Tuesday, 22 September 2015 15:02

After 8 days and close to 2000km we gave back the beast in Bishkek. As it happened the following day was Kyrgyz national day, so we hung around to experience the celebrations. One of the main attractions of the day is the large competition of kok-boru which is a game where 2 teams on horseback try to get a headless goat into the opposing teams end zone. It is a high action game and the small stadium was packed for the event.

The evenings entertainment was less full of action and the singing from the large stage quickly became quite dull and the absence of any food or beer stands did not help. It seemed however at least to be popular amongst the locals.

After another relaxing day in Bishkek at a brand new hostel we got back on the bikes and headed the long way round to Almaty. The lake Issyk Kul to the east of Almaty is the major tourist draw in Kyrgyzstan particularly for Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Russians. In the summer months it is apparantly so full that it is difficult to get a room. We arrived however stratgically after most had left and had for lunch the beach to ourselves and our pick of rooms in Chopon Ata the main town. The lake made a refreshing swim after a long day on the bike.

The next place we stayed was less glamorous. it was marked on the open street map as a hotel which maybe it was 20 years ago. We were met at the gate by a vicious dog, closely followed by an old man. We got a serious of 'niet' on our demands for a room and only after several minutes could we persuade him to let us in. The hotel itself had vast gardens leading directly to the lake but was in quite a state of disrepair. Only the threatening dark clouds persuaded us to take the room here rather than camp. The room had fake curtains in all the walls which had probably once been stylish, but now just served as hiding place for spiders and their cobwebs. Our host provided no food, so after rustling up another rice dish, we gingerly lay on top of the beds in our sleeping bags and enjoyed a surprisingly good sleep.

The following day turned into an epic as we pressed on to cross the border. The riding was some of the nicest though and after leaving the lake we had green pastures with farms, animals and little traffic as we headed up the broad valley to the border. The smooth asphalt turned into a more standard Kyrgyzstan rock road and a nasty headwind developed, but none of this detracted from our enjoyment. The border was relatively simply except for having a young power hungry customs guy. These types are always the most annoying as they like to exert their authority for no other reason than to annoy the traveller or in this case to seemingly impress his boss showing that he was disecting the contents of all our panniers. Eventually we repacked and headed the 20m to Kazakhstan where an older version of the Kyrgyz guy tried doing the same. He wasn't quite on the same power trip though and we could persuade him that everything had just been searched, it was cold and we still had over 20km into a headwind to ride!

As such we rolled into Kegen quite late, but managed to find the only hotel again thanks to it being located on Open Street Maps. On the outside it looked like a decrepit karaoke hall, but round the back was a small door leading to some quite acceptable hotel rooms.

We ate in the otherwise empty karaoke hall and were served a particularly greasy and cold plov. Despite being hungry we managed no more than a few spoonfulls of this revolting dish before heading back to the room and digging in to some snacks. It was not the best introduction to Kazakh cuisine.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015 14:44

Tajikistan had been a hard ride mainly due to the altitude, the bad food (and lack of it) and the tough roads. It had also taken much longer than expected and the word from other travellers was that Kyrgyzstan was not much better. I was also feeling quite exhausted and generally in need of a break by the time I arrived in Kyrgyzstan. Andreas was feeling the same way and so it was at this point we decided to trade our 2 wheels in for 4 :-) (and with an engine!).

Osh is the first big city after the Pamirs and was again another sanctuary of decent food, warm showers and supermarkets which we enjoyed for a couple of days whilst sorting our further travel plans. From Osh we took a short and scenic 40 minute fight to Bishkek where we had arranged to pick up a car. We were met at the airport and presented with a huge petrol guzzling 4wd Toyota which was to be our home for the next week. It was a real beast with a roaring V8 engine and actually due to its weight and size fairly unsuitable for the very rough and technical roads to come.

To be sat in air conditioned luxury and cruising over the passes out of Bishkek was a real luxury. We loaded up with food and ate like we hadn't been fed for years. We returned to Osh and collected our bags and bikes and then took the road through Kazarman which heads directly east through the center of the country. This road is really scenic and hilly and would have taken many days on the bikes rather than the one day we had to drive through. At Ak-Tal we found a perfect camping spot off the road, cooked some good food and admired the scenic tranquility. Unfortunately in the morning we realised that our car battery was dead so we were stuck here slightly longer than expected. We quickly found however a passing Lada who happily went out of his way to drive down to our campsite and help us. As we had no jump leads, we swapped the batteries to get ourselves going. It was quite amusing having our big high tech Japanese beast rescued by this old soviet lada :-)

Kyrgyzstan has few attractions as such and the main pull here is the nature and outdoor activities. It really is a beautiful country and the scenery ranges from glacier covered mountains to alpine meadows where nomads live with their yurts and animals. One of the tourist pulls is the old 15th century stone built caravanserei of Tash Rabat which now has a couple of yurt camps nearby to accomodate the visitors. It is situated at over 3000m and due to an impending storm we also headed to the yurt camp where we caught up with Chris again. Chris has riden his motorbike from Northern England and we had last met in Dushanbe. He was meeting a self organised group of motorbikers who had clubbed together for a guide to take them through China and on to the Karakorum Highway to pakistan.

The decision to stay in a yurt proved to be a good one. In the evening the fire was lit and the yurt became like an oven. It was too hot to sleep and we opened the door only to be waken a few hours later to an icy wind and freezing cold temperatures. The roof of the yurt blew in the gale and even one of the supporting struts became dislodged. Although it was still August, it showed what a harsh environment it is where these people live all year.

The next stop from the caravanserei was the lake of Song Kul. The road up there from Naryn is spectacular and reminded me of the road up the Alpe D'huez except the many hairpins were cut into a narrow gorge which opened up towards the top. Song Kul is a lake surrounded by mountains and despite several yurt camps, there didn't seem to be much food on offer so we cooked our own fine meal of rice and beans at the lake front. We had sheep, goats, donkeys and horses all begging for leftovers.


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