We never really planned to come to Kyrgyzstan. We decided to “pop in” from Kazakhstan so that we could then re enter Kazakhstan with a new 30 day visa. What we thought would be a few days in Kyrgyzstan ended up being around 2 weeks in some of the most glorious scenery we’ve seen on this whole trip.
After arriving in the capital city of Bishkek we soon decided that instead of taking the quick route on the highway back to Kazakhstan we would take the longer, hopefully more scenic route, over the mountains. The only potential problem with the new route that we planned was that it would take us over two mountain passes, the first of which was 3180m high and the second which was 3326m high… So far the highest road we cycled on was in Darjeeling, India, at 2300m high.
To give you a bit of context, the highest paved road in Europe is the Valeta in Spain at 3300m high. If the roads that we were going to cycle on were in Europe they would be the highest and 3rd highest paved roads in Europe. We were a bit nervous to say the least, Frouke may have even done a small poo in her pants at the thought of it, although she denies this. These passes however are actually small potatoes for most cyclist who come to this part of the world. Most two wheel tourers who come to Central Asia head towards the Pamir highway which reaches a lung busting and headache inducing 4655m. Maybe another time.
We started the climb to the first high pass early in the morning and it got pretty steep, pretty soon. It was tough going and even the obligatory beautiful scenery was not always enough to keep your mind off the burning sensation in your thighs. It is at times like this that my thoughts like to wander to happier times when my lungs were not desperately sucking in as much air as humanly possible. Thinking of things like our encounter the day before on the road towards these mountains. At the end of the day we stopped by the side of the road for some water. A car pulled up a few metres ahead of us but we paid it no attention. Some moments later a friendly looking man was stood in front of us asking if we needed anything. We told him no thanks, but then he suggested we might want to use his toilet or have a cup of tea. Frouke was already excited about the use of a toilet in a house (instead of in the bushes) but when he suggested tea, the deal was sealed. He took us into a cottage which he told us was built by his grandfather. Now his Aunty and his niece lived there. We were invited to sit down at the table in this charming old home where we were given soup, bread, home made jam, tea and some fermented wheat drink. It was all delicious. We were asked the usual questions about our trip and what we thought about the country and in return we asked them about their lives and also asked the man what his job was. He told us he was a journalist and TV presenter. He told us he was the presenter for the Kyrgyzstan’s “Who wants to be a millionaire” and for “Central Asia’s Got Talent”…Erkin Ryskulbekov was his name and we were sitting here having tea, jam and bread with him. Kyrgyzstan’s version of Chris Tarrant and Ant and Dec all rolled into one let us use his toilet. Yes, it is little encounters like this that I think of instead of getting off my bike and crying by the side of the mountain.
The road was absolutely beautiful and the closer we got to the top the more excited we were about, not only the pain ending but the view we would get at the summit. Unfortunately when we were 2km from the end not only did it cloud over and start raining, but the road turned into a tunnel which we were not allowed to go through because of the all the bad car fumes inside. We were allowed to load our bikes onto a truck by a kind driver who took us through the tunnel to the other side and the peak of this first pass. Although the hardest part of the climb was already complete before the tunnel, the clouds and the rain made it all of a bit of an anti climax. Oh well. We had a bit to eat and then continued to cycle for what would at least be a nice downhill. We cycled for about 100m and went round the first bend in the road. The sky seem to clear a little and at the same time to reveal one of the most spectacular snow capped mountain panoramas either of us had ever seen in our lives. Everywhere we looked there were mountains. It was amazing. We spent the next 10 minutes taking rubbish selfies.
The next day we tackled the second and higher pass at 3326m. It seemed even scarier but actually the cycle wasn’t as hard. It was tough and again the scenery was beautiful but the route seemed to be more of a steady climb with less super steep bits. Reaching the top gave us a real sense of achievement. We don’t really know which roads our trip will take us on but it is possible that these will be the highest roads that we take. It felt great to be at the top and we did it without too much trouble, I guess we are a bit stronger than we thought. In fact if I think about the most difficult part of this route it wasn’t the climbing of the mountains but an encounter with a local family in a traditional yurt that gave us our greatest challenge.
In Kyrgyzstan it is customary to greet guests with the national drink kumis. When we stopped by a local yurt looking for a cup of tea we were invited into the yurt and told to sit at the table. The generous family that lived here not only gave us the tea we wanted but also some bread, some watermelon and a bowl of kumis. kumis is fermented horse milk. We have drunk kumis before. The first time we drank it we asked for a small glass for both of us to share and it was definitely more than enough. This time we were each given a huge bowl of the stuff. If you think fermented horse milk doesn’t sound too tasty, you’d be right. It’s a bit like if you had cow milk with a glass of vinegar thrown in. An acquired taste apparently. One which I was apparently going to be acquiring quicker than I wanted to. Frouke and I both said our thanks and looked at each other knowing that we were both dreading drinking it but also knowing we would smile our best smiles while doing it. My tactic in these situations is to get the pain over with as quickly as possible. I took huge mouth fulls of the kumis so that I could finish it and then replace the taste with things on the table I actually liked. Although it was difficult I made good progress and soon it was over. I looked at Frouke’s bowl and she had drunk almost nothing. Foolish girl, her pain would continue. As I turned back to my bowl I saw it was no longer there… but was being refilled with what looked like even more kumis than before. I suppose they deduced that I really liked it given how quickly I drank it… “Oh, Thank you” I said, putting on an even bigger smile and making myself a contender for the best actor nomination…
The scenery that we encountered in Kyrgyzstan has been amongst the most beautiful we have seen on this trip. The country and the people are amazing and we’ve seen only a tiny part of it. There was a moment when we were cycling on the road between the two mountain passes where the road was flanked by an idyllic river with yurts dotted along side it. In the distance were massive snow capped giants. It was truly breathtaking. At some point I even had a small cry on my bike, thankful for being able to do a trip like this and see such amazing places. At the next water break I went over to Frouke, gave her a hug, told her I was so glad to do this trip with her and told her I loved her. She didn’t say much but I think she was happy with this and maybe she could tell I was still a little bit high.