Sunday 24 to Tuesday 26 June 2012, Bishkek

Another confusing border. Foreign vehicles had to go to a special yard. In the office two copies of a form had to be completed. The form was in Cyrillic (Kyrgyz), the completed example was also in Cyrillic - Russian this time. We completed two copies each with some help. Actually only Pieter should have completed the form as it was specifically for the car! After that everything went very quickly.

Bishkek has reasonable main streets but as soon as you move into a suburban street they are potholed tar. We went looking for hotels out of the LP. The first was very basic. The second and third no longer existed. By the time we found the fourth, two hours later, we were more than ready to stop. It is very nice with spacious rooms and miniscule bathrooms. Breakfast is included. The first was yoghurt, fried eggs, sausage and salad - great. The second was cold noodles with slightly pickled cabbage, meat and tomatoes plus fruit juice and a cold pastry - filling I guess. The third was yoghurt, pancake filled with potato, plus extra pancakes. Better than pickled noodles.

We found the Tajik embassy after a lot of trouble. The LP has directions but the writer was obviously confused about where east and west were. E.g. Go west then turn right to the south!!! Eventually a taxi driver showed us a map of Bishkek and showed us how to get to the correct street. After that it was easy. The first instruction was the go west from the Vifa Centre. Actually that should have been east. No wonder we had problems. I do hope the latest edition has corrected this. Free wifi is available in several coffee shops. Definitely much better than when the LP research was done in 2009.

Wednesday 27 June to Sunday 1 July 2012, Lake Issyk Kol to Karakol

A Kyrgyz man A visit to Osh Bazaar was needed to have a new car key cut. I lost mine somewhere in Almaty. It had a boomerang on it but my boomerang didn't come back. Looking for a parking place Pieter turned down a street with slow moving traffic which immediately stopped! It took over half an hour to get through. Pieter enjoys watching how people get themselves into and out of tight situations. I get frustrated. In the bazaar we found a key cutter with new equipment. This time the key is perfect.

The road to Lake Issyk-Kol is in the process of being rebuilt. These things should be finished before we arrive! At 1,600m the lake is considered an alpine lake and is therefore the second largest alpine lake after Lake Titicaca (3,851 m). I had expected the mountains to be closer to the lake shore. I was disappointed that they are quite a few kilometres away. They came much closer at the eastern end of the lake.

We drove slowly along the lake, staying near the shore. One spot, hidden from the road, was so lovely that we stayed the day. Several families joined us for a short while. Those who swam came out shivering with cold! The lake water is only slightly brackish. I wouldn't want to drink it for any length of time though. It is also cold. Those brave enough to go in (all in their underwear) came out shivering. Not for me. One group were very friendly and insisted on taking photos with their cell phone.

          Cherries for sale - they were a little sour           Smoked fish - delicious            Such friendly people            Yes I got my feet wet            View across the lake

Chong Ak-Suu river canyon was a delight. The river comes down through a narrow gorge. On every flatish spot there are yurts where meals can be ordered or just tea. They also allow you to stay in a yurt for the night, for a price. There are also plenty of opportunities to hold a hawk on your arm and buy honey. We went up about 7 kilometres where the landscape becomes alpine meadow and decided to return to the canyon. Here we had a tasty meal of fresh trout. We stayed nearby right next to the raging river. Not a good idea! The noise from the river was so loud it actually disturbed our sleep and we are used to sleeping near busy roads! Next day we went back up because I wanted to see the 3 lakes at the end of the river. An hour and 5 kilometres later Pieter decided to turn back because the scenery did not change. I was disappointed as I expected the lakes to be nearby. We checked distances on the way down. The lakes are 22 kilometres from the village of Grigor-evka according to the LP. We had driven 4 kilometres to the entrance gate plus 10 kilometres till we turned around. Which meant the lakes were at least 8 kilometres or around 2 hours away plus the return journey. I felt much less disappointed once I knew this.

                     Chong Ak-Suu Canyon               A hawk for a photo               Fresh trout for lunch

Nikolai Przewalski Memorial

Nikolai Przewalski, a Russian explorer, died near Karakol on the lake. His memorial has the usual Eagle on top. The museum shows his explorations. There were 4 expeditions between 1867 and 1882 to the Russian far east, Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang Province in western China. His explorations were definitely on a par with Stanley and Livingston.

Monday 2 to Tuesday 3 July 2012, to Engilchek and return

Three different maps show a trunk road from Karakol through Engilchek and Kara-Say then down to Barskoon on the lake. They are all wrong! The route looked great and it was. The mountain scenery was dramatic and picturesque. The drive was magical going through narrow canyons and high mountain passes, then we found a wonderful spot to camp for the night. Next morning we were stopped at the Engilchek river by an army checkpoint. We were not allowed to cross the rivcr and enter Engilchek without a permit. Not only that we were told the road we wanted to take did not exist!

Pieter hates to turn back but there was no way we were getting through. The scenery made up for the disappointment. Going down gave us a different view and the trip was much faster. We still took the time to fill our water tank with clear mountain water.

At Jeti-Oguz, past Karakol we went in to look at red sandstone cliffs and spent the night nearby.

          Spectacular river valley           In the mountains            Close to the snow          Yurts and Yaks (most people had herds of cattle)

          In the mountains           In the mountains          Jeti-Oghuz - Broken Heart rock

Wednesday 4 to Thursday 5 July 2012, South to Naryn river and return

In the mountains The bridge over the Taragay
From Barskoon we headed into the mountains to try the road to Engelchek from the other direction through Kara-Say and Ak-Shyyrak. In the beginning the Canadian Gold Mine maintains a good dirt road. They have several convoys of trucks going up taking supplies to the mine. After a steep pass the road went from one broad valley to another. The bridge over the Taragay river was washed away. That seemed to put an end to our trip. However we had seen another good dirt road heading west and decided to follow that as it may either go to Kara-Say or further west to Naryn or Torugart. We will have to go to Naryn any way.

A small mishap

Mishaps occur. First Pieter wanted a film of the car going through a rough patch. We came to one and halfway over decided it would be a good place to film. Pieter reversed. Naturally he ran into a wall of stone and mud. That was relatively easy to get out of.

Lonely in the marsh
Next. It was obvious the road was going a long way west but our GPS map said there was a road heading east. Seeing a track Pieter decided to follow it. It just went parallel to the dirt road and the river in the valley between snow capped high mountains. The track petered out. Why? Because there was a marsh in front and before Pieter could react we came to a dead stop. This was more difficult to get out of. The high lift jack was useless because it just went into the mud, further and further. The grass made digging very difficult and of course we were working in water and mud with a cold wind blowing. The weather is constantly changing here. In a few hours it can go from hot and sunny to rain and even hail. The wind came and went.

We all have to do our part Our friendly herder hard at work
We tried our best without result. Eventually Pieter walked off to the farm houses in the distance. They were deserted though obviously inhabited regularly. We tried putting stones in the mud under the wheels, still no luck. A herder came along while we were busy but by that stage we had been at it for about 4 hours and were ready for bed. Nothing like sleep to get the mind going. Next morning Pieter said we could use the wheel rim and the spare wheel to support the jack. We tried the wheel at the back but it kept slipping in the mud. The rim was much better but the chassis did not lift sufficiently to clear the wheels. Even so the sand ladders were put under the wheels as far as they would go. During this our friendly herder came back. This time he climbed off his horse and started to help. What an absolute pleasure to have youthful strength. We would have made it without his help but it would have taken at least twice as long. The front sand ladders were easy to put in place. The car still wouldn't move though. This time we used the jack and the wheel rim on each back wheel and finally managed to get the sand ladders properly under the wheels. The car majestically rose out of the mud and Pieter drove it onto hard ground. After everything had been put into the car our friendly herder led us out to the road avoiding the bad patches. Another 4 hours work.

Yup, we crossed that river

Now we could set off again. The road wound down to the river, across a bridge, across some hills and over another river. This time there was no bridge and we had to use blind faith and the sight of the track on the other side. A far cry from the first river we crossed in Namibia where Pieter insisted I walk through the river to check the depth even though it was obviously shallow.

After some time we came across a group of herders with the horses, sheep and goats all in a pen. They told us that the road through the mountains was closed and we had to return. Back across the river and the bridge Pieter saw another road. The old man in the nearby farm house assured us we could go through. On we went until we found a lovely spot for the night. A young boy from the nearby farm saw us and joyfully came over to see the strangers. He was thrilled with the car and the engine and stayed around for some time enjoying the novelty. His big brother assured us the we could go through.

Early to bed, early to rise. A long night's sleep was desperately needed.

Next morning the journey continued. That is until the road led straight into a farm. Hunters staying at the farm assured us that the road through the mountains was definitely closed. What a huge disappointment. It was still worth the trip for the magnificent scenery. By the end of the day we were back at Lake Issyk Kol.

          A group of herders           What a view to wake up to           The track got a bit rough at times           Colourful bird

Friday 6 to Saturday 7 2012, Near Tosor on Lake Issyk-Kol

Housework never ends Pieter got more than his feet wet
A day to recuperate and get some of the mud out of our clothes and the car. An official came by, indicated we were on a Reserve and asked for a fee. We didn't get a receipt so I am not sure if we were had or not. We didn't see any Reserve signs but the Reserve could be the shore line. He did go to other beach users, some of whom packed up and left immediately.

Sunday 8 to Monday 9 2012, Lake Song-Kol

On the way up On the way up
The next destination was Lake Song-Kol, another smaller Alpine Lake at 3,100 m. On the way in to Balukchy to restock we had a flat tyre. Actually the tyre was no longer useable. At least we found 2 used tyre to replace it. These tyres are slightly narrower so we won't be able to put them on the back wheels. At least we now have 2 spares.

The road to the lake is great. This time the mountains were covered in green grass not just rock. On the way we met 3 groups of bikers all enjoying the scenery. They have to ride up to 3,000m so I don't envy them. They are all slim and very fit.

Horses by the lake Herders by the lake
The lake itself is pretty, much more scenic than Lake Issyk Kol. The weather was terrible though, rain, soft snow and a cold wind. I had expected to spend a day enjoying the tranquillity but only in the sunshine! The journey was worth it.

The road through the western end of the Suusamyr Valley and on to the main Bishkek-Osh road was also very scenic. We passed by some truck drivers having their lunch break and had to take a photo. Before we could do so one of them carefully moved theVodka bottles out of sight. Then they were happy to have their photo taken!

          Suusamyr Valley           Delicate flowers           Kokomoron River           Truck drivers on lunch break           Two Japanese bikers

Tuesday 10 to Thursday 12 2012, to Osh

The main road to Osh is almost as spectacular as the mountain areas we have been through. First there is a broad pass through the mountains, followed by a drive through the deep gorge of the Naryn River, the same river we had already driven along much further upstream. There are dams on the Naryn River. Toktgul Resevoir is the largest and this is where we had a lovely meal of fish.Finally you come to the lush green Fergana Valley and Osh.

Once again we passed yurts with their herds of horses and cattle. As elsewhere many of them also had trailers that look like train carriages on rubber wheels. In the smaller villages town water is supplied through a series of communal water pumps every 6 houses or so.

          Yurt and trailer           Ala-Bel Pass           Toktgul Resevoir           Naryn River

Friday 13 to Friday 20 July 2012, Osh

Now we were ready for a break from travelling. We had to wait for the Kyrgyzstan visa to start anyway. I do NOT like fixed date visa!!

The hotel is down the street from the bazaar which is as always interesting. This one is huge. It must cover several squarekilometers. A great place for cheap meals. I bought another pair of summer pants, I now have three which is more than enough.The zip for the pocket and ribbon to hang the key from were a little difficult to find, but it was all there.

The cafe downstairs from the hotel was a great place to meet other travellers. Pieter spent a great deal of time sitting there, watching passers-by and talking. I really admire the cyclists. The Pamir Highway at 4,000 meters is a real test of endurance and a very popular route for adventurous cyclists. Ramadan started just before we left. The only noticeable difference was the difficulty in getting breakfast from the cafe! Restaurants were still open for business during the day and were full of evening diners well before the sun went down.

          Colourful clothes           Chatting           Passer by

Saturday 21 July 2012, To the border

          Thats where we are going           Not much left of the tar

The journey to Sary Tash was easy. We found a lovely place to camp where the Pamirs stood like a white barrier before us. The road had deteriorated quite badly in places due to the force of the spring melt, presaging the road to come. The border crossing was easy. They are used to foreigners going through.

Average costs Euro Back to Kazakhstan Next to Tajikistan
per litre diesel 0.65
Hotels per night 23.17 Asia Menu
Kilometers travelled 2,397
Days 28 Home