Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
Kyrgyzstan is often referred to as the Switzerland of Middle-Asia. The mountains must be the main reason of it, because we didn’t see any other similarity between the two countries. Kyrgyzstan is not organized or tidy at all, you hardly ever find a proper road and nobody likes tourists wondering around all by their selves. A tourist is accepted if it rides a horse or at least a guide is directing it through the area. A country where tourisms develops rapidly and corruption is told to be rolled back. A country which is called Kyrgystan, by everybody except us, Hungarians. Well, this time as well: Kyrgyzstan is subjective.
Holy Mother of God! We are literally grateful that we’ve survived Kyrgyzstan. I’m serious. Their driving style is madness… I can’t even put it into words. They seem to be wealthy, because as soon as you enter to the country you can see all varieties of Lexus, Land Rover, BMW and any other kind of luxury land rovers. I don’t even see this amount of expensive cars in Hungary. They go full tear, even in inhabited areas. The roads are not wide enough, and to tell truth, they don’t give a damn if they can pass by a biker safely. You’ll find it out after anyway… It happened several times that they passed (I mean rushed) by just a few centimeters away from us. (Once one of the drivers pulled the car on Eni intentionally and the rearview mirror of her bike broke due to the Kirgiz joke. They didn’t stop of course, but it took a few minutes for Eni to stop shaking.) A lot of them drive drunk, mainly on the weekends. How nice of them… They often shout out of the cars like ‘Get the hell out of my way, you f***ing tourist!’ (The tourist, who brings his money in their country.) In general, the roads are in horrible conditions, except some shorter sections and the road M41 between Bishkek and Osh (it has its own jolty parts though). Somewhere we were riding in the dusty and slaggy path right next to the road, as it was faster and easier that way. The secondary roads are usually unmasked and rocky.
The landscape and architecture
Kyrgyzstan is a wonderful country! The snowy, 4000 meters high mountains are visible already from the capital city. 70% of the country is highland, but what does it mean exactly? Three, around 7000 meters high mountains can be found in the country (Lenin 7134m, Pobeda 7439m, Khan Tengri 6995m), which can be climbed without an alpinist permission. However you need an allowance to approach them, because they are all situated at the border. It costs only 30-50 Euros. The country possesses twenty three 6000 meters high, eighty 5000 meters high mountains and God knows how many, that reaches 4000 meters. So anybody who feels like climbing mountains no one climbed before, you’d better go to Kyrgyzstan! Issyk-Kul, after Titicaca, is the second largest endorheic lake and its name literally means Hot-Lake, because it does not freeze in the winters either. Its deepest point is around 600 meters. Wherever you go, you’re surrounded by crystal clear brooks, green hill-sides and garbage unfortunately… The only clean places are situated up in the mountains, far away from people. Bottles of vodka or beer, dirt and litter can be found everywhere. Such a mess! Cars are washed in brooks and rubbish is thrown out of the vehicles’ windows. Waste removal exists solely in bigger cities. A lot of families set up yurts for the summer, and live there in the mountains until winter arrives. They keep horses, cows, sheep, process milk and other dairy products. Sheep are kept for their meat, the most common type of sheep is the dorper. They make ‘qurut’ (dried yogurt, the taste is a bit strong, but we liked it), kumis (fermented milk, very sour with smoky after taste) and cream out of horse milk. According to the Kirgiz, they’re durable due to ‘kumis’, though they pronounce it ‘kömöz’. Some of them set up yurts for touristic reasons, right next to their own, which are often more decorative. A vast of yurts can be found stand by main roads heading through mountains, where everybody sells dairy products and horses wonder around all free on the green fields (and in the middle of streets too). I wouldn’t say that the cities are beautiful. They’re quite disorganized and dirty. In Bishkek, we didn’t feel like being in the capital city, but in a bigger village. The center looks urban with multi-lane streets, traffic lights and blocks of flats. We saw plenty of mosques, but they were much more low-key, than the ones we had seen during our journey.
Well, the Kirgiz cuisine didn’t become our favorite one. They eat a lot of meat, but they don’t pay too much attention on spices. In Center-Asia, finding your way out of the trinity of saslik-plov stuffed meat balls seems impossible. Their dishes are quite heavy and greasy. Samsa, Muslim breads and nán are common. Jam, ground coffee and other global goods can only be found in bigger supermarkets. Their beers are delicious and they’ve got a wide variety of vodka. Even better, Russian vodkas can be bought for 7 euros per liter. (Tobacco and alcohol are extremely cheap, so we guess that a huge part of the male population has problems with alcohol. But it’s simply our personal opinion. According to them, there’s nothing wrong with it.)
Do not forget, that it is our subjective opinion, based on our experience. We don’t want to stereotype. In our views, Kirgiz people are not that kind or interested. They stare at foreigners and may say ‘otkuda:’, which is the shorter version of ‘Where are you coming from?’, but they don’t initiate conversations at all. I can only recall a few occasions, when they turned to us with real kindness. Most of the time, they were really neutral. A lot of men wear unusual, white felt hats or baseball caps that we didn’t see anywhere else. Pants and coats are common, their style is quite obsolete. In cities people obviously dress in western clothes, women wear skirts, long dresses. Their features are more Mongolic than the Uzbeks or Turks. Everybody is Muslim, but in a lighter style... Kind of ‘You might have a spritzer, don’t you?!’
Kyrgyzstan can be the best destination for the lovers of mountains and nature. You can have horse-riding excursions or hiking trips in fascinating spots. It can be an interesting time travel for tourists who decide to visit this country. But it’s so sad to see that their only resource, the nature is not protected at all. Because of their life-threatening driving style, we do not recommend the usage of bikes in this country.
If you’re in Kyrgyzstan, don’t miss:
-local dairy products
-swimming in a local lake
Translated by: Gréta Kojsza
Eni stopped telling our story at the point we arrived to Biskek, to a guest-house, where a little international team of bikers got together. Days passed so fast and comfortable in the shadows of the terrace. To tell the truth, we’ve easily got cozy. We were happy with doing nothing and pleased with the fact that the landscape is not moving around us. After a few days of delicious meals, good chats and laughs, we’ve decided to go to the mountains. Some walking might do us good, as we haven’t done that for a long time now.
We spent a few days in Ala Arca National Park and managed to climb our first, 4000 meters record. We took the bikes to get to the mountains, left them at a safe place and set off. Changing to walking was such a great idea. We still love cycling (otherwise it would be unbearable to ride them each day), but we didn’t mind taking our stuff on our backs this time. We were off to the Mother Nature, far away from the capital. Somehow we never get bored of this... We got back to the guest-house full of with great memories and sore muscles.
The teammates changed in the guest-house and to tell the truth, we missed the old crew. We’ve got the news in the mountains that our expected package has arrived too. Laura and Daniel, an Italian couple are spending their second year in Biskik, who work for the United Nations. They were our contact, where we could make our package sent. They’re so gentle, we had a really nice talk by a sheer, Italian cappuccino, so more of our desires came true that afternoon. (To the East from Turkey, it’s a real challenge to find a normal, European coffee or Café and even if you manage to bump into one, you’re going to pay hard for it. Nope, I don’t mean diarrhea this time, but the financial aspect.)
We’ve got to know Claire and Rob before the hiking. The New-Zealand couple is on the way to Ireland, to a friend’s marriage and they’ve decided to take the bike. They’d like to work abroad for a while. We decided to leave Biskek together, so we met close to the Turkmen embassy, because the kiwis had to arrange their passports that Monday morning. We took a cart-road right next to a totally dried up channel. Well, the quality of the road wasn’t the best, but we didn’t mind going slower. We didn’t have to worry about the traffic. The destination was Lake Iszik-köl, to the Eastern-South from Biskek. We had plenty of time, so we could enjoy the nice weather, let alone the great conversations and each other’s company.
We found shelter in small, hidden place by the lake, where no one could bother us, except the mosquitos. That one day of lay-off was absolutely necessary that we took, because of the exhausting pace. Due to that attentive driver, we’ve decided to go in the destination of the mountains after the first 50 kilometers on the Southern coast. We did some shopping in Kara-Koo for the upcoming 5 days (we set up a little menu) and left the surfaced road behind us after 2 kilometers. Our first off-road experience has just happened to take place in Kyrgyzstan.
We camped on a brook-side in the middle of nowhere, got directions from a donkey’s back, were stared and hissed by the marmots. We saw yaks, wild horses, Kirgiz cowboys, climbed mountains, were lying in the grass and checking out sheep and cows grazing. We were cycling in enormous wind ahead, were pushing the bikes up on steep slopes where only a few tiny tracks showed the direction. We crossed ice-cold brooks too, so we spent some quite exciting days in the calm of the mountains, far away from the noise of rushing cars and crowds of tourists.
We headed to Kochkor to spend two, relaxing nights there, to enjoy hot showers and to plan our journey to South-Kyrgyzstan and to the Chinese borderline at the same time. Finally, we made up our minds and came up with a new plan in the end. After passing round Iszik-köl from the south, we’re going up to Kazakhstan and decided to enter China from there. In this way, we can save time, the track’s going to be easier too and we won’t have to pay for a taxi to take us on the passage where we wouldn’t be allowed to use bikes.
Our gasoline boiler gave up the game, so when it’s not raining cats and dogs, (though it has been raining a lot lately) we fired up to cook. We found a really nice place in Karakol where we had a rest and refilled our stocks. We truly recommend Nice Hostel to everyone. It is run by an amazing family, who put their hearts and souls to the wheel to create a tidy and cozy hostel in the city. We met several kind travelers here, and visited the famous animal fair of Karakol too.
Our stuffs are already packed, all the bags are on the bikes and we are leaving to Kazakhstan soon, where we’re going to spend a week or so and visit Sharyn Canyon We are around 110 kilometers away from the border right now.
We are looking forward to China. One thing is sure. Without the knowledge of Chinese, we’re going to have plenty of surprises. The Chinese don’t speak English or any other foreign languages we would understand. Cultural shock is guaranteed! We can spend 3 months in the country, but the planned distance almost reaches 5000 kilometers. We might going to use public transportation as well, just to have more time left to visit some interesting spots. We will try our best to keep in touch with you, dependent on our capacities and energy.
Translated by: Ágota Duró
Instead of our plans we had to go up to the Kirghiz capital. In Samarkand, Uzbekistan we ordered some bike tools and we only had contacts in Bishkek were we could post our package.
Our budget doesn’t let us staying in hotels or motels for a long time. So we were searching the net and found Angie’s and Nathan’s home called “At House”. The Bulgarian-Canadian couple lodges travellers for two years. You can put up your tent in their yard for a token sum. It seemed like the perfect combination: we can meet other travellers meanwhile we stay in the centre of the city, and we also have a bathroom and a kitchen…
As we entered the gate we forgot how tired we are. A dozen of 25-35-year-old youngster were in the house. Someone were cooking, someone were Skyping with the family at home, someone were drying clothes and someone were sleeping in the shadow. After a quick greeting – we almost forgot everyone’s names –, we put up our tent and started to blend into this international bubble.
We met really interesting people and felt that we made real friendships with some of them. We heard a lot of useful and new information and we also shared what we knew. There were some cyclists who came from the different direction as us and explained their experiences. Who comes here goes charged because people help each other and talk with each other. We made programmes together and we cooked together. Balázs were installing the bikes with the other guys.
We thought to introduce the people who we met closely:
Kay is an American girl from Japan who cycles alone from China to Istanbul. She chosen the “Silk Peace Road” name to her cycling journey. She wants to take photos of 5000 people who are keeping a board in their hands lettering PEACE in their mother tongue. “5000 miles for 5000 smiles. You can read more here.
Niko lives in Switzerland. Besides cycling his hobby is film making. We had the pleasure to participate in one of his film screening. Nico is a really good guy. He is attentive and friendly. He makes his films with his friends. They’re choosing topics in connection with extreme sports and they’re showing them in an extraordinary way. You can watch the videos here.
Marion and Etienne are architects. They were studying in the same university and they are a couple since then. They are cycling from South-East Asia to home, Belgium. They aren’t in a hurry. They are staying in “At House” since a month. They are arranging visas and looking around. They don’t have a time limit, only have to depend on their budget. You can read their French blog here.
Dave also came from Switzerland. We really loved his sarcastic and wry humour. Dave cycled from Istanbul to Bishkek for slightly more, than 5 months. He really loved Hungarian foods and tastes. His favourite was our “dödölle”. You can read about his journey here.
Erica and Peter were studying and working in China when they decided to cycle to Italy were Erica came from. They haven’t been huge cyclers before but as they said they got used to it in a short time. They share their reports and photos here.
Frank and Swan came separately to “At House” but they found each other in a while. Both came from Germany and they are the oldest residents of “At House” (49 and 37). Both are foolish a bit but we loved them this way.
Charlie is a 26-year-old American boy, who is also very foolish and full of life. He cycled 12000 kilometres in 5 months! (Amazing!) He began at Thailand, got around 3 provinces of China, and after his rest in Bishkek he goes to Pamir and then to Europe. In December he goes back to the States for some months preparing for his second cycling journey. He would cycle trough Africa. You can read his reports here.
Jack also came from the USA. He cycled from Pakistan to Bishkek in 5 weeks. He got through Karakorum highway alone. He met Charlie during his way and they arrived to “At House” accidentally. Jack flies back home these days and refreshes his blog. He should write and absolutely funny page. We really loved him! You can check his blog here.
In the last few days a whole French family came to “At House”. The father cycles with a recumbent trike while his son (Paul) “rides the bike” behind him. The mother cycles with a touring bike while she pulls her daughter (Joanne) sitting in a carriage. They are a really charming family and also have a blog in French here.
These people gave us a lot of positive energy. It was good to stay with them during these days in Bishkek. We would really miss this community, this international bubble in the middle of Kirgizstan.
There’s a phrase: we meet each other twice in a lifetime. Hope so!
Translated by: Pál Capewell
And yes, we arrived.... Balazs and I crossed the border near Shamaldi-Say around eight in the evening. We began to look for a place to stay right away as it was rather dark already. Understandably, it’s much more difficult to look for a place to set up a tent or to be allowed into someone’s house for a night during dark hours. Unfortunately our assumption proved right, it was very difficult to find a place, especially after two places that looked promising didn’t work out. We spotted a little restaurant where the mood seemed to be quite pleasant - tables were surrounded by both youngsters and elderly, people were laughing, dancing outside to Kyrgyz music. Seeing the good mood, we ventured a try with the waiters, asking them if it’d be okay to sleep on their terrace, to which they kindly agreed to. After we were done setting up, we were offered Kyrgyz saslik and local beer. We danced our way into Kyrgyzstan!
The next day Balazs and I set off for the mountains. A rotation of easier, harder days followed, up and down, up and down, up and down, all the way ‘till Bishkek. We saw some breathtaking scenery with bountiful natural sights. The challenging nature of the trip really wasn’t the negative aspect of it all, but the local drivers. They drove like maniacs, without the slightest concern for us and our safety. One thing was for sure: busy roads must be avoided at all costs and we must leave the road at the first chance we get. Till then, we figured we will attach our flags to the side of our bags to attract attention and create some sort of perceived boundary between us and the local drivers. There were cases when they barely made it past us they came so close, and some other times they made a sport out of catching/touching/ripping off our flags. Their sense of humor is not for me to understand.
One night we had the fortune of staying at a ran-down “hotel” which reminded us of our Olamilq memories. Wasn’t pretty. Till this day we can’t wrap our minds around the mystery that happened that night. The guy we shared our room with got up in the middle of the night, turned on all the lights and set up the tables, chairs outside. Then he left. Naturally, Balazs and I woke up, assuming they will be dining at this ungodly hour due to Ramadan. But no, nobody returned, nobody ate a bite, and nothing happened really. We tried to go back to sleep, I personally couldn’t wait for it to be morning. The place gave me the creeps. It was filthy as hell, the wallpaper was melting off under a thick layer of mold, and the room was filled with bugs and mosquitos.... After an hour or so we got bored of waiting and switched off the lights. A little later our buddy returned, and like nothing happened, went back to sleep. At six we woke up with massive bags under our eyes, collected our stuff and got the hell out of there.
By the time we got to Toktogul Lake, Balazs and I had an exhausting day behind us. We wanted to set up our tent somewhere peaceful so we headed for the campsite to ask around for some decent places. After the initial hellos, we quickly became friends with the Russian family camping there. They were very kind and sweet people, so we decided to set up the tent next to them for the next couple of days. It felt good to finally rest a bit and be around people.
You learn something new every day: in the 60s and 70s, a lot of Russian citizens were distributed among the Soviet Union states. These people settled down in their designated countries and usually married other Russians. A lot of Russians were born in Kyrgyzstan, who studied in Russian schools and had very limited contact with locals. This generation is in their 40s, 50s now, and have children of their own. The theme for them is the same: Russian school, Russian life-partner... Speaking Kyrgyz is not trendy even among the Kyrgyz people so you mostly hear Russian downtown. Kyrgyz people prefer to use Russian even among themselves, which we found rather strange.
After our two day rest at the Toktogul lakeside, we got back on our bikes again. We slowly reached the mountainous part, ascending higher and higher. The roadside cafes and and shops were changed to cottages. Most families keeping animals move to the mountains from spring till late autumn, set up their cottage and bring their animals over. Horses and cows are out in the fields the whole day, munching away in peace, and people process the milk into all sorts of produces and sell them by the road. Next to the cottages, these locals already have quite sophisticated machinery in their tents, for example a mixer that separates milk and cream . They make cottage cheese, kumis and kurut (or kashk).
Families sleep and eat in their cottages. They don’t have electricity but have cool jeeps parked outside. It was nice seeing the strange contrast.
The serpentine kept going upwards, and by the fourth day we were at the Ala Bel Pass, the highest location of our trip thus far.
After the well-deserved easy roll downward, we went for camping in the wild, by the Suusamyr Lake. To our surprise, it had quite the traffic! People passed every now and then, came to take a quick bath, shaved, washed a bit... Then by dark we were left alone.
In our heads, we were already planning the day ahead, we studied the maps in the tent and contemplated how many more days we need to get to Bishkek.
The chocolate pudding breakfast was far from satisfactory, but nevertheless off we went towards Too Ashuu Pass. To be honest it’s not a real pass, since they built a tunnel at the near the top of the mountain so one just has to get as high as the tunnel. Balazs and I were ascending for four hours on the serpentine that had a 12% incline. Fortunately we were both in good condition and mood, which is more than what we can say for our time at Ala Bel Pass.
The tunnel awaited us at the top of the mountain, with thick black smog pouring out of it - contrary to the positive word of mouth it has going on. The construction workers advised us against going in with our bikes. After thirty long minutes of waiting in the freezing cold, a truck finally stopped to take us through. Bags, tents, whatnots all went on top of the paprika cargo at the back, and we got comfy next to the drivers. This is how Balazs and I crossed the 3km long “tunnel”. On the way it became clear that attempting to cross on bikes would have been a futile mission; the smog was so dense that visibility was extremely low, even the lights were barely visible, and the ground had plenty of ankle deep holes. We would have fainted after no more than 500m. Or less. Upon arriving at the other side, milky fog welcomed us. On this side of the mountain the temperature was so low that we had to put on our thickest clothes and cover our faces. Being able to see nothing, it was a scary ride going downwards, but soon enough we got out of the clouds. The path led us by the Alba, Turuk and Kara-Balta Rivers. By the time it got dark, luckily we got out of the valley. Our camp spot was next to a cottage by the route to Sosnovka. Balazs and I got into our sleeping bags exhausted, but overjoyed. Two days, two passes. Well, we did it!