Driving to China (ish) - Day 23

Kyrgyzstan's flag
Asia » Kyrgyzstan » Bishkek
May 23rd 2015
Published: May 29th 2015
Edit Blog Post

Day 23 - Tamgar to Bishkek:

Our last day. It was around 200 miles to Bishkek airport by the most direct route, but we wanted to take a longer and more challenging path.

The sun was up early and we soon had sausage, eggs and coffee going on the stove. From our vantage point above the lake Dave spotted an excellent location for hole 11 of T.L.C.E.P. See the first photo.

Needing a long iron from the hillside tee to clear the road and as much beach as possible, John was delighted to pick the 8-iron. Dave F had the 9, whilst I was quietly confident with my wedge.

John’s teeshot did indeed carry the furthest onto the middle of the beach, but mine and Dave’s balls disappeared into the surf. Once we were all back on the sand however, John realised that his club was a poor choice for traversing a 250 yard ‘bunker’. We all put another ball each onto the lake after that, but my club selection was totally vindicated as I won the hole using only 14 strokes. Dave took 17 shots, whilst John (22 strokes) may as well have stayed in his sleeping bag.

The scores after 11 holes: DP = 20, DF = 24, JR = 26. We planned to make a 7-hole course later in the day to make it up to 18.

We left most of the camping gear behind for locals/travellers, and I finally admitted that there was no point bringing the two 20 litre spare fuel tanks any further. The guidebooks urge caution but are a little outdated on this score, as on some stretches of road there are more petrol stations than cars. In the last three countries there were certainly more per mile than in the UK on the roads we used.

At the western end of Issyk Kol we diverted from the direct road to Bishkek onto the A367 through Kochkor and Chaek. The road quickly became a dirt track, sloping slowly upwards through the valleys. Sat nav didn’t work out here, and we began to realise that the track was winding so much that our estimates of distance and time were way out. The condition of the track was very poor with potholes, large loose rocks and ruts. It warranted a speed of 25 mph or less, but we wanted to reach the high passes before nightfall and pushed on at double that.

The car, which had held up gloriously so far, was receiving some serious abuse. We were already astonished that the springs had held on for 6000 miles by then, but to survive this last section intact was simply freakish. The final 30 mile climb up to the M41 highway took us through a ravine next to a raging river. Dave F drove it beautifully, but I winced at every blind bend anticipating the oncoming truck that would surely push us into the water and rocks below. Just before we reached the M41 something did go on the suspension – we thought the left rear, though it wasn't a spring – and as I swapped into the driver's seat Dave advised that she was now “a bit squirmy”.

“A bit squirmy”........ no kidding, there.

The M41 highway is the primary route linking the capital city Bishkek with Osh, the second largest. There is a lot of traffic. The road is a regional attraction in its own right as it winds and snakes steeply over several high passes. After Osh the road is commonly known as the Pamir Highway, and a 4x4 is recommended. We joined the road just before the Too Ashuu pass, climbing to more than 3,400m about sea level before descending towards Bishkek.

Our last petrol stop did not have 95-octane, and Spinx(!) could only maintain 25mph at 4000 revs on the weak 92-brew inside of her. It was a long climb to the top of the pass, and we hoped to stop for 7 holes of golf at the top. We passed above the first layer of clouds, and then the snowline, and as we reached the summit it was actually snowing.

There was a bit of a layby at the top but not much room to swing a meercat and as hgv’s roared past, kicking up slush in the failing light I stopped to take a photo and the coolant flooded out once more. No golf to be had here.

The start of the downslope was a 2 mile tunnel through the mountain. Cars could squeeze past each other in the darkness but trucks had to wait for a green light. The road surface in the tunnel it was terrible, though you could barely see it through the collecting smoke and fumes. Huge extractor fans punctuated the walls, and though they made little difference to the pall , the roaring sound effect was like passing a freight train every 50 metres.

The tunnel spat us out still more than 11,000 feet high and onto the steep winding descent. The brakes were fine but that ‘squirminess’ made some corners feel like you were drifting, others like the back was stepping out. Brake, steer, correct, double-back, brake, steer, correct, double-back. Repeat, repeat, repeat. At 9000 feet we stopped for two cowboys driving their 20 horses up the pass. At 7000 feet we met 200 sheep also going up and over, skipping in and out of the waiting cars and trucks.

Finally the slope shallowed and the gorge opened to give us a brief view of a beautiful red setting sun. One last cop stopped us at the bottom to say who-knows-what then shake my hand. John took over the driving for the last stretch through the night - towards the airport and our flights home.


The car really was the star. All three of us have travelled widely enough to be confident about making our plans happen and adapting where necessary, but this journey was different as the whole premise surrounded the durability of a 15 year old family sedan: Front wheel drive, 130k on the clock, on its 7th owner who bought it 3 years ago for just £589 as a part-ex to clear. Other than swapping out the alloys for steel wheels the Mondeo had no extra mods at all. Two spare tyres went unused. Two puncture repair cannisters went unused. Two fuel cans went unused. The socket set, the screwdrivers, the hoseclips, the duct tape, the pliers, the spare bulbs, the bungee cords, the jump leads, the footpump - all unused. And because all that fitted in the boot alongside 3 rucksacks and 3 sets of camping gear, the roofrack went unused.

So after covering 6482 miles in just 23 days - much across some truly terrible surfaces, at speed, in all conditions, whilst fully laden with us and our stuff - the only things to fail were 3 fuses, an o-ring and whatever came loose on the right-rear on the last day. Utterly astonishing.

So what's next? We're thinking Africa, north to south, next year. I'd love to try it in another Ford Mondeo just for the symmetry and the challenge, but I have a feeling that only a big 4x4 will do. If anyone has any suggestions for either the route or the vehicle, or wants to come along, let me know.

I said in the first post that I'd cut out the cheesiness, but here at the end of this blog I just can't resist. My favourite quote, by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia):

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible."



1st June 2015

fantastic adventure
Hi David, I really enjoyed reading about your trip. Amazing idea and fantastic that you managed to carry it out. Nice blogging as well. Look forward to read about your next trip. Inga
1st June 2015

If you want any more details about the specifics of that trip (eg costs, visas etc) let me know. Also, I'm happy to hear your suggestions for our next trip :-)
23rd August 2015

Fantastic !
Thanks for wonderful description of a fantastic journey.
23rd August 2015

Thanks for following along!
Hopefully you'll manage a few adventures too. Best of luck!
25th June 2017

Well done you trio
Hi my partner and i are both 70 we are looking at driving around the world in our converted mercedes sprinter van loved your blogg and would consider this a wonderful part of our journey.
25th June 2017

Thanks, and good luck!
I really hope you go ahead with your plan. Let me know if you start a blog too. I found this site quite good, and was typing up each day's 'report' on a tablet whilst we traveled. Just about everywhere had WiFi, so I saved it as a word doc, ready to be copied and pasted into the blog when internet became available. My best advice, if you haven't attempted a long road trip before, is to: 1) assume that the roads will be very poor, and very hard on the suspension. So either take your time, or get the springs etc checked out, and maybe upgraded, before you go. 2) Assume that you will be stopped on various occasions by dodgy police, so don't keep lots of cash or valuables on you as you drive, and don't keep anything in the back that can't easily be searched by them, or else they may wreck it to get it open. 3) Don't stop for someone waving you down to help them, unless you're really sure they're legit. If not sure, but want to help, drive on, turn around and do another pass. 4) Assume that traffic coming the other way will try lunatic overtaking maneuvers on your side of the road, quite regularly. 5) Download the Heremaps phone app, and then download all the maps of the countries you plan to travel through. The app works offline then, just using the phone's GPS, and was brilliant for helping us navigate, even in the rural passes of Kyrgyzstan. Other than that, it'll probably be easier than you imagine :-) Let me know if I can help with any other advice or suggestions. Kind regards Dave
22nd July 2018

Simply Awesome
I've just finished the Rust2Rome trip starting in Edinburgh and finishing in Rome and has given me the appetite to do something bigger like yours. Loved the write up and wondering what you did with the car when you left.

Tot: 2.251s; Tpl: 0.064s; cc: 9; qc: 52; dbt: 0.0627s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb