The wild and beautiful Kyrgyz part of the Tien Shan was interesting in many ways.
The route. Click on the map for larger size.
Visa: Easier than for the other "Stan states". Usually no red tape required, 40-80$ for a month. There has been talks about dropping the visa req. all together. Officially you have to register with the OVIR, I didn't - no problem.
Costs: Cheap. Hotels sometimes with "tourist prices" (bastards!).
Traffic & Roads: Asphalt, so and so. Very rough dirt tracks in the mountains. Traffic: very little.
Dangers: Watch out for drunk and oh-so-eager-to-fight idiots. The police force is very corrupt, tell them to F.O. and hold your ground.
Everything changed just after the border. Greener for every meter of downhill from the pass. A bit worried about my self extended visa, but when I arrived at the border the officials were much more interested in who was the strongest: Arnold Schwartzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme. As a westerner, they thought I was an expert in the matter and I was asked many times about my point of view and to my relief they didn't even looked at my passport.
|Multi coloured mountains. View from the border pass.|
|The transition from the dry and bleak high plateau to the green and multicoloured mountains of Kyrgyzstan was fantastic.|
The ever so friendly Tajiks were not there anymore and it felt a bit strange after all the months of friendliness to encounter sometimes and hostile and aggressive people. Rocks were thrown at us, people were screaming bad things and a couple of times some idiots tries to pick a fight.
|Watermelon break in the Fergana valley.|
Was a bit eager to reach Osh, the first decent sized city since Dushanbe. Over some smaller passes on good roads. Had a day off and indulged in good food and a great hotel.
Screwed up somehow when leaving Osh, I lost Ale and we both lost Mark and Jeff. Ale almost cycled into Uzbekistan by mistake and I ended up going into the mountains on a dead end road. Ale finally caught me, but we had no clue about where the other two were at.
Attacked by drunks in a car who tried to force us to have a ride with them. A road crew almost beat the drunks up after I told the road crew workers that the drunks tried to rob us...white lies works fine...
Climbed up the very impressive xxxx*-pass. Stayed with two very nice nice Russians who were working in the tele-communication station on top of the pass.
|Crazy winds and snowstorm, which changed in half an hour into a great sunny day. View from xxxx*-pass.|
* = The bloody pass have three different names, all of them will be there later, have to double check.
The Russians warned us for "crazy people" in and around Kazerman and told us not to cycle. Those people had stolen everything from parts from the satellite dishes to their kittens, from the Russians. There were some rock throwing around the town, but apart from that, no problems.
|A small shrine close to Kazerman.|
Was getting a bit worried about Jeff and Mark. Ale's bike almost died and I continued alone. Had a break on a pass, was given litres and litres of khamis, the fermented horse milk, which is the national drink in Kyrgyzstan. Couldn't hardly believe my eyes when a small green taxi painfully slow arrived at the pass - with three bicycles on top. Jeff had once again been struck by Murphy and his pulleys was gone - don't ask me how a thing like that can happen... Ale's bike was also screwed, but Mark was really happy to get out of the taxi and we continued together towards Naryn and later on Bishkek.
|Schtraff! The word that followed us all along the way from the first to the last moment in the old Soviet states.|
Had a break repairing the bikes in Bishkek. Indulged in Korean, Chinese and supermarket food. Watched Tour De France in one of the cities expat pubs!
Ale had to go to Uzbekistan for a photo assignment and the gang of four was all of a sudden three. Decided to go for some more offbeat cycling in the mountains. Got great help with maps and info from Harriet, a French/Dutch girl who had been horse riding the route some weeks earlier on.
|The typical "shops" in the countryside of Kyrgyzstan - tables at the side of the road.|
The roads got smaller and smaller and soon they were nothing more than a horse path.
|A weird basket ball field in the last village, before the wilderness took over.|
|Grassy mountain paths for a some days = great!|
|On the way towards, Contor Daroga.|
|Nomad's yurts everywhere. Sometimes very difficult to find the route.|
We had wanted some hardcore riding after the quite easy and relaxed riding on the normal roads in Kyrgyzstan and we got what we asked for. Pretty hard in parts and the paths was rough, difficult to find the route, river crossings and the hardest pass I ever cycled - the really steep Ara Bel Pass. Wow - that one is a killer!
|So much for the promise of always stocking up with food...had to mooch and barter for food, with the very friendly nomads in the area.|
|Proud horse men in the outback.|
Mark was not very happy with the choice of roads and when we arrived at the mining road he decided to go back to civilization.
Went south, with the idea of going as close as possible to the high Pamirs and The Pik Pobeda Massif. Over Suek Pass, one of the few 4000 m passes in Kyrgyzstan in a wet snowstorm.
|A wonderful valley opened up after the Suek Pass.|
We got closer and closer to the higher parts of the Tien Shan. Very beautiful and very hard cycling. In one part we had 26 climbs over 100m/vertical and they were steep - sometimes over 20%.
|Coming over the edge of steep pass.|
|Jeff fighting in a really steep section.|
|One of those signs...in the middle of nowhere...we were off-road in the first place and there was no road leading in the direction of the sign...|
After a day and a half we arrived close to Ak-Shyrak. Two army guys came running, arrested us on the spot and brought us to an army camp. A serious high rank official met us with a grim look on his face. We were obviously in a very sensitive area and had broken the law. After some communication with the headquarters for the army in Kara Kol, the officer told us we were free to go, but we had to go the same way back. No way of continuing towards Enilchek or even try out another route. Shit, hate backtracking, especially when you know there are 26 passes of different difficulty ahead.
Had ran out of food again and asked for a meal before departure. Got a splendid army style meal and with our stomach full, everything felt much better.
Wild competitions on the steepest uphills - could we reach the top of the pass without break or getting off the bikes.
|Found an abandoned truck...|
|...full of nice clothes.|
|Dressed for success.|
|A family we had a nice snack with.|
|Switchbacks going down Barskoon Pass.|
Made it back over all those hills and started the wonderful descent towards Barskoon. Attacked by drunks and passed straight through the place. Camped at the Kara Kol lake, a violent very beautiful thunderstorm struck and we were both very happy to have strong tents.
The rest of the time in Kyrgyzstan was without any interesting happenings. Said au revoir to Jeff. He planned to go to Altai and Mongolia and I to Xinjiang and later on Changtang and Tibet. We were supposed to meet up again in eastern China.
Managed to take some really weird back roads towards the Kyrgyz border and missed the border post, didn't really care, had no entry stamp for the country anyway, so maybe it was better that way.
Visa: Very different from embassy to embassy. Sometimes you get it without hassles, sometimes it's close to impossible. Expensive everywhere. Officially you have to register with the OVIR, I didn't - no problem.
Costs: Cheap. Didn't stay in any hotels, but people I met told me accommodation was expensive in the bigger cities.
Traffic & Roads: Didn't cycle much there, but the asphalt was fine and the dirt tracks in ok condition. Not much traffic.
Dangers: ALL travellers I met told me horror stories about how corrupt the police was and how dangerous the country were...I had no problems with any of that.
Arrived at the Kazakh border post. Expected the worst, but it was absolutely hassle free, even if I had no registration from any of the other Stan States (which I had heard from other travellers could be a big problem). That was the good part, the bad part was: there was no place to change money at the little border post. Continued towards the first big city. Public holiday. Tried out if there were any chance to change on the black market. Nope. So there I was again, without food and no hope to buy any either. The tactic I had to resort to was simple: 1. Go through as fast as I could (had only a three day transit visa anyway) and 2. Stop in strategically good places (outside teahouses and restaurants) and hope for the best.
It worked out fine. If you stopped outside an orchard, you got apples or other fruit, outside a restaurant, you were invited for tea and/or food. Don't know if this is morally correct, but what can you do, when you have nothing to eat?
Pushed on hard and with my mind full of fantasies about how much I was going to eat upon arrival in China, I finally had the Chinese border in sight.
I don't have much to say about Kazakhstan, spent too little time there, but it was very refreshing after the sometimes bad experiences in Kyrgyzstan. People were much friendlier and I enjoyed my short visit. The cycling itself was very hot and mostly flat.
Continue to the next part of the journey.
Back to main!