Hiking to the Kol Mazar near Arslanbob

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The Kol Mazar holy lakes lay behind a range of high mountains. From the village of Arslanbob we hiked up to the pass but had to turn back at a height of 3500 m because of bad weather conditions.

Besch Minut! – Five minutes

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Our guide Fazil making tea

„Besch Minut! – Five minutes!“ our guide Fazil points at some big stones. We are less than one hour into a four-day trek that will lead us over a 3600 m pass to a holy lake (Kol Mazar). Fazil is a smoker, we soon learn, and we will have these five minute breaks at least every hour.

Behind the village of Arslanbob, loud Pop music booms out over the wild walnut trees of the valley. The Turbaza, a Soviet-style youth camp, is popular with Kyrgyz tourists. „They make disco the whole day,“ Fazil sighs and makes some tentative dancing steps with his heavy backpack.

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The bad weather sets in

The path winds up to the „Nine spring Jailoo,“ a mountain pasture where we have our lunch break. Fazil makes tea for us in a sooty kettle over an open fire and spreads out his provisions on a piece of cloth: 13 flat breads, 3 tins of sprats, waffles, cookies, chocolate, some tomatoes and cucumbers, and walnuts from his garden. Soon it starts raining and the three of us huddle under a thin plastic sheet.

After one or two more “Five Minutes,” the path gets steeper and steeper, the lush green meadows give way to stone boulders and gravel. Parts of the mountainside are covered by wild onions and wild thyme and we feel like walking through a kitchen herb garden.

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That night we camp at 3000 m, below the peak of Babash Ata. As soon as we have set up camp, the rain gets stronger and thunderstorms roll between the mountains. During the night we also hear distant avalanches coming down.

More rain and fog near Kol Mazar

The next morning it is still rainy and foggy, but nevertheless we decide to walk on towards the pass and the lake. The way up through the snow fields is steep and tiring, so we don’t really mind the regular five minute breaks under the plastic sheet.

About 100 m below the highest point, when the fog lifts enough to see the pass, Fazil suggests we track back. From his mix of Uzbek and Russian (neither Fazil nor we speak any Kyrgyz), we figure that it may be dangerous as the extremely steep snow walls might be too wet and soft to climb.

Reluctantly, we wring our wet gloves, turn round and slither down the snow field. By the time we have arrived down in the village, 1900 m lower and a number of “Five Minutes” later, we don’t regret the decision as it has rained heavily all day even in the valley. That evening we have a great Russian sauna (banya), and the next day a fabulous muscle soreness.

1 Comment

  1. Banya is a Russian type of sauna. It’s a kind of steam bath. It is considered as one of the oldest Russian traditions. Russian Banyas have specials rooms where a great amount of hot steam is created with the help of water and hot air (heated with firewood, if I’m not mistaken). Though I have seen some modern versions use electric heat. However, most people prefer the classic.

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