"On the shores of Issyk-Kul" Tamchy by RB_Oakes

Tamchy Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 0 photos

The ride to Tamchy stretches through farmland from Bishkek for a while before entering a low, jagged canyon. Upon exiting the canyon, we stopped for lunch. The roadside stall had some fried dough with meat stuffing. It’s desperation food, so I gave it a pass. The first town was Balykchy. Like all Soviet-era towns in Kyrgyzstan (this would be almost all towns in Kyrgyzstan, since the population was strictly nomadic until the Soviets came and only Uzbek towns like Osh existed previously), it is dusty, ugly, and sprawls for far more distance than it should. At this point, you start along the north shore of the lake. The road is lined with tall trees, each of which is painted white at the bottom. You see this is a lot of places in Asia. The purpose is to reflect headlights back as a substitute for street lights.

Tamchy is a speck on the map, only recently discovered. The beach isn’t much to speak of, just a thin strip. It requires a walk across a small swamp just to get there. Tourists are mainly Russians from Bishkek and Kazakhstan, which is located to the north on the other side of the Tian-Shan mountains. These rise immediately north of Tamchy. The town has little to offer, but is a decent place to relax and hang out by the lake for a day. There is a small mosque, too, a reminder that you haven’t yet left the Muslim world.

When I arrived I soon was met by a man with a car who insisted, very friendly-like, that he'd take me to my guesthouse of choice. I must have left my brain in Bishkek because I got a tour of all the expensive places in town (yes, the $20 places). And I had to give him some money, too (oh, the horror of $2). Hey, if you're going to get taken, two bucks is pretty reasonable. At any rate, his help wasn't needed at all, and neither was the stupid travel book, which got me to the least of guesthouses. If I'd just walked into one of the ones on the main road, which were recommended by other travellers I'd talked to, I'd have been much better off but these are the lessons one must learn by experience.

From Tamchy, it was destination Karakol, at the far end of the lake. The main reason to visit Karakol is to as a jumping-off point for the mountains. One thing about very small places in this part of the world. As long as it is on a main road, it’s easy to get a minibus to drop you off there. Exiting is not so simple. Minibuses don’t run unless they are packed to the gills, so the only chance for you to get on one mid-trip is if somebody got off early, like you did. This is why it is imperative to get to the highway early in the morning.

Arrival in Karakol

Notice I didn’t say anything about knowing the schedule. They don’t have such things in Kyrgyzstan. Local buses always have room, even if it’s in the aisles or on someone’s lap. But you don’t want to miss them. It was warm and shady, a perfect Sunday morning. I set up a medium-sized rock on a bigger rock across the road. I tossed small rocks at the medium-sized rock to try and hit it from across the road. This was my amusement for about an hour…you’ve got to be inventive sometimes.

I went into a store to buy some water. Most of my Russian vocabulary was developed in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Apparently by the time you get to the shores of Issyk-Kul the accent has changed to the point where such words as “voda” (“water”), which I was once able to say to my listener’s perfect comprehension, now are unintelligible. Talk about frustrating – English speakers are so much better when people don’t get the language perfectly.

A rattler came by and we took four hours to lurch and shake our way to Karakol. The town isn’t much. Once I arrived, this taxi driver cracked me up, though. He was incredulous at my suggestion that I could manage the walk from the bus station to town. It’s about 1.5km. I mean, the look of profound shock and amazement was priceless.

It really shouldn’t have been. The primary reason people go to Karakol is to get into the mountains. Trekkers come from all over, and if they can haul their packs dozens of kilometers into the mountains and over passes, surely the driver has seen someone walk into town with a pack before. Only one of two trekking offices was open. They even spoke perfect English, which was a bonus. I wasn’t planning anything hardcore, as I was on my own, inexperienced and without serious gear, so I headed for Yak Tours to get hooked up with their mountain yurt-stay program. Turns out that the previous night had been the last yurt night of the season.

  • Last visit to Tamchy: Sep 2004
  • Intro Updated Jun 25, 2005
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RB_Oakes

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