In July, Rudi and I want to cycle in Kyrgyzstan for a month. The road leads from the capital through a hot valley over an obsolete pass, through a wonderful valley, and over a plateau and gorge to a pass. In the descent to Son-Kul, Rudi falls unluckily, marking the end of the cycling vacation. In five days, we cover 245 kilometers and climb 5,300 meters.
Before: Flight > Acclimatize in Bishkek
After a successful flight to Istanbul’s brand-new airport, we land in Bishkek early in the morning. While we are waiting for the hotel cab at the exit, many other cab drivers try to grab our attention. Because the hotel cab is not showing up, we take another cab and accept an overpriced fee. This one brings us with high speed and Modern Talking on the speakers to the city center. Our driver still has to search for the right location, because the capital has an ridiculous address system.
After sleeping for half a day we explore the hot (38 °C) capital. With almost 1 million inhabitants, Bishkek is by far the largest city in the country. In the center are some large boulevards, with wide sidewalks, monuments, statues, an old MiG jet fighter, modernist Soviet architecture and parks. But besides that, it is gray and cars dominate. The Muslim population seems to be tolerant: alcohol is available everywhere and going out half-dressed seems accepted. We buy gas tanks, do our shopping, withdraw cash, and buy a 20gb SIM card.
Day 1: Bishkek > Datsi Kegeti (79 km)
We start from the low-lying Bishkek (850 m) eastwards. The first section is partly on the main road, and partly on parallel country roads. Everywhere we pass today (and the next few days) people are friendly, and the children shout “Hello!” to us. Dogs bark every now and then, but never become annoying, like in Peru. From the small town of Kant we cycle through the wide valley for kilometers on straight roads to the mountains in the southeast.
It is 36 °C in the shade, but there is hardly any shade, and the sun shines almost the entire day. We drink a lot of water. At the entrance of the valley of the Kegety river we refill our water supply at a group of beekeepers, and they give us bottles of delicious honey water. There is also an older, rather eccentric man walking around in a special outfit. He shouts “Allah Akbar” all the time and wants to be photographed with us. After this intermezzo we continue on an unpaved road.
Finding a camping spot in the Kegety valley is difficult. The best spots are packed with Kyrgyz people who are enjoying a day out to the mountains. So we cycle further and further… Finally we find a nice flat spot next to the Kegety river just after passing a waterfall. Unfortunately the meadow is littered with plastic plates, vodka bottles, plastic bottles, bags et cetera. Why don’t the day tourists take their garbage back in the car?
Day 2: Datsi Kegeti > Kegeti Passroad (18 km)
Today we wake up early, and after having spaghetti with “bami” herbs for breakfast we leave at 8.30 am. It is already nice and warm by then. The road is usually of a reasonable quality and not too steep (8%), although sometimes we have to walk through parts of dry riverbed, or when it suddenly gets a bit steeper.
For a while we cycle behind a large herd of sheep that blocks our way. Then a local arrives in a jeep who honks his way through the flock, and we can take advantage of that by following him. Besides sheep we also encounter herds of horses and cows. They are guided by two shepherds –one at the front and one at the back of a horse– and a few dogs.
Unfortunately I don’t feel fit: I’ve had a sore throat for four days now, feel cramps coming up in my belly and don’t have a lot of energy. Therefore, we stop at 15 pm to camp at an altitude of 3,200 m. We are standing next to the road by the mountain stream, with a nice view on the mountains, and we can even see the main valley in the distance. We encounter only one jeep coming down the pass road, but after that it’s quiet.
Day 3: Kegeti Passroad > Ak-Uchuk (64 km)
We climb the last 600 meters to the pass height through a beautiful alpine mountain landscape. In the time when the Russians were still in charge of the country, this was a well-maintained main road. But nowadays it is said that the other side is hardly passable, and certainly not with a car. A Dutch cyclist who was there recently told me that we can only descend on a mountain bike. Of course, we are going to try it!
Only a hundred meters below the pass height the road gets very bad. Just before the very last turn a landslide and snow obstruct the road. We remove the bags from the bikes and walk back and forth over the snow a couple of times. We had just put sunscreen on, but now it starts raining and the temperature drops to 5 °C. So we put on a rain suit.
On top of the Kegety Pass (3,769 m) we enjoy a beautiful view of the snowy mountains and green hills on the other side of the valley, despite the rain and cold wind. The road on the south side of the pass is partly impassable due to many landslides, but we manage to get down without problems. After about 75 minutes walking (and occasionally cycling) we reach the bridge over the Kochkor river.
The descent goes southeast through a lovely valley, through which the Kochkor river is first streaming quite rapidly, and next meandering more quietly. Occasionally we see fishermen wearing white hats. Further on in the ever widening valley there are irrigation canals on both sides of the river, and there are cattle and farmland. At a village we do some shopping and cycle a bit with a group of enthusiastic children.
Wild camping is not such a good idea in this inhabited valley. That’s why we look for shelter. But we don’t have internet, because my SIM card is already useless – apparently I’ve been swindled in Bishkek. Eventually we find –hidden behind a wall– Guesthouse Highway Mirbek. The hostess is super friendly, serves us tea, bread, cookies and sweets right away, and in the evening she serves us a big meal. We watch a performance of a Central Asian singing group on TV.
Day 4: Ak-Uchuk > Davlet-Arik (67 km)
After a good breakfast we head west. The surroundings are pretty nice, with funny molehill-shaped hills with green mountain pastures above them and snowy peaks on top. The road climbs very gradually for several tens of kilometers. In the beginning this is easy because of the asphalt and the tailwind. But from halfway up the climb there is sand on the road, because they are going to renovate the road surface.
At the pass height (2,665 m) we eat fish from Son Kul and drink some tea in an old cart. The descent goes fast through a narrower valley with several yurts that look quite shabby. I see a young horse being trained. A boy is holding it on a rope, while his father, sitting on a big horse, aggressively approaches the poor horse. It falls and struggles, but quickly gets up and then completely stands still. Thumbs up!
We buy some soda in Davlet-Arik and at the last blue village pump we get almost ten liters of water: enough for cycling this afternoon and tomorrow morning, two meals, broth and some coffee. We divide the weight and climb for kilometers in the burning sun over the wide plateau southwards. We camp on an idyllic spot with 270 degree views of striking mountains.
Day 5: Davlet-Arik > Son-Kul (17 km)
Today we cycle to Son Kul, the high altitude freshwater lake (287 km2). Son Kul is the pride of Kyrgyzstan, and is in summer a popular camping place for locals and foreign tourists. The lake is situated between high mountains, and can be reached by car from five directions via mountain passes. We take the relatively unknown western route, over the Pereval Chil’bel’ pass road, which is only accessible for jeeps. This climb averages 7.1%.
We start early, because we cycle through a gorge and as soon as the sun starts shining in there it will become an oven. It is really super nice cycling along the ever narrowing stream and between the high mountains. The first part is still pretty easy, but between kilometers 8 and 12 we have to climb at a gradient of more than 11% on average on a poor road surface. Still, we manage to get to the top around noon.
After we’ve enjoyed the panoramic view at the pass height (3,250 m) we start the descent to Son Kul. On unpaved roads Rudi always descends much more carefully than I do, so soon I don’t see him anymore when I look over my shoulder. At a ford I wait for him, but he doesn’t show up. First I think he is taking pictures of the flock of sheep on the hill next to us. But after five minutes of waiting I go back in case he is in trouble.
A kilometer back I see Rudi sitting on the side. So what’s up? Rudi hit the high shoulder (on which he is now sitting) with his right front pannier, which blocked his handlebar making him steer the bike into a mud hole in the middle of the jeep track and hit and fall over the handlebar. He has tremendous pain in his groin and can barely stand – let alone walk or cycle. Rudi needs to get to the hospital in the nearest larger town (Naryn) as soon as possible for a check-up.
While we are considering our options, a shepherd on his horse comes down the hill to see what is the problem. Communicating is difficult because we don’t speak Russian and he doesn’t speak English. He points to the ridge of the hill over which a jeep is passing at that moment: apparently that is the main road, and we are literally on a sidetrack; so there is little chance that we can hitchhike from here.
An then, by sheer luck, a van comes along! The driver actually has to pick up a group of French tourists from Son Kul at the end of the afternoon, but if we pay him many dollars he is willing to take us to Naryn first. After an unnecessary and bumpy shortcut through the swampy mountain meadows, he drives south through the many hairpin bends of the impressive Moldo Ashuu pass road. From Ak-Tal we follow the Naryn River upstream to Naryn.
After we have withdrawn cash and paid the driver, he drops us off at the cab station. There his boss gets very angry with him because he has made the French tourists wait. Someone else on the square calls, unsolicited, an ambulance, but I send it back. Our priority is to find a hotel with functioning Wi-Fi and an English-speaking reception, so we can start arranging things. And that turns out to be Hotel Khan Tengri on the east side of the city.
Day 6: Naryn
Rudi has much more pain today than yesterday. So it was wise to get off the mountain as soon as possible. Today’s goal is to arrange two doctor’s certificates: one with the diagnosis, and the other stating that Rudi is allowed to fly to the Netherlands. Only after we have mailed these declarations to Rudi’s insurer, they can arrange the return flight. In addition, we will have to arrange painkillers and crutches.
Thanks to Nargiza from the hotel reception, an ambulance will pick us up. To get Rudi out of the hotel room on the stretcher, we have to keep him very tilted. “Ouch!” The old ambulance lacks suspension; at every bump in the road Rudi gets a pain shot. “Ouch!” The Naryn Trauma Hospital with its narrow doors, corridors and stairs is not built for walking with stretchers. “Ouch!” Anyway, we eventually reach the room with the X-ray equipment.
None of the medical staff speaks English, although we can understand basic words like “doctor”, “checkout” and “dollar”. Fortunately, we get help from Bakyt, who is visiting the hospital with his wife and sick daughter. After looking at the blurred X-ray photos, the doctor is in doubt: is there (because of the smack on the stem) a fracture in the pelvis? She advises Rudi to be admitted to the local hospital for a month at a daily rate of 50 dollars. Not a good plan!
We go with the doctor’s certificate to the cash register (“касса”, very similar to the Dutch word “kassa”) and pay the bill. After this we arrange a travel statement with another doctor. We also buy heavy painkillers, and at one of the many pharmacies in the city I find nice shoulder crutches. Bakyt drives us in his well-suspended car to the hotel. He absolutely doesn’t want any compensation for his help – he is a Christian and is happy to help people in need. Wow!
Next: Taxi > Flight > Rehabilitation
It takes some time for the insurance company to find a translator who can decipher the doctor’s written statements. Only then will they book the return flight. To pass the time, Rudi watches Netflix series. I arrange a cab to Bishkek. Adilet drives us, the bicycles, and the panniers to the capital. Receptionist Nargyza also goes along to do some shopping. In the back of the car it is cramped but cozy.
The flight to Istanbul goes fine, but because of the poorly coordinated help at the brand new airport we miss the connecting flight to Amsterdam. Once at home, Rudi will stay with his parents for a few weeks. He doesn’t have a bone fracture, but “only” a damaged muscle attachment to his groin, and because of the many sitting, he suffers from thrombosis. Fortunately, his rehabilitation is going well: two months after the accident, Rudi can even go on a cycling vacation!
– Day 1: Bishkek > Datsi Kegeti (79 km; 1.250 altitude meters)
– Day 2: Datsi Kegeti > Kegeti Passroad (18 km; 1.400 alt.m)
– Day 3: Kegeti pasweg > Ak-Uchuk (64 km; 700 alt.m)
– Day 4: Ak-Uchuk > Davlet-Arik (67 km; 950 alt.m)
– Day 5: Davlet-Arik > Son-Kul (17 km; 1.000 alt.m)