Bala-Chychkan Valley Hike

We’re determined to explore every bit of Kyrgyzstan while we’re here so we headed down to Toktogul to squeeze in one last backpacking trip before the snow comes.  Getting to Toktogul from our home in Balykchy requires a trip through Bishkek and we spent the night there to break up the long journey.  In the morning, we headed to the taxi stand to locate a taxi.  Normally we would take a marshrutka between cities but apparently due to a large number of accidents on the bad mountain roads they are no longer allowed.  We found a Toktogul taxi driver who told us he’d be leaving soon, just needed two more passengers… maybe 30 minutes.  An hour later the two additional passengers were sitting in the car but the driver was just strolling around and didn’t seem to be in a hurry.  Another 30 minutes went by and we became increasingly aggravated as another passenger had taken a seat but still we waited.  Finally enough passengers showed up for the taxi to fill and we took off, only to stop after 15 minutes so the ladies could spend 15 minutes buying bread.  Just double the time you think you need to get anywhere in this country.

From a nice fall day to this in minutes
From a nice fall day to this in minutes

An hour later we were out of the city to a part of the country we hadn’t seen before.  Turning towards the mountains we drove up and came to a toll booth, after this the road became twisty and climbed steadily.  I struggled to make out the scenery through the limo-tint glass as the road kept climbing the mountains.  I turned on my phone to see we reached 10,200’ at the top of the pass as we entered a very long and narrow tunnel.  We entered the tunnel under sunny skies but 3 or 4 minutes later we popped out and into winter.  Snow was falling and covered the roadway.  We stopped here for a rest stop, it felt 30 degrees colder than when we left Bishkek.  Heading down the mountain we reached a high plateau, technically in Talas Oblast, that seemed beautiful but I could barely see through the window.  The next two hours were mostly uneventful except for the amusing incidents where the car is forced to slow and honk its way through herds of sheep moving down the road.

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