Kyrgyzstan is very green and quite pretty. The people have become progressively more chinese looking as we’ve gone east, and now we’ve turned north the Kyrgyz people look more mongolian. In the rural mountain areas they have yurts and there are lots of horses. The towns are just like in any other stan. In Osh we easily find places to change money, buy food, petrol, and oil for our overdue oil change. In Zalalabad we get lost and waste more than an hour trying to find the road out. When we do, Dave’s bike dies, maybe overheating from lack of oil. A top up and it seems fine. Then we camp in another scenic nowhere, more pasta for dinner, this time with wine, the first since Georgia. It’s Angelina Jolie wine. It’s absolutely disgusting. A few cars pass, all give a friendly toot, a nod and a wave. Later, 4 kids herding horses appear and nervously creep down the hill towards us. I wander over and greet the older, braver one, and hand over 4 chocolate sweets and shake hands. The second oldest develops some bravery and comes forward to shake hands too, then they all disappear to who knows where. A thunder storm makes us retreat to the familiar comfort of our tents at the end of another fantastic day. In the near dark a horseman and his herd come by. His whoops and yelps and the ghostly shadows of horses are quite spooky and remind me that we’re in a very different culture.
Up early and it’s a cold day at 12000 feet. Even colder when we’re soon up to 15300 feet for the highest point of the trip at the top of the Pamir highway. Downhill all the way from here, and we are both elated at reaching such a milestone. After a while a fence appears alongside the road, continuing for mile after mile. Eventually i glance down at the map and it dawns on me that it’s the border with China. It’s a unique feeling to suddenly realise that you’ve ridden your bike all the way to China, or at least a stone’s throw from it, which we prove by chucking a small piece of Tajikistan over the fence. Lake Karakol is pretty in a wild sort of way, but not very attractive for camping so we decide to make a run for the border. We stop for lunch first and out of nowhere 3 british bikes and a landrover arrive. It’s Tim and co, who have already been through Mongolia and are heading home the way we’ve just come. For the second day in a row we’ve seen nothing on the road all day except british bikers. The road from the lake onwards gets very rough and is slow going. Fortunately the border crossing is fast. It must be the most remote border post in the world, 13000 feet high, miles from anywhere. The border guards give us hot chai and we sit on their bed while they copy our passport details. There are 4 postcards from england on the wall so i add to their collection with one of the harrogate postcards i brought with me. The guard seems very pleased, and it amazes me to think that for years to come there will be a postcard of harrogate on the wall of a guard hut in Tajikistan that i carried there all the way from home. Onwards into Kyrgystan. The roads are awful, lots of dogs chase us, but the scenery is spectacular, and suddenly completely different colouring and texture. Eventually we find a great camping spot above a river and surrounded by steep mountains. There are some yurts down by the river and some kids come up to say hello, then an older man comes over to shake hands and greet us. We make a delicious pasta dish with vegetables left over from last nights curry, and for a one pot dish on a camp stove it’s indescribably delicious. Washing it down with a bottle of vodka, we reflect on where we are and how far we’ve come, and it seems both of us are overjoyed to be here and loving every minute of it. It really feels like something very special now.
Grumpiness on being woken at 5 by noisy people in the lodge soon gives way to exhilaration when we get onto the road up into the mountains. Stunning landscape and suprisingly good tarmac making it a contender for best riding day. We stop at 9000 feet next to the fast flowing river of ice cold melt water for coffee and scrambled eggs to go with the fresh bread we picked up before leaving town. Soon we’re up to 14000 feet, after a brief stop to fit a new air filter when my bike started struggling at about 11000 feet. The mountains are spectacular and the feeling of blasting along on the bike on this road with this view at this altitude this far from home after riding more than 7000 miles is amazing. It’s also great fun having the road to ourselves. We stop for lunch (french onion soup and bread), and are just getting ready to leave when another bike appears. It’s Tiffany and pillion Anna, seems we finally caught up with her and overtook while they were in a cafe. Another superbly enjoyable blast down to Murgab where Tiffany finds the best guesthouse and negotiates a great rate. Tiffany offers to cook tonight, so we offer to buy food. Petrol is the first need, and the guesthouse owner makes a phone call then leads us in his lada to someones house where we buy petrol from a jerrycan. We find a mostly empty market and manage to buy a selection of vegetables and a bottle of vodka. Tiffany makes a really good curry with sticky rice, and we share biking stories and vodka.
Off at 6.30 am in anticipation of a long ride. Bike feeling much better on the rough stuff with dirt tyres front and rear. Must have been some rain overnight, making the roads a bit slippery. After about 40 miles we came across a fresh landslide from last night’s rain, blocking the road. There was a 4×4 stuck on top of the pile of very wet mud and rock, and a bunch of people standing around not really doing anything. Being British, we got stuck in and started shovelling mud and helping to push the car, which was well and truly stuck in mud that turned to water under your feet, like quicksand. They called up a truck to help tow the car out, but the only tow rope around was too short. I offered up my tie down straps, but the idiot truck driver pulled away so sharply that the hooks bent. Eventually, after much pushing and pulling, mostly by us as all the locals just stood around not wanting to get their shoes dirty (they wear very impractical clothes here, and it’s quite comical seeing a man in military fatigues wearing school shoes), the car made it over. Then it was our turn. With absolutely no help from the crowd of onlookers, we dug away a path through one pile of mud, perilously close to the edge, and i piled some rocks to give traction up the next pile. After removing the panniers to make things more manageable, i carefully rolled round the path we had just cleared, trying not to look at the steep drop on my right, and then gunned it up the steep slope of sticky mud, hanging on for the ride, fingers metaphorically crossed. Made it about half way. With dave pushing and pulling, we gradually rocked it over the top for another roller coaster ride down the other side. Exhausted, relieved and amazed, we went back for dave’s bike, and with better technique on my second go, with dave pushing again, we made it over, covering dave from head to toe in mud. And off we went, while all the idle onlookers just stood there. They’re probably still there, even though between them they could have shovelled it all away in an hour or so. Staring seems to be the national passtime in this country. The road was much better than expected, and blasting over the gravel was fun. The scenery was just incredible, like Lord Of The Rings country. We made good time, avoided getting robbed by any more militia, simply by blasting past and waving in return to their gestures to stop. Arriving in Khorog we rode around for a while trying to find the Pamir Lodge, and with a little luck we found it. Another exhausting but exhilarating day.
Filled up with petrol in Kulob. No pump, just scooped out of a barrel. Then after asking half a dozen locals for directions we eventually found our way out on to the road to Kalaikum and quickly started up into the mountains. A quick a thankfully bribe free passport check at the end of the tarmac and onto the rough stuff. Very rough. A lot of fairly easy gravel with loads of potholes, but the recent landslides were really hard to cross. Amazingly there were a lot of big trucks on the road, it must take them forever and be very difficult. We came to a very rickety looking bridge and walked across to scope it out. It looked pretty scary. Big holes, no barrier. Nervously, we rolled onto it and found it to be actually pretty easy going. Not so the next obstacle, a fast flowing torrent of water about 3 feet deep at the edge, 50 feet across and flowing straight over the road and out into space. With a load of trucks queueing up to have a go, and no other option, we had to just gun it and pray. Incredibly we stayed upright, weren’t swept away, and blasted to the hill on the other side. We covered about 10 miles in an hour over stuff like this. Twice we were stopped by groups of 3 young lads in military uniforms carrying AK47s. They looked about 12 years old and seemed to be just walking along in the middle of nowhere. Probably some sort of border patrol as just across the river, literally a stone’s throw, is Afghanistan. The first group obviously wanted money, after playing dumb for a while it became clear we weren’t getting away free, so handed over 10 of the local each for each boy. 60 smackers. The next 3 seemed happy to walk away with 3 tins of sardines, a tin of tomatoes, a tin of sweetcorn, and a packet of toffees, thus depriving us of a campsite meal but leaving wallets intact. It really was little short of robbery, but if you give kids guns in a place like this it’s what will happen. A brief hold up at a fresh landslide being bulldozed out of the way, leaving us a very challenging ride across freshly torn up ground, uphill, squeezing past more trucks waiting to get through. Then bizarrely a stretch of perfect tarmac in the middle of nowhere and eventually to Kalaikum for more petrol from the barrel and another passport checkpoint. Riding through the villages kids come running out to shout and wave. They shout “hello hello hello!” and look so pleased when we wave back. In the town a group of kids link hands to block the road so i twist the throttle wide open and roar directly at them. They scatter, laughing and cheering. After asking a few times for “gastinitsa”, the russian for guesthouse, we found our way to a very odd little shack of a house where the lovely Maya made us chai and a meal of potato, onion, and the bits of chicken you’d normally throw away. After dinner, which was actually very nice, we set to work changing my front tyre, then experienced the horror that passes for a toilet for these people, before retiring to our room, seemingly in the family home, to sleep on the floor in our sleeping bags in conditions nowhere near as nice as our tents, but much more unusual.