[hide]To all cyclists: have a look at the Quick-Facts, Route and Elevation-Profile at the bottom of the article
Karakol was the place where it all started.
On a 8-days hike trough the mountainous hinterland of Karakol we agonize over the questions on how we could change our style of traveling (no airplanes, taking public transport from Point A to B) and switch to bicycles.
Since we already visited Bishkeks bike shops a week ago, we know that it will be possible to find a suitable bicycle to continue our trip with.
But what we also discovered was, that there were no shops selling any kind of proper luggage-system for bicycles (no panniers or water-proved bags are available).
Since we will be carrying a lot of stuff, a solution has to come up on how to transport our belongings. Returning from our hiking trip, we are desperate to find a solution.
Ont the next morning we coincidentally meet two Swiss cyclist, who we have met three weeks ago in Osh. Jan and Michael were traveling in the Pamir-Region before and are equipped with trailers for their bicycles. They have just ended a nice trip through the heartland of Kyrgyzstan and are looking for accommodation at the same Guesthouse we stay in.
Telling them about our dilemma brings our conversation to the important point.
Since they are leaving for Switzerland soon and have the intention to sell their trailers in Switzerland we are lucky to met them just at the right time to make a great deal for all of us . The trailers come with solid, water-proofed bags with enough space for all our equipment. Our backpacks will be brought to Switzerland with them, since they need something to transport their luggage on the flight.
Back in Biskehek we find out that we really are at the right time and place to organize our cycle trip. In the big garage of Sakura Guesthouse stand about half a dozen bicycles and every day someone is fixing or cleaning his bike. The cyclists are eager to share their experiences with us. We get a lot of instructions on bike-repairing and information for nice cycling trips in Kyrgyzstan. We also hear some amazing cycle. stories here. These stories motivate us, while we try to find a good bicycle shop. The challenge is to find a shop where we can choose the right components, instead of buying a bicycle from stock which might be OK for the streets of Bishkek, but not for the long haul. We do not need a fancy bike but a stable one. Most of the bike shops in Bishkek are full of fancy mountain bikes but the staff has very little knowledge and interest about their product and our wish. Only at Veloleader we find serious mechanics. Even though the owner wants to sell us the cheapest option, we convince him that we really need the most stable parts. He finally agrees to put together the best parts he has on stock on a simple Merida frame.
Meanwhile, Urs is already in negotiations with a cyclist from France, who has ended his trip in Kyrgyzstan and has a great touring bike for sale. The bike comes with a lot of spare parts, panniers and even bags.
Having our equipment ready, we are nervous to finally get on the saddle.
We still have to accustom ourselves to riding with the heavy loaded trailer. After escaping the traffic-jams of Bishkek our route gets more easy. The road from Bishkek along the Kazakh border towards Issyk Kul is smooth and flat and we are happy to finally be on the bike. The second cycling day brings us literally back to the ground. After breakfast we discover our first flat tire. We find out that it comes from a spine. We must learn to be careful where we place the bike. After the first patch we get back on the road. In Tokmok where we stop to get some food, we discover the 2nd and 3rd flat tire. We are fortunate to be near a town because when we want to pump the fixed tube of one of the trailers, we discover that our pump doesn’t fit the valve. On the local bazaar, hidden between dozens of motorbike-spare-part-shops, we find a small stall with cycling parts where we buy a cheap Chinese pump.
After this struggle we feel released when leaving the main road to Issyk Kul. Now we are heading towards the mountains. After our very first pass we roll down a beautiful valley and arrive in Kochkor, the town where all the mountaineers and cyclist get ready for their trip to the mountains around Song Kul. In the local bazaar we find all the food supply we need. But our best discovery is a group of cyclists travelling together for 3 years. The 8 French guys, call themselves Zarmaloulox and are a very funny group living a unique lifestyle. Their aim is to give something to the people on the way (especially to the kids) and for this reason they are preparing for a show (with clown-numbers, autistics and a lot of music) which the like to perform on the streets of Osh. We like the group from the first moment and join them for the trip to Osh. We all leave together for the mountains. While cycling and chatting with these interesting people the time passes quickly and we don’t mind to much that the road conditions get worse and worse. Near a village, we ask a farmer to place our tents on his land. He invites us to rest in his house, under the premise that men and women sleep in two separate rooms (he points out that he is a Muslim). He serves us home-made bread, jam and tea and the group entertains us with music.
On the following day we climb up the steep road towards the pass that will lead us to Song Kul. There washboard road (rippled surface) is really tiring to ride on. But the stunning view after the pass compensates for all our effort. Gorgeous Song Kul lies in front of us, its shimmering water stretching 29 km long and 18 km wide. It lies on 3016m above sea level and is the largest fresh water lake in Kyrgyzstan. Horses and herds of sheep graze in the broad mountain pasture surrounding the lake. We pitch our tent near the southern end of the lake and watch the sun setting behind the snow-capped mountains.
Rolling down to Ak-tal is definitely a highlight of our trip (endless slopes downhill). On our way to Jalalabad we still have to climb a few passes and we appreciate the great company we have in these days. Traveling with Zarmalouloux is a unique experience for us. We enjoy the campfires, collective cooking and evening talks with them. Locals invite us for tea and serve us with home-made dairy-products and fresh bread. Our efforts to speak Russian provoke a lot of laughter. Time flies by as we’re cycling the flat part from Jalalabad to Osh. We’re sad about the fact that we soon have to say goodbye to Zarmalouloux. They are heading home, through Central-Asia and Iran, whereas we continue our cycle-adventure towards China.
The spectacle which they perform in a local park bears a last great memory.
Duration: 17 days in September 2012
Total ascent: 13’503m
Weather conditions: Generally the temperature in September is moderate and great for cycling, but in the mountains nights can get chilly or even drop below zero.
Accommodation, camping sites: In scarcely populated Kyrgyzstan its easy to find a camping spot. In fertile regions (where most people live) you can always ask a farmer to camp on his land and he will most likely invite you to his home.
Food: There are few restaurants along the road so a stove is recommended. In towns you can find bazaars (Tokmok, Kochkor, Kazarman, Jalalabad). In villages, basic food is available at mini-markets. You can always ask locals for home-made bread or milk products.
Water: There are many streams flowing through Kirghiz mountains and the water quality is generally quite good. However we recommend to bring a water filter or purifying tablets since both are not available in Kyrgyzstan.
Highlights: The plain around Song-Köl is amazing and you have plenty of space to camp like the nomads do. People are very hospitable and almost everyday we were invited to a cup of tea or where given some fruits. Learn a few Russian words, its easy to make conversation with the locals.
Lowlights: Alcohol is widely sold and drank, which led to some disturbing encounters.
Traffic: Little traffic, especially on unpaved roads between Kochkor and Jalalabad.
Road condition: Smooth road until Kochkor. Afterwards mixed conditions on unpaved roads, sometimes lots of bumps or washed-out roads.
Bicycle shops: We can highly recommend “Velo leader” in Bishkek (Velo Leader/lider, O.Yuganov, moskovska 226). On bazaars you may find cheap Chinese bicycle parts.