All Roads lead to (and from) Osh

Trip Start Apr 26, 2012
Trip End Oct 31, 2012

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Flag of Kyrgyzstan  ,
Monday, July 16, 2012

We were awake and fully packed by 8am knowing quite well the car wouldn't be on time. A few phone calls from Danyir in Osh assuring us it was coming put our minds at rest. When it finally arrived at 9 it was immediately obvious that the Mercedes station wagon would not fit four people, a dog, all our luggage plus two bikes even if we did strip them down. Eireen and Michael, our German companions, had half suspected this might happen and weren’t too fussed in the beginning. The driver and the Osh Guesthouse representative kept insisting we could manage it, even suggesting we strap the bikes to the roof. With no roof racks, however, they soon realized the car roof would be toast if we did.

They drove off in a huff and we had a few conversations with Danyir about getting a bigger one. About then the Germans decided they’d had enough and went down to Osh Bazaar on their bikes to see what they could dig up themselves. Right about the time we got a new price on a car from the guesthouse the Germans were bargaining in the market. A price comparison meant they knew where to aim for and could be sure of the car.

About 11.00 they arrived back at the guesthouse and we prepared to load up. But no….It wasn’t going to be that easy. The guy who bought them back had had a change of heart and wasn’t going to take us, his friend was! So… after a lot of discussion, Michael went with the driver to inspect the newly promised car and the rest of us sat back to wait. More than an hour later he finally returned and we were on our way.

The ride out of Bishkek was along busy roads lined with market stalls and the sprawling Car Bazaar where you can buy anything with four wheels, no questions asked! After an hour we turned south and started the long slow climb up to the first pass. We passed a broken down truck coming the other way, the refrigeration system obviously kaput as it was spewing white fumes. Not long after that it started to rain and things looked pretty bleak as we passed the tree-line. We soon reached a very long tunnel at the top of the pass and immediately understood why most of the cyclists we had met hitched a lift through. At about 5km long, it was narrow, poorly lit, dripping with water and we were being blinded by the lights of the oncoming traffic.

As with many long tunnels it was like a different world when we exited. Long green slopes led down to a wide verdant valley stretching to snow laden mountains in the distance. As we drove along the wide, rolling plateau the road was lined with the yurts of the families of horse breeders. In make shift roadside stands recycled plastic bottles of every shape and size were filled with horse milk. Alongside the horse milk you could also buy such things as white balls of horse milk cheese and litre bottles of fresh honey and mead. At regular intervals herds of horses in small close groups stood with their tails to the wind to avoid the cold. Quite often we would see the women milking the mares and carrying pails of the fresh warm milk back to their yurts.

At the end of the plateau we descended along another river valley where we spotted a number of men fly fishing for trout. The valley eventually emptied out into a large lake which we had to drive all the way around. By now the landscape had changed and the lake shore had become less green and sparsely populated. Our driver, with his chin to the steering wheel, was doing his best Nigel Mansell impersonation, squeeling the wheels around every bend, obviously trying to make up for our late start and unconcerned with the price of rubber.

As we left the lake behind, we picked up the beautiful blue-green Naryn River at Karakol village and followed it for 40km through a deep spectacular gorge. It was almost impossible to get a photo as the van was Japanese and the driver was on the right hand side blocking the view. From the gorge we took the road along the Uzbek border until the turn off near the border post. Here we turned left and headed for Jalalabad. By this time the sun was setting over a much flatter agricultural landscape, the road lined with obviously in-season water melons.

We drove through the darkness till about 10.30 when the driver suddenly stopped the car at the side of the road, focused his headlights on a particular watermelon stand and spent the next 15minutes shaking, tapping and prodding various large fruits until he found 4 obviously perfect specimens. WTF!!

We arrived in Osh about 12.30 and rang the guys at the guesthouse as we entered town. They directed the driver to the appropriate drop off and we decanted everything. The guys helped us up to our rooms in an apartment building. Within 15minutes we had sorted things and as the bathroom was occupied we laid our weary bones on the bed. It was no time at all before we were blowing some well-earnt zzz’s. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to say goodbye to our German friends as they left the next morning early.

We spent a couple of days getting our trip to the Pamirs sorted and did a bit of exploratory walking around Osh. It certainly wasn’t as picturesque as Bishkek and it was a fair bit hotter, rising to over 35oC on days. The streets were dustier and in much need of repair and the buildings quite a bit more dilapidated. It was however, quite a bit more exotic than up north. The bazaar was a bit more middle eastern, the locals a lot more conservative, the mosque a much greater focus and us tourists a lot more conspicuous. I felt a lot more inappropriate having a beer in public than up north. Osh is definitely the crossroads to a lot of other places rather than a destination in itself. Everyone we met was wanting to get somewhere else…mostly south to Tajikistan, north to Bishkek, west to Kashgar in China or east to Uzbekistan.
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