Driving in the land of Yurts & Horses - Kyrgyzstan

Woman Motorist Me

Well-Known Member
Thank you everyone for the lovely comments! :)

Day 9: The road to Naryn.

Naryn is a 'city' in central Kyrgyzstan with the total population of ... ahem ... 35,000 inhabitants. It's the headquarters of the Naryn region, the largest oblast (region) in the country. It's population is 99% Kyrgyz and it's economy is dominated by animal herding (sheep, horses & yak). This would be the place to see the true nomadic culture of Kyrgyzstan which attracted us to this country in the first place!

Map 05.jpg

Today we drove from Tamga to Naryn.​


It's quite a scenic drive with a part of it hugging the Issyk Kul lake.​


Fall colors had started showing in some areas!​


The color of the lake varies with the angle of the sunlight falling on it.​


Soon we come across this board announcing the location of the 'Fairy Tale Canyon'. The name sounded interesting enough for us to want to take the 2 km detour.​


The road is meant only for 4x4 vehicles. So we thought we'll make some use of our car's capabilities.​


We soon come to the parking lot & realize we have company.


There are some interesting geological formations to be explored.​


The area is quite vast & you can easily spend a couple of hours here if you wish.​


The Issyk Kul lake creates an interesting backdrop. Be prepared to walk in the hot sun - drink lots of water.​


Colorful rocks covered with colorful people ;).​


Back on the road. We soon leave the Issyk Kul lake behind.​


The nomadic way of life starts quite young here.​


Varying landscapes.​


We pass the Orto Tokoy Reservoir on the way.​


We wanted to stop here for a bit but couldn't as we needed to reach Naryn.​


We were wondering about those hay cubes. Apparently they have machines to pack them like this. They are stored for the harsh winters out here as fodder for their large herds of animals. Temperatures in winter plummet down to below -35º C :shock:.​


Some of the roads here are in excellent condition. With strategically placed cops to catch you the moment you over-speed! (They really need (speed) gun control laws here) :cool:.​


We finally make it to Datka's Guesthouse where we would spend the night. It took us 8 hours to reach here including all the detours & pit-stops.​


The room was quite new and very clean. Also the only accommodation in our entire 17 day trip which had dark curtains! I could finally sleep till late \\:D/. (Every other accommodation had sheer curtains).​

The owner at the guesthouse was an extremely sweet lady who knew English - a rarity in these parts. Naryn is an out-and-out meat eating region & the concept of vegetarianism hasn't reached here yet.

We had an interesting conversation with her husband (who didn't speak a word of English - she translated for us) about the differences in our cultures. The part that fascinated him was that we don't eat meat.

He seemed quite confused for a bit and asked us a couple of times if we had actually never tasted meat. On finding out that there is a large number of such vegetarians in our country, he asked us about life expectancy in India & the health of people who obviously don't consume anything nutritious!

Then he suddenly got that 'eureka' look. He started looking at a photograph on his wall of some sheep ... and Manan alternately. Oh oh. He was probably thinking of how both eat only grass ...:p

Next he started checking Manan's arms for muscles :roll:. I wanted to tell him that Manan hardly qualifies as the finest example of brute strength but he started tsk-tsk-ing before I could speak.

Finally he took pity on us & told something to his wife. She went to the refrigerator ... and removed this large chunk of white ... and offered it to us. It was apparently the healthiest part of a sheep they had cut and was usually meant for their most honored guests. When we refused, he tried offering us Kymyz (or Kumis) ... Now we had already read up about how difficult it is to like this fermented mare's milk ... and we quickly conveniently turned vegan for some time (never mind the tetra pack of milk we had kept in his fridge. I think he was too traumatized thinking of our suffering to realize the anomaly).

Saved from a potentially disastrous situation, we finally retreated to our room!
Last edited:

Travel Dreams

New Member
Awesome blog!! Its informative, its fun..and has great pics to compliment it. I find inspiration to travel to destinations like this.. when I read your experiences. Thanks for sharing your journey.

Woman Motorist Me

Well-Known Member
Day 10: Köl-Suu lake & the day of 2's.

We had kept 3 days in Naryn as we wanted to visit the Köl-Suu lake.

This is a high altitude alpine lake which was formed due to a landslide in the 1980s! That's fresh out of the mint in geological terms :shock:.

But half the fun of going here is the journey. There are basically 2 hurdles: bureaucratic and natural.
Since this place is in the patrolled border area with China, one needs permits to visit. We didn't want to take a chance and wait in Naryn for 2-3 days so we arranged for the permits in advance before we left India.

There are at least 2 places we know of, that can arrange these permits for you. One is the CBT office in Naryn. And another is this private tour operator called Kubat tours. We contacted the CBT office & got in touch with Gulnura. She basically told us to transfer the 50 US$ in their account so she could process the same.
Then the fun started!
We transferred the amount online through ICICI bank's forex services which promptly charged us some 40$ extra in fees. And then within 3 days, rejected our transaction for 'unknown reasons'. After trying this thrice, we got a call from our bank:
Bank Employee: You have initiated a forex transfer. Can you tell me which country are you trying to transfer this amount to?
Me: Kyrgyzstan.
Bank Employee: Ok which country does this Kyr..s. belong to?
Me: Kyrgyzstan belongs to Kyrgyzstan no? It got it's independence in 1991.
Bank Employee: #-oOh maybe we don't transfer to this country.
Me: Kindly refer to the ICICI bank website. It's listed there.
After being grilled for a solid 30 mins to figure out why am I transferring money to a Stan country, I finally gave up. Sheesh :roll:.

Luckily Gulnura is extremely nice & helpful & got our permits for us with just a promise to pay on arrival ... Bless her!

The second part is that it's a tough 6-hour 4x4 only drive to the 'base' which is where you have to leave your car. And then either trek the last 2 hours or go on horseback for 1 hour to reach the lake.


On Google maps, the road to Köl-Suu lake doesn't exist.​

This road is unmarked so you won't know where to take your turns & also not knowing the local language would be tough in these rural areas. So we took a guide from Kubat tours, a local company recommended to us by Andre from Riverside Guesthouse, Karakol ... for 2 days.


Kubat tour + grocery store in Naryn.​

We didn't have any difficulty on the supposedly tough road for 2 reasons:
1. It hadn't rained since a lot of days & hence the gravel roads were firm & not slushy.
2. Apparently the whole route had just been repaired 10 days back ... for the first time in 20 odd years! Lucky us!!!

There are 2 checkposts where they check your permits & passports so don't leave home without originals. You also need to keep 2 copies of the permits.


Landscapes along the way.​


Herds of sheep, yak & horses.​


The road is completely gravel & apt for 4x4 only though the dry weather had made it quite easy for us.​


There are several of these wooden bridges on the way. They looked scary ... so I didn't allow anyone to eat any food in the car as they could have gained weight & the bridges might have collapsed :p.​


We go deep into the mountains gradually but consistently gaining altitude.​


There are several of these Menzbier's Marmots along the way. They are quite shy and run back into their underground network the moment we approach.​


We are nearing our destination.​


One of the 2 yurt camps which will form our base for the night. It took us 5 hours to reach here.​

The yurts are at an elevation of around 11,000 ft. The camp we stayed in is run by these very hospitable hosts - Heder & his family. The other one is run by Jyrgal (who speaks English).
Yurts are traditional, portable round tents covered with felt, used as dwellings by nomads in Central Asia. They can be dismantled & reconstructed again in around 2 hours!!!
Felt is made from sheep's wool using a very long & labor intensive traditional process. It makes the yurts relatively warm and cozy.


There are a total of 3-4 yurts for guests.​


Yurts also have a fireplace. They put dried dung & burn it at night to make the yurt warm.​


We reached at lunch time. It would have taken time to cook a meal & we wanted to visit the lake right away - so we chose to make sandwiches for ourselves instead in this dining yurt. It's a system in Kyrgyzstan to leave food like dry fruits, candies, biscuits, bread and preserves open on tables without covering it ... never mind the flies or whatever ](*,).​


As the 4x4 road to the lake was too perilous apparently & I didn't want to walk at this high altitude, the only option left was to go on horseback.​


We soon came to this river. I started searching for a way around it or a bridge to cross when ...​


... the horses waded right through the icy cold water :shock:.​


This looks like an easy meadow to walk on but actually it had a lot of marshes with muddy spots which would sink you in knee-deep!​


We were closer to the snow capped mountains now.​


The lake lies beyond these craggy mountains.​


The last 15 mins is a steep climb.​


Finally after an hour of riding, we disembark ...​


.. and we've arrived! The first sight of the lake took our breath away (though I'm sure had we walked instead of riding, a lot more of our breath would have been taken away :p).​


The colors of the lake keep changing through the day.​


You can only see 10% of the 12-18 km lake from here. You have to take a very expensive boat ride to see more of it (there is exactly 1 boat here & you need to book it from the yurts). Since it was already past 4 pm, we decided to skip it.​


The mountains around are so sheer & craggy that it's impossible to hike on them to see the other sections of the lake.​


The length of the lake varies depending on the season & the amount of snow-melt.​


We had the lake to ourselves & spent a magical hour out here.​


It soon started becoming more windy & dark so we decided to head back. That's Heder himself, the owner of the yurt camp.​


On the way back through the tough route, our magnificent steeds were reliable as a rock in getting us back. These are the true ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) of the mountains!​

After my experience of Köl-Suu, I truly believe that no trip to Kyrgyzstan would be complete without 2 things: A horse ride & a stay in a traditional yurt!!! :)
Last edited:

Woman Motorist Me

Well-Known Member

Back to the yurts. The green installation in the center is the wash basin & the tin structure behind is the dry toilet.​

Once we reached back, we realized that due to some misunderstanding, they had cooked only potato momos for us as dinner. So we slept a bit hungry. Also the mercury quickly dropped to below freezing as night approached. We started feeling the effects of the high altitude & promptly fell slightly ill. I started getting a bad headache & mild nose-bleed.

Needless to say, there is no electricity here. Luckily we had carried our headlamps so we didn't have a problem with illuminating our yurt.


At night, Heder put dung in the fireplace & started a nice fire.​

The yurt soon became warm & comfortable ... till after a few hours when it suddenly started becoming really cold. Manan checked & realized that the fire had gone off.
He went out to check if he could find someone to re-light it but due to the late hour, everyone was fast asleep. In a fit of bravado, Manan went & got a small heap of dung from outside and a matchbox from the kitchen. He then proceeded to try lighting a fire.
He got some oil & dumped it in ... no fire. He found a dying can of some highly inflammable spray ... but as he sprayed it, an unbelievable stench arose from it & he quickly threw that out. Finally he got whatever newspapers etc. he could get & tried again. All this while, the matches kept dwindling till finally ... there were no matches left.
That's when we suddenly realized something ... all this while that Manan was learning on the job of how to light a fire, a small fire was still burning in the fireplace belching out smoke: Our whole yurt was now covered in it.
There was nothing for it: He quickly opened up the door to the yurt to let the smoke out (and all the freezing air in). We were now far colder than we started with :mad:! So much for all that camping experience he claims to have!!!

After a fitful night's sleep, we got up & got ready to leave.


Heder's dog which Manan took a liking to.​

This dog came with us to Köl-Suu & back so Manan grew quite fond of it. He kept cuddling it & playing with it. Before leaving, he asked our guide Aziz about which breed this cute dog is. Aziz looked at us surprised & told us: That's a hunting dog native to Kyrgyzstan ... and a very ferocious one at that. This sighthound is capable of bringing down a deer single handedly. GULP! :shock:! That was the end of Manan playing with this chap at least ...


Jazgul - Heder's wife & his 2 cute kids.​


The house with the white car in the back is where they stay.​


Check out the metallic teeth of this local guy! We heard that these gold & silver teeth are quite the rage out here. In fact they were quite surprised that we don't do this to our teeth in India ;).​


Finally we left Köl-Suu & headed back towards Naryn.​


We saw tons of horses along the way.​


The Yak didn't look too amused to see us.​


On the way, we passed this scenic gorge. Aziz told us that there is a small waterfall ahead which we could walk to.​


It was quite pretty!​


Varying landscapes.​


More Marmots!!!​


More sheep!​


Meandering river on the way.​


More horses.​


We finally come across another car!​


Descending to lower altitudes.​


The cemeteries here are to die for ;-).​

On the way back, we kept looking at the fuel gauge. What we hadn't realized is that apart from Naryn, there is no gas station anywhere on this route. Our fuel was showing empty and our car was probably running on fumes by the time we reached the gas station. Phew! Saved by the bell!!!

We stayed at Datka's guesthouse again & opted for pizzas for an early dinner at 'Nomad's Cafe' in Naryn.