Out of Tajikistan is easy peasy.. I watch a couple of Tajik soldiers playing football. This is one of the highest border crossing in the world but they play like they’re at sea level. A cold and exposed place even in the summer. Take your boots off and step inside to the welcome of a wave of heat from the fire and the smells of cooking, nutty brown faces in the shadows. NASA should send their prospective Mars astronauts to places like these.. living on top of each other in isolation for long periods.
There are 25km of nomansland here before you get to Kyrgyzstan, but there are people living in the occasional hut and small farm along the route.. not something I’ve seen before. I wonder how that works..
The road is the perfect shit/spectacular mix and any pain of having your bollocks bashed by the seat is easily distracted by the spectacular scenery. I’ve always loved Kyrgyzstan. Other countries have their spectacular parts by in Kyrgyzstan it’s just everywhere. Get the border.. boots off again .. into the ‘office’. Nobody here again and the guard is a lovely bloke.. he just tells us to sit down and he fills in all the paperwork for us. This border isn’t computerised so he writes little notes all over the customs forms to make sure we can leave with no problem.
We’re meeting some other riders in Osh.. congregating for the next piece of the jigsaw. The sun is dropping an it’s windy and cold. We’re riding through the groves in the mountains, racing the shadows. Get to Osh and it’s the usual .. why the hell don’t they just save their money and forget about traffic lights completely. They’ve tried them, but they just don’t work round here. Nobody gives a toss. Put yourself in London mode.. push.. shove.. and dare the traffic .. it’s the only way through. Get to a big overland hostel on the outskirts and meet our first rider. He’s come over from London and been here a while. I don’t think we’re going to get on… and I’ve not got off my bike yet..
We’re early..about 5/6 days early.. You need contingency on these trips and we’ve not used any. Travelling in a pair reduces the likely hood of problems.. unless one is riding the Devil’s daughter of course .. but we’ve done ok so far.
We decide to spend a couple of days here to rest up. I hate resting up… resting makes me restless …
Get up.. breakfast.. looks good.. looks ‘normal’ for a change. There are a varied collection of people here as usual, including the ‘I speak in a loud voice and love to tell everyone all about myself and never let anyone else get a word in edgeways’ knob… I could probably fit a fist in sideways mate so beware .. I know I shouldn’t get wound up by these muppets but they just grip my shit .. they waste my life ..
[PC Mode off]
Our room is right next to the toilets and they seem to be the busiest room in the place. Judging by the smell there are a lot of people busy turning their bowels inside out and using every hole available to get alien bugs out their systems.. that’s not a good sign .. must be the campers.. probably vegans.. or veggies .. or Jains. This is what happens if you don’t eat properly.. it’s like putting piss in a petrol tank .. I don’t believe in a God.. I believe in Mother Nature and if you think you know better than her .. good luck with that. You fuck with her at your peril .. just look out the window
[PC Mode on]
Ahhhhhhhh… that’s better ..
After breakfast we wander down town. It’s time for another shave and a haircut. The hunt is on .. the sun is evil hot so we head for the cool cover of the market and search among the stalls for a man with a blade.
No.. not that blade thanks .. something smaller ..
You hear these places before you see them.. sounds of men laughing and chatting .. scissors clipping .. the occasional raised voice .. and the smell of .. blokes..
I’ve lucked out.. I get the big boss.. and the full treatment.. We chat away in my pigeon Russian.. families .. kids .. work .. I don’t know what ‘going away anywhere nice this year’ is in Russian but it was probably said and ignored.. At home I use a triple blade and shave once .. he uses one blade and shaves me 3 times.. skin like soft glass .. all the nerve ending exposed .. feeling every draft of air .. delicious.. and a haircut too, not that there is much of that to do.. I give him twice what he asks for and he starts singing ..
We go for a wander.. someone is knocking at my door… my back door.. I think something is keen to get out so I head back to the hostel in the heat… feeling worse with every step.. fuck it! I’m going down fast. Get to the room ad let the pressure off but the bug has it’s claws in my guts and it seems happy to stay. Lay down.. shut down.. I’m woken up by sicky burps .. my favourites. I hate being sick.. I panic.. and I think my stomach is going to appear in the sink before my eyes.. get to the shower and honk… there you are you bastard.. it’s the ham from the omelette.. probably touched by one of the evacuees using the toilet outside .. or left in this heat .. either way it’s making an very unattractive sick pizza in the bottom of the shower.. back to bed for a few minutes .. 8 hours later it’s the middle of the night and I wake up with more sicky burps.. and something alien moving about in my stomach looking for an exit. It feels like it’s trying to cut it’s way out .. I make it to the bathroom and the next thing I remember is coming round later looking at the ceiling .. the pain got really intense and I think I just passed out.. by this stage the alien has managed to work his way through the maze of my intestines and is ready to leave .. right now .. I’m sure there are scientists that have calculated the amount of thrust a human can produce.. well I seem to have the afterburners on too .. the sound is like pointing a hose in a bucket.. no chance of a splash even .. it’s all one way traffic .. I can actually feel the pain exiting my body .. brilliant. Farts back to manual and we’re ready to go.
We decide to head north a few hundred kms for a ride out to Tokogul with our Kiwi friends. They’re heading to Almaty to meet some friends and this will be our final day together. They’re a lovely couple and I’ll miss their company. If you see them about, wish them well and send them my love..
The ride up is stupid hot. I’m really getting tired of this heat. I’m riding with all my vents and cuffs open to try and scoop as much air as possible. As much air… and bees. I feel something shoot up my sleeve and sting me.. bastard. Stop.. take my jacket off.. a big dead bee drops out and I have a good swelling developing on my arm. Jacket on .. ride away .. 10 minutes later .. the exact same thing happens again .. so now I have forearm like the world wanking champion and I can hardly get my jacket over it. Get up to the lake and there is an old hotel perched by the water. No rooms though apparently. Fuckywank.. ‘Are you sure?’.. Here is her first reply..
‘Yes’.. ‘really?’ .. ‘yes’ .. ‘could you check?’ . ‘I did’ .. ‘so no rooms at all’.. ‘No .. apart from Room 25’.. WTF! Why do people do this? Maybe room 25 is the scene of an ancient murder.. or it’s haunted .. who cares. It’s a double so the Kiwis have the bed and we get the floor. This place was obviously a Russian tourist hotel and it’s fallen into .. well .. disrepair would be an understatement .. but it’s on the lake and I can get horizontal under cover.. all my requirements are met..
Next morning we wish the Kiwis a sad farewell and they head out and over the horizon..
There are some kids in the car park.. one seems to be the unique owner of a kevlar skull.. christ knows how he did that ..
Spend the day letting gravity take us slowly back south to Osh. I say slowly .. but not slowly enough obviously. I come round a corner in a small village and there is a hut outside the police station.. with a man with a gun pointed at me… a RADAR gun obviously. I don’t know how this works out here. I don’t think the police get payed anything at all. I think they all just get turns with the gun. I’m right outside the police station. No words again… I just sigh.. roll my eyes .. give him about £5 .. get a nod .. ride off..
Get back to Osh and the same hostel to meet with 3 of the remaining riders.. at least I get off my bike this time .. before deciding there are one or two that I won’t be sending Christmas cards too ..
We need to service the bikes. Zorros .. a Swiss German I think.. has recently opened a fledgling business where you can do your own servicing and buy help for the difficult stuff. He knows a welder too so I get my rack fixed. I think this is what they call an ‘invisible repair’
I’ve ripped open my trousers on the foot pegs and need a repair so I head own to the market again to find a menders. I find one place.. that points me to another.. that points me to another. Nobody wants to know.. I go back to the 2nd or 3rd place I looked at.. 2 old men bent over ancient sewing machines.. the air thick with glue and polish.. and I ask them again.. I grab a piece of old leather off a shelf and show them .. just patch it .. please .. I reach out my hand .. and he reaches out his. He takes the trousers and sews while his mate takes broken shoes from people at a window and makes them serviceable again. Shoes that would only be in dressing up boxes at home are standard issue here and can’t be thrown away.
My feet are itching and I need to move.. now .. so we decide to ride down to Sary Tash and wait for the others to come down tomorrow. Yet another beautiful ride .. how many times have I thought that this trip .. stop for dinner and meet a friendly French couple who write travel books.. and restore my faith in the Gauls
I see a boy on a horse. The boy and the horse are obviously having an argument about something. The horse is snorting and flaring it’s nostrils and twitching it’s hips and the boy is sitting totally relaxed on it’s back as it stomps around thinking of what its going to do next.. stop.. run .. buck. I feel a real affinity with this lad. We’re both sat astride our recalcitrant steeds.. wondering exactly who is in control. I get off and have a chat. He wants chocolate.. that’s all the kids want .. simple pleasures
We plan on riding to Sary Mogul and we’ve got a tent booked at Mt Lenin base camp. The location is given as the village, and when we get there we’re directed to a track.. it’s an hour up there.. OOOOOOkkkkkkk. We start down the road but quickly meet a river crossing. I wade in up to my knees and can hardly stand up as it’s so running fast.. and it’s all rocky. I look up ‘the perfect recipe for disaster’ and this has all the ingredients so we decide that discretion is the better part of valour and we go back to Sary Tash with our tails between our legs to find a door with a bed and a bog.. if you’re there .. Pamir Extreme.. an oasis amongst the ruins.
We’ve got a day to kick our heels before we head east.. my heals are well kicked by now .. kicked to shit in fact .. so I take the camera for a walk around the village ..
I come to a school. Kids .. lots of kids out playing and lots of women in white supervising. In the UK I would have already been arrested and put on a register for being this close to a school with a camera but out here they just want their pictures taken. The kids all run to the fence and line up then the women just ask me to come in.. open the gates and line the kids up.. snap..
One little kid comes over and I pick him up. Without thinking I just pick him up and throw him way up in the air. I used to do it to my kids. My neighbours said they would just watch the kids appear over the hedge screaming then hear them laugh as they landed. Anyway.. after a 5 second ‘flight’ the kid lands in my arms and starts laughing.. all good .. until I look down. An orderly queue of 40 kids have all queued up for their flights .. and they’re all staring at me .. so I’m in a school throwing kids in the air .. just like I would be at home .. NOT .. I’ve done about 10 and I’m fucked.. we’re at altitude and kiddy throwing is hard work .. and there is a smell .. quite a bad one.. Most of the flights have gone well but a few have obviously had ‘flight fright’ and they’ve literally shit themselves .. I’m getting about a 3/1 alright/shite ratio .. time to leave I think .. so I feign a heart attack and leave the ladies to clean the kids up .. good memories ..
I give the afternoon sun time to mellow and soften before I take a ride back towards Tajikistan to take some pictures. The light is beautiful .. it like golden dust falling from the sky .. it’s falling on the grass .. on the horses .. on the mountains. I get off the bike and just stand there to watch Mother Nature paint with the evening light. Quick light brushstrokes fill the sky .. a thick dark shadow or two start to appear .. sharp lines become blurred and soft .. fuck .. FUCK I love Kyrgyzstan .. and I love this.. just this .. just this right here right now.. the golden globe of the camera just keeps turning and falling .. kill me now .. just kill me now..
Some kids from a lonely Yurt see me and come running through the light.. all giggles and smiles .. panting little bodies .. hair flying about in the wind… holding hands so the little one can keep up..
But I can’t die yet .. I’ve got a date to keep tomorrow .. the next page.. so I go back for my 1000000th bowl of plov and bumpy bunk bed for the night. All the group is here now.. ready to play..
Next morning we’re up and ready to go early… ‘Gentlemen… start your engines’ .. ‘no not you sir… you with the BMW’ The starter switch is being met with silence. It’s cold up here and the battery isn’t showing 12V .. it’s sort of working its way up to it .. 12V hoorah.. but no joy. Its the amps mate.. that’s what you need .. and its all out of amps .. so we jump start it .. and cross our fingers.
Out into the morning towards the Chinese border at Irkeshtam. Fuck what a view.. riding alongside a ridge of white that is the Himalayas.. the scale of everything here is just ‘off’ .. just wrong .. just .. fuuuuck …
Out of Kyrgyzstan we get a smile from the customs bloke as he reads the little notes from his mate at the other border.. a piece of cake.. just about as far away as you can get from what happens next …Back to Tibet