Central Asia was probably the place I looked forward to most when looking ahead at the beginning of this long trip. I’d been to everywhere else apart from Burma and Pakistan. Entering Central Asia meant leaving SE Asia, which was awesome, but was ready to break free. It was a breeze getting stamped into Kyrgyzstan, where they now give many countries 90 days visa free. Customs was a bit silly. They wanted us each to pay an “ecology fee”, which seemed a bit bribe-ish. While we gave it our best efforts to get around paying them anything, one of the officials got a little grabby with Sofee. He touched her a few times and followed he around super creepy style. She was a bit grossed out. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan.
In the afternoon we finished everything up and rode along the beautiful Chatyr Kol. The large lake sits peacefully with a backdrop of rugged mountain tops.
None of us really knew where we were going and the gorgeous lake looked inviting. The lake must get a lot bigger during different times of the year because riding down towards the shore is a rough ride. It ‘s like a dry lake bed and some tundra. Some areas are gravely and some and soft mush.
Herds of what seemed like wild horses were all around us. They were pretty skittish of the vehicles, but we sneaked up fairly close. The scene reminded me of China and the two-humped camels in the valley surrounded by mountains.
The dream team posted up camp in the firmest spot we could find. The dried grasses lay in swirl shapes on the white sand.
The lake had incredible reflections over it all afternoon. The only ripples were from birds sliding in for a landing. All the colors were out of this world, and the ora of the place was unreal. The only thing you can see for miles are horses and natural beauty. It felt like the kind of place to run around naked.
The camp was one of my favorites yet. It looked like something out of a postcard. All the bright colors of our gear came in and contrasted against the solitude of the area. Chill-time was fully underway.
The lake shore is covered in the coolest designs that lead your imagination on a walks. Walks along the shore to breathe in clean mountain air. One of the best parts about leaving China was getting out of the disgusting polluted air. The whole day riding to the border, the sky was brown with factories spewing out their waste. Literally, as soon as we crossed the Tourgat Pass to Kyrgyzstan, the sky became blue.
The sunset was magical. One that just keeps getting better and better. The sky keeps changing in new amazing ways. Away from the sunset, everything took on a pink/orange glow. Along the lake shore, the bright colors reflected off the calm water.
It was up there with the sunset from The Eagles Nest back in Pakistan
Someone got a little too excited and wandered into a mud pit.
That night got really strange. Harley and I were sitting up watching the stars and chatting, and we kept noticing headlights by the main road. They would appear to be coming straight at us, but then change direction. It looked pretty obvious that they were trying to come our way, but we crawled into our tents hoping it was nothing. Then fifteen minutes later all of a sudden there were headlights bouncing into our tents and dave’s voice yelling out, “guys, we’ve got company!”. The next couple hours were pretty unusual. Apparently, the area around the lake is restricted and you must have a permit, which you have to get in Naryn, a town up to the north. We had no idea. The white SUV had three plain-clothed local guys in it who presented us with ID cards that appeared to be made by a 3rd grader.
At first they demanded that we all leave, but the last thing we wanted to do was try riding out of there in the dark. Also, it was freezing out, and almost midnight. They then wrote up a paper in Russian and wanted each of us to sign it with all our info. The first thing we wrote on it was, “we don’t understand what any of this says”, and wrote fake information. After a long time of arguing about what to do through google translate, they called somebody who spoke english. Ben did all the talking with him over the next twenty minutes. Turned out they were some type of lake security force. There were at least seven or eight phone calls, and after each one we thought there was a resolution, but then it would get strange again.We had come to the compromise to go with them at five in the morning, as soon as it got light, to Naryn and get the permit. It seemed settled, but then they wanted to sleep in our tents with us, which are one-man tents, and even if I had a ten-man tent I wasn’t letting one of those guys into it. The guy on the phone was asking if we had vodka or meat for the men, which we didn’t. That one cracked me up. Also, they wanted to know if we had any boats that we’d been into the lake with.
As time went on they decided they would leave one of the guys with us for the night and then come back, but still wanted him to sleep in one of our tents. It wasn’t happening and they got really angry with us. A lot of yelling and finger-pointing was coming our way. We had had enough and told them we would go. As we began to pack, they had a change of heart, probably thinking they would lose any bribe they could get out of us, and said to sleep. Our oasis had been turned upside-down, but it was actually kind of a funny time in a way. We had stayed really calm and been extremely polite to them, and it paid off.
Just like they said, we were all awoken at five AM to pack up and follow them to Naryn. That was the part that wasn’t funny. Being barked at to hurry up when you can’t feel your hands and are half asleep doesn’t go over too well. We were already scheming on how to lose them on the hundred-plus km journey to Naryn. It seemed like a lot of work to take us all the way there, but we weren’t looking forward to dealing with any of that. Getting to the main road, they kept right up and got out front to lead us. We followed for a good twenty km before they got just out of sight. A military checkpoint, the final one after the border, stopped us for a while. When we were finished, they were nowhere in sight. Our plan from the beginning was to try to get to Tash Rabat to lose them, and it worked out perfectly. We got to the turn-off and they weren’t anywhere near. Our lucky day and we rode the gravel road to Tash Rabat. Once into the valley, it felt even better that we had lost them. If we had gone to Naryn we would have missed out on an incredible place. Along the cute valley are little nervous marmots that run for their holes at first sight of a human.
The hills in the area are perfect for exploring on a motorcycle. The smooth grasslands are a blast to go up and down. From Tash Rabat Fort you can ride all the way up to a small peak that overlooks the entire valley. I sat there for an hour just daydreaming and taking in the moment. It would be an incredible spot to camp and watch the sunrise.
A few yurt camps dot the area, where you can stay and get delicious home-cooked meals. If there were two things that epitomise Kyrgyzstan for me they would be Yurts and horses. The Tash Rabat fort goes back hundreds of years and was an important stop along the Silk Route. It’s cool to think about the cultures and people who made their way along this route before me.
We stayed at one of the yurt camps along the river. Only Ben and Sofee actually stayed in a yurt, and the rest of us just pitched our tents next to them. The people running them never have a problem with you staying for free, as long as you eat some food. The meals were perfect. All of us were longing for new foods, or familiar foods from home. The first day when they brought out cheese and salami we were sold. The nice lady made amazing soups. Along the river is a Russian sauna. It’s perfect for popping into the cold river and then running back into the hot air. Right next to the camp, you can hike up the hills to get views back down the valley.
There’s some fun to be had climbing around on the rock formations.
The sunset from the top wasn’t quite what we had had at the lake, but still beautiful in its own way. Dinner was at sunset and I could hear some faint screams from below letting me know it was ready, but I had a hard time peeling myself away. Getting to Kyrgyzstan is one of the happiest points of my trip. Sometimes big expectations bring disappointment, but it’s already one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. A country covered in rugged mountains, beautiful lakes and rivers, delicious food, vodka flowing like water, hospitable locals, and a feeling unlike anywhere I’ve been up till now.