Today we will complete the 6-day loop known as the Heights of Alay Trek, and the day starts off with an unusual challenge. The blankets at this yurt camp are exceptionally heavy, and just getting out of bed is hard work. We feel like we are removing the lead vest that protects your chest when you get X-rays at the dentist office. Maybe the idea of those weighted blankets that are so popular now came to us from Kyrgyzstan!
Even though it is a relatively short and easy day of trekking, we are up, packed and eating breakfast by 6:30 am. We are excited to get back to the tiny village of Sary-Mogol where we have a hot Russian sauna bucket shower and relatively decent WiFi awaiting us. After 6 days out in the wilderness of Kyrgyzstan, we are all eager for a few creature comforts.
We requested a break from fried eggs at breakfast this morning, so instead we are served mantava (a rice soup with vegetables) along with kefir, bread, jam, etc. It’s a welcome departure from the usual fare.
Despite a little rain and wind overnight, it’s bright and sunny, and even a little on the cool side until the sun crests the ridge and basks the valley in sunlight. We wave goodbye to our hosts as we cross the stream that runs alongside this yurt camp and begin to head down the valley with the sun at our backs.
At the end of the valley, we walk through a narrower stone gorge which opens out onto a vast grassy plain. Off on the horizon we have a clear view of the Pamir Mountains. It’s slightly cloudy today but we can still see the distinctive peak of Peak Lenin poking through.
There are many yurt camps alongside the road and stream that we walk along today. Several times as we walk past young children wave and say hello. I note that there are more song birds as we get lower in elevation and do my best to spot a few using my binoculars.
Soon we see the tell tale signs of strip mining come into view on our right. Huge “mountains” of mining waste with the faint colors of coal, iron and sulphur staining them cascade down. As we round a bend we cross a road and pass through a small mining camp.
High above as we walk by we can see dump truck after dump truck discard its contents and watch as a small avalanche of small and large stones rumbles down the artificial hillside leaving a cloud of dust behind. The scene is discordant and strange. In one view we can see nature at its most majestic alongside the complete degradation of the environment.
Before long the village of Sary-Mogol, with it’s shiny tin roofs, come into view. As we get closer, we cross a few streams and see a field of pinkish-red flowers that we can’t resist.
As we enter the outskirts of the village we see men making bricks out of mud and drying them in the sun. Within a few minutes of shuffling down the dusty two-track road through the center of town, we arrive back at the CBT guesthouse where we started. It’s only 11 am. Hooray!
It’s time to bid farewell to our three porters—Max, Kannat and Atash—and thank them for lugging our sleeping bags and extra gear up and down the passes these last few days. Then it’s time to clean up, wash a few clothes and relax for the afternoon.
After bathing, we all sit down for lunch, which includes fresh watermelon! Unfortunately, the electricity is out. That means we cannot charge batteries or use the WiFi. We are in a holding pattern as we lounge about the CBT on a very quiet, but sunny afternoon.
After awhile we all get antsy to go for a walk and explore the village of Sary-Mogol. We walked through half the village on our way in this morning but saw none of the shops that maps.me indicates exist, so we head the opposite direction, cross the highway near the petrol station and realize we are staying on the “wrong” side of the tracks. This is where it’s all happening. Which is to say, we see a handful more people walking down “Main Street” than we do over on our side of town.
The shops are not obviously marked with signage. Luckily we bump into Timu and our mountaineering guide/CBT host, Musa, as they are stocking up on supplies for the next four days. They direct us to the handful of shops, most of which are located in the central bazaar which appears largely vacant.
There are only two shops and two cafes serving food. The shops are tiny. There’s a countertop that separates us from whatever is for sale: toothpaste, candy bars, ramen, crackers, cookies, room temperature yogurt, Coca Cola, Fanta and more candy than anyone should really consider eating. We are in search of something for lunch on our last day, and, after perusing a few shops, settle on packets of ramen noodles. We know the seasoning packets are not vegetarian, but there really is nothing else to choose from. Perhaps we can survive on our remaining nuts and ProBars?
As we are debating our limited menu options, a young boy walks in and the shop owner hands him a plastic bag with half a dozen ice cream bars. Our heads are on a swivel and our jaws drop as he walks out. What are we thinking? It’s summer time and just finished a 6-day trek. It’s time to treat ourselves. So we pick out orange popsicles, a melon-flavored ice cream bar and an ice cream sandwich (total cost about US $1!) and sit on the steps of the shop enjoying our treat.
A young man named Buckit (we think) introduces himself and asks us a barrage of questions. He steps into the shop and emerges with a watermelon which he presents to us as a gift, and then asks us to come to his house to eat it. We are flattered, but politely decline as we are all desperate to get WiFi and take care of some forward planning before we depart on our next trek and step out of range for the next four days.
As a thank you, we step back into the shop and buy another round of ice cream treats and include our new friend in on the fun. Once again, we are impressed by the friendly hospitality of the Kyrgyz people.
Laden down with our basketball-sized watermelon, Rob and I share duties carrying the football back to home base. Then it’s time to chill out, read, write and work on photos. Shortly after 5 pm (as promised) the power comes on, and WiFi connects us to home. Everybody is happy, and, since it’s Beer O’Clock, we open a liter, clink glasses, and enjoy the quiet late afternoon in the guesthouse, which we have all to ourselves tonight!
Dinner arrives around 7:30 pm, and Timu emerges from his room, refreshed and in the mood to chat in English. I’m sure its exhausting to always be communicating, answering our questions and solving problems in three languages (Kyrgyz, Russian and English) all at once. We laugh about our watermelon encounter. Then we discover that he has been watching the movie, The Break Up, with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, which we suggested as a good “Chicago” movie. He enjoyed it and wants more suggestions. Watching American movies, he tells us, really helps him improve his English. Next up: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. On a side note, if you are an older reader, you may enjoy this post about getting older. You’ll see the connection!
We spend another hour taking care of odds and ends before turning the lights out. We are excited to begin our final phase of trekking in K-Stan tomorrow: a 4-day Peak Yuhina Trek which will take us relatively close to 7000-meter Peak Lenin, Kyrgyzstan’s highest mountain.
2 thoughts on “Heights of Alay Trek, Day 6: Coming Full Circle”
Those photos of strip mining are jarring when juxtaposed with your beautiful shots of wildflowers and stunning mountains.
Limited food options, but they had beer at least. How is the beer there?
Agreed! It was definitely a tough transition from the mountains to the mines, but the beer certainly helped! The locals use coal for all of their heating needs in the villages and in the jailoos, so the mining is seen as a necessity. We wonder if solar energy could be an option in the future?
In general, the local lagers were pretty good. There is a bit of a craft beer movement in Bishkek, but the IPAs we tasted were quite sour and strange. We learned to stick with the basics. Has craft beer made it to Thailand yet?
I am looking forward to seeing your posts on Oklahoma when I can get to some better wifi!