Karakol is by no means a night spot, however the Town can live up nights when Groups of skiers are joining the local population in one of the night clubs. Beer, Vodka and Karaoke build up the atmosphere.
Karakol is a very special Place to ski. It is rather small and to reach the slopes you have to ride in a 4x4 on bumpy roads for almost half an hour.
Up in the slopes there is a ski rental shop, a hotel and a couple of places to eat.
There are both groomed slopes and several opportunities to ski off pist.
There were no lift lines and no crowding in the slopes.
Unfortunately the helicopter was booked for a whole week when I was there.
When we arrived in the winter of 1991, we were the first western tourists to visit the area, well there were some
western Alpine climbers arrive the year before, but we were the first bona fide tourists!
This highest and mightiest part of the Tian Shan system – the name means Celestial Mountains in Chinese –
is at the eastern end of Kyrgyzstan, along its borders with China and the very southeast tip of Kazakhstan.
It’s an immense knot of ranges, with dozens of summits over 5000m, culminating in Pik Pobedy (Victory Peak,
7439m, second-highest in the former USSR) on the Kyrgyzstan–China border, and Khan Tengri (Prince of
Spirits or Ruler of the Sky, 7010m), possibly the most beautiful and demanding peak in the Tian Shan, on the
Kazakhstan–Kyrgyzstan border. Locals call the latter peak ‘Blood Mountain’, as the pyramid-shaped peak
glows crimson at sunset.
See the Kyrgyz countryside at its best and like the local herdsmen by riding high
into the mountains and galloping across summer pastures. If your not used to riding,
then take it easy, or you will get to know the meaning of 'saddle sore', you will feel muscles
that you never knew you had in your legs..But the feeling you have as
climbing on the back of a horse up into the wilds of mountain passes and trails with
stunning views can't be topped!
These are beautiful red sandstone formations, called Jeti Oguz which means "7 bulls". Again, the Kyrgyz nation of story-tellers have a legend for this place: a man had a beautiful wife who was stolen by another man. The husband decided that if he could not have her, nobody could. He organised a feast for her and her new hubbie, where he slaughtered 7 bulls, and just after that plunged the knife into her heart. The rocks are red from all the blood that flowed.
I must be honest that I could not make out 7 bulls, but more like 12 lumps of meat.
The Sacred Heart has another legend which you can ask me about, but better still, find out when you are there.
The church is beautiful - it has a magnificent facade, and an ornate and gaudy altar inside. Like the mosque, it is built without any nails. It was built in the 19th century.
My daughter was wearing a bracelet given to her by one the ladies in the bazaar: it was a beaded bracelet meant to protect her in a Shamanistic tradition. While in the church, the bracelet broke and the beads scattered. The nun showing us the church told us it was because such beliefs had no place in a church, that my daughter was protected by god.
This is a beautiful building with wonderful wooden carvings, including dragons. It was designed by a Chinese Muslim and built in 1910 by the Chinese and Kyrgyz people, without the use of any nails. The Imam described the place to us, but the only person allowed inside was my son, who was shown the intricate writings and carvings while we stood shoeless at the entrance.
We gave charity at the charity box - I gave each of my children some notes to donate. My daughter wanted me to help her - I held her hand and showed her where to put the money. Th Imam called us back as we left and told us that our charity would bless us and give us luck, since it was done showing respect and love for parents. I found this profound and moving, as I did his "sermon" which was translated for us. He spoke about love for all people and Allah.
With exhibits in both Russian and English, it is easy to discover quite a bit about this Russian explorer. He asked to be buried next to the lake. The old Russian lady who took us around the exhibits and memorial is as much a reason to see the museum as the museum itself - she seemed to be in love with Nikolai Przhevalsky, his handsome face, his blue eyes, and his contribution to exploring central Asia, and her passion was infectious. He was also a botanist, a zoologist and a spy. Przhevalsky joined the army because he realised that through this he would be able to explore, chart maps and follow his passions. During his travels, he charted many areas in Mongolia, Tibet, and Siberia. He also documented flora and fauna, including a small horse that he discovered that was named after him. A stuffed version is in the museum. His records also give some cultural insights into the people that he met along the way.
I must admit wondering about how he is perceived by the local people, since he was of course a Russian involved in the cold war. Also, a local graveyard was summarily removed to build the museum. I enjoyed the museum though, being cynical beforehand of a Russian army officer immortalised by Russians in a Kyrgyz republic. The museum changed me: he was a reluctant army officer. It was his means to finance and enable his travel.
Visit and stay at the Chong Kizul Suu valley yurt camp located near the town of Kizul Suu which itself is near Karakol. It's arguably the best yurt camp in Kyrgyzstan with incredible views of the massive Tien Shaan mountains. Most of the other yurt camps are located in the Naryn oblast outside the village of Kochkor. While these yurt camps are also very nice the Chong Kizul Suu camp definitely has a much more impressive setting with stunning views. Travel to the camp can be arranged at the tourism information center in Karakol located in the center of town.
Once used as a dance hall during soviet times, this Russian Orthodox Cathedral was reconstructed and reconsencrated in 1997. Sunday mornings and on major religiou holidays you can hear the bells ringing to call the faithful to worship.
This mosque was built by the Dungans (Chinese muslims) in 1910 completely without nails. What makes this mosque so unique is the obvious Chineses Buddhist influence on the design of the building, and could easily be mistaken as a Buddhist temple if no one were to tell you it was a mosque.
Located a few kilometers from the center of Karakol, and only open on Sundays, the animal bazaar is an interesting place to visit where villagers will often travel for days to sell their animals. I went on a snowy day in December and all the animals, especially majestic horses, amongst the falling snowflakes created a beautiful backdrop to the mountains. The bazaar ends around 10 AM, so get there early for all the action. I recommend you take a local taxi (don’t pay anymore than 20 com), but you can easily walk there from the center in about 30 minutes.
This camp in the hills (2900m) above Karakol is a great place for either novice hikers or serious outdoors enthusiasts. There is a yurt camp in the summer, or a hostel. There's plenty of camping space. The rushing river, trees, towering mountains and passing herds all contribute to atmosphere. There's a hot spring for 50 som/hr. Yak Tours can get you up here, with guide, food and bed for $25 a day. Plenty of people hike up on their own, and continue to other nearby valleys. Best part is the 3900m Ala-Kol pass hike.
Visit the mosque (taking care to remove shoes and act respectfully etc) - a feat of building, all done without nails, and a bit of China in Kyrgyzstan