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Ernst's Velotouren

Bicycle tour 2008 - 2013
First stage Switzerland - Thailand
Part 8: Kyrgyzstan, September & October 2008
From Bishkek I rode towards Osh and had to climb as a first hurdle the To-Ashun Pass reaching a height of 3195 meters (2300 m ascent from Bishkek). In the narrow valleys of the northern Tienshan mountains the sun disappears already in the early afternoon and towards the evening the temperatures sink close to the freezing point.
Picture: Camping in the acend to the To-Aschun Pass. It is already quite cold in the Tienshan mountains (close to 0°C). I drink hot tea, wear two jackets, two pairs of trousers and still feel cold.
The next morning I got a visitor at the tent who smoked self made cigarettes made from old newspaper and a very cheap tobacco. He asked friendly for Vodka and cigarettes. As I didn't have such things with me I opened a roll of biscuits and offered him some. Happily and with a big smile he took the whole roll, put it in the pocket of his jacket and went away thanking friendly.
Picture: A visitor at my tent in the early morning
Picture: Towards the pass
Shortly in front of the pass the road winds higher and higher in countless serpentines. After passing a height of 2500 meters the air becomes notably thinner.
Picture: Serpentines shortly in front of the pass.
At the other side of the pass I reached a high valley (about 2500 meters above sea level) where many stockbreeders keep their animals during the summer. Along the road they sell fermented horse milk. In the ice-cold upcoming evening an incredible clear starry sky appeared. Astonished and shaking due to the cold I stood besides the tent and looked whatever the eyes were able to see. I haven't seen many times such a beauty on this world.
Picture: Starry sky in the high valley of Otmok (long time exposure showing the starts circling around the polestar). In the ice-cold air the drinking water in the bottles was already competly frozen at 10 PM. The temperature was about -12°C.
The high valley ends at a height of 3175 m with the Ala-Bel Pass. As I wanted to take a picture of the signpost and the bicycle some roadmen and tourists from Tajikistan asked me to take a picture of them. Of course!

After the pass I rode down in a long descent on a very good road to the Toktogul Reservoir and continued the trip through the Ferghana mountain range.
Picture: Spontaneous photo session at Ala-Bel Pass.
Picture: Through the Ferghana mountain range (part of the Tienshan) to the valley of the same name.

Osh at the edge of the Ferghana valley is the second biggest town in Kyrgyzstan. It is about 3000 years old and for long time it was an important station on the silk road. The city is inhabited by 250'000 people and ethnicaly very mixed. During the collapse of the Soviet Union in the year 1990 violent riots between the different ethnical groups broke out in this region. The Ferghana valley, historically and economically connected, is since then cut up by international borders (Kyrgyzstan and Usbekistan) and Osh is therefore separated from its hinterland. Just the recently finished road through the Tienshan mountains to Bishkek has economically reconnected northern and southern Kyrgyzstan.

The landmark of Osh is the steep Suleiman mountain, a popular excursion destination and islamic pilgrimage site. It is said that Mohammed Babur Khan (1483 - 1530), a ruler from Central Asia and founder of the indian Mogul-dynasty, was sitting long time on this mountain considering his situation before he went with his army to India, conquered the sultanate of Dehli and became the first Mogul of India.

On my way Osh is marking the end of the Tienshan mountain range and the beginning of the Pamirs. From here I'll continue to Erkestam at the chinese border.

Picture: View from the Suleiman mountain over Osh
Picture: The same view half an hour later in the dawn
From Osh I rode over the Chyrchyk pass (2408 meters over sealevel) to Gulcho. At the pass a kyrgyz family was celebrationg the end of the Ramadan and invited me spontaneously
for a picnic where I had to drink two big glasses of Vodka (about 3 dl) due to their understanding of kind hospitality. Slightly drunk I rolled down the pass to the next hotel where I immediately had to take a nap.
Picture: View from Chyrchyk Pass.
In the hotel of Gulcho I met Luca, Nazareno and Flavio from "Bella Italia" who were also on the way to Kashgar in China. We decided to ride together until Kashgar.
Picture: With Luca, Nazareno and Flavio through the vallys of the autumnal Pamir Mountains towards the Taldik Pass.
Picture: Autumn in the Pamirs
Bild: Children of Kyrgyzstan. The valleys in the Pamirs are inhabited until a height of about 3000 m.
Late in the evening we have reached the Taldik pass (3615 meters above sea level). The very bad road and the thin air had brought me to my physical limits. Luckily on this day we were not invited to drink Vodka before reaching the Alau Valley behind the pass ...
Picture: In the ascent to the Taldik Pass.
In the Alau Valley we enjoyed the very beautiful view onto the high Pamirs. The valley itself is already 3000 meters above sea level. The white peaks forming the border to Tajikistan are about 7000 meters high, above all the "Pik Lenin" with a height of 7134 meters.
Picture: A chinese road construction camp in the Alau Valley in front of "Pik Lenin"
Picture: On a very bad road to Erkestam at the chinese border
Unfortunately when we reached the border we had to notice that the customs offices were closed for four days due to a holiday (end of the Ramadan). The border village - a godforsaken trailerpark - was not very inviting at first sight.
Picture: The kyrgyz border village Erkestam
As we were standing at the border quite helplessly - the only guest house at this place is an incredible dirty rat hole as never seen before - Rosa (in the picture) offered us a homestay in her trailor for 4 US$ per person and day, including three meals.
Picture: "Hotel Rosa"
Already on the way to Erkestam Nazareno had a bit temperature. Later on the evening he had over 40°C fever and on top of this stomachache and strong diarrhoea. A serious sickness in this godforsaken region! After that our own experiments with aspirin and antibiotics did not respond as hoped and we even feared an appendicitis, so our host Rosa called the local nurse. She diagnosed a serious gastritis and injected Nazareno a dose of drugs that would have been enough for a big horse! It was a great relief to all of us when Nazareno was back on his legs the next morning.
Picture: The local nurse cares Nazareno.
Picture: In the kitchen of "Hotel Rosa" where a delicious "Lagman" is simmering in the pan

Earthquake in the Pamirs: During the night of the 5th of October an earthquake rocked the Pamirs with 6.7 on the Richter scale. My italian bicycle friends and I were in the middle of the epicenter. Erkestam, where we were sleeping, was spared for the most part as the trailors are quite flexible and can resist therefore the shocks. But Nura, a village just 3 km away, was completly destroyed except for 3 buildings. Big cracks had burst the ground, the people were running in panic out of their collapsing houses. Rescuers confirmed in Nura alone more than hundred casualities. Many children and older people did not survive. After the first shocks Nura had turned into nothing but a big heap of rubble. There were strong aftershocks up to 48 hours after the first big earthquake wave.

It was very sad and shocking to see the village Nura in such a devastated state and to feel so close the sadness, the pain and the despair of the affected people which had lost in a very tragic manner their loved ones as well as their entire property so shortly before the harsh winter. I won't be able to forget these pictures in my whole life and I strongly wish that all these people might be happy again one day.

Next page / Part 9: Western China