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krisek Karakol - A travel report by Krys
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Karakol,  Kyrgyzstan - flag Kyrgyzstan
13959 readers

krisek's travel reports

A very quiet town at the feet of giant mountains

  6 votes
Page: 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Formerly known as Przewalsk, Karakol is not a very attractive town, and yet it is reportedly at the centre of Kyrgyzstan's tourism industry. This is due to the magnificent Tien Shan mountains nearby, one of its peaks reaching 7439m - Jengish Chokusu.

Karakol travelogue picture
The town named after Nikolai Przewalski twice in the past, gladly adopted its historical name after Kyrgyzstan gained independence from the Soviet Union. The Kyrgyz believe that Mr Przewalski, who travelled extensively in the Issyk-Kul Lake area was responsible for mass expulsions of the Kyrgyz by the Russian magnates. And it was Lenin and his revolution that saved them. When Mr Przewalski reported to the throne of Tsar Nikolai II how wonderful the lake was, the nobility wanted the lake for themselves. This is how the expulsions might have started, which resulted in the local losing their land and homes.

For some reason, Karakol is considered the main tourist destination of the country. This statement is often made bold, without a more detailed explanation why. Most definitely it is not because of Karakol itself. It is because of the landscape near the town. In fact, there are not that many places to stay in the town. Most visitors to the area stay on the meadows and in the mountains, which does not make Karakol a lively place, and tourism contributes to the town's economy in a very mysterious way, which does not seem to leave any visible signs of success. Despite the status of 'the tourism capital of Kyrgyzstan'.

A visit to Karakol requires careful planning. There is really no point in staying in the town, while there are some great outdoors to explore in the vicinity. I have not spotted many travel agents in Karakol, so planning of any outdoor activities might be better initiated in Bishkek.

Favourite spots:
Inside the wooden church
Inside the wooden church
I have struggled to pinpoint my favourite place in Karakol. An obvious choice would be the old wooden church, Karakol's main attraction (see below), but I was hoping to perhaps like something else also. To be completely honest, I did not find the town very attractive at all. I mean, it was a fine place to see, but there was nothing spectacular about it. Its architecture definitely did not impress me and since weather was a bit lousy, I almost felt a regret of having travelled all that way to get there, only to be faced with nothing to do and nothing to see.

As time passed, I think about Karakol from a different perspective. I definitely do not regret to have gone there, but I wish I had planned my visit slightly better, so I would have enjoyed it more.

What's really great:
Karakol travelogue picture
Tranquility was definitely Karakol's strength. There was absolutely nothing going on in the town. It looked like an empty film set, created for a drama based in a cold, cold back-water province of a Soviet Union, where action was taking place at the end of the 19th century. A few streets running out of the flamboyant Soviet-style centre, were lined with simple, single storey, square houses in a varied state of disrepair.

I came on a cloudy day, and I could not contemplate the mountain views. My hopes to catch a glimpse of the very high 7,000+ metres peaks were shattered, as weather did not make it sensible to hop outside the town to try seeing them.

Karakol travelogue picture
Only one thing in the town was worth seeing - the old wooden church. It was surrounded by an utterly ugly five-foot concrete fence and almost pleasant apple orchard inside. The wooden structure of the temple looked as if it was engineered purposely for a fairy-tale movie that was filmed very long time ago. It was not looked after very well, it seemed to me. The unused side doors looked like they were gates of a heavy machinery factory rather than doors of a temple. Inside, the church was renovated. The white and blue paints looked fresh and the wooden floor was shiny and clean as if it had been lacquered like a few days before. The décor was minimalistic for an Orthodox Christian church, I have to admit. Photography inside the church was forbidden for a completely unknown reason. Since there was no-one around I ignored the sign (only in Russian) and snapped with my iPhone - making sure no flash was used, which might have affected any photo-sensitive paint work.

Room no.3 at the Guesthouse Elita
Room no.3 at the Guesthouse Elita
Guesthouse Elita appeared as a result from a few Internet search engines. It was located inconveniently far away from the centre but since there was nothing to do in the town it didn't matter. The guesthouse was really clean. The owner was friendly and the rooms were spacious and almost homey. My en suite tripple (double+foldable single) for single use was 900 soms ($25), which was great value for money. It included home-cooked breakfast - fried eggs, tomatoes, sausage, bread, cheese, pancakes, plum juice, and a pot of tea or coffee.

The owners locked the iron gate after 10pm but there was someone to open up when you rang. I was under the impression that I was the only guests in the house, it was so quiet. I think there were only about six rooms anyway. But six other guests stayed as well. The whole atmosphere was like a friendly and comfortable shelter in the mountains.

Karakol travelogue picture
Hmm... I am not sure how I should tackle the subject of nightlife in the city without getting into trouble with the Karakolans.

Well, I have to say that there was no nightlife in Karakol. I asked about a dozen of locals and a few tourists and no-one could recommend anything. The closest spot to a disco was an open-air cafe opposite Iljusha Cafe right in the centre, which played loud unambitious 1980s music from a tape player, like Modern Talking and CC Catch, and some people danced or attempted to move according to the rhythm. But most of the guests, including the ladies, were really drunk. I observed the scene for a while from behind the fence and I just could not force myself to enter.

There was absolutely and definitely nowhere else to party or to mingle with the Karakolans or travellers. This was disappointing, as I wanted to compensate for the questionable beauty of the place.

Cafe Diar
Cafe Diar
A few cafes near the local government building selling the usual fare of shashliks kept attracting both locals and travellers. They were rustic and nothing special but otherwise lively, at least in the afternoon. In the evening, the majority of them were empty. I was under the impression that they might be a curfew in place, or something. I could not believe that the nation so keen on relaxing and taking it easy would not chill in a cafe with their friends.

Other than cafes, there were a couple of small parks on both sides of the large government building, and a park-like alley between a dual lane street running from the university square away in the opposite direction of the old church. There were a few benches but no other facilities. Both parks were densely populated with trees, which made them very intimate and perfect places for hiding. Particularly if one wanted to steal a kiss from their partner...

Cafe Zarina
Cafe Zarina
Cafe Zarina had an over-the-top décor with shiny marbel floor, old style curtains, shiny ceiling. All that cost and it was not even cozy but rather cold and artificial. It was almost empty when I came at about 6pm so I was about to turn around but I spotted a few locals at one table. I decided to risk it.

I ordered Ukrainian Borshtsch, Chinese style dumplings, a pot of green tea and a pint of beer and it came at 231 soms. The soup was nice with plenty of red cabbage, potatoes and beef. The dumplings were quite tasty but some of them were still cold inside indicating that they had been cooked from frozen. Green tea was lovely. Beer was fine and served in a narrow pint glass with a straw (!) I decided not to go there again and I really did not have to.

Other recommendations:
Karakol travelogue picture
Trekking, climbing, horseback riding and spending a night in a yurt is what Karakol is a gateway for. Eco-Tourism is big nowadays in Kyrgyzstan and often also branded as community-based tourism. I met a group of teenagers who came to the country to help build something in a mountainous village near Karakol. I did ask them about Karakol, whether it was a nice place, but they mysteriously managed to avoid answer the question directly. Perhaps they did not enjoy their holiday to the full. I do not know. Anyway, if one does not plan to do any big outdoor activities, then Karakol is not one of the most exciting places to visit.

Karakol is connected with the capital by minibuses and taxis. The minibuses run either along the northern or the southern shore of the Lake Issyk-Kul. Both take approximately five to six hours, but the the southern route is more spectacular. It is closer to the lake and views of the mountains are better.

Published on Thursday October 30th, 2008

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Thu, Nov 06 2008 - 06:49 AM rating by rangutan

Great report and interesting [4.2]. Seems to be the Kryzks lack vowels like the Croatians :-)

Thu, Oct 30 2008 - 10:12 AM rating by yuliangpang

well done. It seems to me that you did not really enjoy your trip to Karakol, but it was very interesting to read your report. Remember you did it not only for yourself, but also for those who had never had a chance to visit there by themselves. You metioned Tien Shan somewhere in your introduction, maybe you did not know that it called Tian Shan in Chinese, and it was the holy mountain for the local people living there. In China, there are some very famous legends about it, including one that the Queen of the King in the Heaven was living there.

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