns right and gets steeper and steeper.
You will pass a friendly yurt camp (15th Km) and a few hard stretches (between Km 17 and 20) before reaching the high Tuz-Ashu Pass, located at only 3 descending kilometres from the lake.
From the Pass the sight over Song-Köl is really sublime!
The first yurt camp you encounter near the lake shore is Tuz-Ashu, made of 6 traditional yurts flanked by plenty livestock grazing the soft grass. Although there were other yurt camps (Yamanechki and Batai-Aral) around the lake, we had heard that this one was perhaps the less “commercial” option.
We just asked for accommodation to the first yurt in our way. We closed a bargain including accommodation, dinner, breakfast and horse riding for 1500 KGZ Som each
The large family living in the yurt immediately showed their genuine and authentic cordiality: they invited us to have a tea snack with local products (and çay of course!) at no additional charge.
The family was composed of eight members all sleeping under the same yurt “roof”. They generally work there for three months (Jun-Aug) every year and round up their farming income with tourist services (accommodation, meals, taxi and horse riding). The rest of the time they live in the main village – Djanaryk.
In the few hours of our stay, we became the privileged witnesses of the family’s daily labours in the farm. We carefully observed how they prepare Mantu (big dumplings refilled with mutton meat and vegetables); how they obtain and ferment the mare’s milk (to produce the popular Kumys); how they put to pasture the cattle and horses; and how they cut the horse meat into pieces.
It therefore turned out to be a real experience next to a traditional, breeding family. An experience consisting of common spaces and moments with native dwellers
Before dinner (scheduled at approx. 19 30 h) we indulged ourselves with a gentle stroll along the sunny and quiet lake shores, taking charming pictures of the clear landscape and the jolly local people.
Once returned to the yurt, we got served our meal. No doubt: delicious Manti!! Together with a fresh lake fish fried in a pan. As for drinks, it goes without saying: çay!!
Between hilarious linguistic misunderstandings (no English spoken, of course; they only had a children English book used for translating some basic words) and sincere childish laughs, the eating moments passed and came to an end very fast.
In these areas the dinner termination automatically coincides with the sleeping time. No computer, internet or TV. Only very basic devices powered by solar or self-generated electricity
Since the yurt could only house eight people, two lads went to sleep inside the family car. The rest of the group (mother, father and four kids) took place side-by-side with us. No private room this time : ). Despite the cramped space, we harmoniously rested together on the floor as a big, extended family!
The subsequent morning, after a lavish breakfast, we had to unfortunately say farewell to our amiable hosts. One of the kids, however, was charged with “escorting” us back to Djanaryk by horse.
Our horses were a bit reluctant from the very beginning. We had to repeatedly spur and incite them to move forward. Maybe also some lack of practice on our side : )
The journey to Djanaryk (24 Km) turned out to be very lasting (4 h 30) and painful (for the buttocks : ), especially for the long slope down and the frequent jolts, quite inevitable indeed.
Nevertheless, the horse experience in Kyrgyzstan could not be missed ! The matchless adventure of crossing yurt camps and breeding fields by horse is well worth some temporary discomfort !
The endless way to the town brought us back to the “civilized” reality, even though still in the “countryside style”. At around 1 pm we were again at our homestay to collect our stuff and attempt a new hitchhike to reach Kochkor, following stop-over in our Silk Road trip. But this is another story…
For the time being we would like to hear your stories of trekking and horse-riding in Kyrgyzstan or Central Asia!
Thank you for sharing them with us!!