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Friday, 3 March 2017

PART 16: KYRGYZSTAN - TAJIKISTAN - KAZAKHSTAN

KYRGYZSTAN (11th – 28th JULY 2016)


I was already tired by the time I’m done with the border crossing. The sun was setting and I need to reach my host’s house ASAP. However, my GPS decided to play games with me and took me for a ride inside Osh Bazaar!!! I was sooo angry with my GPS. Imagine I had to ride inside the narrow alleys with people walking in and out. I was stopped by 2 policemen. Well, not surprising to me since its forbidden for motorbikes to enter the bazaar. As usual, the police asked for my documents and tried to find my fault. I was getting tired and restless and the sun was getting down, but I had to keep my charm and smile and asked them to let me go. I only managed to reach my host’s house at 9.00pm after riding 455kms. I was sooo exhausted. 


My host, Firuza couldn’t speak English. She was linked to me by her daughter, Nura, who was linked to me by Madam Nurliza who hosted me in Almaty. Nura’s son, Iskander stayed with her grandmother and he could speak reasonable English. I was served plenty of food for dinner which consisted of fruits, variety of nuts, dates, soup and plov (traditional rice). The plov was very tasty. 



The next day was quite taxing for me too. I intend to ride into Tajikistan, but I didn’t have a Tajik visa. In my mind, I will just try my luck. I had rode in Tajikistan before, all along the Pamir Highway of M41 until Dushanbe. This time, with the lack of visa, if I manage to repeat the road and ride until Ak Baital Pass, that’s very good for me already. I started early and rode on M41 Pamir Highway via Gulcha. The road was 70% okey and 30% so-so. Despite that, the view was sooooo beautiful and took my breath away. Ohhh….I am sooo loving Kyrgyzstan. I had been to more than 80 countries, had seen the beauty of Patagonia, Argentina, had breathed in the spectacular New Zealand scenery, had viewed Turkish landscape, but I still say that Kyrgyzstan is the most beautiful country in the world.


It got cloudy as I climbed up two mountain passes, Cigircik Pass (2389m) and Taldyk Pass (3615m). The road climbing up the passes which was built in 2013 had started to deteriorate and was broken at many parts due to landslides. I had to ride with extra care until I reached the small town of Sary Tash.



To reach the border, I need to ride on badly broken asphalt + some off road for approx 23kms. The view of the green grassland, snow cap Pamir mountain, horses, goats and yurts gave me joy even though its getting colder.




Reaching the border, I had to wait for approximately an hour before I managed to exit Kyrgyz. This would be the second time for me to ride on the road heading to Tajikistan. Not many people get the chance to ride on this road, whats more to ride twice on it. I was veryyyyy excited. However, the 20kms crazy road via Kyzyl Art Pass (4280m) to Tajikistan was more difficult now compared to 2013. There were three water crossings and the wind was super strong. The ride was tough as I didn’t have off road tires on my GD. I nearly dropped my bike few times, but thank God I didn’t fall. Too bad I couldnt have any pics of mine on the bike as I didnt hv a riding buddy to capture my act. The view of the mountains changed to orangish brown, which meant that I am nearing the border. It was sooo beautiful.





I couldn’t hide my joy when I saw the Marco Polo sheep structure which marked the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. I was soooo happy. Heyyy, I had been here twice lah :) 



I didn’t spend much time here as the clouds didn’t look promising. After few pics, I hurriedly rode another 5kms more to the immigration and customs office. The post still looked the same as three years back. I greeted the officers and as usual, played my charm. But to my frustration, this time I failed due to the lack of visa and permit. I begged, I pleaded, I did everything I could to charm them. It always worked in the past, but it didn’t this time. I was denied entry by the guards even though I had sweet talked them and even tried to give some bribes. It felt weird why they didn’t want to take my money when money is king at this part of the world. I suspect something might had happened recently thus security seemed to be very tight. After wasting my time for half an hour without any luck, I had to turn back. I only managed to ride 10kms (return) on Tajik’s land this time. My target to repeat Ak Baital Pass failed. I was a bit sad, but its ok. I had already prepared my mind mentally and psychologically for the consequences and denial. 


Turning back was more challenging as it started to drizzle and the dirt road turned to slight mud in a very short time. As I’m going downhill, many times GD’s tires skid and I almost fell to the ground. Fortunately I managed to get back to Bor Dobo safely. Then only the rain got really heavy and I had to take shelter at the border post for a while. 



When the rain lessened, I continued riding and decided to push to Osh. I was surprised to see the paved road which I just did in the morning was broken at four parts due to overflow of the fast current Gulcha River (due to the heavy rain). It was very muddy and big gravels scattered on the road. I didn’t take any pic as I was very tired. Again, it was only at 9pm when I reached Osh feeling sooo drained out after 13 hours on the road covering almost 500kms. 


Before leaving Osh, my host Firuza and her friend Lilia brought me to Sulaiman-Too sacred mountain. A visit to Osh is not complete without visiting this UNESCO heritage site. I should have visited this place in 2013 but I didnt have the time then. It was quite a hike up and pretty exhausting as it was 42'C. Osh city can be viewed from up here. There were some ancient worship sites and I also visited a very interesting cave museum which displayed exhibitions about Zoroastrians which was practised here before Islam’s presence. Previously, I thought only the ancient Iranians practised Zoroastrians. 



As it was getting late I hurriedly left Osh to Arslanbob which was 150kms away. Arslanbob was famed for its walnut forest nature reserve. I rode on M41 under the heat of summer and a very boring view, until I turned to an unnumbered road which was paved on and off for approx 50kms to my destination. The view was quite interesting but I had to ride on an off road at certain stretches along Karaunkur River. The last part to reach the village was a bit steep.



The next morning, I hiked few kilometres to see the walnut forest. It was interesting in the beginning but boring after a while, so I turned back.



Then I make a move to Karakol via M41. It was 275kms ride on a bumpy road but the view was sooo awesome. It was very green and there were lots of gorges and grey coloured mountains. The fast current Naryn River flowed alongside the road. I also saw countless waterfalls along the way.





In the beginning I planned to wild camp near Toktogul Lake @ Reservoir. However, most of the time, the road was higher above the lake. I found an off road trek leading to the shore but the trek got more and more challenging for my off road skills and GD's non off road tires. Besides, the lake might seem near from the road, but it wasnt so. Theres also another off road trek which I found, but it went straight to the local's front gate, so I had to turn back and forgo the camping idea. I found a cheap motel facing the lake and opted to stay here. How lucky I was as 1 hour after settling down, heavy rain and storm hit the area, and the rain continued through out the night. I cant imagine how stressful it would be if I choose to camp.




On my way to Bishkek the next day, I rode on two mountain passes, Ala Bell (3184m) and Too Ashu Pass (3180m). The view along the way was soooo beautiful. I stopped too many time for pics. The climb on Ala Bell Pass was easy as the road was good and the incline was gradual. However, it rained when I climbed up this pass and it was soooo cold. The temp was -5'C. I stopped the bike to capture some pics and took video of the beautiful surroundings. Suddenly, I felt droplets of 'sands' fallen from above. Goshh, it was iced rain!! 



The moment I finished doing my stuff, cold burn already burnt my fingers and I couldnt even curl them anymore. My fingers were frozen. It was sooo painful when I had to force them on the throttle. I hurriedly descend the pass to beautiful Suusamyr Valley which was a bit warmer.



On the other hand, the climb on Too Ashu Pass, literally a "camel pass" was more challenging. This pass was a part of the Kyrgyz Alatau range of the Tien Shan mountains. It was about to rain when I was riding on this pass. There were many broken parts and pot holes. The worst was at the hairpin bends where there were lots of dried mud, rocks and debris which were carried away by the running water as a result from yesterdays continous rain. Here in Kyrgyzstan, heavy rain would cause landslides and overflow of rivers and closing of road were not uncommon. I was lucky that it didnt rain when I did this pass as there were times that the lorries stopped completely at the bends when only one lane was decent enough to drive on. I had to ride very carefully. 




In Bishkek, I was hosted by Nura. She's the daughter to Firuza, my host in Osh. Nura asked me about my plan in Kyrgyzstan, and surprisingly she offered herself to come along as she had not seen some of the places I intend to see @ trek @ climb. The first place we went to was Ala Archa National Park which was about 30kms to the south of Bishkek. This park was popular with locals and the view of wild flowers and the pine trees were very pretty.





I also managed to go to Karkara Valley, which I had wanted to see since 2013. At that time, the plan was to ride from Almaty and enter Kyrgyzstan via this valley. However, the border was still closed then (this border only opened few months in a year), so I had to forgo the idea. I’m glad that I managed to see it this time. Yes, its beautiful and very green. Its off road with bee houses and people selling pure honey along the way.




I had planned to do some trekking to see Ala-Kul, a rock-dammed lake in the Terskey Alatau mountain range. I fall in love with this lake after seeing a pic of it posted by my idol, Zahariz. This lake lies at an altitude of approximately 3560 meters. To get there, I must first get to Ak-Suu village, and after that to Altyn Arashan. The distance from Ak Suu village to Altyn Arashan is 14kms. One can take a jeep (a very rough ride) or horse or walk the whole distance. 

Nura and me chose to walk. We passed amazingly beautiful river and some pine forest. The walk was easy in the beginning with some rolling hills, but later the dirt track changed to rocky. We did a good time of 2.5hrs covering almost 9kms. Then it started to rain heavily. 




The already muddy track (due to continous rain for few days earlier) made it very difficult to walk. Our shoes were coated with mud, and its not easy to walk while carrying our backpacks in this condition. We were lucky (or may be not so for me), that a couple with horses passed by and they offered one of their horse to us for a small fee. Unfortunately, Nura and I had to share one horse and I had to ride on the back of the stallion without a saddle. It was very torturing and painful because not only I’m not used riding a horse, I had to sit right on the horse’s back bone without any padding or cushion!!! And it was a very bumpy and steep climb. I almost cried due to the pain on my thigh and butt. How I wished the ride will end soon, but we only reached Altyn Arashan 1 hour later. I fell from the horse while trying to get down as my legs were so sore and I’m unable to even stand up.




It was veryyyyy cold in Altyn Arashan but we had to start early as today we are going to trek to see the lake. Weather forecast said that its going to rain again in the afternoon and I had no idea if we will be able to see the lake or not. Being on the bike for too long (approx. 10 months now), I didnt do any fitness training and as a matter of fact, I didnt even jog since I started GDR. The longest walk I did was 10kms from Station Hidroelectrica to Agua Calientes (Machu Picchu town), last January. Apparently, the lack of fitness, age factor and pain which caused from previous day horse riding made the climb a very hard one for me.




It was a beautiful day when we started walking. The track to Ala Kol Lake was not so nice though. It was very muddy at certain parts and steep loose gravels on the other parts. But there were also nice rolling hills grassland too. The view was soo beautiful with pine trees, horses, sheeps and cows. The track here was not marked at all and many times it disappeared just like that. Its very easy to get lost in this area. We were lucky to meet a couple who had a guide with them so we just trailed behind. 




The guide led us via a short cut which we need to cross one particular river for 3 times. Two crossings were done via a fallen tree trunk (definitely not for gephyrophobics), and one time we had to cross the freezing fast current river on foot which the water reached up to our knees. The moment I dipped my feet in the water, I felt numbness as it was very very cold. It was very challenging. Not long after the third river crossing, the fine weather turned bad. Thick clouds covered the sky and we had iced rain thru out our climb.



After a very hard 6.30 hours constant climbing in iced rain, we reached the altitude of 3700m. Theres only 100m more very steep track to climb up which will take about 1 hour, and we'll reach the iced mountain pass to enable us to view the gem hidden below the mountain pass, the Ala-Kol Lake. Unfortunately the weather turned from bad to worse with not just iced rain but very thick fog and blizzard. Within few seconds, I couldnt feel my fingers anymore. It was freezing cold. Dont ask for shelter, theres nothing up there except mountains, rocks and ice. A fast decision had to be made as we were not equipped with proper gears for such harsh weather condition. We had to get back down ASAP before we get frost bite. We had come this far...but what to do...




Indeed everything happened for a reason. The couple and the guide which we had been following from the beginning were no longer in sight. Both Nura and I had to survive on our own now. We followed the same track that we had taken earlier. The moment we reached the lower level, the sun came out again. Its always like that, isn’t it? When blood started to flow back into my fingers, the tips felt so painful and ballooning as if its going to burst any moment. I was dead tired but I had no choice but walked back to Arashan. 



We tried to find the short cut which the guide had led us previously but we couldnt find it. We walked and walked and walked, and the next thing we knew, we were lost!! All around us were pine forest and everything looked the same everywhere now. We knew that theres river crossings to do but where were the tree bridges? We spent too long time walking by the river bank, to find the safest way to cross. The fallen tree bridges that we found (not the same which we took earlier) were too risky and dangerous and its scary to think of whats going to happen if we fell into the river. We had walked too far and we were tired. Theres no inhabitants nearby. After following the river for quite some time, we met a boy and he showed us a 'safe' bridge to cross. I was a bit shaky when crossing it but thank god, both of us made it safely to the other side. 




Then it were few kms more to walk on the disgusting muddier track (due to more rain) to the yurta. God knows how I had to drag my painful legs and tired body. I had to motivate myself and said, “just walk, eventually you’ll be there.” We managed to get back to the yurta just before sundown. In total, we walked 20kms in 12hours today (and its a steep climb). In our case, the quote ‘no pain no gain’ is insignificant because it is a ‘lots of pain and no gain’ (except for the beautiful view) for us today.



Below is the pic of Ala-Kul Lake that we didn’t manage to see. (Pic from Zahariz’s collection).



Its frustrating for not being able to see the lake after all our efforts, but there is a blessing in disguise. Imagine if we managed to see the lake, we will spend longer time than we should, and definitely we wont be able to reach Arashan when we were lost in the forest. I'm scared to think how we're going to survive a night in the cold mountain without tent and proper clothing if we couldnt manage to reach the yurta before it get dark. We might die of hypothermia. 


I woke up the next morning with lots of pain and muscle soreness. Nura and I made our way back down to Ak-Suu where her cousin, Damir picked us up with his car. We drove along the southern road of Issyk Kul Lake and camped by the lake shore for the night. There was a storm that night and the tent was almost toppled by the strong wind.


The next day, we continued our way to Kyzyl Oi, a remote village far in the Suusamyr-Too Range. The reason why I want to go to this remote village is because I was told that there is going to be a traditional festival here. We drove via A367, passing Kyz-Art Pass (2664m). The road was partly bad asphalt and partly off road. The view along the way was sooo breath taking. The fast current green Kyz-Art river really amazed me. 



Kyzyl Oi village was indeed very calm and serene. It was surrounded by orangish rolling mountains and coated with green velvet like grasses. It was so peaceful to be here.



The festival consists of few traditional routines and games. But the one that I really want to see is Ulak Tartysh game, a nomad goat polo game where a dead goat weighing about 25kgs were passed from one to another till it reached the opponent’s goal to score a point. It was very exciting to be able to watch this game live, right in front of my eyes.




After watching the game, we made our way to Song Kul Lake, an alpine lake in northern Naryn Province which lies at an altitude of 3016m. The road to this lake is very rough but very beautiful. We arrived after sundown and put the night at a yurta. Its too cold to camp up here. The night sky was filled with millions of stars. What a sight to see.




The following day was spent at Tash Rabat, a well-preserved 15th century stone caravanserai in At Bashy district. The distance was 275kms and we had to drive on Dolon Pass (3035m). In 2013, the road from Sary Bulak to Kochkor was still under construction, but now its already paved. The view was sooo beautiful. Tash Rabat had more visitors this time compared to my first time here, and the view was a bit spoilt due to the rubbish thrown by irresponsible people. We camped by the small stream and enjoyed another night of milky way.




Before leaving for Bishkek the next morning, I took some time to find Elizet, my yurta stay host here in 2013. She still remembers me. It was nice to meet her again. 



Even though this is my 2nd visit, this country still sits on the top rank as the most beautiful that I had seen. I’m glad that this time, I managed to venture more into the remote areas, explored new places and I also repeated some places which I had been before. It was nice to recall places which I had seen and I screamed with joy whenever I saw landmarks which I had posed with my DREAM in 2013. 


In terms of landscape, nothing much had changed since 2013. Its still very green, pure and beautiful. In terms of road, there are lots of differences. The paved road which I rode on in 2013, now had broken. The one under constructions in 2013, now already completed, but there are some parts which are still unfinished. Some parts which were totally off road last time, are now under progress to be paved. Still there were some parts which had not changed at all, still off road. 


The best time to visit this country is from end May to mid Sept. Weather plays a big role. If you are lucky with the sunshine and less clouds, you'll get to see blue lakes, green rivers, and milky way (at night). If you are not so lucky, you will get torrential rain which will cause road destruction due to landslide and flood. Believe me, I had witnessed all that, how in a very short duration, heavy rain caused mountain river to flow mud and stones on to the road. Too bad the government didnt have enough money to build landslide barriers nor to monitor the steep slopes to prevent landslides as Kyrgyzstan is a very mountainous country.


After being back in Bishkek, I managed to meet Zahariz, the person who was to be blamed for inspiring me to become an advrider. Five years ago, he was the one giving me the idea to travel on a motorbike, and the rest of my life after that is history. Zahariz was married to Merim, a Kyrgyz woman. He managed to do some filming on me for a short video clip.





KAZAKHSTAN (28th JULY – 1st AUG 2016)



On the morning of 28th July, I said goodbye to Nura. Similar to my farewell bid with my previous hosts, it was hard to leave her too after spending unforgettable memories and adventure for two weeks together. Thank you Nura for the hospitality and for being my sister. I’m leaving you for now, but our family tie binds forever. I left Bishkek and crossed into Kazakhstan at Korday border via M39. Border crossing was very easy and smooth (five minutes on the Kyrgyz side and 25 minutes on Kazakh side). Theres nothing to pay on both sides. The road to Almaty was good. I was happy to see the same landmarks which I posed with DREAM in 2013.



Since now is the middle of summer season, the steppes were not as green as last time, and theres no wildflowers carpeting the grassland as I had seen before. The view was replaced with lots of locals selling apricots and strawberries by the roadside. I didn’t buy any because I had enough of fruit tasting in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The road after Almaty was good too, but there were some constructions nearing Taldykorgan. I reached the town after riding for 532kms. I rode slowly in search for a place to stay and I bumped into a biker who coincidently just came back after a month students exchange program in Malaysia. He helped me to find a cheap apartment, but I had to park GD at a paid parking about 200m away.


The next day I rode to Ayagoz via A3. The distance was 552kms. It was a very bumpy ride with lots of pot holes. There were off road too and the rain worsened its condition. The road to enter Ayagoz was very muddy. This time, I wasn’t so lucky. GD kissed the muddy road, for the 8th time since GDR. 



The road to Qalbatau was as bad as yesterday. However, the view improved by lots. The steppes and the wheat fields here were golden in colour. The wind was sometimes strong as I crossed the vast steppes. 



I finally reached Semey after riding for 380kms the next day. It had been three days of looongg rides, and I am very exhausted. Semey is a city approx 100kms to the Russian border. Its easy to find Semey Hotel which I want to stay and I decided to stay here for two nights.


While in Semey, I managed to visit Nuclear Victims Monument which was built to commemorate victims of the nuclear tests. The tests were conducted nearby this area by the Soviet government to see the effects of it on humans. It was reported that 456 tests had been done around Semey from 1949 – 1989. Few years later, cases of leukemia, cancer, and deformed babies rocketed significantly. It was estimated that 6000 Kazakhs died because of the tests. 




War or anything related to it never do good for ordinary people. Only very few shall benefit from it. It was sad for me to think of the victims and the torture they had to live with until they let go their final breath…

We cant change history, but we can prevent it from happening again

We cant change people’s attitude, but we can change our own for the better

Every cruelty in this world started from sickness in the mind

We can treat this sickness if we truly want to become a better person in life

Believe me, we are able to change it if we really want to….. 





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