Published: July 9th 2010May 24th 2010
the 'road' to an international border crossing
the Irkeshtam Pass and the Kyrgyzstan - China border
We only have 24 hours in Kyrgyzstan but what a 24hours!!!
Two border crossings, two high passes, snow, ice, mud and Chinese trucks.
We planned to spend 7 days in Kyrgyzstan travelling through Osh and Jalalabad then into China via the Torugart Pass. Do Osh and Jalalabad sound familiar? Yes there are the stronghold of ousted President Bakiyev and the site of the recent violence between the local Uzbek and Kyrgyz people. So once again we put on our sensible heads and cut our stay to 24hrs only venturing 20 miles into Kyrgyzstan then turning right to cross the Irkeshtam Pass into China.
The dirt road up to the Tajikistan border at 4282m was in great condition (apart from the corrugations) but it stopped abruptly at the first two 'Nissan huts' and was replaced by a deep mud bath. After squelching our way round a few more 'Nissan huts' (a bit of a grand description for the little tin shacks stuck at 4282m where the border guards live for a year at a time) we are successfully out of Tajikistan. From here its only 20km to the Kyrgyz border but being in no-man's land, and hence nobodies responsibility, the
40 miles of corrugations
it was a well bumpy road in Tajikistan that took us upto the Kyrgyzstan border at 4284m.
'road' gets even worse; its down hill through a very deep, sticky, clarty mud quagmire with trucks bogged down in it - the only was to get through is to pick a deep rut, stay in it and paddle. At the end of the mud slide a more solid road appears but as soon as we get on it and accelerate away it starts snowing. And it keeps on snowing all the way to the Kyrgyz border.
At the Kyrgyzstan border there is a nice big covered area but that's on the other side of the barrier. To get through the barrier we have to stand and wait in the snow while documents are checked and then we have to empty out the panniers, in the snow. Only then do we get to go under cover for the permit issuing phase of the operation. Finally, after the usual few hours of waiting, we get into Kyrgyzstan. Its supposed to be green, lush, pasture land but all we see is drizzle and/or sleet for the 20 miles to Sary Tash where our overnight accommodation awaits: - a yurt on the other side of a big, slippery, muddy field!!.
no-man's land between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
the mud was much deeper than it looks on the photo - the bike wheels practically disappeared
while away the evening eating and drinking inside the very cosy, warm yurt. Outside it keeps on snowing - the yurt has no windows so you have no idea what's going on outside, so its a real surprise each time you venture out. By morning there's 4 inches of snow on the bikes and its still snowing and ahead of us is the 3800m Irkeshtam Pass. None of us have been over this pass before so we have no idea what to expect, however, delaying our crossing until tomorrow is not an option - to get our Chinese road travel permits we had to specify the date we would enter China and its non-negotiable so its today or never. So at 06:00, we start brushing snow off the bikes and at 06:30 set off across the now snow covered, frozen, muddy field.
Heading out of town we are relieved to find a beautiful tarmac road with lots of grip despite the snowy conditions. For the first hour we make good progress despite the snow then the tarmac is replaced by gravel --- then the snow gets heavier --- and heavier --- then there's a white out --- then the
Chinese trucks start appearing --- then the gravel is replaced by mud --- then the mud is replaced by ice; proper frozen solid, imposeible to stand up, slippery ice --- then the snow banks get higher and higher --- then we are on a narrow track hacked out by a bulldozer --- then we round a corner and find the way ahead jammed solid with trucks for miles and miles. All this and we have only gone 20 miles!!
The only way forwards is to filter past all the lorries which are surging forwards every now and then. Its hard enough just standing up and walking so riding the 20 miles to the actual border takes hours. In total there are 40 drops shared between 11 bikes!! Once you stop its almost impossible to get going again on the ice, especially when you are an Edwin who's too short to get both feet firmly on the ground. Plus all this is taking place at 3780m where the bikes seem to be twice as heavy as normal. But at least all the effort is keeping us nice and warm, most riders are overheating and stripping off their thermal layers.
all the trucks, ice and mud it takes us 7hr to cover the 40 odd miles to the border!! Then when we get out of Kyrgyzstan and up to the Chinese border its closed for lunch!! When it opens there's lots of marching and official hand waving with exaggerated gestures to direct the lorries to their designated spots. We too are waved into a hall where the officials fill out the forms for us - we are not allowed to fill them out ourselves. Four at a time we are sent to the immigration desk where we have to stand in line - I mean in a proper line, directly behind each other, no turning round and talking. If we step a few inches out of line the guards come over and shoo us back into the correct position. It is so different from the relaxed, they are foreigners what shall we do wit them, attitude at the 'stan borders.
By the time we get out its well late and the sun is low but we still have 140 miles to ride to Kashgar. Luckily its all good roads - great motorcycling roads with sweeping bends down through the
mountains. After all that paddling though mud and ice its nice to be moving again. The evening light is superb bringing out all the colours in the hills and making the snowy mountains in the distance sparkle. By the time we get to Kashgar its dark but our way into the city is lit by all the flashing, multi-coloured neon lights. We have been on deserted roads for the last few weeks with only sheep to worry about. Now we get our first taste of Chinese big city driving mayhem in the dark!!
Its 11pm when we finally pull into the hotel and celebrate with our first Chinese meal. Over a beer our illustrious leader Kevin (double Guinness World Record holder for fastest motorbike trips and leader of many motorcycle adventure trips) admits “I didn’t anticipate this being the most difficult riding day I have done, let alone the team. I’ve never encountered such severe conditions”.
There are more photos below