A lot of travelers circle Kyrgyzstan’s Issyk Kul lake without seeing much beyond the Karakol region (we almost did). But there’s a lot of great stops, and the north and south shores offer dramatically different landscapes. We checked out Tamga–at the lake’s very southernmost–point and found it to be a charming little place to break up the drive. Here are a few photos.
Tamga had a western ghost-town feel when we arrived, probably due to the wide, dusty streets (or street) and absence of people. From the lakeside highway we followed a long straight road lined on one side with fields and the other with orchards and flocks of sheep grazing in their shade. Arriving at the empty main strip, I was sure we’d find a village peopled by mannequins in rocking chairs and a silence broken only by the sirens of nuclear test drills. I mean, it was empty.
But when the midday heat broke people started emerging from their homes and the little village came to life. It turned out to be graduation weekend for school kids in Tamga, so the streets were full of parents in formalwear, kids in school uniforms, and these girls who were preparing for a performance.
To the south and west, Tamga is bordered by low mountains still receiving snow in late May. They belong to the long Tian Shan range, stretching from China to Kyrgyzstan. While the lake’s north shore is green and sloping, this drive along the south shore is dry and full of red or brown escarpments that reminded me of the American southwest.
One of Tamga’s selling points is the small beach about 2km from town. The stoney shoreline is hemmed in by a shallow, curving bay with nothing but a few small buildings. Occasionally a car passes.
As the day grew late, I sat on a hillside with piney ground cover (and a retired jet plane from some forgotten war) overlooking the lakeside. The most activity on the road over the next hour was a large flock of sheep that took over the road. I saw this between 4 and 400 times while traveling in Kyrgyzstan.
Back in town, we settled into a pink-trimmed guesthouse bungalow guesthouse where we were hosted by an old lady named Flora with mad cooking skills. The house sits on Tamga’s main road, but opens up to a large walled garden, and behind that trees and fields and eventually hills.
Flora cooked us an amazing dinner. My vegetarian friend had french fries and I had homemade gnocchi soup (it seen earlier drying on the clothesline behind our bungalow). We shared a green salad of cucumber and tomatoes from the garden, and a large loaf of bread sprinkled with a spice like cayenne.
Not long after the sun set the dry hills ablaze in bright red and bright stars came out and I crashed, exhausted from the long day. In the morning we enjoyed another delicious breakfast by Flora and headed westward along Issyk Kol once more.
Pictures by Jon Keesecker first appeared on his blog Easting.org.