Karakol may be Kyrgyzstan’s fourth largest city, but it feels little more than a small basic town, filled with tired Soviet concrete apartments and wooden ‘gingerbread’ houses. But, I guess most tourists don’t visit Karakol to see Karakol, just the amazing mountains and ranges that are easily accessible from here. The mountains really do dominate the area, as there aren’t many places in town that they’re not visible, towering high to the south, shining bright and beautiful. For all the negatives, I think it is probably a nicer place than Bishkek to spend time. It’s a visibly poor town, but the people seem happy and the town is quite clean.
Karakol also has its own market, but it’s way less impressive than any of the ones that we visited in Bishkek. It’s also a little more random. We only visited hoping to find another sashlyk (chunks of roasted meat on a skewer) vendor like we found in the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek. I’m not sure if it was so memorable because we were hungry, or because we had no expectations – or because it was simply awesome. We had no luck finding anything using our eyes and nose, so we went for a bit of a walk around town hoping to stumble on something, but we must have been the wrong area of town, because we struggled to find a restaurant, let alone one that sold sashlyk.
The restaurant that we did find was a lot more limited than the signs outside depicted it to be. There were photos of delicious looking dumplings, and other meaty dishes, but every time we chose something, we were told ‘nyet’. So, rather than trying to choose something that we wanted, we tried to choose something that was available, which of course meant we had no real idea of what it was going to be – something akin to Russian Roulette, though with less dire consequences. I ended up with a brown soup with a large chunk of meat and a large potato floating in it. Risa ended up with some sort of noodle dish. Both were OK, but certainly not something that I’ll rush back to order again.
Random restaurant entrance and an enthusiastic wife.
There were a few recommendations of things to see in Lonely Planet, and the one that interested me the most was the beautiful wooden Holy Trinity Church. Sadly we couldn’t get any closer to it, than peering at it over a large concrete fence. It did however look spectacular. I’ve never seen a church like it before (though, when we finally make our way into Russia, I’m sure they’ll be common sights). There was something magical for me seeing the juxtaposition of the raw timber with the colourful (and shiny) turrets.
That was one victory for Lonely Planet, the next was a bit more of a fail. We visited an LP recommended restaurant, Fakir Café. There was a reasonable selection of Russian, Kyrgyz, Uighur and Turkish food. It’s not to say that the food was bad, because it wasn’t, but it wasn’t particularly good, either – certainly not for the price. But, at least there was an English menu, so we didn’t have to play roulette again. Since I seem to be on a quest to sample ALL the dumplings, I tried the Uighur (North western China) dumpling soup. We also grabbed some Borscht, Sashlyk, and the local speciality – Ashlan-fu.
That last dish, Arslanfu, is a cold vinegary soup with gelatinous noodles – not surprisingly, it isn’t worth visiting Karakol for (but worth trying if you do come).
We didn’t spend much time looking around the city as we tended to arrive late, and leave early. I think it is a place that many people will visit, but not many will see because they, like us, are more concerned about getting out of the town and into the mountains.