The border crossing into Kyrgyzstan was one of the quietest border crossings I have ever been through. A little shack on the side of a road with an old car barrier across the road and 2 friendly guards that spoke no English, but were amused by Michael’s attempt of communicating using his Turkish. Other than Russian, the languages in the Stan’s were a form of Turkic so some words were the same. After 5 minutes our passports were stamped, and we were cycling Kyrgyzstan. I have never been happier to leave one country and enter another, to the point that though the week to come everything went against me, the fact I was no longer in Uzbekistan kept my spirits up.
As soon as we started cycling Kyrgyzstan the scenery changed – gorges, mountains, canyons, rivers, lakes welcomed us into the country. A nice change to the desolate and rather boring Uzbekistan deserts and cotton fields. The roads also changed for the better – no more potholes and no more gravel, instead we had a newly paved bitumen road. Even the weather seemed to change for the better. Since we left Tashkent, it rained and even stormed everyday. It was hard to believe that just a week earlier we were cycling in 35-40 degrees heat. The days were also getting shorter, as well as colder, which meant changing our daily cycle routine and no more 5am starts, or midday siestas. The day we crossed the border was actually the first sunny day for over a week.
Unfortunately, the driver’s attitude to cyclists also changed.
In Uzbekistan it was the roads that made me feel unsafe cycling. In Kyrgyzstan, the roads were great, it was the drivers I was scared of! We found that in most countries, a honk of the horn is a friendly gesture, usually followed by a wave or ‘thumbs up’. Not in Kyrgyzstan. In Kyrgyzstan a honk of the horn means, “Get the fuck out of the way or I’ll run you down” – and they mean it! I almost learnt this the hard way when coming into Bishkek.
Overall, I didn’t find the Kyrgyz people that friendly. Maybe that’s because I was coming from countries with unbelievable hospitality or maybe it is because Kyrgyz do have a chip on their shoulder, who knows? Admittedly, we didn’t have as much interaction with the locals as we had done in the other countries. At the same time, we weren’t given the same welcoming (friendly honks, waves, thumbs up, high-fives etc.) and the people we did have interaction with, either were rude, trying to rip us off, or had just ripped us off.
The exception to this was the old deaf couple in a rural village – they spent 10 minutes communicating with me through sign language, and no, I don’t know any sign language. This isn’t the first time on this trip that I’ve met some deaf people, and I actually find them easier to communicate with, as obviously, they use a lot of hand gestures, which is a lot easier to understand than someone just repeating the same thing over and over again, in a language you don’t understand.
We got off to a good start.
We crossed the border with no problems, the sun was out, the scenery was beautiful, the road was good, and we even bumped into another cyclist heading the same way. A rarity for us as we’d managed to avoid cyclists the entire trip. He gave us a few tips and cycled on. Cycling Kyrgyzstan involved several mountains passes to climb to get to Bishkek, including two mountain passes of 3100m plus, so it was great to get some tips from another cyclist. With the fast approaching winter, we wanted to get to the passes before the snow did. We really weren’t equipped for snow. A bit of a challenge, but we were feeling confident we could do it. Overall, things were looking good and we were on a high. That was probably where our luck turned, well my luck anyway.
Rocks falling from the skies.
After enjoying an afternoon of cycling we started to look for a camping spot. Just as the road narrowed and we started to climb a mountain, leaving us with very few options. We ended up camping in a very rocky gully, where we discovered Michael’s tyre was completely wrecked, and needed to be changed. A job for the morning we decided. At about 7pm the storm started and went on until about 10am the following day, so we stayed in the tent for most of the morning.
When the rain did stop, while packing up, a huge rock fell right onto my bare foot, my foot instantly swelled up and bruised. Obviously, a foot injury isn’t ideal while cycling. Anyway, despite this, I soldiered on for another 200km (which took about another 5 days) with the swollen foot. Cycling on flat ground didn’t seem to be an issue, but uphill, was not good, and with the approaching mountain passes I was worried. Then gastro returned and my dodgy knee started playing up, and that was it for me. No more cycling Kyrgyzstan!
Mini bus to Bishkek it was!
Just before the start of the pass climb, we caught an overpriced mini bus to Bishkek (about 200km). Bikes, bags, boyfriend and all. The driver was crazy, and almost made me regret taking the mini bus all together. Flying along narrow, icy roads. I was on edge the entire time.
The highest pass (3600m) already had a tonne of snow on. It was also snowing very heavy while we were up there. The wind was very strong and it was extremely cold. We would have frozen! That’s if we even made it that far!
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. While cycling Kyrgyzstan we got to see some of the most beautiful cycling scenery, and the views and wild camping were awesome. I also felt bad for Michael, as it was clear that he was disappointed in missing out on the stupidly high mountain passes. Sometimes however you have to face the music. I was not making it up that hill in the condition I was in, and honestly, after seeing the actual pass I think it was for the best. Sometimes things happen for a reason, even if the reason isn’t apparent at the time!
We finally got to Bishkek and I could breath again!
Eventually we got a place sorted out for a few nights, and I could rest my foot properly. The following day the weather was horrible, it snowed, it rained and it snowed some more. The temperature also dropped by about 10 degrees. I dread to think what it would have been like cycling up the pass in a snowstorm. The weather finally started to clear up the day we left, though it was still freezing! So much for a late autumn in Kyrgyzstan. Winter had arrived early!
We didn’t do a whole lot in Bishkek, just chilled out, recovered, cleaned, and caught up with people via the internet. One morning, we did go for a wander when the weather wasn’t too bad. After Bishkek, we had planned to head to Issyk Lake and cross the border into Kazakhstan from there, but it turned out that border crossing was already closed for the season. This meant we had to cross into Kazakhstan from the nearest border crossing, which was only 20km from the city. So, when it was time to leave Bishkek, it was also time to say goodbye to Kyrgyzstan, and hello to the next country, Kazakhstan!
We spent just over a week cycling Kyrgyzstan, and to be honest I feel like we didn’t see much of the country. Though I didn’t find the people particularly friendly, I would like go back one day. Though next time we visit it won’t be in autumn/winter.
Check out this article to find out what made our first cycle trip different?
One Reply to “Cycling Kyrgyzstan”
Great post. Magical. Your living a dream of mine – to visit the Stans – particulary to go to Samarkand. Amazing trip. Thanks for blogging about it, so we can come along with you.