Trans Eurasia travel

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Sarala-Saz is a large jailoo 54km north of Kochkor that lies en route to the 3,573m Shamsy Pass, which leads over the Kyrgyz Ala-Too into the Chui valley. As with many similarly romantic locations in Kyrgyzstan, the country's legendary hero Manas is reputed to have frequently visited the region and played the game ordu here with his warriors. The legend goes that one day, noticing that his horses were wandering away, he threw boulders in front of them to prevent their escape. The stones are said to remain there to this day as testament to his superhuman strength.

The drive up to the jailoo passes a number of large kurgan burial mounds that date from the lst-5th centuries AD, as well as an interesting Kyrgyz cemeteryjust beyond the village of Shamshy. At the jailoo itself, which lies at around 3,300m, there is plenty of scope tor walking or riding in the vicinity, with wide open vistas in all directions that have a stark, desolate beauty. With little to spoil the natural landscape other than sheep, cattle, a few yurts and the ubiquitous recycled railway carriages, this is a marvellously accessible location for an overnight stay. What is so noticeable here is the absolute quiet that permeates the place. Distant human voices and animal sounds carry so far here that it is possible to hear the movement of a crow's wings as it flies past.

With a horse and a guide it is possible to visit nearby petroglyphs or a waterfall that is half-hidden among the rocks of a small canyon and that's known locally as 'look for me'. Upstream from the waterfall are extensive patches of wild onions, the plants that the Chinese used to think caused altitude sickness. Higher still is a permanent glacier.

Rather than hike with a specific destination in mind, it is equally pleasurable to just wander at will close to the jailoo and observe the Kyrgyz herders going about their everyday tasks. More adventurous spirits may wish to make a horse trek over the pass to Kalinovka and Tokmok in the Chui valley (2-3 days). A horse games festival is staged at the jailoo by CBT Kochkor each year in August.

Two other jailoos that may be visited in the Kochkor vicinity are Korumdu, a high jailoo 60km to the west in the Kyzart range, and Tiinduk, 40km northwest of the town. Both have CBT projects in place that include yurt stays and horse hire, and day tours that include horse-riding can be arranged by CBT Kochkor. Another possibility is Kapa jailoo, 35km from Kochkor, from where it is possible to get a view of Lake Issyk-Kul from the peak of one of the surrounding mountains.