Saturday, June 17, 2006

Iskander Kul

Not long after leaving my camping spot I came to the turn off to the lake of Iskander Kul. Off the cuff I reversed an earlier decision & headed up the road. I would turn the day into a semi-rest day.

The Lonely Planet had good words about the lake, said there was a good restaurant & it was possible to camp by the lake. The road up to the lake was challenging with the gradient being quite high, combined with poor road surface. I was getting used to this by now. It ran parallel to a vigorous azure coloured river. Not too many bicycle tourists come this way & at every turn I was being whistled to. At one point a group of kids spotted me & a chorus of 'tourist tourist' was started. They all ran along beside me. I got worried when one of them grabbed onto the back of the bike, I didn't want them to pull something loose as had happened earlier. I had to wave my pump at them in a semi-threatening way to get them to stay clear.

The lake was gorgeous with the slopes of high mountains coming right down to the shore, very alpine-like. The only flat spot was occupied by an old Soviet holiday camp. I was directed to a spot by the lakeside bar to camp. Even though it was June & a Sunday at that it was still early season & there was hardly anyone about. The bar was under renovation & it didn't look favourable to get anything to eat. Fortunately someone was prepared to make some plov. I'd obsessed about plov the whole way up, it would have been very disappointing to have missed out on it. It took a long time coming as it was made especially for me but when it arrived it was delicious & in a copious quantity.

Over lunch I met a group of 2 Tajiks & a Czech that had driven up from Dushanbe. They all worked for the Asian Development Bank in Dushanbe, though the Czech's contract had just finished & he was in the process of leaving the country. In conversation with them I learned how shambolic the public sector was. As with Uzbekistan corruption was rife. The government's role in the economy was limited to paying (low) salaries to government employees, the armed forces & maintaining the dignity of the president. There was nothing left over for even the maintenance of public infrastructure or the provision of public services. Public service had effectively been privatised. When a phone cable in the Czech's neighbourhood had broken not even the Vice-Minister of Telecommunications could get it fixed without a local collection of funds to pay the workmen!

The group was also camping out by the lake I spent a very pleasant evening in conversation with them.

I cycled 37 km in 4 hours
Total so far 6917 km in 101 days
GPS Coordinates of end point - N 39°5.003, E 68°22.129

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