Kyrgyzstan Mountain Views
There is a 15km no mans land between the Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan border controls. Ten minutes into the drive I ran into my Israeli friends Dana and Eran with their thumbs out looking for a ride. It was great to see them again. We enjoyed a good catch up as I threw their packs on the roof and we set off to the Kyrgyzstan border post. We made it through the border easily enough. This was the one country in ‘The Stans’ that doesn’t require a visa to enter. Osh was our destination so we continued on past Sary Tash and entered the Kyrgyz mountain range. Boris had more issues with the radiator overheating at high altitude but once we headed back down into the valley he seemed fine. The scenery was quite beautiful. There was more of a lush mountain feel, compared to the dry mountainous terrain of Tajikistan.
We stopped in Gulcha for lunch and then got back on the road. 10 minutes later Boris’ temperature went through the roof and I stopped in time (having learned my lesson before the trip started – link) to find the radiator fluid boiling away. We had to wait nearly an hour for it to cool down, before we started again. Ten minutes later the main fuel gauge rapidly lowered which caused alarm. Fortunately we had enough fuel to make it to Osh but it was concerning that I couldn’t trust my fuel gauges. Boris was keeping me on my toes.
Boris Overheating Again
In Osh I found the Alay hotel and parked up. It was close to the bazaar and the parking looked secure for Boris. Dana and Eran decided to find a cheaper hostel. We all brought some supplies from the market and then parted ways.
I was exhausted and ended up crashing in the hotel until 9.30, when I decided to go out for a walk. Now many of the reports on the Osh area currently say be careful and avoid going out alone at night. About a week before I entered Kyrgyzstan there had been another dispute / riot in the country. This time in the north near Issyk Kul but it resulted in the local population in the Osh region also rising up. This has been happening for several years now. As a result the borders were shut for 5 days. Luckily I’d missed this and upon arriving in the region found nothing to worry about. I found the city was peaceful at night and that there didn’t seem to be any risk at all. Obviously this hasn’t always been he case .
My rest day in Osh was pretty much that. It was a chance to chill and catch up on a few chores like filling up with diesel, topping up my sim card, buying supplies in the market, having a nap and watching a couple of films on the laptop. It was an all too rare quiet day and I enjoyed it.
If the day before was a quiet day, the next was the complete opposite. My plan was to drive 600km to Bishkek. I was up at 5.30 and on the road by 6.15. I was eating as I drove and napping every couple of hours. The scenery was fabulous as I travelled up mountains, down valleys and through small towns. I flew past the 7000 miles travelled mark exactly 2 months after departing London.
7000 Miles from London
It was a fearsome pace but a necessity if I was to reach the Chinese border in time to enter with the rest of my group on June 20th. I arrived in Bishkek around 4pm after a 10 hour journey. I found my way to Nomad Home where I was met by the warm smiles of Gareth and Lisa (who I’d meet up with in Stavropol and Bukhara).
I needed to give Boris another service before entering China and Bishkek was the place. Timur from Tashkent had been in contact with the local Toyota service centre on my behalf, so they were kind of expecting me. I rang the service centre with help from the locals and booked in for Friday morning. I caught up with Gareth and Lisa and we went for shashlik and beers with Jurgen and Linda. I was home and in bed by 10.30pm as I was shattered. Long days in the car when I’m doing all the driving, navigating, sightseeing and filming is proving tough.
Toyota Bishkek Service Centre
Friday was Boris’s big service day. I finally found the Toyota dealer at 9.45 after a local taxi driver and local stopped to help me out. I met Denis who was the lucky guy who spoke English (Denis had been drafted in from the sales team) and thus became my new friend for the day. I told him what I wanted checked. After a couple of sessions with the mechanics we agreed what need to be done. Along with the general servicing for filters we discovered the front steering system was damaged. The tie rod ends in the front steering system were replaced. Track rod ends with the front damper needed replacing but they didn’t have the parts.
Track Rod Ends that need replacing
They also re-greased the drive shaft. I spend most of the day at the shop. Once finished I thanked Denis and popped next door for a full valet of Boris. This lasted another 1.5hours but Boris was looking sharp afterwards.
Denis, my helpful assistant
Friday night was pencilled in as a rare night on the town.
Gareth and Linda
(Metro Bar, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
Vaughan and Kimberly turned up and we all headed into town for dinner, drinks and dancing. It was great to meet Vaughan and Kimberly for the first time. As members of the China group we were going to be spending a lot of time together over the next 40 days. It turned into big night on the town and it was needed.
The night took its toll on Gareth
Suffice to say the next day wasn’t much fun. None of us were at our sharpest. Nevertheless we managed to drag ourselves back down the pub to watch the All Blacks v France and Lions v Australia in the rugby. However once that had finished we all walked home and crashed out. The following two days were spent relaxing at the hostel and not doing much as I prepared myself for the next major section of the journey.
Relaxing at Nomad House
After 6 days in Bishkek it was time to depart. I said my farewell’s to Griff, Lisa (www.siroccoverland.com) and Adam (www.shortwayround.co.uk). They were a top group to hang with while travelling and I can recommend their blogs. I hoped that my China group would be the same.
Andy, Lisa, Gareth & myself
I was on the road again around 11.30am. It was good to be behind the wheel. Having spent so much time driving it feels weird when you aren’t behind the wheel, and equally a sense of normality returns when you are. The drive towards Issyk Kul (lake) was marked by being stopped by the police for speeding. I charmed my way out of trouble again. They were funny guys and joked about me having to pay cash. I decided to pass by the lake for lunch, with the local sheep. It’s a beautiful big blue lake and a great spot to stop.
Issyk Kul (Lake)
Mountain pass on the way to Naryn
My destination for the day was Naryn and the meeting point with my China group. I passed over snow capped mountains and down into the green valley’s. I arrived at the Celestial Mountain Lodge at 17.30 to be met by all the crew except Stephen. They were all friendly bunch and it wasn’t long before we were all drinking beer, vodka and eating shashlik. A great first meeting. It also transpired that I had met the German member Hans in Murgab and we didn’t realise it.
Preparing for China
The following day everybody was working on their vehicles in preparation for the 5000 mile journey across China. Vaughan and Kimberley in their truck Ivor and myself in Boris headed for Tash Rabat the ancient caravanserai on the Silk Road. The drive to Tash Rabat was beautiful. Great views on both sides. Snow capped Tien Shen mountain range were on one side. We arrived at the turn off for Tash Rabat and spent another 30 minutes driving up the valley to the camping spot. We set up camp and had a BBQ with beer. It was just lovely.
We were up at 6.30am for porridge and left just before 8am. We figured it should take about 1.5hrs to get to the border. The song The Final Countdown came on shuffle on the way to the border, which reminded me of my travels in South America. It seemed appropriate given that we had been counting down to this day for the last 6 months. However the nice road turn to track very soon and we struggled along.
The dodgy road out of Kyrgyzstan
The pace slowed as we bounced along the road that was still under construction. We finally made the Kyrgyz border at 11.30, two hours late to meet the bikers. They had been waiting since 10am with no sign of Fun Lang, our guide on the Chinese side. The trucks made lunch for the team and we waited for a our chance to enter China.
The final view
I enjoyed my brief stay in Kyrgyzstan. It was some of the best driving scenery of the journey. The rest in Bishkek was needed as I prepared for China. Bishkek was a relaxed capital city where there was entertainment to be found easily. I didn’t really see any sites apart from the local bazaar, which was just like all the others in ‘The Stans’. There was a relaxed easy-going feel about the country. The locals were friendly and interested to know where you were from and I didn’t get the sense they were looking to rip you off as a tourist. I would have liked to spend more time in the country.