Story by Ryan Heath
Images by Mick McDonald
The next day we are off the bikes but the adventure does not stop. Early in the morning we board two former Russian army trucks that transport us to the stunning alpine valley of Altyn Arashan. It is only a short 14 km trip, but takes over two hours given the steep and rocky terrain. The trucks bounce over enormous boulders, while hugging a path with steep drops down to a raging, freezing river below.
Some choose to look out the windows; others turn away and hold on to their seats as the bumpy ride finally arrives into the serene and remote valley. In the distance we see the rocky peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains.
Once we arrive at our yurt camp for the evening, some choose to hike the surrounding hills, while others indulge in the more relaxing option of the hot springs. We drop into the warm pool to ease our muscles still twitching from the truck trip.
In the evening we are treated to a rainbow and then listen to thunder, emanating in the mountains that border China and reverberating down the valley. Our yurts keep us warm in the evening.
Our next riding day sees us travelling up the canyon of Jeti-Orghuz. We park the bikes in front of the “seven bulls” an outstanding natural rock formation. Most could only count five bulls, but who wants to be a critic in such a beautiful location?
Our highlight of the day is our eagle hunting display. We are met by Nursaltan, our 21-year-old eagle wrangler. He comes from a long line of eagle handlers, with both his father and his grandfather having trained eagles.
The display is so much more than just a show for the tourists. It is an intrinsic link to the days of Ghenggis Khan where the practice of eagle hunting is thought to have originated.
Nursaltan firstly allows us to slip on a heavy duty glove then places the eagle on our arm. It is heavy, and big, and looks even bigger when it spreads its wings. After capturing the moment on cameras and iPhones, the eagle swoops into action.
Our intrepid young handler takes the eagle up into the hills and he is released to seek and pounce on an old fox skin. All dramatic and quite harmless. But then, out come the big guns, a live, cute rabbit is placed on the ground and jumps about as the eagle lines him up from a great height and swoops.
He drops on the unsuspecting animal, spreads his wings and sits patiently. The young handler arrives, disentangles the rabbit from the talons, and it hops away, albeit with a nervous disposition. The rabbit lives! No animals were hurt in the making of this demonstration.
Our afternoon is spent alongside a raging river, in a colourful yurt, sitting on cushions enjoying a traditional lunch.
The following morning we are off again, riding along the north shore of Issyk Kol, winding our way slowly to the capital Bishkek. As the crew prepares lunch the group wander through petroglyphs dated from 1500BC.
Our first evening in the capital is spent in a German beer hall sampling schnitzels, German sausages and local beer, brewed on the premises. Bishkek also provides us with our first real taste of inner city crazy driving, Kyrgyzstan Style. The biggest waste of resources in this country appears to be road line marking paint, because nobody pays any mind to line markings on the roads. In a two lane carriageway vehicles drive three to four abreast, all seeking to be first in this imaginary ‘wacky race”
After a day in the capital we turn south towards the Alatau range and cross the Too Ashuu pass, sitting at over 3,500mt. It is known locally as the “camel pass” At its peak is a dark and damp 2.7km tunnel.
After the tunnel we descend into a broad Sussamyr valley dotted with yurt camps and fresh produce markets. Although we attempt to appreciate the beauty of our location, mostly our attention is focused on the road, more potholes than bitumen.
Of course the poor road conditions do not deter the locals from driving at break-neck speed and veering all over the road, even into the on coming lane, to dodge holes and cracks bigger than their vehicles. One would think the presence all over the road verge of trucks and cars with snapped axles and flat tyres would encourage caution, but you would be wrong!
We spend the night in our hotel in an impossibly beautiful location. The Oson Hotel sits deep in the Chychkan Gorge alongside the glacier fed roaring Chychkan River.
We prove to be the tourist attraction when we arrive. We are greeted by an enthusiastic group of locals who snap photos of Us and our bikes. This has been the reaction all over the country when our group of 14 motorcycles arrives in any village. We prove to be rare sight in this country that has yet to be touched by mainstream tourism.
Our penultimate day sees us riding along the shores of Toktogul Lake and the banks of the mighty Naryn River through a barren landscape of red walled canyons and valleys. This proves to be yet again a completely differing landscape that we have experienced thus far.
We descend into the Ferghana Valley and ride alongside the Uzbek border fence and run the gauntlet of corrupt police with the well hidden speed cameras before ascending to the cool climes of Arslanbob. This almost 100% Uzbek populated village is home to the worlds last remaining relic walnut grove.
Our final home stay is a rare delight. We share a meal with our Uzbek hosts and spend the night in their home before our trip to the walnut grove. We all climb into ancient Russian built UAZ 4x 4’s and bump and grind up the stony path to the grove. We next walk to a panoramic point overlooking the valley and the soaring surrounding mountains.
Our final visit is to the local waterfalls where the locals gather under the spray to cool down on the hot morning. The path to the falls is surrounded by a local market and fair. You could buy colourful jewelry, water pistols, and fruit. You could also test your strength on a punching bag, throw darts at balloons, or climb a rope ladder.
It was amazing to finish the trip with a true local experience. Although the mountains and valleys are spectacular the true beauty of this country is in its people. At first glance they seem quiet and reserved but after spending some time they reveal themselves to be welcoming and hospitable. They are proud of their country, and rightfully so.
We finish our trip by riding back into Osh late in the afternoon on day 14. We enjoy a group meal and reflect on the previous two weeks. The trip has exceeded expectations both in terms of the natural beauty and the people. This country is yet to be “discovered” but based upon our experiences, it will not take long!
We are lucky at Compass to have travelled to some amazing destinations, yet even we were astounded by the raw beauty of this country. In a world where Lonely Planet has a guidebook for every location, except Kyrgyzstan, this country remains wild, rugged and undiscovered.
It is an epic destination in every sense of the world, and travellers to the country experience the essence of real travel. And there is no better way to explore this country, it’s mountains, it’s switchbacks and it’s people, than from the seat of a motorcycle!
Our Kyrgyzstan Explorer 2018 is already selling fast, come join us for this unique riding destination.
Come and Join Compass Expeditions in Kyrgyzstan in 2018