15 August 2007

Kunduz (left), her older sister Jilbek and their shy little brother, carried on Jibek’s shoulders most of the way, guided us to Tamga Tash, an ancient rock carved with the 1,500-year-old Tibetan mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum.” Tamga Tash, or “letter stone” in Kyrgyz, is upriver from the town of Tamga on the south shore on Lake Issyk Kul, where I spent the past weekend with a couple of friends from American University.

Some locals, including the woman who ran the guesthouse where we stayed, are reluctant to concede the inscription is Tibetan and claim it is a now-forgotten Kyrgyz dialect.

We hiked to the rock, which involved fording the unusually high Tamga River, with a young couple from Belgium, who had bicycled from western Europe across the Baltic States into Central Asia starting some four and a half months ago. They are scheduled to continue through central Kyrgyzstan before flying from Bishkek to Istanbul, Turkey. From there, the final leg of their journey will take them along the northern Mediterranean coast.

After the hike last Sunday, we went to lake, where we were joined by a cow, who was also seeking a respite from the heat.

On the way back to Bishkek, we took a side trip to an separate and isolated salt lake. The water and black mud, which bathers spread over themselves, is supposed to have remarkable curative powers, especially for skin conditions.

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