Can I admit that when we were leaving Tajikistan I was feeling a bit grumpy about the altitude. Jim had arranged for us to have a long stay in Kyrgyzstan and I had visions of being at altitude throughout and being grumpy for ever!
However, Kyrgyzstan is its own country and has its own wonders to reveal and nothing really compares to the Pamirs.
Kyrgystan is bordered with Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the Southwest and as we continue Eastwards, China to the East. It has only 6.5 million people and 7 regions with Bishkek as its capital city. Although Kyrgyz is the main language, most people speak Russian as it was part of the former Soviet Union.
What struck us first was the greenery. We marvelled at the mountains which were gentler and jacketed in green. There were snowy peaks still and we could see large mountains in the distance, some of which were clearly in China. And towards Naryn we started seeing the Tian Shen range of mountains dividing Kyrgyzstan from China.
The main roads here are well maintained although periodically had fairly large gouges in the road surface to help drain off fast gushing mountain streams at the height of the melting snows. Given how flat the roads were otherwise, we were occasionally taken by surprise!
The nomadic lifestyle is very prevalent and many families live not only in round Yurts but also in old metal caravans with solid fuel chimneys belching out wood smoke. Each dwelling had plenty of space around it for horses and other livestock. It was hard to credit that this was all relocated at the end of the summer, but that is what we are told happens.
As people live up in the high hills all summer, it seems to have a holiday atmosphere with children off school playing and families busy preparing food, cleaning clothes or carpets and always ready to wave as Landy roars past.
We have been through Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and finally Tajikistan and all these countries needed more rain. All the verges are being eaten by flocks of goats, but here verges are not over grazed and wild flowers survive.
I guess that Kyrgyzstan will have its dry and arid zones but we entered close to Sary Tash and passed through Sary Tash on our way to Osh where we stayed for several days. Everything was much greener and the sky was cloudy and yes there was a big rainstorm to welcome us.
We weren’t sure whether we were going to make Osh before all the shops closed and Friday was a pubic holiday, and we therefore needed to find a Bank to get currency and to buy the ever so important new SIM cards. So using the I-Overlander app. we identified another small market town en route promising both. (It seems to work even when the internet is absent.)
So we dealt with the necessaries in life including some late lunch in a scary seedy cafe in the centre of town, before setting off for Osh. Unbelievably, the French cyclists 🚵♀️ who had tried to push us out of the bog in the Pamirs were passing through at the same time! We waved again.
Jim had booked us a couple of nights in a hostel in Osh using Booking.com. It took us a few more hours of driving and we were beyond puzzled to find that the only other guests who had arrived before us were the French 🚵♀️ cyclists.
This wasn’t because Landy was so slow, but whilst we had lunch they had decided that there was too much rain ☔️ to cycle and took a lift to Osh and unbelievably had booked in to the same place and there with the large flat screen TV, they planned to stay until France had won the World Cup! We learnt that these guys were finishing University and starting new jobs and had managed to get sponsorship from Decathalon which had paid for their bikes and was supporting their trip and monitoring the performance of the kit!.
On arrival that night we were delighted to have modern facilities down the corridor including plenty of hot water and flushing toilets as standard. A place to get some laundry done too!
We had arrived on Thursday evening the following day Ramadan ended with Eid. This meant that Osh was celebrating on Friday evening and most of our chores would need to wait till the shops opened again on Saturday. (We needed to buy car insurance and get the oil filter changed and we thought we would have a go at finding new tyres.)
Gosh, Osh at 950m’s was hot. The price you pay for a lower altitude is that it is sometimes very hot.
Jim and I wandered around town and I have to confess that I had little lasting power and scurried back to our hotel (you really don’t want to know about my stomach!)
On Saturday we dealt with our car chores including the insurance. The new garage (which spoke English) told us there were no leaks to worry about and the oil and fuel filters were changed. All good. We also picked up an address in Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) where we should be able to pick up some new BF Goodrich tyres in a week or two. (I almost feel embarrassed asking Landy to tackle a few more weeks of off roading without better treads.)
We decided to stay a few more nights (to watch England play in the World Cup) and anyway we could not leave without climbing up the little mountain ⛰ in the centre of town. It is another place in the Muslim world that claims to have the third most holy shrine. So on Sunday we went up fairly early before it was too hot.
It had a great view from the top and we met a couple of New Zealanders who were doing much of our trip in reverse on motorbikes and raising some money for a spinal injury charity as they went. So we had a bit of chat as we walked down.
On our last night we went to a fancied Italian Restaurant in Osh and had a really nice meal. Bruschetta starter, Filet steak main in my case and a fab panne cotta. Our meal cost around £20, without wine but Jim had a fab non alcoholic cocktail. It seemed expensive but compared to prices at home it was a steal.
I can’t really say that I massively took to Osh, but it might have been that I was on a travelling low point physically and did not do it justice. But the countryside in Kyrgyzstan more than makes up for their towns and the climate is actually quite mild.