Pamir Highway vol.1: Kyrgyzstan

From Chinese border to Sary-Tash

After the stringent Chinese border controls, Kyrgyzstan was a huge relief. I spent in the immigration building maybe 3 minutes. One stamp, smile and “Welcome to Kyrgyzstan”. Russian accent made me feel much closer to my home. Also, food, so different to Chinese or Pakistani, tasted familiar.

I cycled only few kilometers after the border to the place described on maps.me as the camping site. It was actually a great place to camp – behind a big rock, surrounded by hills, I was well covered from the road but close enough to it to not have to push my bike for a long time.

In the morning I was waken up by the herd with two shepherds on horses. What is a scooter in India, is a horse in Kyrgyzstan. There are plenty of horses everywhere. Some of them graze freezly, but I am sure they all have an owner.

I spent in Kyrgyzstan only two days, but this time was very special. No traffic, no people, only horses and the sound of wind. Pair it with the very good road and you have pure joy. The road stays around 3000masl and, on occasion, gets steep. But would you care about the effort, if you have such views ahead? The Irkeshtam Pass is called one of the most remote border crossings in the world. Well, I don’t think its far from true.

In the afternoon, I reached Sary-Tash, the only village on my way across Kyrgyzstan. This is where Pamir Highway starts. The village is popular among tourists crossing Asia (if the word popular is appropriate for a village with 200 inhabitants) and there are few homestays where you can stay for the night. I stopped at the shop and met local kids. They had a lot of fun with my bike 😉 Before reaching the shop, I was approached by three girls. They raised their hands and wanted something. I have no idea what (money, sweets?). Anyway, always short of any resources, could not give them anything.

AA, did I mention that horses are everywhere in Kyrgyzstan 😉

I did not stay in Sary-Tash for the night. I finally could camp anywhere I wanted. I needed that. I cycled out of Sary and got on the Pamir Highway.

Pamir Highway

Unfortunately, the Highway does not have good surface. In many places it does not have surface at all. Kyrgyz part was not so bad, at least until I reached the Kyzyl-Art pass where the border is. But before that, the famous Alay Valley at the forefront of Pamirs. Every cyclist posts photos from this place.

The Valley is much longer than it looks. I remember when I told myself: OK, 30min and I am in Pamirs. It took over 2h. Finally I reached the bottom of mountains and camped just before the sunset.

The best part of cycling through Pamir mountains: It is one big wild camping place. You can camp anywhere you want. The traffic, in May at least, is very low and anyway its easy to hide the tent from the road. At the same time, it is busy enough to frighten any wild animals. And the terrain is very suitable – it’s flattish in many places. As I learned later, the only problem is a very strong wind.

Kyzyl-Art Pass

The next day I had to climb Kyzyl-Art Pass which is the natural border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. This was the first time I met natural inhabitants of this land – both big and small. While small ones were very afraid of a human, the opposite holds true for the big mammals 😉 Fortunately, they only look dangerous as they are a Pamir version of cows.

I have also met a US tourist. He was driving Land Rover V8 to meet his son who was bikepacking from China to Europe and recently took a Qoolma Pass (a shortcut I resigned from between China and Tajikistan).

For the last few kilometres, it gets steep and the surface is soft

At the top of the Pass, there is a Marco Polo sheep statue marking the natural border between the countries.

The border spans over 20kms – you exit Kyrgyzstan, next climb through no-man’s land up to the Pass, cycle a bit down, and then enter Tajikistan (remember about the visa and the GBAO permit – you can get both online in just 2h).

The border crossing was very easy. It took maybe 1 min on both sides. On the Tajik side, the border official was way more interested in my iPhone and its navigation abilities than in my visa 😉 Finally, I filled in all paperwork on my own, made the stamp and he only signed 😀 Such a relief after problematic China. I feel like you could obey any “official” problem here. It’s unbelievable how big is the difference in people attitude toward government rules in China and in post-Soviet republics.

Summary

Kyrgyzstan: silence, emptiness, friendly people, awesome landscape. I will definitely come back!

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