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You Are Viewing Kyrgyzstan

Cycling Central Asia

Posted September 20th, 2008

A Kyrgyz familyCentral Asia is one of the few places in the world still firmly off the backpacker trail.

On a bicycle, you’ll feel even more as if you’re a great explorer, tackling uncharted waters and exploring an area caught between a host of cultures – Soviet, Middle Eastern and Asian. If you’re a history buff, tracing the ancient Silk Road will be a real highlight.

Let’s be honest. To get there, you’ll probably have to get out a map first. The whole region is a blank space in many people’s minds but the countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan offer an incredible chance for cultural immersion. And that’s not all; don’t forget quiet Georgia and Azerbaijan, as well as western China.

The only cluster of tourists is around the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarqand, and the market in Kashgar, China. Elsewhere, you’re more likely to be the only foreigner in town than see a tour group walk by.

Andrew in front of the mosqueYou’ll relish the solitude when you’re taking in incredible mountain views. You may find it less endearing when spending the night in a crumbling hotel. The breakup of the Soviet Union and low visitor numbers means that most infrastructure in Central Asia is in desperate need of repair. Don’t come here if you need those little luxuries like a hot shower.

Need to know more? Read on…

Podcast 18: More on Central Asia

Posted August 3rd, 2008

Greg cooking us breakfastIn the Cambodian beach resort of Sihanoukville, we put together our latest podcast. This time we talk more about Central Asia – the amazing Lake Song Kol in Kyrgyzstan, our favourite and not-so-favourite parts of the region and what to bring. Plus we have an interview with Greg, a Hungarian cycling the Silk Road who made us a great vegetarian breakfast. And we tell you why it’s important to know how to say ‘I am a carrot’ in Russian. Or you could read the blog of Hirsch, the cyclist who introduced us to this important phrase!

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A new start in Bangkok

Posted June 23rd, 2008

A boat going past Wat Phra Kaew templeIt’s a whole new world. Just a few hours in a plane have zipped us away from remote Central Asia to lively Bangkok, where we’re feasting on spicy Thai curries, power that stays on, water that’s always running and truly high speed internet for the first time in months. At first we felt strange boarding the plane but, now that we’re here, we’ve no doubt that it was a good choice. After so long fighting red tape we were feeling a little worn down and Southeast Asia seems the perfect antidote.

Our good mood has been helped to no end by a flight that went smoother than we dared hope. Full marks to Air Astana, who only charged a modest fee for our 35kg of extra luggage. On the other side, we were astonished to see all our bags and both bikes in perfect condition as we emerged from immigration. When we lived in London it seemed every trip ended with an interminable delay before our bags appeared. We’d forgotten airports could be so efficient.

A quick ride into the city centre by taxi (no point trying to brave public transport when you’re as loaded down as we are) and we arrived at the home of Michael, a welcoming American we’d met in Tashkent just a few weeks earlier. We’re going to stay in his flat for a week or so, trading cat-sitting duties for a pad in Bangkok while we get our bikes fixed up and buy a few things for the next leg of the journey.

We’ve done very little research on this part of the world but our inclinations are to head north from here, along the Burmese border, through at least two of Thailand’s national parks and past some stunning waterfalls. It should be a good introduction to our first cycle trip in the tropics.

While you’re waiting for us to start pedalling again, why not listen to our latest podcast. We put it together just a few days before leaving Bishkek and it features an interview with David Berghof, the owner of the Stantours travel agency. We’ve used them a few times and always had great service. David has a wealth of information about Central Asia so his thoughts are a good starting point if you’re considering a trip to the region.

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Leaving on a jet plane

Posted June 20th, 2008

We’re packing our bags, we’re not quite ready to go but hopefully we’ll get it all together before we have to board a flight on Sunday. Destination, Bangkok. It was never our plan to fly out of Central Asia but visa muddles have left us with little choice and after fighting bureaucracy for far too long we’re looking forward to the change. Just imagine: high speed internet (maybe we can finally upload one of the four or five podcasts we’ve got waiting plus several videos) and a chance to get our bikes renewed for the next leg of our journey. We know we’ve left you, dear reader, with little to peruse lately but give us a few days to settle into Thailand and that should change. Happy trails and we’ll say hello next time from Southeast Asia.

An unexpected left turn

Posted June 10th, 2008

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. (more…)