Days Km: 983, Total Km: 12798
The morning we set off from the beautiful Karakul lake to head into Kyrgyzstan there was a rather surprising turn of events. Bruce was up, packed and ready to go way ahead of schedule. Alas, Unfortunately for him this new-found enthusiasm didn’t pan out too well thanks to the rather large, ominous looking rain clouds rolling in.
So after the slightly soggy start (for some of us) it was straight to the border which even though we were expecting it caught us by surprise. A couple of ramshackle huts at best. We even had to go so far as to ask the lone soldier if this was indeed the border, he gave us the same look of disdain and slight nod that I think he must give all the unsuspecting travellers. Thankfully with huts so small there’s not really much room for paperwork and so we all got through rather easily. It was then a bumpy 17km ride down the mountain to the Kyrgyzstan border through no mans land hoping all the way they’d let us in.
With Kyrgyzstan came some unbelievably gorgeous tarmac.. You only truly appreciate a good paved road after your 15th puncture in the rough. And this paved road was better than good, it was great. Sweeping turns complemented the landscape of breathtaking green valleys dotted with yurts and herds of yaks . It was a seriously refreshing change to be able to let the eyes drift off the road and wonder along the curves of the hills and cliffs as opposed to constantly looking for the next loose stone.
Our newfound freedom on the lovely rounds soon found us arriving in Osh. Our first large city in a while and with it came some very exciting things. A variety in our diets, a swimming pool, beer, but above all else an actual, real, fluffy, just want to sink in bed. Oh the pleasure of a good bed after stony nights in a tent. The other great thing to happen in Osh is we finally found some tubes. Lots of tubes. We now seem to have more inner tubes than we know what to do with, patched tubes, thin tubes, thick tubes, we have them all. It’s a great change in fortune!! We’ll probaly not get a single flat now… Not that I’m complaining!
Feeling rested and a lot more confident in the bikes with our heavy-duty tubes installed we rode out. It was just the 2 of us again and the open road..
First nights stop; the middle of nowhere. We’d messed up our timings a bit and so back to camping it was, but with a campsite like the one below we weren’t exactly heartbroken by the idea. There were even some very friendly locals camped nearby and so the nights meal of 2 minute noodles turned into freshly barbecued goat followed by a volley ball game which either had no rules or were much too complicated for my simple understanding… Oh and vodka, lots of vodka….
We broke camp nice and early the next morning as the sunshine just began to play across the tents. We were hoping to get a bit of a head start on the ride and also avoid a morning shot of vodka or 2 that was awaiting for us with our friends down the road…
It’s a good thing we got that early start as well as the days ride took us over not one but 3 passes, and wow were they beautiful. Surprisingly enough as well each couldn’t have been more different from the last.
The first greeted us with an endless mountain landscape accentuated by little brooks and streamlets tumbling down the ravines that were flooded with wild flowers.. The second was hot! Sunshine baked down glinting off the sand exposed by the sparse shrubbery of a very barren landscape of rolling brown and dusty hills.. The last was probably the most dramatic. Pine trees sprouted wherever they could find purchase in the vibrant green landscape and the only way over was switch back after switch back often flooded out with torrents of water..
After the big days ride we made it up to Song Kol lake, which I must say, is truly a dream. It’s a place where the wilds meets the nomadic hearts of the people. Fields of fresh grass gently curve down to caress the shores of the crystal clear lake. All of it cupped in the hands of the surrounding mountains. Pristine yurts dot the landscape and cows, horses and all manner of livestock roam freely.
We were welcomed in by one family and graciously given one of their yurts for the night. It was fascinating watching the evening chores unfold and the extremely relaxed pace of it all. There’s no hurry at all up in these highlands and everyone calmly goes about the days activities. Play even merges into work as the children use the soccer ball to herd the goats towards their pens for the night. Best of all we ran into our 2 Italians again, the whole country and they manage to track us down. So another great night catching up.. All that was left to do was sit back and enjoy what must be close to the best sunset of the trip.
Although we weren’t up early enough to milk the cows thanks to the bitter cold, we were up early enough to milk the rewards of fresh bread and cream and so with rather happy bellies we set off along the banks of the lake accompanied by the odd herd of wild horses. It was heaven riding along in the grass with the wind in the faces, until of course we hit the bog. Which created much amusement amongst the local children as we limped our way back to the actual dirt track and headed back towards civilisation.
Civilisation it turned out wasn’t much… Naryn, the 10th largest city in Kyrgyzstan isn’t exactly what I’d called big. Situated in a picturesque valley it has huge potential that unfortunately the communist style block housing lining the main road doesn’t really live up to.. Anyway at the very least it was a place to rest the head before heading down to Tash Rabat. Our final stop before braving the Tourgat pass and China.
The road to Tash Rabat was a bit of adventure itself purely due to the fact that we got to ride through our first hailstorm. Now I’m not sure if any of you have ever been on a motorcycle with marble sized hailstones rocketing down but I can assure you. It hurts!
Slightly bruised we finally made it and pulled into one of the many Yurt camps along the path. Fortunately for us not only did they have a sauna to ease the battered bodies but cold beers as well. The life of a nomad doesn’t seem so bad at all…
From here things get interesting as we head into China. Tourgat Pass is a border crossing known for its harsh arctic weather and bureaucratic nightmares.. fun..