Our driver Erik knew almost no English words. But one thing was very important to him: “asphalt”. And every time there was none, he looked sad: “no asphalt” and then when it was tarred again, his eyes lit up “asphalt!”. We joined him. So far, I had experienced very good road conditions in Kyrgyzstan and wondered why some people complained. Today I could agree – 90% of the route was without asphalt and exhausting. At least we were lucky and our “balloons” stayed round. But what a stretch! I couldn’t get out of my amazement and mostly forgot the arduousness.
First we drove around the Song Kul. The arch went quite far away from the lake at the front side and so we could better experience the dimensions. Here the high plateau continued well and was full of individual yurts from the families. In addition to 1 or 2 yurts, many families had small huts, often made of corrugated iron. Huts are much cheaper than a yurt. There were not as many construction trailers as in other areas. There was also a small pond with a nice reflection and on the other bank there were more large yurt camps. There is good tourism here, but it still gets lost or is not quite so unpleasantly noticeable.
Then the road led away from the lake to reach a small pass on the other side through more wide landscape. In the far distance we could make out a few yaks in an animal herd, otherwise many horses, cows and fewer flocks of sheep than expected. The flocks of sheep are often particularly large here, but this is not because one family has a particularly large number, but because other people give them theirs to herd.
Actually, I wanted to write something about the nomads’ income, which is not really high, but I can’t find it at the moment. For that I recommend Mélanie Simons in this Podcast (unfortunately german only) and her Documentary in Youtube (english!). In any case, she gives a good insight and can also tell a good story.
Here is some more info on the semi-nomads: In the Soviet Union, nomads had to have a permanent home address and switch to farming. After that, they wanted to resume their nomadic life or it became a form of semi-nomadic life: in winter in the village/on a homestead, in summer with a yurt in the mountains. There is very little change of places here, usually the grass is enough for the season.
From the pass you could see coal mining from far away. Or rather, they were digging around in the colourful rock and I didn’t understand and later they told me: coal. And whoever thought that the section from the mountain to the big road was tarred so that the coal could be transported quickly was mistaken. We continued to be bumped around slowly.
In Bash Kuugandy, where I was in 2022, we reached the main road. At that time it was fresh and cool, this time it was desert hot. I lost myself in memories. However, we did not have time for visits. The main road is now almost perfectly asphalted all the way to Osh – but so far without Marshrutka traffic. We drove on it until a bit behind Chayek and then turned north. We passed through a colourful landscape, the likes of which I had never seen before. Actually, I thought India, especially Ladakh, was the top highlight among mountain landscapes. Well, maybe Nepal too. But now I probably revoke that and put Kyrgyzstan at No. 1. It unites the most diverse mountain worlds in the smallest space, i.e. it often looks completely different after a 30 min drive or 1 day’s walk! And not just different – it also makes me marvel. This day was the scenic highlight of my entire time in Kyrgyzstan.
We drove along a blue river into a gorge with many predominantly red mountain rocks. The road was very dusty and empty. After the last few farmsteads, there were no villages until we reached our destination. But a few people thought this was a good fishing area and went about this activity. Here are the pictures:
Our destination was Kyzyl Oi, the first village after this gorge. And there it really looked like Ladakh! There were the same tall poplars, the same dry mountains, the same village oasis – but with completely different houses. We stayed another whole day for a hike – that’s in the next blogpost.
Since the 2nd night at Son Kul, we were no longer completely alone. A German couple from Ulm drove the same route, but had only booked 1 night each time. They would otherwise get bored. Ute and I, on the other hand, were happy with our 2 nights almost everywhere – travelling slower does let you experience areas and people a bit better. This couple also had a big car with a driver. He was the nephew of our driver – here are the two of them:
The secret of the big cars for only 2 people is that the agency only works with drivers they have known and trusted for years. Each driver has only one car. And since the agency often has groups, the drivers prefer to have big cars to transport them. On the one hand we were alienated in the big car, but on the other hand it was great to sit so far up front with the huge window.
Erik doesn’t speak English or anything else, only Russian, so we communicated with words, gestures and translation help. However, this is not always really good and often produces funny content that doesn’t fit at all. He is a driver with passion and experience and drove us very safely and attentively over Kyrgyzstan’s roads. After initial reticence on both sides, we thawed out more and more and also found enough things to laugh about. From that day on, I was even teased more often. That was nice.
Erik lives with his family just south of Issyk Kul – he is quite proud of his daughters. For example, he showed us how a little girl climbed onto a huge tractor and started it up and drove it around in complete safety. He also visited Germany twice to transport goods from there to Kyrgyzstan. Some countries got a thumbs up from him (e.g. Germany) and some a thumbs down (e.g. Belarus).
And when we wanted to go hiking for a day, he rested and enjoyed the contents of his mobile phone. Like the following day in Kyzyl Oi.