I was already tired by the time I was done with the border crossing. The sun was setting and I needed to reach my host’s house ASAP. However, my GPS decided to play games with me and took me for a ride inside Osh Bazaar! I was so angry with my GPS. Imagine I had to ride inside the narrow alleys with people walking in and out. I was stopped by 2 policemen. Well, not surprising since it’s forbidden for motorbikes to enter the bazaar. As usual, the police asked for my documents and tried to find my fault. I was getting tired and restless and the sun was getting down, but I had to keep my charm and smile and asked them to let me go. I only managed to reach my host’s house at 9.00pm after riding 455kms. I was so exhausted.
My host, Firuza couldn’t speak English. I had got in contact with her thanks to her daughter, Nura, who was introduced to me by Madam Nurliza who hosted me in Almaty. Nura’s son, Iskander stayed with her grandmother and he could speak reasonable English. I was served plenty of food for dinner which consisted of fruits, variety of nuts, dates, soup and plov (traditional rice). Plov was very tasty.
The next day was quite taxing for me too. I intended to ride into Tajikistan, but I didn’t have a Tajik visa. In my mind, I was just going to try my luck. I had ridden in Tajikistan before, all along the M41 Pamir Highway up to Dushanbe. This time, with no visa, if I could manage to follow the road and ride until Ak Baital Pass, it would be very good. I started early and rode on M41 Pamir Highway via Gulcha. The road was 70% okay and 30% so-so. Despite that, the view was so beautiful and took my breath away. Oh….I am so loving Kyrgyzstan. I have been to more than 80 countries, have seen the beauty of Patagonia, Argentina, have breathed in the spectacular New Zealand scenery, have viewed the Turkish landscape, but I still say that Kyrgyzstan is the most beautiful country in the world.
It got cloudy as I climbed up two mountain passes, Cigircik Pass (2389m) and Taldyk Pass (3615m). The road climbing up the passes which was built in 2013 had started to deteriorate and was broken at many parts due to landslides. I had to ride with extra care until I reached the small town of Sary Tash.
To reach the border, I needed to ride on badly broken asphalt + some off road for approx 23kms. The view of the green grassland, snow-capped Pamir mountain, horses, goats and yurts gave me joy even though it’s getting colder.
Reaching the border, I had to wait for approximately an hour before I managed to exit Kyrgyz. This would be the second time for me to ride on the road heading to Tajikistan. Not many people get the chance to ride on this road, I had a chance to ride it twice. I was very excited. However, the 20km crazy road via Kyzyl Art Pass (4280m) to Tajikistan was more difficult now compared to 2013. There were three water crossings and the wind was super strong. The ride was tough, as I didn’t have off road tires on my GD. I nearly dropped my bike a few times, but thank God I didn’t fall. Too bad I couldn’t have any pics taken of me on the bike as I didn’t have a riding buddy to capture my act. The view of the mountains changed to orange-brown, which meant that I am nearing the border. It was so beautiful.
I couldn’t hide my joy when I saw the Marco Polo sheep structure which marked the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. I was so happy. Hey, I have been here twice lah!
I didn’t spend much time here as the clouds didn’t look promising. After few pics, I hurriedly rode another 5kms more to the immigration and customs office. The post still looked the same as three years back. I greeted the officers and as usual, played my charm. But, to my frustration, this time I failed due to the lack of visa and permit. I begged, I pleaded, I did everything I could to charm them. It always worked in the past, but it didn’t this time. I was denied entry by the guards even though I had sweet talked them and even tried to give some bribes. It felt weird to see them refusing my money when money is king in this part of the world. I suspect something might have recently happened thus security seemed to be very tight. After wasting my time for half an hour without any luck, I had to turn back. I only managed to ride 10kms on Tajik’s land this time. My target to repeat Ak Baital Pass failed. I was a bit sad, but it was ok. I had already prepared my mind mentally and psychologically for the consequences and rejection.
Turning back was more challenging as it started to drizzle and the dirt road turned to slight mud in a very short time. As I was going downhill, many times GD’s tires skidded and I almost fell to the ground. Fortunately I managed to get back to Bor Dobo safely. Only then did the rain get really heavy and I had to take shelter at the border post for a while.
When the rain lessened, I continued riding and decided to push to Osh. I was surprised to see the paved road which I just did in the morning broken in four parts due to overflow of the fast current Gulcha River (due to the heavy rain). It was very muddy and big gravel scattered on the road. I didn’t take any pics as I was very tired. Again, it was only at 9pm that I reached Osh feeling so drained out after 13 hours on the road covering almost 500kms.
Before leaving Osh, my host Firuza and her friend Lilia took me to Sulaiman-Too sacred mountain. A visit to Osh is not complete without visiting this UNESCO heritage site. I should have visited this place in 2013 but I didn’t have time to do it then. It was quite a hike up and pretty exhausting as it was 42°C. Osh city can be viewed from up here. There were some ancient worship sites and I also visited a very interesting cave museum which displayed exhibitions about Zoroastrianism which was practised here before Islam’s presence. Previously, I thought only the ancient Iranians practised Zoroastrians.
As it was getting late I hurriedly left Osh to Arslanbob which was 150kms away. Arslanbob was famed for its walnut forest nature reserve. I rode on M41 under the heat of summer and a very boring view, until I turned to an unnumbered road which was paved on and off for approximately 50kms to my destination. The view was quite interesting, but I had to ride on an off road for certain stretches along Karaunkur River. The last part to reach the village was a bit steep.
The next morning, I hiked few kilometres to see the walnut forest. It was interesting in the beginning but boring after a while, so I turned back.
Then I made a move to Karakol via M41. It was 275kms ride on a bumpy road but the view was so awesome. It was very green and there were lots of gorges and grey-coloured mountains. The fast current Naryn River flowed alongside the road. I also saw countless waterfalls along the way.
In the beginning I planned to wild camp near Toktogul Lake @ Reservoir. However, most of the time, the road was higher above the lake. I found an off road trek leading to the shore but the trek got more and more challenging for my off road skills and GD’s non off road tires. Besides, the lake seemed near from the road, but it wasn’t. There was also another off road trek which I found, but it went straight to a front gate, so I had to turn back and forget about the camping idea. I found a cheap motel facing the lake and opted to stay here. How lucky I was as 1 hour after settling down, heavy rain and a storm hit the area, and the rain continued throughout the night. I can’t imagine how stressful it would have been had I chosen to camp.
On my way to Bishkek the next day, I rode on two mountain passes, Ala Bell (3184m) and Too Ashu Pass (3180m). The view along the way was so beautiful. I stopped too many times for pics. The climb on Ala Bell Pass was easy as the road was good and the incline was gradual. However, it rained when I climbed up this pass and it was so cold. The temp was -5°C. I stopped the bike to capture some pics and took a video of the beautiful surroundings. Suddenly, I felt droplets of ‘sand’ falling from above. Gosh, it was iced rain!
The moment I finished doing my stuff, cold burn already burnt my fingers and I couldn’t even curl them anymore. My fingers were frozen. It was so painful when I had to force them on the throttle. I hurriedly descended the pass to beautiful Suusamyr Valley which was a bit warmer.
On the other hand, the climb on Too Ashu Pass, literally “camel pass”, was more challenging. This pass was a part of the Kyrgyz Alatau range of the Tien Shan mountains. It was about to rain when I was riding on this pass. There were many broken parts and pot holes. The worst were the hairpin bends where there were lots of dried mud, rocks and debris which were carried away by the running water as a result of yesterdays’ continuous rain. Here in Kyrgyzstan, heavy rain causing landslides and overflow of rivers and closing of road is not uncommon. I was lucky that it didn’t rain when I did this pass as there were times that the lorries stopped completely at the bends when only one lane was decent enough to drive on. I had to ride very carefully.
In Bishkek, I was hosted by Nura. She’s Firuza’s daughter, my host in Osh. Nura asked me about my plan in Kyrgyzstan, and surprisingly she offered herself to come along as she had not seen some of the places I intended to see, trek and climb. The first place we went to was Ala Archa National Park which was about 30kms to the south of Bishkek. This park was popular with locals and the view of wild flowers and the pine trees was very pretty.
I also managed to go to Karkara Valley, which I had wanted to see since 2013. At that time, the plan was to ride from Almaty and enter Kyrgyzstan via this valley. However, the border was still closed then (this border only opens few months a year), so I had to forget the idea. I’m glad I managed to see it this time. Yes, it’s beautiful and very green. It’s off road with bee hives and people selling pure honey along the way.
I had planned to do some trekking to see Ala-Kul, a rock-dammed lake in the Terskey Alatau mountain range. I fell in love with this lake after seeing a pic of it posted by my idol, Zahariz. This lake lies at an altitude of approximately 3560 meters. To get there, I must first get to Ak-Suu village, and after that to Altyn Arashan. The distance from Ak Suu village to Altyn Arashan is 14kms. One can take a jeep (a very rough ride) or horse or walk the whole distance.
Nura and me chose to walk. We passed an amazingly beautiful river and some pine forests. The walk was easy in the beginning with some rolling hills, but later the dirt track changed to rocky. We did a good time of 2.5hrs covering almost 9kms. Then it started to rain heavily.
The already muddy track (due to continuous rain a few days earlier) made it very difficult to walk. Our shoes were caked with mud, and it was not easy to walk while carrying our backpacks in this condition. We were lucky (or maybe not so for me), that a couple with horses passed by and offered one of their horse to us for a small fee. Unfortunately, Nura and I had to share one horse and I had to ride on the back of the stallion without a saddle. It was very torturing and painful because not only I’m not used riding a horse, I had to sit right on the horse’s back bone without any padding or cushion! And it was a very bumpy and steep climb. I almost cried due to the pain in my thigh and butt. How I wished the ride would end soon, but we only reached Altyn Arashan 1 hour later. I fell from the horse while trying to get down as my legs were so sore and I was unable to even stand up.
It was very cold in Altyn Arashan but we had to start early as today we would be going to trek to see the lake. Weather forecast said that it was going to rain again in the afternoon and I had no idea if we would have been able to see the lake or not. Being on the bike for too long (approx. 10 months now), I didn’t do any fitness training and as a matter of fact, I didn’t even jog since I started GDR. The longest walk I did was 10kms from Station Hidroelectrica to Agua Calientes (Machu Picchu town), last January. Apparently, the lack of fitness, age factor and pain caused by the previous day’s horse riding made the climb a very hard one for me.
It was a beautiful day when we started walking. The track to Ala Kol Lake was not so nice though. It was very muddy in certain parts and steep with loose gravel on the other parts. But there were also nice rolling hills grassland too. The view was so beautiful with pine trees, horses, sheep and cows. The track here was not marked at all and many times it disappeared just like that. It’s very easy to get lost in this area. We were lucky to meet a couple who had a guide with them, so we just trailed behind.
The guide led us via a short cut where we needed to cross one particular river for 3 times. Two crossings were done via a fallen tree trunk (definitely not for gephyrophobics), and one time we had to cross the freezing fast current river on foot where the water reached up to our knees. The moment I dipped my feet in the water, I felt numbness, as it was very, very cold. It was very challenging. Not long after the third river crossing, the fine weather turned bad. Thick clouds covered the sky and we had iced rain throughout our climb.
After a very hard 6.30 hours constant climbing in iced rain, we reached the altitude of 3700m. There was only 100m more very steep track to climb up which would have taken about 1 hour, and we’d have reached the iced mountain pass to enable us to view the gem hidden below the mountain pass, the Ala-Kol Lake. Unfortunately the weather turned from bad to worse with not just iced rain but very thick fog and blizzard. Within few seconds, I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore. It was freezing cold. Don’t ask for shelter, there’s nothing up there except mountains, rocks and ice. A fast decision had to be made, as we were not equipped with proper gear for such harsh weather conditions. We had to get back down ASAP before getting frost bite. We had come this far…but what to do…
Indeed everything happens for a reason. The couple and the guide that we had been following from the beginning were no longer in sight. Both Nura and I had to survive on our own now. We followed the same track that we had taken earlier. The moment we reached the lower level, the sun came out again. It’s always like that, isn’t it? When blood started to flow back into my fingers, the tips felt so painful and ballooning as if they were going to burst any moment. I was dead tired but I had no choice but walked back to Arashan.
We tried to find the short cut where the guide had led us previously but we couldn’t find it. We walked and walked and walked, and the next thing we knew, we were lost! All around us were pine trees and everything looked the same everywhere now. We knew that there were river crossings to do but where were the tree bridges? We spent a long time walking by the river bank, to find the safest way to cross. The fallen tree bridges that we found (not the same which we took earlier) were too risky and dangerous and it was scary to think of what could have happened had we fallen into the river. We had walked too far and we were tired. There were no inhabitants nearby. After following the river for quite some time, we met a boy and he showed us a ‘safe’ bridge to cross. I was a bit shaky when crossing it but thank god, both of us made it safely to the other side.
Then we had to walk few kms on the disgusting muddier track (due to more rain) to the yurta. God knows how I dragged my painful legs and tired body. I had to motivate myself and said, “just walk, eventually you’ll get there.” We managed to get back to the yurta just before sundown. In total, we walked 20kms in 12hours today (and it’s a steep climb). In our case, the quote ‘no pain no gain’ is insignificant because it was ‘lots of pain and no gain’ for us today.
Below is the pic of Ala-Kul Lake that we didn’t manage to see. (Pic from Zahariz’s collection).
It was frustrating not being able to see the lake after all our efforts, but it was a blessing in disguise. Imagine if we managed to see the lake, we would have spent there more time than we should, and definitely we won’t have been able to reach Arashan when we were lost in the forest. I’m scared to think how we would have survived at night in the cold mountain without tent and proper clothing had we not managed to reach the yurta before it got dark. We might have died of hypothermia.
I woke up the next morning with lots of pain and muscle soreness. Nura and I made our way back down to Ak-Suu where her cousin, Damir picked us up with his car. We drove along the southern road of Issyk Kul Lake and camped by the lake shore for the night. There was a storm that night and the tent was almost toppled by the strong wind.
The next day, we continued our way to Kyzyl Oi, a remote village far in the Suusamyr-Too Range. The reason I wanted to go to this remote village is because I was told that there was going to be a traditional festival there. We drove via A367, passing Kyz-Art Pass (2664m). The road was partly bad asphalt and partly off road. The view along the way was so breath taking. The fast current green Kyz-Art river really amazed me.
Kyzyl Oi village was indeed very calm and serene. It was surrounded by orange rolling mountains and coated with green, velvet like grass. It was so peaceful to be there.
The festival consists of some traditional routines and games. But the one that I really wanted to see was the Ulak Tartysh game, a nomad goat polo game where a dead goat weighing about 25kgs is passed from one to another till it reaches the opponent’s goal to score a point. It was very exciting to be able to watch this game live, right in front of my eyes.
After watching the game, we made our way to Song Kul Lake, an alpine lake in northern Naryn Province which lies at an altitude of 3016m. The road to this lake is very rough but very beautiful. We arrived after sun down and stayed the night at a yurta. Its too cold to camp up here. The night sky was filled with millions of stars. What a sight to see.
The following day was spent at Tash Rabat, a well-preserved 15th century stone caravanserai in At Bashy district. The distance was 275kms and we had to drive on Dolon Pass (3035m). In 2013, the road from Sary Bulak to Kochkor was still under construction, but now it’s already paved. The view was so beautiful. Tash Rabat had more visitors this time compared to my first time here, and the view was a bit spoilt due to the rubbish thrown by irresponsible people. We camped by the small stream and enjoyed another night of milky way.
Before leaving for Bishkek the next morning, I took some time to find Elizet, my yurta stay host here in 2013. She still remembered me. It was nice to meet her again.
Even though this is my 2nd visit, this country still sits on the top rank as the most beautiful that I have ever seen. I’m glad that this time I managed to venture more into the remote areas, exploring new places and also going back to some places I had been to before. It was nice to recall places which I had seen and I screamed with joy whenever I saw landmarks which I had posed with during my DREAM in 2013.
In terms of landscape, nothing much had changed since 2013. It was still very green, pure and beautiful. In terms of road, there were lots of differences. The paved road which I rode on in 2013 was now broken. The one under constructions in 2013 was completed, but there were some parts which were still unfinished. Some parts which were totally off road last time, were now under progress to be paved. Still there were some parts which had not changed at all, still off road.
The best time to visit this country is from end May to mid Sept. Weather plays a big role. If you are lucky with the sunshine and less clouds, you’ll get to see blue lakes, green rivers, and milky way (at night). If you are not so lucky, you will get torrential rain which will cause road destruction due to landslides and floods. Believe me, I had witnessed all that, how in a very short time, heavy rain caused a mountain river to flow mud and stones on to the road. Too bad the government didn’t have enough money to build landslide barriers nor to monitor the steep slopes to prevent landslides as Kyrgyzstan is a very mountainous country.
After being back in Bishkek, I managed to meet Zahariz, the person who inspired me to become an advrider. Five years ago, he was the one giving me the idea to travel on a motorbike, and the rest of my life after that is history. Zahariz was married to Merim, a Kyrgyz woman. He managed to do some filming on me for a short video clip.