After nine days in Almaty I was bored and it was well and truly time to move on, Bike serviced, clothes washed and food stocked. The day before had rained heavily most of the day so I was praying to the Rain Gods and to the Lunatic Driver Gods that I get out of Almaty unscathed. I got ready early as the traffic doesn’t seem to build up until well after 9 a.m. fuel topped up and off I went east of Almaty in search of a small Lake called Oz. Issyk, near the small town of Issyk, funny that.
The Rain Gods had answered my call but the Lunatic Drivers Gods had ignored me, it was as if someone in the centre of town had dropped the start flag and the race was on, single lane road no problems we can fit 3 cars wide to overtake, blind corners, over crests no worries. The Eastern ‘Suburbs’ of Almaty seemed to go on forever and it took me well over an hour to be free of most of the traffic and not long after that I turned off the highway towards Issyk. On the south side of the town there is a Gate and a small fee needs to be paid to enter, once in the road slowly climbs beside a small fast flowing River with the freshest water I have seen for a while.
After a short drive you arrive at Issyk Lake which as you will see later is one of many Issyk Lake’s.
After admiring the Lake for a while I headed off with my next destination being Lake Kaindy which I had read contains the remnants of a dead forest where the dead trees still stand all through parts of the Lake. I took a Gravel Road and rode towards the small town of Saty where I got wet again. There is a Road in there somewhere….
Then I took the turn off to the Lake which looked Ok at first.
I arrived at a River Crossing where the River had taken over the road.
I knew that there was another River Crossing after this and this was the only track in and out of the Lake, the Black clouds were rolling in and I made an executive decision to give the Lake a miss, as much as I wanted to see it I didn’t like the thought of trying to get out again after a nights rain. So I headed back through Saty towards Lake Kolsai No 1. there is also Kolsai 2 and 3 more about those later. So after paying another National Park Entrance fee to an Old Lady in a small hut who took forever to write out a receipt I was on my way up another dirt track and arrived at the Lake half an hour later.
Lake Kolsai is the first of three Lakes located along this Valley, No 1 (this one) is where you must leave your Car or Motorcycle and hike to the others, this takes around 16 hours to get to No 3 then another 16 hours to get back. I wasn’t kitted up for that and I wasn’t keen on leaving my bike here unsecured for that length of time so after spending some time talking to other tourists and watching the rain clouds get closer I rode back down the Valley in search of a Campsite. I took a small muddy track on the other side of the Valley which got steeper and steeper so I decided to turn around, the one thing this Bike doesn’t do well is turn around so it fell over in the mud. I couldn’t lift it with all the luggage on so removed the Tank Bag and then emptied the Rear Top Case onto the grass next to the Track, then the Rain came down, by the time I had lifted the bike and threw everything into the Top Case everything was soaking wet.
In the pouring rain I slid back down the steep hill and found a small flat area right next to a sign saying ‘No Camping’ and quickly set up the tent and climbed inside. It rained heavily all night and I was glad I turned around on the track to Lake Kaindy. The next morning the sun was out.
So I laid everything out on the ground to dry while I made a Coffee and relaxed.
It was after 10 a.m. by the time I headed out of the Valley and back down to ask the Old Lady to please let me out.
Saty is getting a new bit of road, just not while I’m here.
On the way out towards the Highway I stopped at this ‘crack in the ground’ which started from a mere Ditch south of here and will eventually become Charyan Canyon further to the north, this will be my next destination.
The Road to Charyn Canyon.
And yet another cost to get in, Kazakhstan is reminding me more and more of home…
My Serious Mongolian pose I’ve been practicing since Mongolia.
The track to the base of the Canyon made famous in Long Way Round where they had issues getting back up again. The track was very steep with lose gravel, large rocks and washaways so in a way I was glad that the Rangers had banned Motorcycles from going down it.
So now it was time to get back on the road and head towards the small town of Kegen, which was the last town before the remote Border crossing I would use to get into Kyrgyzstan. After Kegen I found this nice hill overlooking the Mountains which separate Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and made it my home for the night.
The next day I was up and gone for what I thought would be a short ride to the Border. It appeared that as I came through Kegen I had taken the wrong turn and I wasn’t where I thought I was, nothing a few random tracks can’t fix.
I eventually arrived at the correct Border Crossing which is located in a beautiful Valley.
After around 30 minutes for the Kazak’s to let me out and all of 10 minutes for the Kyrg’s to let me in I was riding away wondering if I was actually in Kyrgyzstan or still in No Mans Land with hours ahead of me. Right off the bat Kyrgyzstan was impressive, the scenery, the people waved, but unfortunately the roads and drivers were still crap.
I arrived in the moderate sized town of Karakol and braved the crazy drivers to find a Café for lunch. Two young girls were helping run the café and with the help of Google Translate I had a great lunch of Dumplings and Bread. While I was there I met an Australian couple riding a Honda Africa Twin, Graeme and Katrina who just happen to see my bike parked out the front. So after a long chat they headed off to find a place to stay and I rode towards Lake Issyk (Yes another one) to find somewhere to camp. It is warm here and there are a lot of locals enjoying the Lake, I wasn’t used to this many people but I eventually found this place beside the southern shore of the Lake which was perfect.
I have no Idea what this is all about….
One of the local drivers who all seem to assume the position in the middle of the road no matter what, it makes it rather difficult when you are coming the other way and they just won’t move over.
I then saw a sign saying “Salt Lake 12 Kms” and I thought OK that should be good a dry Salt Lake. The road was average Gravel but some of the Adobe Houses along the route were interesting.
This guy thought he could do the Creek Crossing for me….. as long as he didn’t need to put his feet down.
So I arrived at another Gate near the Salt Lake where there were a bunch of young guys who said I needed to pay 250 Som to enter, then it was 200 and then 150, I wasn’t sure that they even worked there so I gave them 100 Som ($1.80 AUD) and they let me in. As I rode over the crest all I saw was a small Lake with water in it and a lot of locals laying on the sand and swimming, apparently the high salt content is good for the skin that’s why it’s called Salt Lake……it took me all of around 2 minutes to get back on my bike and ride away, if I wanted a swim I could go to the real Lake for free, lesson learned.
I stopped off at Orto-Tokoy Reservoir on the way through and the water was crystal clear.
Not long after the Reservoir I took a turn onto another Gravel road heading towards Song-Kul. Song-Kul or Song Lake (Kul =Lake) is situated at just over 3000 metres above sea level and was a place I had heard was spectacular. As Song-Kul was over 800 meters higher than Mount Kosciuszko (Australia’s tallest Mountain) I thought it might be a little cold but surely it couldn’t be as bad as Siberia. This nice and quiet Gravel road heads west through a beautiful Valley for around 50 Kilometres.
Then it was time to start climbing….
And climbing, 3000 Metres wasn’t going to climb itself.
The remaining Glacier’s were cut away by excavators to clear the road up the Mountain.
The temperature had dropped from around 30 degrees in the Valley to around 16 degrees, then Song-Kul came into view.
A storm looked like it was heading in from the west so I rode past all of the many Home Stays around to the southern side of the Lake and set up the Tent out of the wind.
I was 3030 Metres above Sea Level which is the Highest I’ve ever ridden, and its the highest place I have ever been (Flying doesn’t count) so there are two firsts for the one day.
The clouds were black but the rain didn’t eventuate so I made some dinner and sat back and enjoyed the view.
Then I had a Dinner guest from one of the local Yurts, after chatting in broken English and showing him some photos of other countries he rode off towards home with a wave and a massive smile on his face.
The night was cool but not cold and I had a great sleep, when I woke the sun lit up the Mountains in the Background.
So after enjoying the view some more and packing up the camping gear, slowly as at this altitude doing this can easily have you breathing heavily. I rode off south from Song-Kul towards Osh which would be my next major stop before Tajikistan. The southern track involved climbing over Moldo-Ashuu Pass so at 3346 Meters this would be my new record. On the way up I met this couple of Cyclists from the Netherlands and I thought I had it hard, I would meet them a few times coming down the other side.
At the Peak I met Patrick and his wife from France driving their customised Land Rover Defender who have kindly offered me a place to stay just outside Paris later in the year. After chatting about their trip it was time to go down abit…..
The road down….
On the way down I met John, an Aussie living in Canada on a Yamaha WR250 (Moto Mavericks), sometimes I could have done with a smaller lighter bike like this and other times like riding in the snow on the Transiberian Highway I’m glad I have the BMW. If you are reading this thanks mate for the track and road advice and the Tajik money. I really need to start taking photos of the people I meet……
I got to the bottom of the Valley and stopped for something to eat and a little Bike Maintenance, coming from Australia its not often you get to experience scenery like this, little did I know that this would be just one of many Passes and Valley’s I would experience over the next two days.
Climbing and descending Mountain Passes one after the other became my work for the rest of the day, this is how some look on the GPS.
And from my eyes……
After riding over countless spectacular Mountain Ranges and through Green Valley’s it was time to pack it in for the day. I found a great campsite at an abandoned Salt Processing Facility, it had its’ own Bay Watch style Life Guard Tower…..
A small uncrowded Beach…
And all the Salt I could eat for free…..
Then a storm rolled in and made a lot of noise but not a lot of rain….
The following morning it was back to my day job of being a Mountain Goat….
More Semi’s coming down the Mountain, I’m not sure where they were going as they were all carrying ReBar (Steel Reinforcement Bar used in Concrete construction), I guess there wasn’t any alternative.
Some other smaller Trucks to share the Road with.
Mountainside Horse Conference…….
A few dumb Dog’s and even Dumber Owners who think it funny to chase Motorcycles, until one goes under the front wheel, I feel sorry for the Cyclists as I can easily out run the many lose dogs that are common in all of the countries I have visited since South Korea.
The Gravel Roads wind through the Mountains and through the Valley’s and except for a few trucks there is very little traffic, it is just a stunning part of the world to ride.
Prime Real Estate just waiting for a new owner…
Climbing the next Mountain, I had lost count by then…..
This Pass was nearly 3800 metres and still climbing…..
At the top was an Ambulance….not sure why or if this was just a coincidence…..
Then once at the top there was only one way to go….I feel sorry for this Donkey….
This Excavator was clearing some of the Glacier from the track.
Which didn’t leave me much room to sneak around between him and a very big drop….
Throw in slippery mud and it became interesting but in the end was no problem…
The track descended into the next Valley and there were no more Passes to climb which was disappointing as I was enjoying the views but I needed to get to Osh as it was getting late and find somewhere to stay.
Back to some type of crazy civilisation and I was quickly wishing I was back in the Mountains.
As I rode through a small Village north of Osh I was pulled over by the Police, this was not the first time but the others had been just a check or to say hello. I was asked for the usual, Passport, Drivers Licence and Rego papers then one of the Police showed me a very nice picture of me on their Speed Camera apparently doing 64 in a 50 Kilometre Zone. I hadn’t seen any 50 KPH signs and told him I thought the Villages were 60KPH, in broken English he said “No 50 and you need to pay a fine. He then showed me a printed page which said 1000 Som for I am assuming the 14 KPH I was over the limit and said, “You must pay”. I knew what he was after so I played dumb and said “OK I’m sorry, do I go to the Police Station and Pay?” he looked at his book and said, ” You Pay or I write the fine” and put the Pen near the book but didn’t start writing, he looked at me again. I asked what the offence was listed above for only 500 Som and he just looked at me so I said “What if I pay that one now and then I don’t need to go to the Police Station?” his eyes lit up and he couldn’t say yes quickly enough, so 500 Som went straight into his pocket for his Retirement Fund and he handed me back my documents and said, “Thankyou, enjoy your day”, I replied “you too”.
What he didn’t know was that I had been legitimately caught doing 14 KPH over the limit and walked away with a fine of only around $9.00 AUD, I kind of like this system of negotiating your speeding fine, it works for me and as I rode out of the Village I had to smile when I saw a 50 KPH sign.
An hour after that I was battling the manic Osh Traffic trying to find the Tes Guest House that John had told me about.
After going around in circles for a while, down a Pedestrian Path and through some Road Works I found the Guesthouse and settled in with quiet a few other travellers for the next 5 days.