Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road

gravel descent
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river
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Lush Kyrgyzstan

As soon as we crossed the border from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan, everything turned green and lush.

bee hives
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Honey for Sale

Colorful bee hives lined the side of the road throughout the Tien Shan. You could buy huge jars of delicious, fresh honey.

goats
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Goats and Green Fields

The rounded green hills almost look like Teletubby land. A happy place for goats.

vodka
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Vodka Party

Almost right after crossing the border into Kyrgyzstan, we were stopped by these guys who bought us cold Cokes and made us drink vodka shots in in the shade.

wooden church
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Holy Trinity Orthodox Church

The wooden church in Karakol dates back to 1869, when Karakol was established as an outpost on the edges of the Tsarist Russian Empire.

confession
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Confession Time

Women wait in line to offer confession at the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Karakol. There is no confession booth -- the priest simply wraps his cloak around your head so you can whisper your sins in privacy.

laundry day
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Laundry Day

Rest day in Karakol means laundry day. The hotel would wash and dry all of our stuff together and try to remember what item belonged to which person via a handwritten itemized list. Needless to say we always ended up with someone else's bike shorts, T-shirt, or socks. Thankfully we never had an underwear mix-up.

lunch spot
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Time for Lunch

Beautiful lunch spot along the shores of Lake Issyk Kul.

Epic of Manas
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Poem Palace

Near Lake Issyk-Kul, we happened upon this huge abandoned palace-like structure that was supposedly built as a dedication to the Epic of Manas -- the longest poem in the world at roughly half a million lines.

water issyk kul
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Lake Issyk-Kul

The salty but crystal clear waters of Lake Issky Kul. With the super hot days at lower altitudes, we were more than happy to jump in for a swim at the end of our ride.

Orto-Tokoy Reservoir
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Orto Tokoy Reservoir

Orto Tokoy Reservoir on the way towards Kochkor.

camp locals
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
New Friends at Camp

The locals were always curious about us when we set up camp. Here, Simon was a hit with the local women. We always had kids to help us set up our tents.

Kyrgyz hats
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Kalpak

Joan and I rocking our "Kalpaks" or Kyrgyz felt hats with our new friend at camp. Out of respect, tradition says you should never put your Kalpak on the ground and must sleep with it next to your head, not your feet.

Source: Photo by: Gerald Mueller
Kochkor
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Farm Life

Fields of the Kochkor Valley

muslim cemetery
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Muslim Cemetery

A muslim cemetery along the road to Naryn with its ornate domes and minarets, tightly clustered behind stone walls. Islam has been the prominent religion in the region since the twelfth century.

road Dolon Pass
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
The Rare Paved Road

The road up towards Dolon Pass. Some of the only pavement we would get along the entire route.

Dolon Pass
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Summit Trailer

Top of Dolon Pass at 3030 meters.

nomads
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Nomads

Kyrgyz nomads call the Tien Shan mountains home during the summer. I'll never forget passing one nomad village where the men were gutting a horse on one side of the road, with the women making horse meat sausage on the other side. And let's just say kumis or fermented mare's milk is an acquired taste.

switchbacks
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Switchbacks

I can't get enough of the gravel switchback climbs in Kyrgyzstan. This one is on the way up towards Toguz Toro pass.

keep climbing
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Just Keep Climbing

We would climb close to 14,000 meters or over 45,000 feet, mostly on rough gravel roads, in the 1221 kilometers from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

gravel descent
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Toguz Toro Pass

The start of an epic descent from Toguz Toro pass at 2800 meters.

gravel tien shan
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Tien Shan Gravel

Rolling through the Tien Shan.

tien shan road
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Mountain Roads

Big mountains, tiny cyclists.

Coke Stop
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Coke Stop

We lived for the next Coke stop where we could devour ice cold Cokes if we could find them, Lays potato chips, yogurt, and truck loads of wafer cookies.

wildflowers
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Wildflower Meadows

I wish you could hear the bumblebees and smell the wildflowers that filled the meadows. Even after 9 hours in the saddle, this was one of my favorite sections of the route.

rolling hills Tien Shan
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Endless Rolling Hills

There is a reason this section is called Mountains and Meadows. Endless rolling hills.

tien shan
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Tiny Cyclists

Endless dirt and gravel climbs to be found in the Tien Shan mountains.

climb kyrgyzstan
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Taking in the View

Stopping to take in the view near the top of the climb.

Source: Photo by: Lino Monge
glacier
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Snow Filled Couloirs

Snow remains on the mountains well into summer.

gravel descent
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Bring Extra Brake Pads

The descent that fried my brake pads. Steep with loose gravel. But the views were incredible.

Asia Cola
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
The Best "Coke Stop" Ever

Over 6 hours of bone busting gravel up and over a huge mountain pass meant we were estactic to happen upon a tiny store where were could sit inside on the dirt floor out of the baking sun and drink a liter of Asia Cola in one go.

Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Sulayman Mountain

Jayma Bazaar in Osh - one of the largest bazaars in the world. Sulayman mountain looms beyond, marking the central point of the Silk Road, sacred to Muslims, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

meat
Mountains and Meadows: Biking Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road
Meat For Sale

Refrigeration is almost non-existent along the Silk Road.

Tired from 60 kilometers of bumpy gravel in the heat, we pulled over to the first little shop we could find to buy a cold Coke. The woman in the shop handed us apricots as we left and while we sat outside gnawing on our juicy treat, a man in a beat up old car swerved from the opposite side of the road and skidded to a stop in front of us.

This stout man in dark sunglasses jumped out of the car and started gesticulating wildly while shouting to us in Russian. Not understanding a word and a little shocked, we just sat there and stared back. He finally gave up and walked inside the store as we headed towards our bikes.

Just as we were about to pull away, he came running after at us with liters of cold Cokes in hand. We thanked him profusely then once again headed for our bikes as he ran back into the store. Suddenly, he was back again but this time with bottles of vodka and pulled us over into the shade of a tree where two of his buddies joined to help pour shots of vodka while continuing to shout at us in Russian and sing.

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan.

Earlier that morning we had arrived at the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border outside Kegen marked by nothing other than a few buildings and sign that said “Good Luck.” While we waited for the border to officially open and get our passports stamped, one guard offered us a bag of fried whole fish while another took a blow torch to a sheep’s head in preparation for boiling. 

This was only day three of the Mountains and Meadows section of TDA Global Cycling’s Silk Route expedition. Over the course of two weeks, we would ride 1221 kilometers across the Tien Shan mountain range, climbing close to 14,000 meters or 46,000 feet — most of it on gravel.

The route started in Almaty, Kazakhstan and finished in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, roughly following the ancient Silk Road along the way. We would roll through the fruit- and nut-tree filled valleys, take a dip in lake Issyk Kul– the second largest salt lake in the world — before heading up into the high meadows of the Tien Shan where nomads with their horses try to make a living off of honey and fermented mare’s milk or kumis.

I have put together a gallery above for you to get a better sense of the ride. To read all about the event-filled next stage of my bike tour through Central Asia — The Pamir Highway — head on over to The Radavist.

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