Leaving Osh I felt in Uzbekistan again: green cultivated fields, warm weather and an endless series of villages, interrupted only by an occasional short climb, were what I rode through for the first couple of days; such a striking difference with the landscape in Tajikistan.
I was cycling through the (in)famous Fergana valley, a valley shared between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, famous for its cotton cultivation and for occasional riots between Uzbek and Kyrgyz people. The flat road didn’t last long though, after a few days I started riding along the Naryn river, now the landscape was dominated by the green and the red of the
mountains and the flashy blue of the river and a series of ups and downs brought me to the Togtokul reservoir, from where I knew real mountains would have started.
I was alone again and in no hurry to get to Bishkek: waking up late, riding at a very relaxed speed, taking long breaks for lunch, having a
nap in one of the many chaikana along the road and camping early was
my new routine. Finding a place to camp was never really a problem,
and I enjoyed the warm evening spent reading under a starry sky.
After Togtokul I experienced that magic moment when you are leaving a
valley behind you and you are entering real mountains: the air cooled,
the river along the road started flowing faster than usual and road
side restaurants soon disapperead to leave space to yurts and
occasional honey sellers. During the climb I met Mathieu and Matilde, a
French couple who cycled from France until here; I don’t know how long
we spent chatting, but it mustn’t have been for a short time as I
didn’t manage to arrive to the top of the pass that day, camping close
to some yurts. At around 3000 m of altitude I was very close to the
top, it was a cold night and I regretted once again not having with me
a better sleeping bag.
The valley that followed after the pass was just beatiful: a green
valley dotted with yurts and all their animals and surrounded by snowy
mountains. I could see a storm approaching, so I found shelter in a
yurt that acted as a restaurant and there I met a group of 4
hitchikers (3 French and a Russian girl). As the storm finished and I
was ready to leave again, we were offered to sleep in a nearby yurt; I
was more than happy to accept the invitation, it was the perfect
occasion to rest a little bit more and to enjoy this magic valley
under the afternoon sun. The French guys often complained about things
related to business or that were not completely pure – ‘it’s just
business’ was their only comment about the CBT, one of the
biggest touristic association in Kyrgyzstan -, something I found quite
naif and irritating, but I enjoyed the evening we spent together.
The following morning I was ready to leave again when an invitation
for tea from a woman who teaches history in Bishkek arrived. Entering
the yurt – a yurt more elegant and sophisticated than the average,
with a wolf skin attached to the wall – I found a table full of
homemade jam, honey, real butter, tea and various dairy products, such
as kumis –
fermented horse milk with a very sour taste. The kyrgyz woman told us
that it was the first time she was spending her summer in a yurt, even
though she was still hiring some shepherd to take care of the animals
she owned, before starting to speak about her life, with a particular
focus on the two months period in which she was kidnapped
by her future husband. I know all of this thanks to the translation
from the Russian girl, something I was very grateful for; my Russian
is unfortunately still very poor, to communicate I use what I remember
from Turkey, the languages in most the Central Asian countries being
very similar to Turkish.
I had another pass that day and, once again, I didn’t manage to arrive
to the top before darkness, and I camped close to a yurt selling kumis
to passing cars. While having breakfast in the morning a man sat next
to me and started slaughtering a sheep, gesturing that it was hit and
killed by a passing car in the night. As I slowly ate my porridge with
milk accompanied by dried fruits, jam, nutella, bread and coffe, such
a feast if compared to Tajikistan, he removed the skin from the sheep
to then concentrate on the liver and the bowels, carefully putting
everything on different bowls. By the time I finished my breakfast he
finished working on the sheep and asked to have a picture taken with
all his family, something I was quite happy to do.