Crossing Kyrgyzstan

 Posted by on October 18, 2013
Oct 182013

I was worried about Kyrgyzstan. I didn’t know how, after finishing some of the best riding I’ve ever done in the Pamirs, I’d cope with the come down of returning to “normal” touring. I worried that the motivation might be lacking. Daniel felt it too. So we devised a plan. Avoid tarmac wherever reasonably possible and try to cross Kyrgyzstan on tracks.

Kyrgyzstan has only a handful of sealed roads so we didn’t struggle to fulfil our growing appetite for dirt. But our maps made life difficult. Google Maps on my phone and Daniel’s Reise Know How map for Central Asia were both frustratingly inaccurate. We managed to botch our way across to Kochkor, just south east of Bishkek, but trying to cross the Kyrgyz Ala-too range to the capital proved challenging…

It’s a big one so get comfy.

Into the hazy mountains. From Jalal Abad we headed east off the main road into the Fergana Range of the Tian Shan mountains to cross the country on tracks.

The first few bumps rattled through bike and body

as we weaved between yet more livestock being shepherded down from the higher pastures for winter. Snow was due and our concerns turned to whether our crossing would coincide with winter’s first flurries.

Contemplating another mouthful. Daniel struggled with his own stomach upset and the evening routine of trying to stuff as many calories in our stomachs as possible became an endurance test. Made worse by the thought of the 1500m climb which lay in store for us the next morning.

Plenty of huffs and puffs through endless switchbacks got us up to 3026m and a sweeping track

with a backdrop of bizarre hummocky hills got us back down to Kazerman – a town grown around a local gold mine. Unfortunately you’re more likely to find alcohol trickling down through the local population than wealth from the natural resources.

Horses. Forever overseeing our progress from roadside ridges.

Back on the ascent

through a canyon up to 2800m

for a photo finish with some curious bystanders.

We descended back to desert

through endless switchbacks

and past trendy hillsides.

A portrait of Aybek in his traditional Kyrgyz hat. He invited us to stay in Kok-Jar. T-shirts of foreign countries as popular as ever.

Aybek’s mother milked the family’s cow as its calf stood by. Whilst life in these towns is hard and mostly lies dormant for three months under the weight of winter snows many don’t seem weighed down by the hardship. Positivity, hope and a passion for life were present in abundance. Watching Aybek’s stunningly well dressed mother doing her morning work as the first glimmers of sun began to show was one of the most beautifully peaceful moments I’ve witnessed.

Continuing east washboard forced us to abandon the road and plumb line through the desert.

6 days and two 1500m climbs in to our crossing we were a bit pooped and in need of a wash. There aren’t guesthouses or home stays in these parts so we arranged something spontaneous with Sasikob.

His well worn shoes.

His daughter played Zelda on her phone. The music brought back fond memories from a misspent childhood.

Cleaned, refreshed and back on the road with signs of autumn wilting by the roadside – winter’s coming…

A four legged friend joined our midst for the climb up to Song Kol lake (3346m).

It’s felt like we’ve crossed continents in Kyrgyzstan. Over every pass there was something new waiting for us.

One feature of Kyrgyz roads which always stayed the same. Phew!

A golden eagle swooped overhead as we rounded the pass and bumped our way to Song Kul – a lake perched at 3000m.

Yurts at Song Kul and incidentally the only we saw in Kyrgyzstan. Serving the trickle of tourists which make their way to see the lake on the turn of winter.

The people who live here during the summer fish from the lake at such volumes that it’s estimated fish stocks will be depleted in two years.

Descending the customary zig zags before a short stint on tarmac to Kochkor.

It’s a day’s ride from Kochkor round to Bishkek on good roads, but our plan dictated we use tracks so we headed west to the Karakol pass (3452m) eyeing up a small rarely used track which, our maps suggested, crossed the Kyrgyz Ala-too mountains and dropped straight into central Bishkek. Whether the track existed or not incited debate amongst everyone we asked.

Back into the mountains following a pen scrawl.

The landscape dry and gasping for winter rains.

On the other side glaciers pour down the north faces of some 4000ers

and our track begins to peter. We took a best guess at the track over to Bishkek and headed in.

Hours of manhandling the bikes along faint jeep tracks gets us to a yurt camp, abandoned for winter. From there the jeep tracks faded and nothing continued. Bugger. Back across the grassland.

Back through the river.

Back along that idyllic singletrack.

And four hours later we were back where we started.

Low on food, we resigned ourselves to the two day stint on busy tarmac round to Bishkek.

Eggs and daisies. The constant foraging for food in poorly stocked shops ended with a veritable feast at the first teahouse we happened across. Once finally in Bishkek we booked in for a well earned rest and more scoffing.

  12 Responses to “Crossing Kyrgyzstan”


    Class. May have to stop reading when at my desk though to try to reduce the jealousy!


    Looks absolutely spectacular! What beautiful landscapes


    It looks like you’re having a blast Gandy. Its been a while, but I’m enjoying getting to know you again through the blogs. I’ve read every word and examined every picture. Good on you for doing what others only dream of.


    Hi Alex,

    I can’t remember where I first came across your blog but I’ve been enjoying it for a while now, the photography is great. I’m off on my own short tour in a couple of weeks, a month in Thailand, and reading your blog is fuelling my excitement. My trip isn’t going to be anything like you adventure though, but I can imagine there have been times over the last month or so when you’ve dreamed of a 7-11 or air conditioned Amazon Coffee outlet around the next corner!
    Keep the wheels turning Alex and I look forward to your next post.




      Thanks Phil. I have definitely had a fair few of those moments! Enjoy Thailand, it’s supposed to be a cycle tourist’s paradise down there. If you’re looking to get off the tourist trail I hear not many people get up to the north east and there’s a few border crossings open with Myanmar (Burma) now too. Would be good to know how you get on to inform my own wanders in the area.


    Looks fantastic Alex! I thought we had some good switchbacks in NZ…


    Loved the shot of the Golden Eagle – and the amazing landscapes. Felt for you when your track fizzled out and you had to cycle 4 hours back. I guess at least the view in the opposite direction was different! Looking forward to your next blog Alex- stay well nd keep on rolling!


      Apparently that particular area of Kyrgyzstan has one of the largest populations of golden eagle in the world. We saw four in total along with a few vultures and some other eagles we couldn’t identify. Amazing place!


    Fabulous! Sitting in my tent in Osh I just decided to take this road instead of the M41. I’ll probably hate you for it during the next weeks (but be grateful afterwards)!

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