After spending a few relaxing days wandering around Bishkek we travelled toward the Lake Issy Kol region, east of the capital. As we had arrived slightly early season-wise, many attractions such as the lake Song Kol were still frozen over. However, Lake Issy Kol, the second largest alpine lake in the world, doesn’t freeze (due to a combination of thermal activity, salinity and its depth), so we decided to spend a few days hiking around this area.
We travelled to Karakol via shared taxi, managing to negotiate a fare of 500 som each (which seemed to be the local going rate). The trip was a scenic drive passing the snow-capped Ala Too ranges, and at some point we were only kilometres away from Kazakhstan. After some time we caught glimpses of Lake Issy Kol – a massive body of water that looked more like a sea. An hour later, we were still passing it! Arriving in Karakol mid-afternoon, we decided to stay at a quaint Russian-run guesthouse with an extravagantly (perhaps a little too over the top for my liking) mirrored bathroom. The staff did not speak much English so much sign language was used to communicate our questions. Later in the afternoon we wandered around the tiny town, admiring its pink cherry blossom lined streets and wooden cottages. We stopped by the yellow domed Holy Trinity Cathedral before picking up some fruit, samsas (somosas) and kebabs at the local Jakshilik Bazaar.
That evening we met another Aussie traveller, Andrew, at our hotel (who, coincidentally, we’d heard about in Bishkek before we met him!) and eventually decided to hike together to Altyn Arashan, a small resort located in the valley of nearby mountains, the following morning.