Alisha spent the first three years of her life in Russia. Almost every day during that time I was told by some kindly soul to “Make sure that child is properly wrapped up,” irrespective of the actual weather. It is a national obsession, very understandable given the climate, and everyone from Babushkas (grannies) in the park to the scary looking security guards of our apartment had an opinion. Poor child, even if she couldn’t actually move for the number of layers, it was never enough. It felt comfortably familiar then when the first thing I heard in Russian on our entry into Kyrgyzstan, our first country in Central Asia, was “Make sure those children are well wrapped up,” from the huge, warmly camouflage-clad Kyrgyz border guard. I smiled at its familiarity, even after all these years. .
Leaving Kashgar many hours earlier, we knew we would have a hell of a day getting out of China. It was the waiting that was frustrating, even with an almost empty border post and a guide, everything took an age and had to be checked and double checked. It was when we got to the second border post, nearly 100km for the first and learnt that the border guards were on their lunch and nap break. 2 hours later they were still snoozing away, while we slowly went crazy. What are they soldiers or toddlers?! It’s not like the border is open 24 hours, they had only been open a few hours before and for 2 hours after.
Coming down from the the pass, the scenery couldn’t have been more different from the dry sandy cliffs on the other side with green, gently undulating, mountains. The Kyrgyz border, although scarily slightly soviet looking, couldn’t have been easier. With no town for many miles and lots of leftover Chinese Yuan, they even let Steve pay the Eco-tax in Yuan. Asking around the office, they let him change a bit more knowing we would need some before Bishkek “…because it is Ramadan and we want to help.”
It was getting late when we pulled off the main road a 17km detour up a narrow green valley to Tash Raban. A 15th century caravanasi built strongly of stone in what is now the middle of nowhere but during the Silk Road’s heyday an important stop. It felt wonderful to park up where we wanted to and sleep somewhere without needing permission and registration from the police.
“What do you want to eat for tea?” We asked the girls in town.
“Chips, burgers or pizza.” Was the instant reply.
We all enjoyed the food in China and by the end even eating our breakfast roasted peanuts individually very easily with chopsticks but they were ready for a change. The multinationals haven’t made it to Bishkek but we found a classy burger cafe, where we all ate royally for a few dollars. The following morning we put our applications in at the Uzbek embassy. As they didn’t need the passports we were then free to do some exploring while they checked out our credentials.
Lake Issyk-Köl is the second biggest alpine lake in the world, after Lake Titicaca. On the southern side we found an idillic camping spot just metres away from its chilly azure shoreline with snow covered mountains as a background on both sides. It was great to have a few days to stop, relax and sort everything out. There was plenty of time to play outside, cook over a fire and generally get back into the swing of our “normal” overlanding life. China and Tibet were an epic part of our drive around the world but it was pretty full on and very regimented. It was also time to get the girls back into proper school routine again, on the road in China they did a good job trying to work while driving with the odd half an hour desk work when we could but it wasn’t the same.
After a couple of days we felt like moving on and found another pretty spot further east on a little peninsula. There wasn’t much around just scrubby bush and gravel and beautiful views of the mountains and lake and the peace was sublime. We had an afternoon of exploring the multihued sandy valley away from the lake on the way. The vertical sedimentary rock layers made us think of stegosaurus skeletons.