Long Way Home

Chapter 11

Kyrgyzstan has definitely been the highlight of the journey to date. Once clear of the agricultural Fergana Valley the scenery has been magnificient. We struck some rough, rocky and dusty road along the lower Naryn River gorge but it improved to deliciously smooth bitumen as we rode the rollercoaster route to the immense Toktogul Reservoir.
After several days of repeated climbing and descending I arrived in Toktogul in need of a cup of tea and a lie down. It was not be as the 3186m Ala-Bel Pass lay ahead and there was no getting out of it (not even Betty’s Pudding could help this time). Up and over the pass we soaked up our first glimpses of snowcapped mountain ranges, the vast ‘jailoos’ (alpine summer pastures) dotted with yurts and peopled with nomadic families and their herds.

We turned off on to a back road for a few days, following a deep and narrow river valley with virtually no traffic. The riverside bush camping was superb and we slowed to appreciate the peace of this lovely area.
Magnificient horses have now well and truely taken over from the hardworking little donkeys of Uzbekistan. The proud weatherbeaten faces of the old horsemen with fantastic beards and traditional tall felt hats are a wonderful sight.

The change in temperature has been abrupt ….. after months of baking in 35-45C heat we are now waking to find waterbags left out overnight frozen. It’s nice to stay snuggled up in the tent until the sun starts to thaw things out a bit. With generous thirty day visas we are happy to linger here in Kyrgyzstan for a little longer.

The next few days will take us alongside the huge Lake Issyk-Kul to the town of Karakol, which we plan to use as a base while we head into the surrounding mountains for a few days trekking. Then we depart via the back route into Kazakhstan before heading into China and the next phase of our journey …….

Newsletter 7

Escape from Kazakhstan

Ed tries out the local fashions with Joldyvic
Ed tries out the local fashions with Joldyvic

Hi everyone,Recent weeks have seen us finish the Central Asian leg of our journey and move on to the next big challenge – 5000 km of pedalling to cross China from Kazakhstan to Laos.
As we made our way towards Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan, we found ourselves staying overnight with a friendly family just outside a small village. As word got out of our arrival the local teenagers soon showed up on horseback to check us out. Dinner was cooked up over the fire outside, and, as guests of honour the bulk of the meat was given to us. The son surreptiously found a lump of horsemeat for himself, but his actions were spotted by his elder sister who retrieved the meat and added it to the pile in Ed’s bowl.
As we reached the lake the surrounding mountains were largely obscured with storms circling around. We enjoyed relaxing lakeside camps as we cycled along the southern shore, complete with spectacular evening lightning displays.
We’d seen some unusual cemetaries in Kyrgyzstan, with large ornate mausoleum-like structures, almost like small houses. This made sense when I read that the nomadic Kyrgyz believe the time for settling down in a permanent home doesn’t come until after death.

Taking the back road to Suusamyr and eventually Lake Isyk-kol. Amazingly we met a couple of Swiss cyclists coming the other way
Taking the back road to Suusamyr and eventually Lake Isyk-kol. Amazingly we met a couple of Swiss cyclists coming the other way

Even the more affluent, urbanised Kyrgyz people living in the capital city return to yurt camps in the mountains in the summer – to ride their horses, drink the popular ‘kymys’ (fermented mares milk) and stay in touch with their nomadic roots. Hence the strange sight of glossy black Mercedes Benz cars bouncing across the grasslands heading for yurt camps which we saw on several occasions.
We made the town of Karakol our base for a few days, getting very settled at Yak Tours Hostel where crusty Russian Valentin presides proudly over his venerable old merchant’s house and collection of decaying vehicles.
From here we headed into the nearby mountains, to stretch the legs off the bikes for a change.
When hiking in to a mountain hut we were delighted when it began snowing as we walked, dusting the trees with white and gradually carpeting the ground. We caught teasing glimpses of snowy mountain peaks before swirling mists of cloud shrouded them once more.

Hiking up to the mountain hut from Karakol
Hiking up to the mountain hut from Karakol

The following morning we woke to a sparkling clear day, tempting us to spend a few hours lounging in the sunshine in the glass enclosed verandah with a steaming mug of coffee in hand, enjoying the stunning views. Later we wandered through the snow along the river for a while before returning for an extended soak in the hot springs.

Returning to town it was time to make for the border, via a rough back route. At least when you’re travelling by bike the odd missing bridge or large chunk of road having been washed away doesn’t stop you getting through. The Kyrgyz – Kazakh border post was in the middle of nowhere, very quiet and thankfully hassle-free.