Kyrgyzstan – Yurt to go

Better than a flat in Hackney
Better than a flat in Hackney

The land of the Kyrgyz begins, as is so often the case in these Central Asian nomadic lands, not at the swirling Kyrgyz border (drawn up by Stalin, on Acid, chanting maniacally the ubiquitous Divide and Rule Mantra) but in the ‘Tajik’ Pamirs. Alichur, to be precise. A tiny village, famous for its fish, where the road along the Wakhan Corridor rejoins the Pamir Highway, as it begins to veer north towards Osh.

Kyrgyz yurt before Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz yurt before Kyrgyzstan

Here the hats and the faces lurking beneath them change. The colourful scull caps give way to tall, white, felty Kyrgyz hats  – the taller the hat, the higher their local mountains. And the yurts begin to spring up too. Sleeping in a yurt is a truly magical experience. Surrounded by warm, colourful felty felt and whispering women and children. Aromatic herbs in the stove, delicious yak butter on the table (we had fallen into culinary delusions by this point) and gawping up at the stars through the rooftop before drifting off peacefully.

What better to add to this nomadic fairytale, than Ernest. Our very own Swiss moped rokenrollrevolutionary. Having set out from Khorog at around the same time, we had continued to pass each other on the roads and Ernest (a cyclist at heart rather than a motorbiker!) had saved our lives by giving us his spare swiss army knife when we desperately needed to get into a can of tuna.

Rokenrollers of the 112cc variety

Rokenrollers of the 112cc variety

Although we had been rumbling through Kyrgyz inhabited terrain for the last few hundred kilometres of Tajikistan, it was only after we crossed the border that the landscape changed. And suddenly too. On the other side of the mountain, immediately after the border post at the pass (4282m), we were greeted with green everywhere.  Rolling meadows, beautiful white peaks and gushing brooks. No more filthy browns and sandy yellows of the dusty southern Pamiri Gorno-Badakhshan.

Oi, that's my spot!

Oi, that's my spot!

We were only flitting through the south-eastern tip of Kyrgyzstan to reach the Irkestam pass. Our gateway to Xinjiang Province in China and the East. The pretty alpine scenery of northern Kyrgystan was not for this trip.

Just a year ago, not far north of the corner that we cut, Osh was awash with brutal ethnic violence.  But we, in soporific Sary-Tash, remained blissfully unaware of what legacy or repercussions there may have been. Our focus was on getting clean. We were finally able to have a five-star hot shower after days and days (and days) of wild camping and inadequate icy river washing. Now was also our chance to relax, after our mad dash to get out of Tajikistan before our visa ran out, to rest our limbs before heading to China and to be entertained by Ernest and stories of his rock and roll days.

I'm clean at last!

I'm clean at last!

Sary Tash is the consummate cross-roads town with its only highways ( with freshly minted Chinese asphalt) fanning out to each point of the compass, and each shop replete with “fake” Coca-Cola (Can you believe they even forge the stuff?!!!) and mounds of Snickers bars. And it was among this warehousing of bicycle calories that we noticed two familiar three-wheeled bicycles propped up lazily by the road-side. Happy days! After 2 weeks of separation in the windy Pamirs, fate had re-united us with our dear Portuguese and their broad clowning smiles. It was quickly agreed we would hit the trail again together this time to Kashgar in western China, for one final “stage” before our planned routes truly parted company, they to Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway to the South and us onwards and Eastwards.

Let's go to China

Let's go to China

Once again we found perfect spots to pitch our tents and idle away the evenings with the growing expectation for our next country to come. On our final night in Kyrgyzstan, a mere 15km from the frontier we resolved, “Let’s go to China tomorrow”. And we did. We swung down dipping bends at exhilarating speeds and dropped from 3800m to the Immigration controls at Irkestam through earth-quake affected little Nura with its post-Katrina-esque pre-fab homes.

Beware the Kyrgyz Highwaymen. Particularly the one in the pink hat.

Beware the Kyrgyz Highwaymen. Particularly the one in the pink hat.

As we neared the border crossing the density of SinoTruks became intense and the air was filled with expectant petrol fumes as eager truckers waited impatiently for the border to open, after its weekend repose, and to leave behind crumby roads and crappy cuisine. The four of us bubbled with excitement for what lay ahead.

Having now found a slightly better internet connection, there should be here the latest snaps from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

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8 Responses to Kyrgyzstan – Yurt to go

  1. Hannah says:

    Wes says he thinks you should change the name of your blog to Odybedonatrain! Honestly not my idea.

    Lovely to skype with you today and even lovelier to see those bejewelled red stetsons dancing behind your back in the Tibetan monastray you are currently holed up in. Love the post too.

  2. Minnie Collins says:

    Such amazing photos guys. Especially love the one of the Kyrgyz yurt. Can’t believe how far you’ve cycled already – China, wow! Minnie

  3. Wright John says:

    Once again really enjoyed your posts. I can’t believe how many countries you are visiting. How do you cope with all the various languages? lot’s of smiles????? Do you ever encounter any unfriendly people? Border guards??? Keep them coming. We are rushed with school stuff and can’t wait for the holidays. My yr 3 class is up to their eyeballs making cane fish lanterns and a huge Indonesian lantern for the OzAsia moon lantern festival here in Adelaide. Enough of that, keep safe and happy riding. john and anne

  4. 4unterwegs says:

    Hey you 2 , well 4 !

    We are really impressed, how you’re heading straight to Shanghei, without being impressed of the big mountains in the surroundings. We wish you power, health and luck for the hardest part of your trip.

    We are back from our small Scandinavien tour.

    Sophie is already on the other side of our planet. Bettina will join in December.

    Sincerely Yours 4unterwegs

  5. Sophie says:

    It’s a while ago that you guys have been in our place in Germany (I think it was in the middle of February), but I remember you very well…
    I couldn’t read everything what you’ve written (it’s quite much), but it sounds awesome and your photos are amazing! Hope you have another great time on your trip!

    Keep pedaling!
    Sophie from Düsseldorf, Germany

    P.S.: Thanks, for the elephant mats! We use them heaps.

  6. Mirjam says:

    Just caught up with you both and very delighted to see your pics and read your blog. And even more delighted that you both took the ‘plunge’! Let us know when you need a rest in Suffolk……
    Mirjam and Ian

  7. Frank says:

    You seem to be yurtling along at a decent pace!

    Are you concerned about the startling decline in the number of yurtles laying their eggs on The worlds beaches?

    I’ve noticed an increased yurtness in call centre operatives in recent times

    Natural yogyurt – the only way to start the day

    Best lead singer ever? yurt cobain

    Gaddafi still hoping his stronghold city of Yurt can hold out a while longer while he secrets his billions around the globe

    Mini syurts seem to be back in the wardrobe now summer is over

    Amazing how many yurts one comes accross whilst killing time at Highbury corner magistrates court!!

    Hope the yak butter tea is not too distressing

    Keep pressing on


  8. Minhye park says:

    Sam and francesca, it was a nice surprise to meet you accidentally on the road in jiu zhai gou! When I met you, I was not really ready to explore the glamour of the place, out of frustration perhaps, but thanks to you two for giving me strength to carry on. At first, I was simply so glad to find someone to ask in english, but later I was really inspired by your trip. And then I thought, I have every reason to carry on. No matter what. Walking down from the top of jiu zhai gou for almost 9 hours, I found myself healed and even proud. I owe half of this trip to you. Really hope your beautiful trip continues to inspire everyone you meet on the road. I lost the guidebook with your blog’s address on, but I finally found you here. Take care, Mina the south korean.

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