Today and yesterday are the two best motorcycle riding days of my life, the most beautiful, spectacular,breath-taking scenery, the most challenging and exhilarating physical riding, two fine summer days which because of altitude were only 21 degrees centigrade a perfect temperature, a host of unusual, interesting mountain dwelling Kyrgyzstan nomads to meet and lots of smiley kids to wave you on your way, pull funny faces when you stop and help pick your bike up when you are down. And to top it all a whole bunch of people who have not only bonded but become close friends, to share this pinnacle of the life changing adventure that we are all in the middle of. I know yesterday’s ride was awesome because I was there, and I know today’s ride is awesome because I can see into the future as I am writing this in the past!! I might be harping on about these two days as the best so far, but I have enjoyed the whole experience so far and I expect that Mongolia is going to vie with Kyrgyzstan as the standout mythical lonely planet country of the fifteen that we are visiting. Many adventurers that have completed this London to Magadan trip say that Kyrgyzstan is their favourite part of the four months long adventure. Kyrgyzstan’s history spans over 2000 years, encompassing a variety of cultures and empires. Although geographically isolated by its mountainous terrain, which has helped to preserve its ancient culture- Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilisations, namely as part of the Silk Road and other cultural and commercial routes. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has periodically come under foreign domination and attained sovereignty as a nation state, only after the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the south west and China to the east.
Our magical overnight campsite, the one with the mountain stream, the river with the Grand Canyon rapids all surrounded by the Tian Shan mountains and the one which we slept under the clearest of moonlit sky’s had a sting in the tail! The entrance and exit to the site was via a steep incredibly rutted track that was covered in loose rocks and boulders. We left one by one in fits and starts following breakfast, which was scrambled eggs with lots of seasoning, pepper and flavoured with purple herbs found on the campsite, this, the culinary invention of Adrian and Kawangi (it might be a Balinese delicacy?). Third up the ramp was Pete, with no one really taking any notice it was two or three minutes until Leanne saw that he had crashed on the side of the incline and was laying under his bike, motionless..First to rush there on his bike was Tony and Bruce ( i have to say Bruce is your man in a crisis) Myself and Dennis were close behind on our bikes and Jim and Ian ran up the hill. We pulled the bike off Pete and told him to relax, no broken bones but a severely shaken Pete and a bruised ankle. When it had all calmed down the team decided that Pete would go in the Landcruiser as a passenger, Leanne would drive the truck and Danny would ride Petes bike, a pleasant change for Dan until you remember its a Suzuki, only joking!
We made off down a track that gently rose in elevation through the many fields that were being harvested. In one pasture four farm workers were cutting grass by hand, tying it in bunches and loading it on to a horse drawn flat bed cart, this grass was green but much of the surrounding fields were now a coppery, bronze colour also ripe for harvesting. These lower parts of the valley with the mountains in the distance are such a reminder of home, not as impressive as the mountains, plains and lakes of the higher altitudes but oh so cozy and welcoming, proper rolling countryside. Because the lower lying areas are not as treacherous as the high parts we all blast along the dusty tracks leaving plumes of brown dust trailing behind the bikes. When seen from a distance either in front or behind, this picture of dust strewn motorcycles is a striking one, unless of course you are riding behind eating the dust (a common occurrence!). I was trailing three of my colleagues and as they go up the hill circumnavigating the curvature of the climb, the site of all this energy being produced is mightily impressive. About an hour into the ride we started the real climb with as is so often the case weaving up and around the snaking S bends, half way up the first mountain pass we came to a mountainside Nomad village with four or five yurts and 60 to 70 horses, some of which were young foals. I slowed to a stop and greeted some of the children and noticed on the green pasture one of the women was milking a Mare, they obviously drink the milk but they also ferment it into a food stuff called Kumis which is a delicacy here in Kyrgyzstan, I have tried it, never again! We all congregated at the top of the pass which was called Kow Pass, i think it was only about 2500 metres above sea level. A few thousand metres beyond the Kow Pass and we arrived at the other side of the mountain and spread out before us was more of the Tian Shan Mountain range in all its glory. Not knowing what is round the corner is part of the excitement, this day could be subtitled “prepare to be wowed” and the wowing didn’t stop. I have taken a picture of these mountains but nothing can capture the eye popping view like the moment you are standing there, with not a whisper in the air, the sweet smell of summer in your nostrils and the jaw dropping site before you. The high snow topped peaks in the background half covered by light fluffy clouds, the brown lower mountains all folded over each other like a chocolate brownie cake mix and the differing shades of the summer pastures in the valley below and all shimmering in a heat haze that makes the very distant peaks difficult to focus on. From the top I could see Bruce and Dennis below chasing each other down the snakes that form the roads, I have clearly shown these Python shaped tracks on one of my photographs posted on this page. As I neared the bottom of the mountain, a warning came on my dashboard that said I was losing pressure in my rear tyre, true enough my rear tyre pressure had fallen from 39psi to 29psi. I kept going and hoped I could reach the rendezvous site a few miles ahead before my tyre pressure got too low. I reached sanctuary with still 20psi intact and Jim helped me out with his puncture repair kit and air pump which uses the power from the motorcycle battery. A few miles along we stopped for lunch in a village.
This afternoon we had to navigate two more mountain passes and then locate our campsite situated beside lake Ysyk-Kol on the high plane at over 3000 metres above sea level. The lower altitude riding, even though on gravel tracks was at full speed, we have got so used to these conditions and pretty good at avoiding the pot holes that we can speed along at up to 100kph in my case in 5th gear. I was first off after lunch, confident that I had the GPS track all the way to the campsite I went off like a scolded cat. Half an hour later I was caught by the others, although one by one, as everyone was spread out. I normally get caught because i stop to take pics and breathe in the atmosphere. I stopped a few times on this mountain. once to take some shots of four Yurts nestled under a cliff and beside a babbling brook, Jeff also stopped and photographed me shaking the hand of a little nomad boy that had ran all the way from his yurt when he saw me stop. I also stopped to take some pictures of the valley below. At the peak, instead of the normal steep descent, we descended only a few hundred feet and then laid out in front of us for as far as you could see was a high plane, interspersed with yurts, horses, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, cows and nomads, many of which were on horseback, (thats the nomads not the sheep!). I imagined these scenes to be with me a few weeks hence when we reached Mongolia, I never realised that Kyrgyzstan was also a mountain paradise with a similar heritage, I can now understand why the Kyrgyzstan national flag has the tundig (the circular crown of a yurt) as its emblem within the design of the flag.
I feel strangely very attached to these high planes, they are so peaceful, so vast and so idyllic. When I decided to do this adventure I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn’t really know why? Up here on the Kyrgyzstan planes and I am sure it will be the same in Mongolia, I have had a minor epiphany! My late wife Tracey had her own Yurt at the bottom of our garden in Abingdon, it was her very special place. All the family enjoyed it, the grown up kids and their mates for parties, all the family for barbcues but it was a place of sanctuary, reflection, meditation and peace for Tracey,in the Spring and Summer every morning in the nice weather she would be sat outside the yurt crosslegged taking in the early morning sunshine eating her breakfast and watching her bees busily collecting nectar (her bees hives were only a metre from the yurt). So these high planes of Kyrgyzstan would have been a spiritual home to Tracey, she would have loved everything about this magical place,it is heaven on earth.
The picture above is of a nomad horseman that I photographed as he rode past between me and a cluster of yurts. We also came across a nomad kindergarten, with lots of kids and lots of brightly coloured flags. All the nomads were so friendly, whenever we stopped to take photograph’s they stopped to say hello. One group of three guys and one girl screeched to a halt in their Audi Quattro, big smiles, big greetings and they wanted to take snaps of us and them next to our bikes, these guys gave me some loaves of bread and some salami to take away, all my pictures are on this page.
We finally reached a fork in the road with the left fork pointing to the campsite, just five kilometres ahead, but first we had to fix a puncture in Jeff’s rear tyre which because he had inner tubes and not tubeless meant taking the wheel off and tyre, and fitting a new tube. Then we had to cross a river ford that would cover about half the height of our bikes, a few of us had already crossed, so we waited for Riaan, Jeff, Tony, David and Danny to cross with our camera’s at the ready. I got some great pics, unfortunately no one came off! I didn’t mean that because a flooded bike would mean a longer delay as we would need to load the bike on the trailer. The next five kilometres was head long into the sunset over the high plane as fast as we all could go. Over the five km we must have passed a hundred yurts and interspersed with horses, foals and Audi Quattro’s. Finally we could see the others all parked by the side of the lake. As soon as Danny arrived we got our tents up, the cook tent and we all attended to our various chores.Everyone was blowing and puffing due to lack of oxygen and a couple had mild altitude sickness. Leanne and Pat went skinny dipping in the lake, many of the others also went swimming, whilst I jumped on my bike with just a tee shirt and shorts and went a mile back down the track to meet the neighbours. I parked up by a cluster of twelve or so yurts, got off the bike and introduced myself to a nomad family who invited me in to sit in their yurt and drink chai. I wouldn’t have normally done this but I noticed on the ride past that this small hamlet of yurts had westerners in the group and I was curious. Sure enough, into the yurt when they realised communication was not going great, came an American lady a couple of Germans and a Dutch couple who all spoke english. It appears that these westerners come every summer to get their back to nature fix, I was jealous. The American lady Jane told me that the Kyrgyzstan nomads only come to this high plane 3100 metres above sea level from May to September, they farm their horses, fish in the lake and generally enjoy life. In the winter they go back to their lowland villages as the planes are covered in snow.
For supper we had chilli, chick peas and chorizo, followed by a warm sleeping bag, this night it was really cold and I needed to put a fleece on to keep warm