The roar of the river as the white water crashed down the mountainside almost kept us awake, we had to shut the windows on one side of the truck to keep the noise to a manageable level. As we looked out of those windows though we could see green meadows covering the hills and further up snow still lay on the mountain tops.
This description could cover a number of our camping spots here in Kyrgyzstan over the last week. Wild camping is easy and each night we found a beautiful spot to set up camp. It’s been good to get back into camping wild and cooking outside again.
We needed to head back to Bishkek however, to pick up our Uzbekistan visas. Mind you this didn’t mean we had to stay in Bishkek. Just south of the city and only 30kms from the Uzbek Embassy, was a National Park preserving a lovely valley leading up into the mountains. This meant we could camp up in the hills and head down into the city to pick up our visas and get some other jobs done.
Once in Bishkek after collecting the visas we thought it would be remiss not to see the sights of the city. Not that there really are that many sights. Kyrgyzstan is much more about its natural beauty than the beauty of its towns and cities. Still the Lonely Planet described the main square as being architecturally “neo-brutalist in style”. Intrigued as to what this meant we headed there. In reality, I would describe it as more classical Soviet. Apart from the square and the obligatory statue of Lenin, now tucked away in a back park, there was not a lot to see but it was a pleasant enough city to while away a few hours.
As we enjoyed dinner of shashlik (kebabs) and pelmeni in the gardens of a tea house, Gilly and I were reminiscing just how familiar everything felt in a comforting way and how so much reminded us of our time living in Moscow. Bishkek was very different to Moscow and in fact reminded me more of Almaty but the language, customs and food were familiar. Unfortunately the GAI (traffic police) were also just as familiar, sitting extorting bribes from the passing traffic in lieu of issuing tickets but other than this we were really enjoying our time in Kyrgyzstan.
After dinner we headed back out to the hills. It was amazing how quickly the big city melted away to be replaced by small villages and then the mountains. The next morning we thought we would get a bit closer to the mountains so hiked up the valley to a waterfall. It was a pleasant walk with lovely views along the way. Being much lower than the Tibetan plateau we were amazed at just how green everything was.
We have still had to drive some fair distances. When looking at a map it may not seem far between places but because of all the mountain ranges the road skirts round it ends up been a fair old drive. Heading out of Bishkek we headed back up into the mountains. As we climbed we could see more and more of the nomadic people with their yurts and horses near the side of the road. There was lush green pasture along the road to feed the horses and the people were busy selling fermented mares milk and other such things to the passing traffic.
As we reached the top of one mountain range the road entered a tunnel. It was the darkest, murkiest tunnel we have been in and has seen people asphyxiated in the past. It was a relief to come out of the gloom to more stunning views.
That night we made camp on a hilltop overlooking a reservoir. As usual we had the place to ourselves and could enjoy the view in peace.
Leaving the reservoir we travelled along a spectacular gorge. All along the way we could see great places to camp by the water but we decided to push on. As we did the topography changed and we had entered the flat arable land close to the Uzbek border. The people here were closer to the Uzbeks and it had a much more Central Asian feel. It had also got hot now we were in the lowlands.
We turned off the main road and headed up a valley. All along the road people were selling fruit and vegetables. We again found a lovely spot by a rushing river to camp. It was a wide grassy spot that had been cut out of the mountainside by the water that came from the mountains and made a great spot to camp. The only disturbance was the odd lorry picking up stones from the river bed.
The next morning we headed into Arslanbob. The village is famous for supposedly having the worlds largest walnut grove. It’s a traditional Kirghiz village in a lovely setting with the mountains towering behind it. It is supposedly a tourist hotspot but we didn’t see another tourist all day. Mind you there were lots of locals around heading to the nearby waterfalls which had the atmosphere of a local fair. They were packed. Whilst we too ended up at the small waterfalls, which were not that special, we had instead enjoyed a much more pleasant walk around the village and down the country lanes. Excited children wanted to say hello and have us take their photos.
We returned for a late lunch and stopped at the local cafe. The menu was samsa ( a lamb mince and onion pasty) or ……samsa. So we had samsa with a pot of green tea. A bargain at $3 for all of us. Whilst the village was nice we decided to return to our riverside spot to enjoy the peace and quiet. Or at least so we thought. We were settled in for the night and eating dinner when first a herd of cows were brought down to the pasture followed by 300 sheep. The friendly herders came over for a chat and through our bad Russian we were able to learn that they were taking the animals up to the snow line to feed on the fresh grass. It was nice to meet and talk to some genuine nomads.
The following day was a long days driving. First to Osh to stock up with provisions. As again there was nothing to really see in town we decided it was not worth stopping and so headed out of town and back up into the high mountains. As we left Osh we started to climb into the hills again passing herders herding their sheep to the higher pastures for the summer. When we left Osh it was 38 degrees, by the time we reached our camping spot overlooking the mighty Pamirs it had dropped to 16 degrees. Mind you we were now at 3,300m.