Don’t be afraid of ‘the Stans’. We go deep into Kyrgyzstan
Hidden by the Tian Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan is home to the last true nomads and little else. Here’s how to get there…
‘A shepherd may offer the national drink of horse milk’
‘Smile and you might be invited into a yurt for tea’
Imagine a landlocked country in the heart of Central Asia. Surround it with lush green hills, rugged mountains and roads twirling their way up into the clouds. Pepper it with thousands of horses and a sprinkling of white yurts filled with nomadic families and you have Kyrgyzstan.
It’s a long-forgotten world and discovering it on a motorcycle is special, really special. It will give you a proper taste of what it is to be nomadic – direct from people who have lived this way for thousands of years.
But first, you’ve got to ride hundreds of miles off-road, through ever-changing scenery, cross a vast emptiness, battle sand pits, long gravel roads and mountain passes carved into cliff faces. And it’s going to be the most unbelievable ride of your life.
Our ride through Kyrgyzstan started in Osh after riding in from Tajikistan (another must-do trip). But if you opt for a fly-and-ride, catch a plane from the UK, head straight to the Muztoo garage and pick up your bike (see right). Fill out the paperwork, empty your rucksack into the soft panniers, kick the tyres and plunge into your adventure. Within minutes of crossing into Kyrgyzstan we were soaking in baking heat as we rolled across parched plains. But the road rises fast and towering peaks soon burst out of the flats, no surprise as 93% of the country is mountainous. As we soared higher the wind cooled our Yamaha XT and the hills turned from sandy yellow to pretty green and the tarmac into gravel.
Now it’s an adventure rider’s playground. The country is layerupon-layer of staircases with long, empty green valleys at the top of each one. There’s nothing here but the odd yurt camp so pull-up, smile and you may be invited in for tea and jam!
A seemingly endless ribbon of mountain passes follow. When we’d had enough we popped up the tent nomad-style and cooked our dinner while gazing at some of the most remote vistas in the
world. If you’re lucky (or unlucky, dependent on your taste buds) a friendly shepherd will pop out of nowhere with a bottle of kumis – the Kyrgyz national drink of horse milk. There are no hotels, so to travel like a nomad you’ll need to be self-sufficient and pack a tent, food and water – and probably get used to lukewarm horse milk.
After constantly riding up and over mountains and dirt tracks cut into cliffs, the emptiness became surreal. It was just the two of us, the motorcycle and hundreds of miles of dream-like travel. The riding can be tough, but mostly it’s easy-going gravel. The only hard thing about riding here is the constant need to stop and whip out the camera to capture the startling views.
Our route took us to Song Kol lake. At 3000m high, the lake is protected by a ring of jagged mountains and the surrounding pasture is covered with hardy shepherds and yurt camps.
Pulling over, we propped the XT up against a yurt, swapped our iron horse for a real one and set off into the mountains for a few days (you don’t need a guide and renting a horse for £2 an hour can’t be missed). We chopped and changed daily between four legs and two wheels to circle the lake, stay with nomadic families, huddle around dung fires at night for warmth and tend to their horses. It’s an experience like no other. It’ll just be you, raw nature and only those who are willing to live there.
Kyrgyzstan is one of the wildest places on earth and the last place in the world with deep-rooted nomadic traditions. If travelling like one is on your bucket list, then this is where you need to be.