From lake to lake

Day 7 – Tuesday 6th August – Tossor to Song-kul lake (284km)

Even though Issyk-kul lake is at about 1600m, the temperature in the area when the sun shines is quite high, that is why we turned the bikes around in the soft sand of the yurt camp the day before, once the sun was low, and after a hearty breakfast (a bit less hearty for Marc, who had been suffering from an upset stomach since Istambul) we were ready to go.

We went back to the west end of the lake and, to avoid having to ride to the main junction in Balykchy, we took a shortcut across a landscape that looked like the arid hills of Morocco, followed a potholed road along what seemed to be an abandoned irrigation canal and reached a small reservoir with a rather low water level – maybe that was the explanation for the abandoned canal system.

Shortly after, we joined the main road going south, which was in better condition, stopped in Kochkor, where we found a brand new Gazprom petrol station, and filled up the bikes praying that the road would gain altitude soon and free us from the heat. Fortunately, past Kochkor the road was the best we had seen so far, and we enjoyed ourselves a bit on the corners along the river until we reached Dolon pass, at 3030 metres. On the other side of the pass, the turn into the dirt road to Song-kul awaited.

We stopped for a moment to check the cameras and a German couple arrived on two Yamahas XT600. She told us that they had ridden the Tossor pass and the landscape was amazing. I felt a pang of regret that we had decided not to do it, but quickly went away when she said that she considered herself pretty good offoad and had found it very hard, with steep corners and big boulders on the road, and they were riding lighter bikes than us.

The next 40 kilometers up to Song-kul lake were just amazing. First, the road went gently up a low pass with no name through a green valley with horse pastures, then it went down a deep valley on the other side and followed a river for a while before arriving at the highlight of the track – the ride up Terskey Torpok pass. Have you been to the Stelvio pass? Or ridden the Transfagarasan in Romania? Now imagine something similar but narrower, off road, higher, and in the middle of a completely unspoilt landscape. I just don’t have the words to describe it. On the other side of the pass lake Song-kul occupied the middle of a vast grassy plain surrounded by mountains. We rode along the dirt road that goes around it and it wasn’t long until we found a yurt camp between the road and the shore.

We asked and they had free yurtas at a reasonable price, so we decided it was better than camping at 3000m with our summer sleeping bags. We settled down, had a cold shower (no power up here, we were lucky they had showers), and then enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.