After David had cured a recent stomach illness, we started our hike to the Holy Lake of Arslanbob (Kol Mazar). Thanks to the forced break days, we were able to benefit from a perfect time window of good weather for our trip. In order to safe space in the backpacks, we pre-cooked the dinners (buckwheat stew) and stuffed them appetizingly into Zip-Locker plastic bags😉.

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For the first half day, we hiked unspectacularly along the river and passing shabby plastic alpine huts. The shepherd families spend the summer in these shelters and persevere even rain and snow. They were very reserved towards us and did not respond to greetings or waves. Just before the long ascent, a shepherd couple approached us with bread and a pot of cream for dipping. We were delighted with this beautiful gesture!

In the afternoon we reached the pass, from where the path continued flatter and over wonderfully blooming alpine meadows. According to the local CBT (Community Based Tourism) office, there would be two small snowfields to cross on the way to the lake. Reality showed that the trail was partly completely covered with snow and we had to take the detour over an additional hill. We had long since stopped counting the snowfields when we pitched our tent in the evening in the middle of a flower meadow😊.

The next morning, we enjoyed the wonderful panorama and the hike in the mountain spring. About 5km before the lake, the trail led through a north-facing couloir with a stream that was still completely snow-filled. As David collapsed in snow up to his hips, it was time for a situation assessment over some chocolate😉. Although the passage would probably have been manageable, we decided to turn back for lack of poles and proper hiking boots (we can’t deny our Swiss heritage😊). We enjoyed the view of the lake from higher up and were very satisfied even without reaching our destination.

We were displeased, on the other hand, with the inadequate information provided by the CBT office.

CBT – Community Based Tourism

CBT was started as a Helvetas development project in 2000. About 23 years later, there is an association in Bishkek and local CBT offices in the main tourist destinations.

We found the idea excellent: The CBT offices arrange (associated) guest houses, yurt stays or tour offers with local guides for the tourists. In return, CBT receives a commission, which is used to realize small aid projects and cover the running costs. All money stays in Kyrgyzstan.

In our travel guide, CBT is praised on practically every page. Unfortunately, we made other experiences on site, which were shared by all travelers with whom we talked about it. Not much remained of the pioneering spirit of the early years in the guesthouses we visited: Lack of enthusiasm, lack of service spirit, lack of innovation and nepotism spread the impression of lethargy. Because there is no rating or feedback system, tourists cannot distinguish between good and bad guesthouses or offerings. Whether this is the purpose of a development project for so-called ecologically “sustainable” tourism?

Since Arslanbob we avoid the CBT service and take into account private people who offer accommodation and food (at half the price) with a great deal of enthusiasm and commitment.

After the hike, we picked up our luggage at the guesthouse and found the forgotten soap untouched in the uncleaned shower😊. We were looking forward to the onward journey, away from the conservative Arslanbob and deeper into the Kyrgyz mountains!