Uchkurgan, Kyrgyzstan to Bishkek Kyrgyzstan
11th – 12th August 2014
The short 500 m dash across no-mans landed us at the make-shift border post in Kyrgyzstan consisting of just a container and a fridge and two friendly guards who weren’t quite sure who needed visas and who didn’t. A small booklet was consulted.
Even though the six of us (we were now travelling with the UK team Justdoinit) were the only people at the border, processing us still took about an hour, but once we were through we immediately noticed the improved road, banking and fuel situation. Back on the road by 11 am as per usual ..oh wait, we lost another hour.
After some Kyrgyz dumplings (/manty) and kebabs (/shlashlik) we were soon into mountain country, and started seeing more and more geology, spectacular scenery and glaciers perched off in the distance on the highest peaks; the scenery was spectacular, and JP and Rich kept on insisting on geology stops to admire the folded rocks and exposed stratigraphy.
We climbed higher into the mountains, tracking the course of the impressive milky-blue Naryn River in the direction of Bishkek. At one of the frequent geology stops, Rich couldn’t help himself and ran down the embankment to the river below for a swim to throw himself into the glacial melt waters. In spite of the cold everyone went in to refresh from the heat and to wash off the previous night’s sleep outside the Uzbek border post.
More spectacular views around Toktogul resvoir demanded more stops and more photos, but our border delays, the lost hour, and the mandatory geology stops we were pushing dark and we had only summited the first of two passes (3,200 m and 3,500 m respectively). We passed though a non-ventilated 2.5 km long tunnel where a few people died a couple of years ago when they got stuck in a traffic jam in the tunnel and no one thought to turn the trucks off!
High on the small plateau or perched plain between the passes there were entire communities of nomadic herders tending their cattle, sheep and horses. It is possible to arrange homestays with some of the families and sleep in their yurts and eat their traditional foods.We’ll keep that in our back pocket until the next time we do the Rally and plan things appropriately.
Jessica had a craving for fresh raspberries being sold on the side of the road. Eveyone was selling 5 litre pails of berries but we only wanted a small handful, but none of the vendors could get their heads around the commerce that instead of 5 litres for 100 CYM we wanted 200 g for 20 CYM. Nope, all or nothing. We got nothing <Sigh…>.
Disappointingly we had to do the second pass in the dark and could only imagine its grandeur and spectacle from the number of switchbacks required as we watched the GPS rack up the meters in altitude. There was a full moon so all the time we had the silhouette of the craggy mountain tops to accompany our passage. The driving was a little demanding with the standard Soviet levels of crazy overtaking but at least the roads were pretty decent for the first time in weeks. The influence of Chingis Khan was very apparent with numerous Mongol statues popping up all over the place.
We arrived in Bishkek near midnight and began a search for accommodation. We opted for an alpine-styled lodge, located around the corner from a sauna. The chap at the sauna tried hard to get us to come inside and have a few shots of vodka with him. We politely declined and went to check into the hotel. After checking in, the receptionist pointed us in the direction of a German pub, which sounded amazing. We snuck out past the overzealous vodka drinking chap lurking in the entrance of the sauna to the German pub. Alas, it was closed! Damn, too late again! This meant a return to our staple diet of imported Chinese one-minute noodles (yes, they take a minute less than the two minute noodles we are accustomed to back in South Africa. The wonders of Chinese technology!).
The crossing of the two 3,000 m plus passes on the previous day had catapulted us into a different world, we got the distinct impression we were no longer in Central Asia but rather a more Russian culture. This was evident by the architecture, culture and most of all, the distinct Caucasian appearance of the people. The border crossing that day went smoothly; the border police seemed more interested in sleeping than actually checking the car, and while Susanne did battle with customs getting Stan into Kazakhstan, JP, Rich and Jess joined the masses of pedestrians passing through immigration and jostled for a decent position in the long queue and tried hard to refrain from making any Borat jokes. Kazakhstan was going to be fun!