Back in September, friends of ours in the church group here mentioned that they wanted to go hiking to a glacial lake, Lake Urungach, in the mountains east of Tashkent. The pictures looked lovely and I’m always up for an adventure, so we set a date and made a plan to go.
Unfortunately, we discovered that the lake was in a restricted area that needed police permission to visit (why? I really have no idea). So we got a diplomatic note submitted asking for permission, planned the trip, and set the date for the last weekend of September. When he heard this plan, Brandon laughed at our confidence in getting permission that quickly. “You do know that you’re working with the Uzbek government?” he commented when I told him the plan, “There’s no telling when this note will get processed, so don’t start packing your snacks yet.”
This past week we finally got permission. Brandon was kind enough not to mention that he told me so.
There was some debate about the travel time, as none of us had been there. When you start looking at distances and mountains, it’s hard to make accurate estimates. Twenty miles seems like it’s not so bad when you’re on a highway, but when you don’t know the condition of the road, twenty miles can take a lot longer. Our friends did a lot of research on the trip, and found accounts that mentioned the travel time as five hours. We were all skeptical, as the total trip was only 82 miles, so we lowered the estimate to three hours.
The four families that ended up going met up nice and early at 7:30 on Saturday morning, and we started the adventure. Uzbekistan actually has pretty decent roads in parts, so the majority of the distance was covered pretty quickly. There is a large reservoir in the mountains, Charvak, that we had to drive around, and then we followed one of its source rivers further up into the mountains.
A few months before we had driven the same route in the quest for a camping spot (which we never could find; sadly camping seems to be equally difficult here), but were stopped when we got to a police checkpoint and had to turn around. It took a little less than two hours to get to the checkpoint. When we got to the checkpoint this time, we had the paperwork to get through. It took about half an hour as we had to all get out of the car and match up passports to faces (after they filled out a separate form for each one of the eighteen passports), walk through the checkpoint, and then get back in the car.
By this point we only had nineteen miles to the trailhead. There were reports of bad road conditions, and we spent most of the nineteen miles scoffing at other people’s ideas of bad road conditions. The roads were potholed, but they could easily fit two cars and we weren’t a few feet from the edge of a mountain. We passed through lovely valleys filled with picturesque farms with locals all staring as us, wondering what the trail of black SUVs were doing in their village. The road grew steadily worse until the very end. Ninety-five percent of the drive could have been made in our Honda Fit, but the last two or three miles definitely needed the four-wheel drive. Right as we got to the end, the transmission fluid light came on and we had to stop and park.
Then the hiking started. There are two lakes on the hike, both formed by natural rockfall dams. The first lake was pretty close to where we had parked, but it wasn’t particularly full; evidently it’s quite full in the spring but drains out over the course of the summer.
The second lake was more of a hike. We had to hike up the face of the natural dam that had been formed when a mountain fell down after an earthquake. We ended up climbing almost a thousand feet over the course of a little more than half a mile. Our group included ten children ages 12, 11, 10, 8, 7, 6, 4, 4, 3, and 1 and a 30-week pregnant lady, so it was a slow climb. Kathleen, Edwin, and Joseph went ahead (the joys of hiking with other children!) and Brandon, Sophia, Eleanor, and I toiled up together. William got hauled on Brandon’s back.
When we finally made it to the lake, it was beautiful. And very cold. The weather had turned wintery a few days before and it was only a few degrees above freezing. When we were hiking in the sun, it was very pleasant, but sitting in the shade wasn’t. I imagine that it’s perfect to linger by in the spring or fall, but not on a cold November day. We all enjoyed our picnic, took the requisite pictures, and scrambled back down the mountains and into our warm cars.
The hike itself was an enjoyable hike with stunningly beautiful views. It wasn’t terribly long, although fairly steep. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly long drive from Tashkent, taking almost four hours to get there. I’d really love to go back in April when the whole countryside is bursting with life, but I’m not sure if I can justify driving so long in one day. Maybe we’ll have to go camping.