At first 2 admissions: It wasn’t really summer, but I neither could I leave earlier nor could I convince myself to rename the trip to “Central Asia much too late in 2015“.
Central Asia is correct, but implies more. It is true, that I cycled for one month in Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan, two countries of Central Asia – but being there, seeing the vastness of the landscape – and meeting other cycle travellers – you realise quickly how big this region and how proportionally short the stretch is, that you cycle in a month.
The Central Stans, former Soviet Unions, span across 2500 kilometers in the dead center of Asia, from the western borders of Turkmenistan at the shore of the Kaspian Sea to the eastern mountains in Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Tadjikistan, bordering on China and the Himalayas.
Their prominent position in the center of Asia, between the sea and the mountains, explain why they once have been so important hubs on the Silk Road, connecting Europe to the Far East – and vice versa. In turns this explains Central Asia’s attraction to the many cycle tourists – it being almost the only path that takes you overland across the whole continent, where other routes are hindered due to border conflicts and regions of unrest.
Instead of the long haul across continents, in October 2015 I went “just” for a 4 weeks trip, starting in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgystan, making my way through the mountains towards the deserts of Uzbekistan, the former “Silk road metropoles” Samarqand, Bukhara and ultimately its capital Tashkent.
In Bishkek I had asked for a visa to Tadjikistan – with all the paperwork etc – but the embassy seemed unable to find the relevant stickers – and I wasn’t willing to wait another 5 days for them to rummage through their drawers. So, I left without the sticker – and without the permission to travel the Pamir Highway in Tadjikistan.
In the short run this led to quite some frustration, whereas later in the mountains I was actually a little relieved not having to pass an additional 1000 meters of elevation.
The mountains of Kyrgystan
The tour started cold in the Kyrgys mountains – cold, but amazingly beautiful.
I enjoyed the mountains, even if I sometimes was cold – or had to dress in 6 layers to make it safely downhill again. However much I missed going through the Pamir, I was in a way also relieved, that I didn’t have to climb another 1000 meters and battle stronger snow storms.
After a couple of days in the mountains, I crossed a hilarious border crossing into the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan. Find the pictures in the next blog post here: Uzbekistan in Summer 2015.