Aug 7th, 2014 – Now with photos and video!!
Two days on the road, on the way to Uzbekistan and what wonderful scenery and people have filled our days. Leaving Bishkek was a good feeling, with both the Iran and Uzbek visas safely in our passports. We are off to Uzbekistan with a chance to ride some of the mountain passes that seem to dot the Kyrgyzstan map. We head west, which will be our general direction for the next three weeks, back along the route we entered the country from. We need to keep our eyes open, because here, unlike Russia and Kazakhstan, route directions are almost non existent. We find it and are now heading towards the snow capped peaks that have beckoned us since we arrived. Higher and higher we ride, hairpin bends, cooler air and breathtaking views towards the top of the Tuz-Ashu pass at over 3,500m.A photo stop sees us meet a couple from Moscow, a local guy who now lives in Putney in London, and Patrick a swiss guy here for a few weeks who seems to have ridden just about everywhere. The bikes seem to have to work harder as we climb up to 3,150 meters, as more throttle is required: our first thoughts had been dirty fuel, but no altitude was the culprit. How do the cyclists we see from time to time manage?
Near the top of the Tuz-Ashu pass is a tunnel of some 4km, not the nice well lit tunnels we are used to, but a Soviet era model, poor lights, rough walls and floors. Single tunnel for both directions that requires whatever illumination you bring, and in some cases for the locals, not much. The scenery on the other side of the tunnel is so different: a vast green valley stretching some 30km+ to the next mountain range in the south. The Suusamyr valley is home to thousands of horses that are kept for the mare’s milk, natural and fermented and the cheese that locals produce. The roadside as we descend is dotted with yurts selling all three products.
We descended to the valley floor and turned west again following the river that bisects the valley. If you are a horse lover or rider, this 150km by 24km long green flat Suusamyr valley surrounded by high mountains with a fast flowing river bisecting it has to be a must visit place if you have not done so. Watching the horse herds grazing and being herded as they must have done for centuries leads you to imagine a simpler way of life from our complex world.
We had decided we wanted to camp, not stay in a yurt, which a number of the camps close to the road were offering. While a great experience for many, not for us this time. As we climbed up to the Ala-Bel Pass the temperature dropped down to 11 degrees celsius at 3,184 meters. Wish the ventilation zips were easier to close while riding.
A winding decent brought the temperature up and yet a third change of scenery as we descended towards Toktogul.
At the side of the road we observed buckets filled with red fruit for sale. A quick stop revealed buckets of raspberries, Anne’s favorite fruit, but where do you put a bucket of raspberries on a motorcycle, so sadly no purchase possible (our top box was full of vital drinking water).
The mountain passes take their toll on the trucks – often we see trucks at the side the road undergoing repairs. It is not unusual to see other trucks stopped to help and the repairs are quite major judging from the parts being removed. No recovery service here. Occasionally a truck will be parked where it broke down, marked by a couple of warning rocks with a rear axle at 90 degrees to normal. It had taken us a little while to realise that European companies are not transporting goods in Kyrgyzstan, but that second hand trucks from Europe are not repainted.
Finally, at 8pm, we chose a campsite, next to the road, with a great view across our valley to the Toktogul reservoir. Once the sun goes down the traffic will stop and we could sleep. Wrong! Second hand cars break down more in the heat of the day going up the passes, so they travel at night. Only a couple of hours sleep for us, then our morning truck horn wake up at 7am.
We both agreed as we travelled along the south side of the Toktogul reservoir, that we would do this road again, the variety of views, scenery, mountain passes, lakes and the condition of the road make this a great route to travel. We will come back to this region one day to ride again to explore all we have not seen.
We meet a young french couple from Bordeaux, who have spent 400 Euros in Bishkek on a 1979 Ural motorcycle with sidecar. The only problem is that it breaks down daily and they are spending more time sleeping at garages than hotels. Today’s problem is an oil leak from the rear wheel drive assembly. Luckily our BMW toolkit has an adjustable spanner than fixes, for now, the problem. I am glad it was not the broken piston suffered a couple of days ago. What a great way to travel and a different set of fantastic experiences. Each to their own, but not for us (although Anne has said that traveling with a single bike and side car could be a fun way to travel one day, but on a more reliable model than this French couple’s). Good luck to them as they set off up the mountain pass.
We decide that a good night’s sleep before we cross the border is in order. With the help of some locals in Tash-Kömür we find a guest house. It seems to hold about four generations of the family and assorted other. We get a small room without the promised bathroom, which we seem to have got used to over time and especially the last month’s travel. Am I getting soft in my middle age? We had much rougher in Africa, Asia and the Americas in the past and I just accepted the conditions, now I think that if I am not camping, at the end of the day, an en-suite bathroom and good fans or air conditioning, especially in these temperatures, is very desirable. Maybe really roughing it in one star or less is going to become a thing of the past for me, time will tell.