Short cut through the mountains to Bishkek

Day 77 – Friday 26th August – Kazarman – 260kms

Finally we left Osh for the last time. We had spend way too much time in Osh two years ago, and this time again!
We first took the main road to Jalal-Abad, although, as usual, the GPS took us through some shortcuts of its own!
The shortcut ended  in a  near dead end. This bridge had collapsed and was closed to traffic.
After further inspection we decided that it was solid enough for our light motorbikes.
Alistair went first (he is the heaviest!) and I Followed quickly!
Then, in Jalal-Abad, the GPS tried to take us through the wrong track. Fortunately, as we hesitated, an old man told us how to pick up the correct road to Kazarman.
Once on track we left town. The road out of town had new Tarmac, and the locals seemed to use half the width of that road  to dry sunflower seeds.
Finally the Tarmac ended. The road was also less busy and we were able to relax a bit.
We started climbing into the mountains. The region is very dry.
We didn’t  really cross any villages of significance during the day, few farmers here and there.
One guy was guiding his cows by the side of the road. His very large and very aggressive dog ran after  Alistair and then tried to get me, his teeth just inches from my legs. I stopped  and gave  a superb mouthful to the farmer who found it funny. Moron! I wish I could have been able to taser his rabid dangerously aggressive dog.
I am losing patience with dogs and crazy drivers now. I tend to give them my opinion using a very colourful language!
And we climbed even more….
Eventually, in the evening, we arrived at Kazarman. My guide described the town as a poor, dusty bowl settlement with a reputation as a tough mining town, down on its luck. That’s one way of describing it.
I could think of other terms, but would be less flattering! Oops!
The GPS took us to a Bed and Breakfast. Well… It is how it was called. The place was a bit under construction.
It had no running water so the toilet was the usual hole in the ground in the back of the courtyard, and they had a sort of shower: a plastic hut with a big bowl of water on top!
After taking a  look at the kitchen, we decided we would  not have any dinner or food at the place. After our adventure in Osh we have decided to stick to processed food or biscuits, in places without running water!
So we went in search of a shop. We found few. Each was so small it hardly had any food at all. One had two boxes of pot noodles left. After closer inspection, the expiry date was still to come. Once again, we have learned our lesson the very hard way about checking expiry dates!
Back at the guesthouse, we sat inside the yurt that was used as a dining room. We asked for boiling water. The look of disapproval on the middle aged woman running the place was a story in itself! I shrugged, I did not fancy a trip to the hospital.
The dining room had small jars of jam, uncovered,  sugar, bread and others foods in one table. And lots of flies around making the most of it! Nice!
I have observed food covered in flies often enough to convinced me not to touch anything! Best to be avoided!
We ate our chemical pot noodles. 
As there was nothing much to do, we had an early night and asked for breakfast at 7:30. 
Day 78 – Saturday 27th August – Kochkor – 310 kms
I was up and around very early. We packed everything and we were ready for breakfast at 7:30. We asked for green tea only but yesterday’s bowl of bread and croissants were still there. The woman also brought some butter covered with sugar and unidentified stuff. Happy flies! 
After having our tea, we were ready to go. There are places, no matter how simple it is, you feel at ease. Some places are the opposite and you can not wait to leave. That place was one of those were I just want noted to get back on the road as quickly as possible! 
The first 80 kms out of Kazarman, we rode a very bad gravel road. It was also very busy as it joined to the main road to Naryn.
Eventually we took the turn toward the Moldo Ashuu pass…. No one but tourists would use it. We stopped at the turn off, near a derelict bus station, to have a drink and eat few peanuts.
Then it was time to negotiate the stunning pass. 
We met some cyclists on the way and we had a good chat with them. They were on a 3 years tour! 

The climb to the pass was spectacular. Shame we don’t have good pictures of it! 


From the pass, we followed the gravel road to the Song Kul lake, another major tourist point. It is set at 3000 m altitude, and with the many yurt settlements and animals roaming free, it is a bit picture perfect! 

The road went along the lake and through another pass. 
We finally picked the main road to Bishkek. 
We arrived in Kochkor by late afternoon. 
We rode straight to the hotel Adamkaliy. We had been staying there one night, three weeks ago, on our way to Naryn. We had liked the place and the family was welcoming and friendly. 
The place was empty this time so we took a room with private bathroom! Luxury! 
It is funny how perception can change. After so much time in little places, Kochkor seemed almost like the height of civilisation! It had a mini market that  actually had stuff you wanted to buy, and aisles, so you can pick your stuff yourself , rather than ask someone over the counter and pointing ; it had a touristic cafe with a menu in English and food that would not cause too much problems to our stomach…. Civilisation! 

More drama

Day 75 – weds 24th of August – Osh – 0 kms

By 3am that morning, Alistair woke up rather sick with food poisoning.
At 6am ! He was feeling so bad, I went down, to the hotel reception to get a doctor. Soon after, two medics arrived and gave him an injection after checking him. One of the hotel staff was helping with translation.
At 7:30 / 8am, Alistair got much worse and was having severe abdominal pain. I walked to reception again and asked them to help as we needed to go to hospital. It was a different crew at reception. They called an ambulance. Traffic was bad at that time and it took some time to arrive.
Alistair was then examined by the paramedics in the couch of the hotel reception! The verdict was that he had to go to hospital. A common occurance in Kyrgyzstan. One week earlier, our friend Howard was also taken to hospital, for food poisoning, and put on a  drip!
The ambulance was UAZ 4 wheels drive, with rustic engine and nothing much inside to lay down. It stank of diesel inside, but did the job.
Photo taken from a Russian site on the Internet!
One of the receptionists at the hotel, came with us,  as we needed help with  translation. Not many people speak English around here!  That was very kind of the staff.
At the hospital, we were taken to a consultation room, where a doctor was already working with a patient! We waited a bit and he examined Alistair.
He was then taken upstairs where I was not allowed to follow! What happened then is what he described to me later.
Basically he had his stomach washed in the inside, in a rather crude but effective way! He was given a lot of warm water to drink, then had to make himself throw up in a bucket, by inserting his fingers down his throat, while Erlan , the hotel receptionist, was holding his head!   After being repeatedly made to do so, he was then taken to a small room that had three small beds.
The doctor then gave us a piece of paper with a list of stuff to buy.
Erlan took me to one of the many pharmacies in site, and we came back with two bottles to be used as a drip, and lots of old fashioned ampoules containing different liquids ( no idea what it was!).
After handing the goods to the nurse we had a long wait, as Alistair was left with a drip and had some sleep.
We came several times, but he was sleeping and we were told to wait as Alistair had a bit of fever, so could not be released.
We had a long time, with Erlan,  to wander around and wait. He told me how, the previous week, he spent all day at the police station, helping two British citizens saying at the hotel.
They were part of the Mongol Rally and had decorated their car with horns from the Marco Polo sheep. They said they found the horns by the side of the road! Unfortunately, the Marco Polo sheep is an endangered species, and being found with the horns is  illegal and was big trouble. They were told by the police and the special police in charge of these cases that the fine was of half million Soms ( about 8000 dollars !).
Eventually, pleading ignorance (or stupidity?) and with the help of Erlan and one of his friends, the Brits  got away with much less.
Eventually, by early afternoon, the doctor announced that Alistair was good to go! Price of all that? About 2 pounds for the pharmacy, and about 6 pounds for the doctor!
We went back to the hotel and I bought some green tea and sugar to settle his raw stomach. He was feeling much better.
Now , what caused such bad reaction? We suspect the meal  at the yurt camp, near Sari Mogul, was the culprit. No hygiene, dreadful tasting, smelling and looking meal…. Those “home stay ” can be seriously bad as far as food is concerned!
We learnt our lesson!
Day 76 – Thursday 25th August – Osh – few miles
We decided to stay an extra day, to give Alistair a chance to rest.
Late morning we rode the bikes to Patrick’s place to pick up our camping gear. The place was shut and no one around. We went back and phoned Patrick.
Alistair went back later when Kolya, the Russian mechanic, was there.
We then repacked everything. We did not do much else.
I took few pictures of the area, and of hotel Osh Nuru. We can’t thank the staff enough, and Erlan of course, for their constant help! Top place to stay! And nice breakfast!
Lenine of course! Everywhere! In Osh this time!
Spot the green camel!
Spot the green horse!
And of course, the Osh Nuru. A big soviet style building but nice inside!
That’s all for now. Don’t miss the next chapter ( tomorrow)  with the most beautiful photos of this trip!

into the mountains

Day 71 – Saturday 20th August – Sary Tash – 185 kms

The night before, we received an email from our friends Anna and Howard. When we left them the night before, they were planning to leave Osh friday morning… Howard, who had been suffering from an upset stomach since leaving Tajikistan, got worse overnight and had to go to hospital. He was put on a drip and given antibiotics. He had caught  some parasite while in the Pamir.
Photo with Anna and Howrad last time w evade dinner in Osh:
That left us more determined to be careful with the food in the Pamir, and we bought some dried fruits  and nuts, few tins of Paté and biscuits. That would help us keep going if guest houses meals were looking not too good!
Massive overland truck in Osh.
We saw many participants of the Mongol Rally:
We left Osh soon after 9:30. It was slow going, as usual. We took our time as we only had 185 kms to the village of Sary Tash. Going from 1000 m to 3000 m altitude, was enough and we needed to spend one night at 3000m before going higher.
On the way we met a couple from Estonia, on two DRZ400. They were having lunch at a cafe, so we stopped for tea with them.
As we were leaving, a Mongol Rally car was stopped near our bikes. It was being pulled by a truck! Not sure it will make it to Mongolia!
The road was very beautiful and taking us through few mountains passes.
We arrived at Sary Tash by 3pm. We stopped at the same home stay than two years ago. There are few more guest houses now, but all are pretty much the same in  term of facilities!
Our room. Same than two years ago!
Dining room:
The sink to wash hands, and only access to water, is the blue box you see next to the bikes in the left. The toilet is down the enclosure for the cows, the little grey hut bottom left. Yes the “hole on the ground ” stuff!
At least this time it was the guesthouse “private toilet”! Two Years ago, we had to use the village’s public toilet! You don’t want  to know!
Going at night was funny, as, with the headlamp, I could see the glowing eyes of the cows looking at me!
Both bikes had behaved very well at the highest pass of 3600m so we were confident that they would climb to the highest points in the Pamir at over 4600m.
After changing out of our motorcycle gear, we went for a walk, in search of a little shop. We found a small cafe instead. 2 cyclists from Poland were having lunch. The cafe only had one portion of  Plov left, so we took it and shared between both of us.
Another couple, cyclists too, arrived and asked the cafe owner if they could change Tajik currency for Kyrgyz Soms. Banks don’t change Tajik Somonis. We bought some from them as we would be going that way.
After a chat with all the cyclists we left and finally found a little shop, in the usual shipping container that is used for everything in Kyrgyzstan! The shop was manned by two small kids. It had nothing we could possibly want so we walk next door, I.e. The next shipping container. It was empty but had a couple of things. Probably crisps :D.
A man was outside, I presume it was the owner. He came inside and told us to wait two minutes. He was so drunk he could barely stand and had to lean against the wall, while trying to talk. A kid came ( I presume his son!).
After that we went back to the guesthouse.
It ended up being a full house with several cars from the Mongol Rally. All had British number plates as it starts in the UK and many buy their car there. One car was driven by two young lads for  New York.
Then a small van and a car arrived, ( also Mongol Rally people!)  with 8 people in total, with a  variety of nationalities.
Dinner was boiled potatoes and buckwheat with a  fried egg and bread. We opted out of meat as it is usually rather vile.
After that, it was an early night as, with no TV and no Wifi, there was not much to do but read.
Day 72 – Sunday 21st August – about 60kms – lake Turpal-Kul yurt camp.
After breakfast we took our time to pack. We had plenty of time.
We then rode to the nearbye fuel station to fill up on petrol. The place was run by children, once again!
The little girl in charge looked very serious and efficient.
After that we rode to Sary Mogul, further west, passing a police check point that did not bother with us.
We had in mind to get to Lenin Peak base camp, at a round 3600m, it would be a good place to spend the night and get used to Altitude.
In Sary Mogul, with no idea where to find the trail to the base camp. I spotted a sign for the local CBT ( Community Based Tourism) and found it passed the usually randomly located shipping containers.
The staff at the CBT office told us it was better for us to go the yurt camp near the lake, as the base camp, which is maintained and built by various climbing companies, would not expect us and have space or food for us! Or so we understood.
While stopped in town I got talking with a lad. He was from Israel, and as all the kids over there, travelling after the end of his military service. He was planning with his friends to get to the yurt camp, but finding difficult to hitchhike from Sary  Mogul.
For us it did not matter, they were all in the same direction  and higher.  The yurt camp location looked nice in the photos, so we decided to get there. Once given some vague directions, we left.
Yaks :
The trail to the camp was sandy and tricky. We finally found the bridge and some random trails. It was not obvious as there were trails and car tracks going to random places. We kept aiming at the mountains.
It took us a while but we finally managed to find the yurt camp, 25kms from the village.
The place was beautiful, but as night fell, it was bitterly cold.
Sadly, Lenin Peak, that is 7200m high, was hidden by clouds!
We had a small walk a round. The place was just few yurts and couple of tents. It was a harsh environment.
In the camp, we met three Frenchs who left in a taxi that came from the village. There was also a family ( Deutschs?) who lived in Dushanbe ( capital of Tajikistan) and a German couple arrived later on as well.
We all took refuge in the dining tent, as it had a stove, so it was warm inside. The staff also lit up the yurts’ stoves, using the usual dried cow pat as fuel!
Dinner was a gruel of potatoes and cabbage, salad and bread! When we asked without meat, they just removed most of it, although we still found lumps of fat in it!
It was also decision time. Stress, relief,  fear, tears, disappointment…. In the end, for reasons I will not specify here, we decided we had no choice and we had to turn back. The Pamir  would have to wait. We were gutted, but sometimes stuff happens and well…  that’s life. We decided to ride back straight to Osh the next day.
Day 73 – Monday 22d August – Osh – 245kms
The trail back to Sary Mogul was great fun to ride. Our bikes, I must say, are perfect for this sort of terrain! Both of us have decided that our respective choice is the ultimate bike for trips like these!
My XT is perfect and I love it. It takes a full new dimension on trails….Throw it through sand, mud, rivers, gravel, any stones, rocks etc… It just goes and I feel so confident riding it that nothing really scare me.
Few pictures taken while riding:
Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country!
Sary Mogul:
And then my helmet camera ran out of battery!
On the trail we came across the Israeli kids. I stopped to give them some tips as it was no obvious to find the yurt camp.  They were carrying big bags. I hope they got a lift in the end! It is a long walk. Although, just out of the military, they  are probably superfit and I am sure they can make it easily.
We stopped at Sary Tash to get some more fuel. The same kids were running the place. This time I managed few pictures of Fatima.  She was a bright sparkly kid. I felt sorry for her. With good education, given a chance,  her life could get so much better.
I asked her if she was going to school, she said yes. I hope she won’t get married off early and shackled with an army of kids,  and what is certainly a very harsh existence in this area. I hope she will be given a chance!
We arrived in town by mid afternoon.
We went straight to the Osh Nuru hotel. We like it there.
We had a rest, we were both very tried. We had not had much sleep in the last two nights,
For dinner we went back to the Aztec restaurant. They had descent food and an English menu.
Day 72 – Tuesday 23rd August – Osh -0 km
We have done over 14,000 kms. Not bad on our 250cc bikes!
After breakfast we walked across the street to the bank, to change back our unnecessary Tajik currency. Banks don’t change them. We were advised to go to the bazar and find  the money changers there. The Turkish Airline office was also in that direction. We walked first to the Airline office to change the date of our flight. After that we crossed the bridge and found quickly the money changers. We had a good rate and got Kyrgyz Soms.
We then walked across the bazar and bought some bread and cucumber. We still had few tins of Paté. So that would do for lunch.
The local bread is very nice.
After that we walked back to the hotel and had our lunch and a rest. We decided to ride to Patrick’s house the next day. We had left all our camping gear at his house. We had to go to pick it up.
I checked my map, looking which trails would be OK to do and where to stay that would not be too high, to spend the night. We should be able to ride some beautiful trails and dizzying passes,  before we go to Bishkek.

The road to Osh

Day 67 – Tuesday 16th August – Toktogul – 290kms

Finally  we were able to leave Bishkek. Riding out of town on the main highway was slow going as it was town after town after town. The main road go right across each town, bazar, market, and the crazy traffic that goes with it.
We then stopped to pay 5$ each to use the highway. I use highway very loosely here!
We finally started to climb for our first mountain pass of the day. The road was twisty and steep. Up and up it went, hair pin bend after another… It was beautiful, if only the drivers had not been that crazy. It certainly kept us on edge as we tried to stay alive on that road.
We finally reached the highest point, over 2500m altitude. Our bikes were behaving fine.
We then crossed a very long dark tunnel for several miles. The headlights on our bikes are pitiful! The tunnel was narrow, busy, with drivers all over the place. Although the highway is only a dual carriage way, they have no concept of lanes so they keep swerving all over the place.
As Patrick told us, they drive like they ride horses! When you know that here you buy your driving licence, they have no idea how to drive!
On the other side, we started descending, then crossing a stunning high valley. There were many yurts along the road, selling Kimiz (horse, well… mare, fermented milk) and balls of hard dried cheese, probably from horse milk too.
There were many horses and some livestock roaming free for miles on end. There are no fences in Kyrgyzstan. It’s a bit like Mongolia: wide open spaces.
Population near the road meant aggressive dogs attacking the bikes. We tried our best to avoid running one over as they jumped toward our front wheels.
The weather was very cold and then it started raining heavily.
We climbed another pass and went slightly down.
With so much traffic and trucks on the road, our progress was slow. We were planning to stop midway to Osh, in Kara-Kul, a non-descript town. However, we were so cold and rather tired, by mid afternoon, so we decided to stop for the night in Toktogul.
We knew Toktogul well. About 30kms from there, 2 years ago, Alistair’s bike decided to die and we had to hide it in a ditch ( it was very late) and  spend the night at an empty half built hotel in town!
Riding around town for a guesthouse, I managed to find where the hotel was. It was now quite busy. Funny enough, we had the same room than two years ago. This time we had to share the bathroom  and toilet with lots of other people. The place was full at night!
We had time to have  a walk in town but there was not much to it. We went to get some food at the same ( and only !) restaurant than two years ago. They had now a big garden and with the warm evening it was nice to get a small meal outdoor.
Day 68 – Wednesday 17th August – Osh – 410kms
After a quick breakfast we were back on the road by 9:30.
Once again, the mountain road was very beautiful but slow going.
After crossing one town, we got stopped by the police. They are everywhere these days! Apparently, Alistair was speeding, going at 72km/h on a 60 zone. As there are rarely speed limit signs, we could not argue. Apparently, I was not speeding despite being just behind Alistair!
They started taking the driving licence and bike’s V5. The chief, fat ( police cops Chiefs are always fat and always sitting in the car while barking orders to his minions, we found!) … Anyway, the chief told us it was 100 dollars and we would have to go to pay at the bank in Toktogul. I knew what was coming.
We did not react much, waiting to be asked for cash.
Then he said if we paid 1000 Soms with our credit card ( about 15 dollars) we could leave.
Obviously, as you can imagine, none of our cards would work. What a surprise!  So he wanted cash.
Meanwhile, I had removed discreetly most of my cash from my dummy purse, leaving about 650 Soms.
I showed him my purse with the cash. I gave him the purse… Maybe he felt embarrassed, but after a bit of a huff, he took 500 Soms (about 8 dollars) and we were able to go. We made sure to ride at 60km/h every time it looked like there was a house or anything that may be like a village!
Funny enough, very late in the evening, in the parking of the Hotel Osh Nuru, we met a group of bikers from Poland, on brand new shiny BMWs, ( obviously transported there by Chris’s company!) loaded with tons of luggage, plus a support vehicle, and all the unecessary kit you can imagine… Anyway, 3 of them got stopped also for speeding… They were asked 200 dollars each, to start with… They ended up paying 50 dollars each! Ouch!
Eventually, by 6:30 we arrived in Osh. We went straight to hotel Osh Nuru. We had been staying there two years ago, after Alistair’s bike blew up in Uzbekistan, and we replaced the engine by a Chinese copy, thanks to Kolia, Patrick’s very talented mechanic.
Back in London, we had met few times with a young couple, Anna and Howard, who were planning to ride to Mongolia. They left in July and had a different itinerary than us, but they were in Osh for few days. They had just rode the Pamir. We arranged to meet that night at the California Cafe for a pizza and exchange some tips!
Day 69 – Thursday 18th August – Osh – few miles
In the morning we rode to Patrick’s house. Patrick is the business owner of Muztoo and runs motorcycle tours in Central Asia. He also provides services and occasionally spare parts, to travellers. He has a good workshop so you can also use the place to do repairs on your own vehicle.
As we arrived, there was a massive custom made bike with an enormous sidecar attached to it! A German was working on it. Then his friends turned up, on two bikes and another “trike”.
Kolia was busy in another job. So Alistair took out the carburettor.
Long story short, 195 dollars laters, the TTR was fitted with a new more narrow jet and the needle dropped to its lowest setting to ensure the bike runs as lean as possible.
My XT250 was fitted with a new back tyre, as the existing one was pretty much at the end of its life. I got the same tyre than two years ago, a Korean Shinko. They last forever.
We also bough another jet even more narrow, just in case!
The TTR also was fitted a roller above the chain, to avoid the chain to flap and destroy the frame. In rough tracks, the chain was flapping a lot.
Anyway, all that took most of the day as we also had to go back and forth to pick up some stuff from the hotel.
In the evening we met with Anna and Howard for dinner. They were leaving the next morning.
We also managed to do a lot of laundry. The hotel washing machine was broken so we had to do all in the bathroom’s sink! Fortunately, the weather in Osh is super hot, so all was drying quickly in our small balcony!
Day 70 – Friday 19th August – Osh –
After some more laundry done, we walked to the main bazar. We bought a large bag. We had decided to leave all our camping gear in Osh, with Patrick, while we rode around Tajikistan, and pick it up on our way back.
The bazar:
Traditional hat than local men wear:
The bazar was as enormous as before! We found  quickly what we needed and came back to the hotel. We filled the bag with all we could do without for a couple of weeks! Mainly the camping gear  and cooking pot, stove etc…. It was  a lot!
Then, after a quick lunch of Plov at a  local cafe, Alistair took the bag to Patrick’s house.
We were planning to buy some food ( high energy bars, dried fruits, nuts etc…). We knew what to expect in term of food ( and food poisoning!) in Tajikistan, and I am determined to avoid any meal that may be of the ” food poisoning ” type! Hard to tell I know!
Most places in the Pamir and the Wakhan corridor are home stay, and include usually all meals…
Home stays are Just in people houses, in tiny villages, that have no running water, no toilets other that the hole in the ground type, no showers, no fridges, rarely electricity and probably not the same sense of hygiene, when preparing food, as we may expect in Europe!
The principle to follow is the same than in Africa: if you can’t peel it, cook it or boil it, forget it!
So departure tomorrow. We will be most certainly offline until we are back in Osh. Maybe 10 or 15 days…. I will report back when I can! Wish us good luck! 🙂

Few days in Bishkek

We did not plan to go to Bishkek , the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, until the end of our trip…. But in the end we had to!

Some stuff came up that we had to sort out and go to Bishkek for that. Nothing major.
So on Thursday 11th August – day 61 – 320 kms
We arrived in town relatively early and found a hotel that had good ratings online.
I hope we can leave Tuesday morning (16th August) . Small delay but we still have a full 4 weeks so should be plenty enough.
So my itinerary had changed slightly.
From Bishkek we will go to Osh. Then from there, after getting ready for Tajikistan and riding the Pamir (I.e. Buying some food!) we will ride to Sary Mogul ( sounds like a name out of Lord Of The Rings! ) to adapt to altitude.
 Going straight from an elevation of 600m ( in Osh) to a border pass of 4,300 metres, and towns at 4000m, we need a couple of days acclimatisation… Altitude sickness is very bad and dangerous! Sary Mogul, above 3000m, is not a village, merely  few yurts near a  lake. One or two night there should do the trick.
Then we will cross into Tajikistan. Once we leave Osh it will be wilderness! Hardly any electricity, no running water, toilets, showers or anything for the duration of the trip in the Pamir, with the exception, I hope, of a couple of bigger villages.
I expect to spend up to two weeks in Tajikistan.
Then back to Osh as this is the only way. From there, I will take few mountain trails across Kyrgyzstan to few nice places and lakes.
We have to be back in Bishkek on the 13th of September latest, as we need to repack and take our bikes to the compound where they will be crated and trucked back to England on the 15th.
By luck, Chris, our friend from Warsaw, if you follow my blog ( the same whose shipping company is transporting our bikes back to the UK) was in Bishkek. He does guided tours and had finished one that same day. So, as he was staying in a guesthouse near our hotel, we walked over to say hello. The next day he was off to India to guide another motorcycle tour around the Himalayas. His flight had been cancelled and he would face a very windy way to get to India in time!
He gave me some advice and tips for some trails and places to visit. He showed us pictures of his latest tour. It looked awesome. I am quite tempted to do the Himalayas with him or with his partner Ola next year!
I leave you with few pictures of Bishkek.
This might be the Opera house?

Cows and dogs are a dangerous combination

Issyk Kul lake.
Day 59 – Tuesday 9th August – Naryn – 120kms
The road to Naryn was fairly good, with the exception of many road works.
We arrived at Naryn rather early and rode to the hotel recommended by Chris, the Khan Tengri. Unfortunately, despite huge grounds and probably lots of rooms, it was full!
So we looked into the GPS and rode to the Celestial Mountains hotel and yurt camp. We managed to get a room with bathroom . The place was simple but  clean.
It was a very hot day. We had a walk into town to change some money and buy some food for a late lunch. There were not many palcd to eat at all. We arranged with the hotel to have dinner there.
Naryn had nothing of interest other than as a stop over.
Day 60 – weds. 10th August – Naryn – about 40kms
The idea for the day was to ride first to the a beautiful valley, east of Naryn, then ride back and go toTash  Rabat, a very ancient caravanserai, about 120 kms West of Naryn, going toward the border with China.
Unfortunately, the combination of cows grazing on the road, as they alway do, and a dog coming out of nowhere barking like mad and scaring the cows, sent the cows charging toward me. With nowhere to go, I hit one and fell off the bike in the Tarmac.
No damage to the bike, but I fell on my right shoulder, the same than  got injured lasted December, while off-road riding. Nothing major, but I am in too much pain to ride today. So we rode back to the Celestial Mountains. I took an anti-inflammatory and some paracetamol/codeine mix.
I should be able to ride tomorrow. I really don’t want to be stuck in Naryn any more!
However, riding dirt roads, requiring standing on the foot pegs, might be tricky for me, few days.
I won’t let that change my plans though.
Tomorrow we will still be going to Tash Rabat and staying in a yurt locally.
Then ride up to lake Song Kul. Not sure about the itinerary. My initial itinerary was the most straight road but all in rough surface. I shall see how I feel in a couple of days.
Still within my schedule! So no worries, all is fine!
Bloody Dogs though, I narrowly ran few down in the last few days, are they go crazy when they hear the motorbikes, and run after Alistair, ahead of me, then turn to my front wheel! We will seriously slow down near yurt camps etc… From now on.

Visas and chores in Karakol

The rest of Friday was spent, for Alistair,  looking for a solution to the high altitude problems of his bike, and for me to catch up with the blog and photos.

The problem with a carburretor at altitude, is that the air is too thin, so the mix of air and fuel becomes too rich in fuel. The bike splutter and choke, eventually it would stop. So we need to reduce the intake of fuel. That means opening the carb and is complex.
So the idea was to find a fix, or that failing, go to Bishkek, the capital city, where he would be able to acces a workshop and find all he needs.
The highest mountains passes in Kyrgyz, until we reach Osh, will be about 3500m.
So if the bike does this it is enough, then in Osh there is a very good mechanic!
We also had a good walk in town. Lots of tourists around! We had not seen any tourists until then. We were surprised by the numbers! On the plus side it meant menus in English in cafes and restaurants, albeit at western prices!
Views from our hotel window:
And typical non English menu!
Day 56 – Saturday 6th August – Karakol – 0kms
After some research, Alistair decided against opening the carburretor, and try a small fix. That was to remove the plastic cover of the air filter, to allow more air, and to put a sieve, with lots of duct tape, to ensure no debris get in. Much more air should get in.
He found what he needed in the local bazar.
Here is how it looks:
Views of Karakol and the bazar:
You must attention when  walking around or else!
We visited some interesting sites: the ancient cathedral, built entirely in wood and without the use of any nails, and the local mosque.
The mosque looks very Chinese, the architect was Chinese.

Despite the fact we could not go inside, and despite wearing long sleeve shirt and long trousers and boots, I was still made to wear this horror!

We then discovered the tourist cafe popular with the tourist and went for a pizza!
Day 57 – Sunday 7th August – Karakol – 150kms.
With Alistair fix in place, we decided to test his bike at altitude. There was a road east of Karakol that went up to a mountain pass. We rode it up to 3400m high. The TTR climbed! It was great. Mine, which is fuel injected, had no problem, as the FI system can sense the amount of air and regulate the flow of fuel.
We did not want to waste several days in Bishkek as we were running out of time to explore the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. So that was great news!
Few photos of our ride:

Still snow up there!

Talking of Tajikistan. Our other reason to go to Bishkek was to get the visas and GBAO permits ( permits to ride the GB autonomous oblast which covers part of the Pamir Highway).
However, Chris Sambor, in Warsaw , had told me that the Tajik government had now an online eVisa system. I tried with the iPad but did not work.
We decided to walk to an Internet cafe and put our applications using a real computer. Our applications were done. We just had to wait for a decision.
That done it was time for a Lagman! We did not need to go to Bishkek, more days to ride in the mountains and hopefully the Pamir!
So we decided instead to ride the next day west and south, toward Kochkor, then Naryn, high in the mountains.
Day 58 – Monday 8th August – Kochkor – 250kms
Nice ride along the lake Issyk Kul.
On arrival at the village of Kochkor, we found a nice little hotel. They only had rooms with shared facilities but all clean.
The most important stuff was that the wifi worked well and we had news of our Tajik visa application! It was accepted! It was just a  piece of paper to print. We hope the border guards know about this new eVisas system!
I will publish photos of our ride later when I transfer them.
I leave you with horses. So many horses around!

Within few miles of china

The evening in Taldykorgan, we found the Moroccan style restaurant where we ate, two years ago.

They did not have couscous on the menu anymore and the tagines meals were very expensive. More than the price of our hotel for one night!
We had some cheaper stuff and it’s was really nice!
The weather was still stormy and as we left the restaurant, it was, once again, lashing down with rain! We ran back to the hotel.
Views from the hotel room:
Day 53 – Wednesday 3rd August – Zarkhent  – 350kms
The plan was to ride south on the main highway for about 100kms, then take a turn off east and try to find the entrance of the Altyn-Emel national park. The only info I found about it was in a small thread, out of the Lonely Planet forum, which mentioned a village called Baschie, as the entrance to the park and where the Rangers were located. Tourists must be with a ranger to go into the park.
Out of a travel agency website, from Almaty, I found the same information. My problem was that this village, set in the park, does not appear in any map, paper or online! I knew it was a long shot,  but we decided to give it a try!
The weather was , once again, cloudy, so our waterproofs were within reach!
At the junction, we stopped for some fuel, and took the road that goes straight to the border with China.
My plan, if successful, was to spend two days in the park, and then ride south to Kyrgyzstan.
Off the turn off, we knew, from my map, that a small road was going right inside the north side of the park. It seemed like the main road into the park! We followed it. It was single track but mainly paved, so that was a good sign.
We carried on for a good 40 kms. Some turns off looked like farm tracks. And with crops everywhere, it was a big hint! The area was beautiful, like all this region to be fair.
We finally arrived at a large village, not Baschie. The road ended there.
We parked the bikes near a small shop, bought some iced tea and tried to ask the woman if she knew about Baschie. Blank stares! Hmmm…..
Decision time. What to do? With no way to find out the right trail, and the park being massive, we turned back. By then it was mid afternoon, we had to move on.
We decided to ride to the Altyn-Emel pass and beyond, and take a short cut toward Kegen, the town near the east side border with Kyrgyzstan. Before that, we had to find a place on the road for the night.
I was not sure if our shortcut would be passable, as, like all ex soviet countries, border permits are requested to get close to border zones! Unless you keep to the main road to the Chinese border! So the turn off into a secondary road that follows the Chinese border, may require a permit.
As we climbed the pass, it became evident that Alistair’s bike was struggling at altitude. It is already running too rich in fuel, and in the thin air, it cannot cope. This is going to be a problem. If it struggles at 1800 or 2000 m altitude, it won’t make it to the Tajik border crossing set at…. 4300m! Or any pass in Kyrgyzstan, often beyond 3000m!
Anyhow, something to fix!
After the pass we came across two German bikers: Daniel and (I think) Wolf.
They told me they came by the shortcut I had in mind, no permit required, or asked! That was a big relief! They were on their way to Mongolia, so we exchanged few tips and emails. They had massive bikes with a huge amount of luggage! It won’t be easy for them in Mongolia!
So we decided to continue East. There were two towns on our map. The first, Koktal, was at the junction with the shortcut road. It had a hotel, according to the GPS. So we decided to spend the night there.
After descending the mountains, we rode a very straight boring road along a semi desert flat region.
It was only about 40kms from the border with China.
As we arrived in town, sets in what appeared to be a forest, we found the hotel, down a very  nice little drive. It was set in beautiful gardens, had a swimming pool, and a nice outdoor cafe with beautiful lanterns.  It was pure indulgence…. I got inside to make enquiries. I doubted it would be full as there  were no cars around!
The manager told me they had no rooms as they were closed. The scaffolding on one side of the property should have been a clue! I was gutted! It was magnificent!
I asked where we could find a hotel and the lady said there were many in town, about 14kms away.
So we rode to the next town, Zarkhent.
We stopped at the first hotel we saw. The town looked a bit of a dump and, as all border towns, a bit lawless and on the edge. As we stopped the bikes, a lady took charge immediately and told me to put the bikes round by the entrance of the hotel. We did.
I got inside, the place was big and the room she showed me was large and even had aircon! She spoke a tiny bit of English and told me her son was living in Canada, she was obviously a very proud mum.
The hotel was nice, clean, and reasonably priced. So that was sorted. The lady, obviously the owner, then ordered us to put the bikes inside the hotel. The hotel had a security guard, we think because, like many hotels, they have shops inside, and one shop was selling gold. So the bikes would be super secured!
It was getting late so we got changed out of our motorcycle gear, had a quick shower, and went to visit the town.
We needed to buy water and have some food. Round the corner was a street market that was closing down, people everywhere packing stuff in cars and trucks, crap and garbage on the street, the smell of rotten food and sweat.
We found a small shop, the usual we see here, small with someone behind the counter, you ask what you want. We got few bits and I asked the lady where we could get some dinner. She gave me directions for a Stalovaya. We found it easily. The place was huge, and apart from two guys, was empty.
Alistair hada salad   with French fries. The fries came with onions and meat. I had the Lagman, conservative choice, but it was the best I ever had! Lagman is a noodle soup, how much soup or dry it is, depends on who cooks it. That one had the noodles in one dish and the stew in another. The stew was superb!
All that was washed down with a couple of beers!
Day 54 – Thursday 4th August – Karakol, Kyrgyzstan – about 350kms
Our plan was for a short day, riding a nice shortcut road across the Sheryn National park, across beautiful mountains and canyons, and spend the night at the only hotel in Kegen, a border town near Kyrgyzstan.  We spent a  night there two years ago, during our Mongol odyssey.
We left town by mid morning, feeling tired from the previous few days ride.
The short cut took us for about 100kms across flat plains.
In the distance, we could see the mountains, far away.
It was hot and not particularly interesting… Although  we came across the local road hazards:
They stared at us, and grumbled if we got too close!
After few pictures we managed to get passed those massive beasts!
Then, out of the blue, a road sign signaled a steep 12% descent for 8000m! What the hell? I thought we were rather low, but in fact we were almost riding at 2000 m altitude, and now was the descent into the canyon! It was beautiful! The photos don’t make it justice!

We came across another flat section and strange looking burials.

We arrived just before 2 pm into Kegen. It was early. We rode close to the hotel and out again to the main road, to have some lunch.
After wasting some time finding a  place and parking the bikes nearbye, we sat and had a quick meal.
By then it was 3 pm. Debating whether to stay or go to Karakol, we decided to stay.
We went to buy some fuel  then  rode to the hotel. As chance has it, it was a building site and we had no choice. We could not stay. The nearest hotel was in Karakol, a good 150 kms and a border crossing away!
We went first to the local bank to change our pack of Tenge into hard currency. We knew from past experience that it would be hard to get rid of our Tenges outside Kazakhstan. That done, we rode out of town.
The road was pretty bad with non stop massive potholes.
We got to the border and getting out of Kazakhstan took about 10 minutes. The custom guy just patted the panniers before waving us out.
Then we got to the Kyrgyz side. There was a problem. They had no electricity, they had run out of fuel and the generator was out! We enquired what fuel they used as we had lots of petrol. Was it diesel or petrol? It was petrol.
We offered to give them a couple of litres so we could get on our way. By the time a container was found  and Alistair started to get the fuel taps closed, they waved us to the passport control.
After stamping the passports, we were waved out, no custom, no docs to fill, nothing else! That’s how we remembered  Kyrgyzstan! Minimal red tape at the border!  The officials on both side were friendly and smiling.
So it took less than 30 minutes to cross!
The ride was then rather slow as we could not ride fast on the never ending massive potholes in the bad gravel road. It took a while but after a long ride we reached finally a brand new paved road.
 The crooked cops, who tried to get money out of us two years ago, were gone and the police post looked now more official. No one tried to stop us.
The road to Karakol was very beautiful, but my battery emptied so only couple of photos!
We arrived in town rather late. The GPS took us to a guest house with small room  and shared bathroom. We wanted a private bathroom, we had to do some laundry as the road works  and gravel roadshad caked us in mud. We had to wash our riding gear and have few days rest.
After a lot of run around we found a nice hotel but rather expensive at 60$!
But by then it was nearly 8pm and we had had enough. We could only stay one night as they had a group fro the weekend. No problem, I just needed wifi to find us a nice place for few days.
Once the bikes unloaded and we got washed and changed, I found a place in town that was much cheaper and very nice. I booked it online and that was that done! We needed a rest and do some stuff on the bikes.
We then went out to find a shop. By Then it was dark and a bit intimidating walking on those sand tracks down empty dark streets. We found a street with shops and got a couple of Potatoes Pirojkies ( pastry ) and some snacks.
Then we fell into bed exhausted ! It had been a very long day. A long few days.
Day 55 – Friday 5th August – Karakol – 1km!
By 11 am, checkout time, we left the overpriced hotel and moved to the cheaper nice one! The room was big, it had a big shower where we could wash out motorcycle trousers and do some laundry.
We walked to the tourist info to get a map and some Information. Few rides to do around Karakol.
We found an ATM machine, near a bank and got local currency with the card. We asked for 10,000 Soms (about 100 pounds). The machine gave us two notes of 5,000! Rule number one when travelling in these countries: nobody will have change for big notes. We walked into to bank and the nice friendly staff changed them immediately for smaller notes. That should get us going for a while!
That’s all for now!

Cold and wet in Kazakhstan

Day 49 – Saturday 30July – Oskemen – 0km

We had a day rest in Oskemen, after moving to a slightly better hotel.
I was still unwell with my stomach and Alistair was also starting to feel unwell. I suspect the shashliks the previous night. Although the storm interrupted our meal, the grilled porc was undercooked and rather pink, as far as I could see in the dark.
In the afternoon we explored a bit the town. The aftermath of the storm was easy to see in the flooded streets and uprooted trees. It had been a bad one. Asking at reception, they confirmed it was not normal weather.
At least, the next day, the weather was better, after another storm during midday.
We decided to treat ourselves in the evening, and had a meal at the restaurant in the hotel. We even got a bottle of wine, although it was rather warm. When I asked for ice, the girl brought a small cup of ice, instead of a bucket. I had to explain that white wine has to be cold to be tasty! In Russian! I know to ask all the important stuff like that 🙂
Day 50 – Sunday 31st July – Ayagoz, 320 kms
The weather was rather clear when we left. The ride started nice as we left town and came across a new and very shiny and impressive mosque.
After a couple of pictures we rode out of town. The road was in bad condition, so it was slow progress.
When we stopped for pictures or water, people in cars would stop and come shake our hands and ask us the usual questions ( where are you from, where are you going, etc…). They would also ask to get photos!
The landscape was beautiful. With so much rain, in was rather green. Two years ago I remember the whole area as being almost a desert. I forgot about all the hills and mountains.
We saw many lakes and flooded land, probably because of so much rain.
We rode all day. We had left rather late as we were aiming to get to Ayagoz. In my memory it was just a  dusty military town.
My memory was right. Last time we slept in a bottom of the range hotel near the station.
This time we found a new hotel with nice rooms. The owner’s daughter, Laura, spoke very good English and was very helpful. She was studying in Moscow, learning both English and French, and wanted to do Master  in economics and later work in a big multinational company! A future business woman! So she was very keen to practice with us both English and French. We  were happy to help. Bright kid!
As it was early, Alistair got his tools out to adjust his chain. With such a  bad road, the chain was flapping too much.
Later on, with the help of Laura, we managed to eat at the hotel with some fried eggs and rice, served with little salad and cheese. It was great.
Day 51 – Monday 1st of August – Kanbanbay – 300kms
The weather turned wet and horrid again. It was also rather chilly and in occasion we ended up with an  absolute downpour! I certainly did not expect that sort of weather in Kazakhstan! The road was very bad as usual, and under the heavy rain it turned into a  river, impossible to see the potholes!
The day was very tiring and  it was slow going.
By mid afternoon it became evident we would not be able to make it all the way to the next big town, Taldykorgan, and decided to find a place on the road.
A small spot on our GPS showed a village with a hotel, of sort.

Another abandoned building where we stop to put on once again our waterproofs!

Another storm arriving!

We arrived there and found the place. It was run by teens from what we saw! The room was cheap, as it was only two small beds in a  shabby room. There was a toilet and a shower at the end of the corridor, to be shared by all the rooms in the floor. There were quite few rooms! We hoped that not many people would stay the night. Wishful thinking!
Soon after our arrival, a large overland car, with a French plate, arrived. We spoke with the drivers, two retired guys from  France. They were on their way to Mongolia. We looked at maps and I showed them the short cut by the Shemonaika border, closer than by Semay, which is a bigger, busier border crossing into Russia.
After exploring a bit the village we managed to find a cafe. We returned later with the Frenchs and had some salad with piroshkis for dinner. It was tasty.
Few other cars and a mini van turned up with locals staying for the night. The toilet looked pretty bad  after a while!
The place had dogs. They spent the night fighting and barking as one of them was on heat, and all the dogs of the village appeared to have been spending the night in the backyard!
I got up before 6am for a quick visit to the loo, before the crowds took over.
We packed up. We asked for breakfast, but despite a busy kitchen and tables set to serve breakfast, with cups and baskets of bread on the table, we were told they did not serve breakfast! Maybe all the display was for the staff only?
In any case we left.
Day 52 – Tuesday 2 August – Taldykorgan – 250 kms
We left by 8 am and after a while came across a small cafe by the side of the road. We managed to get a  cup of tea after a very long wait.
The weather was better, but not the road!
Leaving the hills we crossed some large steppes. We saw many horses and cattle, but no camels. They seem rather rare on this side of Kazakhstan.
By late morning we found a cafe serving some sort of food we could identify. They even had eggs. We got fried eggs with rice. That would do for brunch!
We arrived to town by mid afternoon. We remembered the hotel from two years ago, but finding it was more difficult.
We found the hotel advertised in, they wanted 19,000 Tenge, not including breakfast or parking! We rode away, and found another one. It was grotty. For 7000, the place was dirty and had no windows at all. It looked like a cave, with the corridor storing lots of crap…. We declined.
After setting the GPS for the town centre, we finally found something we recognised, and promptly found the nice hotel from last time. For 10,000 tenge (about 20 pounds?) we got a nice clean room, private large bathroom, parking for the bikes and included breakfast! Paradise after the previous night!
We have seen a lot of police on the road. We were unable to buy bike insurance for the few days spent in Kazakhstan. I know that lots of other travellers get a lot of hassle from the cops!
Kazakhstan has a reputation for that. So far, they have superbly ignored us. More interested in checking trucks, or , when driving past, waved at us! So, not all Kazakh coppers are after fines! In  general, Kazakhs have been very friendly.