2nd : Swimming

Sary Chelek – Kyrgyzstan.

A stunning place to spend a couple of days!   Not sure how it will fare at this time of the year.  My guess is that at over 2000m the main lake will be surrounded by a beautiful fluffy blanket of white and as a result of the protection of the Chatkal mountains to the West and the nearby mighty Tien Shan mountains to the East, the lake will get cold but will retain its incredible microclimate and will provide much needed shelter for the local wildlife (think bear and lynx) in the area.

The mythical Central Asian snow leopard is also said to roam the slopes which extend up from the vast expanse of crystal clear, blue water.   Seeing these creatures in their natural habitat would be a dream … just imagine seeing one or more padding stealthily across a snowy landscape with the blue of the water reflecting the colour of the sky …

Sary Chelek is the largest lake ‘amphitheatre’ in the area.  There are smaller lesser visited lakes scattered around, nestled in amongst forested depressions and all maintaining the same level of peace.

When I was there in the late summer of 2017 I was one of 6 people coming in the designated area near the rangers cottage.  The other people were on a road trip from Tashkent, Uzbekistan.  They had spent the past 3 weeks driving, camping and hiking around Kyrgyzstan.  Pasha, Elyia and I are now firm friends.  The time spent with them discussing camping, hiking, politics, art, literature and all things Central Asian was truly memorable.  Elyia is extremely well read and articulate, with impeccable English which gave me the opportunity to find out more about life in Tashkent and to discuss our mutual love of Allen Rickman!  Time was spent beside the lake, chatting about everything and nothing, photographing a camera shy dragonfly and swimming in the cold, clear water.

One aspect of the beauty of Sary Chelek can only be seen from the water and to my mind can only be felt from in the water.  Taking a trip out with the ranger in his boat (at vast expense) would be one way to appreciate the incredible mountain backdrop but to really feel part of it … plunging, shivering and squealing, into the water’s cold embrace and feeling the magnitude of the mountains, almost completely, surrounding the icy depths … is the best way!

The feeling of having the rocky scree slopes, majestic peaks and forested areas in an almost complete 360º panorama around me really added to the drama of the concept of the ‘immersive’ moment.  They create a beautiful dynamic between drama/strength and nurturing/containment!  Being in the water added a level of vulnerability to my consciousness of these immense giants of stone and left me speechless from more than just the cold.

From out in the water the sound of the mountains changes and the amphitheatre shape comes into its own, creating a playful opportunity for creating and listening to echoes as they bounce off the slopes and high places.  The sounds of nature were also amplified and contributed to a sense of connection which such places often evoke in me.

Getting out of my comfort zone when travelling has to be a conscious effort because it can be all to easy to travel with the same focus and following the same routines, even within an ever changing environment.  It may sound counter intuitive but the human capacity for creating stability and a sense of the ‘normal’ even in the most changeable situations really is incredible.

For me getting into lakes, rivers or the sea is a big antidote to complacency.  It is too easy to say ‘not now’ or ‘I don’t feel like it’ or ‘it looks too cold’, when actually what I am grappling with is a determined break from my norm and a move into unchartered emotional territory.  ‘Laziness’ is only ever an emotional reaction!

Thankfully on that occasion I was not (overly) lazy or resistant.  I got into the water there without ‘too much fuss’ …

And am forever glad that I did.