First impression of Kazakhstan? Big. Very, very big. Fairly uneventful day, not much happening apart from the border crossing. Kyrgystan customs causes a fuss as we don’t have a customs declaration form. We weren’t given one on the way in at the remote, not often used, disorganised border post in the mountains. Customs guy today makes a fuss, says we’ll have to go back to where we came in. After a while, he suddenly says that if we were to give him a knife as a present, then he would let us through. He rejects my multi-tool but seems happy with Dave’s christmas cracker penknife and we’re through. Kazakhstan entry procedure is pretty simple, they have computers, it’s a far cry from Turkmenistan. A fairly long day in the saddle, covering 200 miles, but all seems easy. Dave’s bike continues to drink oil and turn it into white exhaust smoke, but seems to be running normally. Tomorrow, Almaty, hopefully for a few days of civilisation after 10 days of wild camping and homestays with even worse facilities than wild camping…
Dave’s bike is now smoking badly and burning about a litre of oil per 100 miles. It’s a bit of a worry but hopefully it will make it to Almaty and a bike shop. We’re just 2 days away and with luck can get there with 3 days in hand. Today was a fairly uneventful ride apart from stopping every half hour to check and refill dave’s oil. Made it to the lake, not as far as I’d planned but still good progress and a really enjoyable ride. Great to be back on tarmac. 50mph feels so fast when you’ve spent a couple of days doing 30 max on gravel, sand and mud. Picked up some more wine for dinner. This time it’s Jessica Alba wine. Very wierd, but all the wine here seems to have pictures of celebrities on the bottle, is really sweet and foul tasting, and claims to be 17% alcohol. Camp site is a very quiet spot with a view of the lake, the mountains to the south from where we’ve just come, and the mountains to the north beyond which lies Kazakhstan, the last of the stans. Kyrgyzstan has been brilliant. Stunning landscapes, friendly people, thrilling dirt roads over mountain passes, plentiful wild camping opportunities, and comfortable weather bar a few evening storms. Today we saw 2 seperate european cyclists and 4 GS riders from Switzerland, it’s obviously a popular place and easy to see why. But now i’m eager to get to Kazakhstan and one step closer to Russia and the big one – Mongolia.
We spend the whole day riding a dirt road over a mountain, gravel all the way. Superb fun on the way up, scary on the way down. Dave’s bike gives out near the top, and we have to remove and clean the carb. The road is like the stelvio pass and goes about as high, but it’s dirt all the way and we hardly see another person all day. Lunch of noodles by a river. On the way down the other side we suddenly get the most incredible view of the whole trip. We’ve been through too many countries to remember and done way more than 7000 miles, but this view beats all others. It’s astonishing, unforgettable. Distant snow capped mountains circling the horizon, and the foothills spread out across everywhere we can see, looking like a painting of an alien landscape. Indescribable, jaw dropping, breath taking. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and there must only be a very small number of people who have ever come over that pass and seen that view. It is a sight i will never forget. Later we set up camp after a hard day’s ride, just as a storm comes in and threatens to destroy my tent. When it passes, we enjoy more wine and pasta, and a game of rocky throw throw (throwing rocks at other rocks, but with japanese accents). When it gets dark we retire, and the wine does a good job of helping me ignore that i’ve parked my tent right on a very lumpy bit.
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.