| While we waited for our passports to be stamped for the entry into Kirgyzstan,we were able to observe the blatant corruption of the customs formalities. It was unbelievable how the Kazahkstanis who had no passports would bribe the officials by clandestinely passing over money that would quickly dissappear into the pockets of the customs officers.
We rode along past the alpine Lake Isik-köl, a clear, blue body of water lying 1600 meters above sea level, 170km long, 70km wide, 695m deep and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, then we arrived at Karakol, a city populated by about 400,000 inhabitants.
The roads in the city-center are not all completely sealed with asphalt so everywhere it’s very dusty .
We celebrated a rather unusual First of August (Swiss National Day) in a sort of Disco-bar, raising a toast to Switzerland The barmaid looked quite bored so we kept her on her toes by continually calling for her to turn up the volume of the music and get the mood going.Later on in the night we made our way back home by the light of our torches.
After we’d bought enough supplies for our four day trekking tour, and rented two large backpacks to put it all in, we were ready to go.We tramped up a beautiful valley where many sheep, cows and horses were peacefully grazing, but the old and heavy rucksacks with their non-adjustable straps, began to torment our backs after just a short while and by the time we reached camp that evening, our backs and shoulders were throbbing with pain.A storm was brewing, so we pitched our tent in record time.
We cooked up our evening meal in the cosy porch of our tent, while outside the lightning crashed and the thunder boomed however next morning we awoke to see a clear blue sky above us and the fascinating mountain scenery around us.On the second day we just managed to get to the camp before it began to hail, then an hour later we were enjoying a swim in a small lake, the warm sun shining down on us. The weather changes extremely rapidly here.
At the end of a very strenuous ascent, we came to the turquoise-blue lake Ala-Köl, then the path led on further to the Ala-Köl pass (3900m above sea level) rewarding us with a breathtaking view of the white peaks of the Ala-Too range. However, it soon began to snow so we hurried back down the steep slope, stopping to rest at the side of a creek that flowed through a succulent green field, We were able to observe woodchucks and eagles while luxuriating in the peaceful atmosphere amongst the countless Edelweiss flowers growing everywhere we looked
In the morning, we set off back downhill, slowly returning to civilisation
Tamara, the owner of the guesthouse we were staying at, told us that she would like to reconstruct her big garden but that none of the men would help, because they preferred to „socialise after work“ and would come home late at night usually totally drunk.
Alcohol is a serious problem in Kirgyzstan. Generally, it is the women who work, cook the meals, milk the cows, and raise the children while the men ride off on horses making sure that all is „correct“ but actually visiting their „brothers“ where they tank themselves up on vodka.
We rode along the wild and not so touristy southern shore of Lake Isik-Köl, heading in the direction of Kochkor, stopping a occaisionally to jump into the wonderfully clear blue lake, and then one evening we happened upon a really long, sandy beach all for us alone……
The roads here are in an atrocious condition, and it was astounding what the old, imported European vehicles and the Russian „Mercedes“, (the Lada), managed to endure.
In Kochkor we booked ourselves in for a three day horse riding tour to Lake Song-Köl. It was pretty exciting because it was the first time that we’d ever sat on a horse. Kurt tried to cajole his brown stallion with some sugar cubes, but it just turned it’s nose up at him instead.
A short instruction from our guide and we were off. In the beginning, we both sat stiffly in the saddles, but we soon discovered that galloping was much easier than trotting and quickly put some good distance behind us. We stayed overnight in the mountains in Yurten, lodging with families of shepherds and it was very enlightening to observe how simple and uncomplicated the people here lived We relaxed for a half day at Lake Song-Köl, spoiling ourselves a little because after this there was a 3000 meter-high mountain pass waiting for us and the bikes.
Back on the bikes, we were overtaken by a group of French tourists driving „Döschwo’s“ who filmed and took photos of us, even presenting us with gifts of mineral water from France. The whole group consisting of 150 people and 50 vehicles, is on the way to Peking, then they will drive back to France via Mongolia, Siberia and Russia.
The road to Osh is unsealed and in extremely poor condition meaning that both up and downhill passages are technically very demanding in riding skills because of the deep gravel and potholes.The 3000m high pass presented us with a strong challenge due to the squally head wind but we were rewarded with the vista of a fantastic landscape, deep abysses and bizzarre rock formations, plus we always succeeded in finding beautiful places to camp down by the creek in the evenings.
Apart from a number of small farms, this region is very sparsely populated so we carried food rations for a minimum of four days, but were constantly invited by people in their summer residences to join them for Ç ay, homemade cream-cheese, bread and jam.
In Osh, an historical city on the Silk Road, we applied for an extension on our visas for Kirgyzstan. We planned to ride over the Irkestam Pass to China, instead of taking the Torugart Pass which is infamous for unreliable and highhanded customs officials. It is forbidden to ride the passage to Kashgar, instead one has to be picked up at the border by a Chinese driver, and in case this is not done, it’s not allowed to cross over. That’s why we decided to take the „diversion“ through Osh.
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