On the ride from Bishkek to Toktogul Meka’s knee had started to give her some pain as it wasn’t used to being subjected to the sort of exertions that cycle touring can lead to. As this was the case we decided to stop in Toktogul for a day to let Meka’s knee rest. There isn’t really much happening in the town and highlights were some really nice kymyz (fermented horses’ milk) and running water in the guesthouse we stayed at. Sadly the shower didn’t work properly.
Someone had left this ferris wheel randomly at the edge of town.
Finding random abandoned things in Kyrgyzstan is quite normal as well as lots of throwbacks to the soviet era that no one has bothered to remove.
After a relaxing day in town we left the following morning after stocking up on snacks and food at the bazaar.
I bought some kymyz from this guy:
It wasn’t very nice. He is wearing a Kalpak, which is a traditional Kyrgyz hat that really should catch on elsewhere.
The day’s riding began nicely with good weather and we rode on through some lovely landscape.
Sadly as is often the case, lovely landscape is often tough to cycle through and after a couple of hours Meka’s knee started to give her more pain. Still she was determined to make it to the part of Lake Toktogul we could camp on, which was on the other side so we carried on riding.
We stopped for tea with these nice people:
And later we got caught in a torrential thunderstorm. We had to shelter under someone’s veranda with chickens for company.
Thankfully the weather broke and we were able to get to the lake itself which was stunningly beautiful. It has a very unusual turquoise colour.
While we were looking for somewhere to camp we ran into another Kyrgyz based cycle tourist who was returning to Bishkek and was going at much quicker pace than us. He seemed to think Meka was worryingly under prepared, hopefully she’ll prove him wrong.
Once at the lake Meka asked a farmer if we could camp on his land as there were not as many flat spots for camping as I had expected by the lake. Luckily he said yes and they had a lovely spot at the bottom of their land very close to the lake itself. The farmer was also kind enough to give us some homemade ayran (a yogurty drink) which was delicious.
We decided to spend three nights by the lake in order to give Meka’s knee a chance to rest. It was a great place to do it with absolutely stunning views from where we were camping and a very nice farming family.
The farm seemed to be fairly disorganised and to be involved with a bit of everything. It was not a huge holding and was in a thin strip running from the road down to the lake. They had a few cows running around, a lot of chickens and turkeys and some fruit trees as well.
Also the current owners had only been on the farm for twenty years, which was quite strange to me as in western Europe it seems most small family farms like that would have been with the owner for generations. Clearly the collapse of the USSR had brought a lot of changes in this area.
Next door to the farm we were camping on was a completely different sort of set up. The farm we were on was very old school without a sight of modern techniques. One field over, there was a Kyrgyz miner who had decided one day last year that he wanted to start growing cherries and he was in the process of making it happen. He had bought up some land and put the seeds in for the trees. Most impressively he had installed an automated irrigation system that was controllable by WiFi from wherever he had a 3G signal. This kind of innovation is fairly rare in Kyrgyzstan and it was interesting to see a guy doing something genuinely entrepreneurial off his own back. With his system he was able to electronically pump water up from the lake and spread it out through his fields as and when required.
It would be interesting to see how he is doing in 7 years, the amount of time he said it would be before the cherry trees were producing.
If he needs some cash to tide him over he can always try and monetise this crop which seems to be growing wild round the lake:
We were really lucky to be able to camp where we were with access to a fresh spring and the lake for swimming and sunsets like this:
and afternoons with views like this:
Eventually though Meka’s knee got better and it was time for us to ride on towards Osh, which we did.
Riding on now we had a new problem to deal with: the heat. The temperature had increased dramatically and the sun felt a lot stronger. The day became a lot more gruelling and we found ourselves drinking much more water. After a hard climb out of the basin the lake was in, we found ourselves riding down a very long river valley that would take us about a full day of cycling to clear.
It was very pretty with the same vivid coloured water as Lake Toktogul.
We ended up camping by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere above the river. Here I treated Meka to some more of my excellent camp cooking. That night it was boiled noodles with some paté thrown in…
The next day we were able to make it out of the river valley and into the more low lying southern region of Kyrgyzstan. As we descended we saw a large hydro electric dam.
Down out of the mountains there were lots of fruit sellers by the side of the road and we were stopped numerous times to be gifted apricots which seemed to grow in abundance in the region. Unlike the big juicy ones I was used to these were a lot smaller with less moist flesh, which was good as they were much easier to eat by the side of the road!
It also became apparent that we were riding alongside the border of Uzbekistan. The road literally traced round the edge of the other country and for large parts there were either barbed wire fences or a large ditch with a no man’s land in between.
While in some parts there was a clear fence to show where the border was, it was apparent that in some areas even the inhabitants were not a hundred percent sure which country they were in. This was illustrated when that night we were kindly allowed to camp on a farm where the owners were not able to confirm if they were in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. Meka translated them saying that in the past there were more Uzbek soldiers around but now there were more Kyrgyz so they thought they might be in Kyrgyzstan now, though they believed that their land was actually in Uzbekistan.
There has been a lot of strife between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in recent years in part due to there being a large Uzbek population in south Kyrgyzstan and the tensions this has created. The increase in Uzbek people became more obvious to me as I would ask Meka what someone was saying and she wouldn’t know as they were speaking in Uzbek.
The farmers that we stayed with close to the border were very kind and let us pick apricots from their trees and gave us tea and bread. Their 10 year old daughter was very interested in what we were doing and the next morning slept outside for an hour to make sure she would be there to see how we packed up the tent.
Her mother was doing something to something here:
We rode off again in very strong heat which was making things difficult for Meka as she just wasn’t used to being out doing sport in 35+ degrees and was finding it very energy sapping. I’d luckily had a chance to get acclimatised in India and Malaysia so wasn’t finding it too bad, still it wasn’t any picnic for me either.
That day we would struggle through to Kyrgyzstan’s third city: Jalalabad where we would be staying with a couchsurfing host called Alisher. Alisher was a really great host and was very kind and helpful providing us with dinner and breakfast and even showing us round the sights of Jalalabad which were somewhat limited.
They did have a giant Kyrgyz Kalpak hat:
and a statue of Lenin.
Alisher had a really lovely home with some beautiful decorations and a lot of character, which this picture doesn’t really illustrate:
From Jalalabad we had just over 100kms to make to Osh, which we decided to try and do in one day. This would be the longest Meka had ridden in a single day and starting out we knew it would be tough.
The day started out well and we made good time in spite of a few nasty climbs. We also met a lot of other cyclists.
A trio from Germany:
And a pair of guys, one each from Taiwan and Italy. Bumping into other riders makes for a nice excuse to stop and have a chat and rest. It is also a bit of a novelty for me as I managed to ride about 7000km without meeting anyone else on the road beforehand.
As the day wore on it got harder and harder for Meka, even laughing children barely cheered her.
Then it started to rain as well. Hard. I think by this point she had had enough and was ready to get a lift the remaining 30km to Osh. It took a lot of persuasion on my part to convince her that while riding the remaining distance would be difficult and quite unpleasant, at the end she would be happy she had done it due to the sense of achievement she would have. Plus I really hate camping in the rain so I wanted to get to the city and a nice warm guesthouse…In the end we made it with Meka finding reserves of energy I’m sure she didn’t know she had. I’m not a hundred percent sure she feels it was worth it.