Pamir Highway vol.1: Kyrgyzstan

From the Chinese border to Sary-Tash

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

I cycled only a few kilometers after the border to the place described on maps.me as the camping site. It was 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 freely, but I am sure they all have owners.

I spent in Kyrgyzstan only two days, but this time was very special. No traffic, no people, only I have been in Kyrgyzstan for only two days and I enjoyed every minute of it. No traffic, no people, only horses and the sound of the wind. Together with a very good road, it made cycling through the country a great relief. The road leads through passes at 3000masl and occasionnally gets steep. The breathtaking views more than make up for the effort. The Irkeshtam Pass is considered one of the most remote border crossings in the world. Well, I don’t think it’s far from the truth.

In the afternoon, I reached Sary-Tash, the only village on my way across Kyrgyzstan. Pamir Highway begins in the village. Sary-Tash 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 where I met local kids. They had a lot of fun trying 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, short of any resources, I 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 wanted that badly. I cycled out of Sary and got on the Pamir Highway.

Pamir Highway

Unfortunately, the Highway does not have a good surface. In many places, it does not have a surface at all. Kyrgyz part is not so bad. The quality drops at the boundary Kyzyl-Art pass. To reach it, I crossed the famous Alay Valley at the forefront of Pamirs. I saw numerous photos of cyclists from this valley.

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

The best part of cycling through Pamir mountains: It is a big wild camping place. You can pitch a tent anywhere you want. The traffic in May is very low, and it’s easy to hide the tent from the road. At the same time, it is busy enough to frighten 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, 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 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 backpacking from China to Europe and recently took a Qoolma Pass (a shortcut between China and Tajikistan that I resigned from).

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 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 me less than 1 min on both sides. On the Tajik side, the border official was 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. It feels like you could obey any “official” problem here. It’s unbelievable how big is the difference in people’s attitudes toward government rules in China and post-Soviet republics.

Summary

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

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