An unexpected left turn

796km Karakol-Bishkek

Rainbow over Lake Song KolWe’d travelled all the way from Karakol, some 300km, with the plan to turn right at the end of the lake Issyk-Kul.

We were going to Bishkek. That’s what we’d been planning to do for over a week. It’s what we told Tamara, who runs a peaceful guesthouse in Tamga where we spent two days, reading in her garden and meandering down to the water for an early summer swim.

That’s also what we said when a troop of twenty German cyclists passed us on their way to Beijing. But when we were nearly at the end of the road two French cyclists came along and changed our minds. “We’re going to Lake Song-Kol,” they said. “You can come with us.”

The decision to make the left-bearing detour into the Tian-Shan mountain range with Mathieu and Sandrine to a lake frequented by nomads and shepherds was a quick one. From Bishkek we want to fly somewhere (destination so far undecided) and we feared that if we got to the Kyrgyz capital we might not gather up the energy to do a loop around the country before leaving.

Our choice was an excellent one. The following nine days took us through some of the most stunning scenery we’ve seen yet on our trip. From the end of Lake Issyk-Kul we travelled first on asphalt to the bustling town of Kochkor, the last stop before the next stage of our journey that took us a day and a half up a dirt track. Up, up, up we climbed. Around several switchbacks, past a huge bag of potatoes that had fallen off a truck (we picked up a few extra kilograms – who can resist free potatoes?) and through the thunderstorms that seem to gather almost every afternoon.

Late on the second day after leaving Kochkor we arrived at the snowbanks marking the top. We later learned the peak was at 3,600 meters, our highest yet.

With dark clouds gathering behind us we sped downhill towards the lake, fording a small river in our bare feet to reach its north shore. We arrived without much time to appreciate the clear water and pebbled beach. The storm that had been chasing us was quickly approaching. A fierce bout of wind and rain followed, finishing an hour or so later with a rainbow and a fresh dusting of snow on the nearby mountains.

The weather improved overnight and early the next morning we carried on around part of the lake, past the first yurts of the season where nomad families invited us in for tea, bread, butter and a glass of kymys, fermented mare’s milk. It’s the national drink of Kyrgyzstan but, for tourists like us, kymys is somewhat of an aquired taste – sharp, slightly fizzy and with the occasional unidentified animal hair included. We politely finished our share but didn’t gulp it down with the enthusiasm of the toddler sitting beside us.

The remainder of our second day was spent simply sitting by the lake and enjoying its beauty. The whole area is a paradise for photographers and we filled our memory cards several times over with images of the still lake water, the mountains, the flowers, the yurts, their families and farm animals. These two days by the lake alone would have been enough to justify the detour but we still hadn’t seen the half of what Kyrgyzstan has to offer.

Parting waysRelucantly on the third day – our supplies of food and gas for cooking running low – we left the lake on an old Soviet road running north. Well, technically it had been a road sometime in the past three decades but now it was more of a grassy track and we mostly pushed our bikes away from the water to a peak 3,300 meters up in the sky. A whole valley unfolded beneath us, offering a stunning view over mountain tops and grassy pastures. We averaged just over 3km an hour as we headed downhill on a rocky path.

Now on lower plains, we took an afternoon off to regain our energy and headed out the next morning for another set of mountains, the rocks this time forming the bright red walls of a canyon that ran along the Kochkor river. We were almost alone on the road and a good thing too. Its washboard surface sent us from side to side, back and forth in search of a small section that wouldn’t make us feel seasick.

The slow climb soon brought us to the main Bishkek-Osh road, where we sadly said goodbye to Mathieu and Sandrine. In a week we fast became good friends and wished we were continuing in the same direction. They turned south to Osh and we headed north, up 10km of switchbacks on the first paved road we’d seen in almost a week. Nearly three hours later we reached a tunnel at the top. Dimly lit, narrow and in a rather run-down state, we were glad it was going downhill and therefore quickly overwith.

Now came our reward for several days of hard work – 70km of steady descent from 3,200 meters all the way down to 800 meters. Even a fierce headwind blowing up the valley didn’t put much of a dent in our speed. It was over all too quickly. Back in the lowlands and the sweltering heat, we miss the mountains already but we have to turn our mind to other things: how to leave Central Asia. As much as we’ve heard wonderful things about Tajikistan, we don’t feel we have the energy to tackle it this time around. We are ready for a change of scene and since the Chinese don’t want visitors right now we’ll hunt instead for a flight to somewhere. Our mission for the next few days is to find out where exactly that might be.


  1. James Hustler
    10th June 2008 at 1:23 pm #

    Hi guys,

    Glad to hear you are both safe and well, I look forward to feasting on the photos!

  2. Dad
    10th June 2008 at 8:27 pm #

    Glad to hear that you have made it to Biskek.

    I see that you did encounter some cyclists heading into China. I wonder how they managed it; probably some very scheduled tour ?

    We have finally had some warm weather; although not as warm as in Toronto (where it was in the mid thirties)

  3. Cyril
    15th June 2008 at 12:08 pm #

    Guys, just came across your blog; Amazing adventure! This must not be easy everyday especially on the Kyrgyz dirt tracks and steep climbs, keep going strong! I just came back from a trip in the region… on a motorbike (too lazy!). Feel free to get in touch if you need any tipps for your next destination.

  4. siamak
    15th June 2008 at 6:35 pm #

    glad to hear both of you are safe and well. hope to profit from your grand voyage.i try to tell you how much i appreciate you for doing this voyage.

  5. Liz Balcom
    17th June 2008 at 1:37 pm #

    Paul and I were wondering how you were. Glad to see you are doing so well. I am so happy the two of you are able to do this. Wouldn’t your Mom have loved to see you now.

    Take care!

  6. marizonilogert
    9th October 2022 at 7:52 pm #

    Enjoyed looking through this, very good stuff, appreciate it.

  7. cryptonight mining
    3rd November 2022 at 10:33 pm #

    There is noticeably a bundle to find out about this. I assume you made sure good factors in features also.

  8. dayun zig z1
    4th November 2022 at 2:49 am #

    great submit, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You should continue your writing. I’m confident, you have a great readers’ base already!

  9. Beau Houlton
    8th December 2022 at 11:02 pm #

    You really helped me by writing this article. I like the subject too.

  10. Fredrick Sinks
    9th December 2022 at 9:06 pm #

    Thank you for writing this article. I appreciate the subject too.

  11. Elmer Muscott
    11th December 2022 at 12:51 am #

    What are your articles about? Please tell me more.

  12. Penni Dunigan
    11th December 2022 at 11:14 pm #

    Dude these articles have been great. Thank you for helping me.

  13. Mercedes Mceathron
    12th December 2022 at 12:06 am #

    Dude these articles have been great. Thank you for helping me.

  14. Ashely Lanese
    12th December 2022 at 4:22 am #

    Your articles are extremely helpful to me. May I ask for more information?

  15. Trinidad Shamp
    13th December 2022 at 7:06 am #

    The articles you write help me a lot and I like the topic

  16. Loise Christo
    14th December 2022 at 6:55 am #

    You helped me a lot by posting this article and I love what I’m learning.

  17. Sadie Buenviaje
    20th December 2022 at 11:43 pm #

    Thanks for your help and for posting this article. It’s been great.

  18. Susy Shoup
    30th December 2022 at 2:15 am #

    Thanks for writing this article

  19. Magda Arnt
    31st December 2022 at 3:12 am #

    Your articles are extremely helpful to me. May I ask for more information?

  20. yggdrasil slot demo
    15th April 2023 at 1:27 am #

    This blog is definitely rather handy since I’m at the moment creating an internet floral website – although I am only starting out therefore it’s really fairly small, nothing like this site. Can link to a few of the posts here as they are quite. Thanks much. Zoey Olsen

  21. Playslot77
    1st May 2023 at 1:12 pm #

    Very efficiently written story. It will be supportive to anyone who utilizes it, including myself. Keep doing what you are doing – looking forward to more posts.

  22. Travis Scott Jordan
    16th May 2023 at 6:27 am #

    I am just writing to make you understand what a magnificent encounter my princess gained studying your site. She noticed many things, most notably what it is like to possess an awesome teaching mood to have the rest clearly know precisely specific complicated subject matter. You actually did more than readers’ expected results. Many thanks for presenting the important, safe, informative and even cool thoughts on the topic to Ethel.

  23. Golden Goose
    22nd May 2023 at 9:17 am #

    I am commenting to make you understand of the useful discovery our girl found browsing your site. She learned lots of issues, not to mention how it is like to possess a marvelous coaching mindset to let certain people very easily have an understanding of some very confusing topics. You really surpassed our own desires. Many thanks for producing such helpful, safe, edifying and even fun tips on this topic to Ethel.

  24. kyrie irving shoes
    25th May 2023 at 1:54 pm #

    I precisely needed to thank you so much once again. I do not know the things I would have undertaken in the absence of those thoughts discussed by you over such a situation. It had become a very frightening crisis in my circumstances, but observing this well-written approach you solved that forced me to cry for joy. Now i am happy for your guidance and as well , sincerely hope you recognize what a powerful job you have been providing instructing the others by way of a web site. Most probably you have never met all of us.

  25. bape t shirt
    9th June 2023 at 5:05 pm #

    I have to show some appreciation to you just for bailing me out of this instance. Because of exploring through the the web and seeing solutions that were not beneficial, I figured my life was well over. Being alive minus the strategies to the problems you have sorted out all through this short article is a crucial case, and ones which might have adversely damaged my entire career if I hadn’t come across the website. Your ability and kindness in handling all things was vital. I’m not sure what I would have done if I had not come across such a thing like this. I can at this time look forward to my future. Thanks so much for the reliable and results-oriented help. I will not think twice to recommend your site to any person who needs to have support about this subject matter.

  26. off white
    20th June 2023 at 12:32 am #

    I needed to put you one little bit of remark in order to give many thanks again for all the splendid techniques you have featured at this time. This has been certainly wonderfully open-handed of you to offer extensively just what most people would’ve distributed for an electronic book to help make some dough for their own end, principally seeing that you might have done it if you ever wanted. The principles as well worked like a great way to fully grasp someone else have the same passion just as my own to grasp a little more with respect to this condition. I am sure there are lots of more enjoyable sessions ahead for folks who see your site.

  27. curry 8
    22nd June 2023 at 2:58 am #

    I precisely wished to thank you so much all over again. I do not know the things I would have carried out without the type of suggestions documented by you relating to my theme. This has been a fearsome crisis in my circumstances, however , discovering the very well-written approach you dealt with the issue made me to cry over joy. Now i am thankful for the work and thus trust you really know what a great job your are getting into teaching the rest via a web site. I know that you’ve never met any of us.

  28. รับส่งผู้ป่วย
    9th February 2024 at 12:57 am #

    450049 927984Now im encountering a fresh short problems Once i cant look like allowed to sign up for the certain give food to, Now im utilizing search engines like google audience. 543890

Leave a comment