The hardest part of our journey to Altyn Arashan has only just begun (click here if you’ve missed part 1 of our journey where we bumped into unexpected visitors who sort of saved our lives!), the snow was now knee deep and we were struggling to keep warm by constantly moving ahead. Snow was hitting our faces from all directions and icicles have started to form at the edge of our jacket’s hood (see photo below for proof). All that hindered our vision and made it even more difficult to identify the earlier defined path, which has now been blurred by the fresh snow.
The river crossing was even more challenging as the rocks were entirely covered with snow. Daniel had to use his gloved hand to brush away the thick layer of snow on the rock in front of him while carefully balancing himself on another rock. It was scary to determine which rock to step on as the refrozen layer of ice on it made it treacherously dangerous. The last thing that we wanted to get was hypothermia in this crazy blizzard. (By the way, the photo below of the river crossing was taken the next day on our way back when the sun was out. We did not manage to capture a shot while crossing the weather in the blizzard as all of our energy was focused on crossing the river in one piece.)
The sun was slowly setting and it was getting darker by the minute. We were getting worried that we wouldn’t be able to make it when miraculously, after seven grueling hours, the view finally opened up into a vast plain flanked by a majestic valley. We were ecstatic as we spotted in the distance a green hut with smoke rising from its chimney. Fueled with energy, we marched over as quickly as we could to the hut. As we got nearer, we could hear a dog barking and saw a figure shoveling the thick snow to clear a pathway to its main door. We soon reached the hut and were promptly welcomed inside where it was so warm and nice, it almost felt like we could live there forever. We sat as near to the fire stove as possible to get all the warmth that our bodies needed. Our host, a disheveled old man with dirty fingernails, served us hot green tea with sugar and bread to go with it.
The photo above doesn’t look too appetising now, but back then in that crazy weather, it was like godsend to us! Once our bodies have completely defrosted, it was time for us to claim our reward and to experience the amazing wonders of the natural hot spring! Supposedly it’s able to heal skin problems, kill any harmful germs in our body, increase metabolic rate and digestion, and the list goes on. To our chagrin, our host said that it was not feasible to visit the outdoor pool as the snow was waist deep and that it was too cold and far to trek there. We had to make do with the indoor hot spring and were actually thankful that we didn’t have to strip in the open where it was freezing cold! The hot spring was inside a small dimly lit wooden shed with a frosted exterior and icicles lining its roof. By now the sun has almost completely set and temperatures were dipping even lower! It took us quite some time to get into the hot spring as our body needed to adjust from a freezing -20degrees to a scalding hot 45 degrees.
We were like pieces of meat being boiled in a cauldron of Shorpa (traditional soup dish with meat in Central Asia). After being happily and willingly cooked for about 10mins, we decided to check out the shed adjacent to the one that we were in. Feeling lazy to put back on all our clothes, we crazily made a quick dash barefooted on snow in our intimates to the other shed and entered the steaming pool as quickly as we could. Once inside, we were in bliss again. Then came the torturous part, exiting the pool and braving the bitter cold while putting back on all our clothes as fast as we could (not many, only about 17 layers of clothing). We could have broken a record for that I think. We had enough of the hot spring for the day and went back to the hut where our noses were immediately greeted with a delicious fragrant whiff of our dinner! Our host cooks excellent food and his soups were delectable (though we tried really hard not to think of the hygiene factor).
Looking back, this whole journey felt like an epic adventure and we’re really not sure if we would do it again if given a choice. Given the same weather conditions, maybe not. But if we were in spring, summer or autumn, yeah why not?!