After my plan to journey around Central Asia by motorcycle died a sputtering death on the side of the road in Bishkek, I had written off visiting Sary Chelek–the site of my planned overnight stay en route to the village of Arslanbob. So, when the other guests at my Arslanbob homestay proposed renting a shared taxi through the CBT office to visit the lake, I decided to join them.
It was a long trip. Five hours back up the highway towards Bishkek and off a small side road, the lake is snuggled 1878 meters up in the mountains in a national park. Yurt camps line the road just inside the park entrance, changing to colorful trees and magnificent rock formations further in. Finally, after negotiating a number of switchbacks up the hillside, we arrived.
The lake was stunning. The sparkling, cerulean waters were so clear, making it difficult to believe the lake reaches a depth of 234 meters. It was also frigidly cold, making us all reconsider swimming. I settled for a short wade and soak session instead.
Bruno, Neda, and I had all brought food, so we found a cozy spot on the shore and had ourselves a picnic. I quickly discovered I had been outdone on food preparations, as they began brewing fresh Turkish coffee and making a tahini dip for our bread. We spent a few hours relaxing, eating, talking, and taking in the beautiful views. I even took out my ukulele for a spell and played what songs I remembered.
A group of Kyrgyz businessmen joined us for a while, a few members of their group fluent enough in English to engage us in conversation. Soon, they left, headed back on the long road to Bishkek.
Before long, it was time for us to go as well. We packed everything up and headed back to the car, not looking forward to the long drive back to Arslanbob. Even so, it had been a wonderful, relaxing day. As much as I love hiking, sometimes it’s enough to just sit and enjoy a place.