Day 92 Olmaliq – mountains east of Angren
It is a late Sunday evening and I am sitting in the garden in our little B&B in Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgizstan. Today has been a nice day with some clouds and cool temperatures (still above 30 though). This evening we enjoy a cool breeze that makes the leaves of the trees in the garden tremble and in the afternoon we even enjoyed a light summer rain. Tomorrow is our cycling day and we hope this kind of nice and cool weather will keep us company on our journey up to the Kyrgiz mountains.
So how did we get here?
Uzbekistan is a country we only planned to visit for a few days but since we couldn’t go through Iran due to the presidential elections we had to re-route and take the ferry across the Caspian Sea and then cycle across Uzbekistan from the very west to the very east. It turned out to be 2068 km and Uzbekistan is the country that we have cycled most kilometers in so far and it has been an interesting experience I will later write a separate article about.
Uzbekistan has large deserts but after we left Samarkand we were in densely populated areas. We traveled through the cotton areas around Yangiyer and Gulistan and passed Olmalia which is a town of heavy and dirty industry.
Just as in the former Soviet union Uzbekistan still requires foreign tourists to register every 3 days and this is an issue that lessens the joy of traveling in this wonderful country. When we left Samarkand I was tired after pressing hard for almost four consequtive weeks and I needed a rest, but since our Uzbek visa was running out we couldn’t afford to stop for any more days and had to press on in order to get out in time.
Soviet style sculptures at the exit of Olmaliq
I was tired and exhausted in Olmaliq and to be honest I was a bit worried about my ability to continue according to our plan. When we left Olmaliq I immediately felt that my legs were not up to the task of riding long distances. There was no pain or muscle ache in my legs but I felt they were stiff and powerless so we could only progress slowly.
The Fergana valley is a small but important part of Uzbekistan and there is only one road leading to it across a high mountain pass. As soon as we got out of Olmaliq city and onto the highway towards the Fergana valley the intensity of the traffic grew significantly. I was not in the mood for anything and just kept pedalling behind Wej to make the kilometers pass as smooth as possible.
It was not very far to the town of Angren, only some 55 km from Olmaliq but whithout power in my legs it felt like it would be closer to the moon. Some 10 km before the town a car pulled up beside us and the guys inside wanted to chat. I was extremely exhausted and were not in the mood for talking so I went to the side and let Wej take care of the talking. We didn’t stop but Wej managed to have a conversation as we cycled beside the car and it ended with the guy in the passenger seat handing over a handful of peaches. After the car left we stopped and ate those God sent peaches. The strenght we got from those sweet fruits only lasted a few kilometers and when I saw a bus stop I just had to stop and get a rest. After sleepting on the narrow seat of that bus stop for about 45 minutes I felt I had got my strenght back and we could ride into Angren without problem.
Taking a nap at a bus stop
40 km beyond Angren there is a massive climb up to 2200 meters and our aim was to find somewhere to stay that was not far from the start of the climb. But how to do that when completely out of power?
We were hungry when we cycled into town but we didn’t stop at the very first eatery. When we finally stopped for lunch we chose a place where we could both eat and enjoy an afternoon nap. The restaurant had no menu and we opted for the simple solution and ordered something we knew – a ”lagman” which is a traditional noodle soup.
We have had Lagman many times before and they are neither good or bad. It is a simple noodle soup with meat, noodles and vegetables. But at this place we got something different. The noodles were not served as a soup but more like a spagetti dish with only a little liquid at the bottom of the plate. We also got a little side dish with a brown-red paste that we didn’t know what it was but we put it on the noodles and……… wow…….. 🙂
Lagman or khao soi?
That paste was a chilli paste and it was very spicy and did lift the experience of the lagman to a new dimension. With that side dish of chilli the lagman actually turned out to be very similar to ”khao soi” which is a traditional dish in northern Thailand. The lagman-khao soi lunch brought our spirits back and Wej enjoyed it so much that she even ordered a second plate. Wej also carefully noted what that chilipaste dish is called in Uzbek in order to be able to order it again later on.
Happy again after some rest and lagman with Chiang Mai style chilli paste
We were heading towards the Fergana valley which is a politically sensitive are that has seen heavy and deadly military crackdown on riots that have caused Sweden and most other western countries to issue warnings against unnecessary travel in the valley. However, travelers we meet keep telling us that people in the Fergana valley are even more hospitable than in the rest of the country so we continued towards it with high expectations.
Between us and our high expectations of the Fergana valley stood a tall mountain range. We didn’t want to climb it the same day but we wanted to get as close to the start of the climb as possible. Due to the political unrest the single road to the Fergana valley passes two military check points where we as foreigners had to register. It was not any big issue and the soldiers where very friendly and since it was already late they invited us to pitch our tent on the little lawn in front of their office. We thanked them for their kind offer but told them we had to go and eat at the restaurant a kilometer down the road and then maybe come back.
We have been to similar situations before and we know what to expect. Once the soldiers are off duty they will start to drink and ask to try our bikes which is something we never let anyone do. Riding fully loaded bike is difficult and it is easy to fall and break some parts that we will have troubles to find replacements for.
Our dinner and rest place
When people ask to try our bikes we politely decline, but how to do decline when a guy carrying a Kalshnikov asks??? Besides this it was still to early to camp so we decided to proceed further and some 15 kilometers later we found a tea house that was clinging on the rock next to the river. We ordered some food and asked if we could stay for the night and just like everywhere else in Uzbekistan the answer was yes. After having a bath in the river below the restaurant we quickly fell asleep on the same platform as where we had eaten our dinner.
The beach below the restaurant where we had our evening bath
Day 93 Mountain pass – Kokhand
Today was a mountain stage and the climb started only 8 km after we left the restaurant where we had slept the previous night. The weather was pleasant and although it was warm it was far from the intense heat below the mountains.
We still were suffering from the previous days of hard riding and thus we climbed very slowly in order to preserve our strengths. There are tea houses and vendors selling drinks all the way and we stopped at a few of them to rest and drink.
Resting and having something cold to drink while chatting with the locals
There are lots of military posts along the way up to the mountains and all of them had clear signs telling that photographing was forbidden. As mentioned earlier – we avoid playing with guys carrying Kalashnikovs – so there are very few photos from this part of the trip.
The road we were traveling on is the only road that connects the Fergana valley to the rest of the country and thus there is a lot of the traffic there and one thing was sure and that was the we were the ones who moved up most slowly that day. Endless number of trucks overtook us.
Up up up up up with a view of snowcapped mountains in the background
One car that overtook us stopped in front of us and wanted to talk. It turned out to be a Malaysian family on a ”half-around-the-world-trip” who now were heading to China. We have previously met European car tourists, but now when we are half ways they seem to be coming from the other direction too. It was great fun to meet someone from a neighbouring country, talk for a while and exchange experiences.
At the top of the climb there are two tunnels that saved us a few more hundred meters of climbing. In front of the first tunnel there were soldiers checking our passports and in the other end there were another soldier, but he didn’t bother to check them.
Talking to the Malaysian family
The top of the pass was just between the two tunnels and once outside the second our time as the slowest vehicles on the road was up. Cruising at +50 km/h we flew past the long row of heavy trucks that had to descent down the mountain using their lowest gears. It is not who is quickest up that counts….. it is quickest up AND down…. 😉
After 50 km of not needing to pedal the road finally evened out. The heat was back and two hours before entering Kokhand we experienced a sensational strong heat. The road was newly made and still completely black and we felt a strong heat radiating from below, just like when sitting too close to a fire. Since we were still rolling downhill at high speed it was only uncomfortable, but if we would have been riding the other directions it would have been completely impossible to pass that section since it felt like the road below us was burning.
As soon as we stop somewhere we are quickly surrounded by people. Here Wej is in the center of everybody’s attention
Day 94 Kokhand – south of Andijon
It is 170 km from Kokhand to Osh and that could be doable in a day, but not if also crossing a central asian border so we decided to cycle to somewhere beyond Andijon in order to be close to the border.
We had checked in to Hotel Kokhand in order to get our last registration slip. When asking for it before going to bed they said thay we would get it in the morning which we accepted if they could it to us at 7 o’clock which they promised. The next morning the very same guy asked us if we had got our registration slips……
The stamp was locked in the hotel’s office safe and he didn’t have the key. He told the manager would come and open it in 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 1 minute and so on. The manager came at 7.50 and opened the safe so that we could get our slips stamped. We cursed this soviet style hotel since we now had lost one hour of cycling which on a flat road like the one crossing the Fergana valley means loosing 25 km or one more hour in the striking afternoon heat.
Some men having breakfast at a tea house
We managed to do 85 km before the heat struck and we had to seek refuge at a tea house beside the road where we stayed for two and a half hours.
After having left the tea house and cycled through a village we saw a van coming up beside us. The guy in the passanger seat asked if we wanted icecream and showed two icecreams. First we thought they were icecream vendors, but when we stopped they just gave us the icecreams, said good luck and turned around and drove back to the village. Amazing hospitality in an area that is supposed to be dangerous….
Andijon is a big city and it usually takes long time to cycle in and out of big cities so we decided to go around it to find a tea house where we could sleep. Half an hour before sunset we stopped outside one and soon we were surrounded by people and one old man stepped forward and started to talk slowly in English. He asked were we were going to stay and when we replied we didn’t know he suggested we stay at the tea house (our tactic worked once again).
The old man followed us into the tea house and we sat down to talk. He was accompanied by a young boy that turned out to be his 12 year old grandson. The boy spoke basic but good English and since he wanted to practice his English he talked a lot. The old man told us he was 75 years old, used to be an radio engineer and lived 300 meters from the tea house. The man and the boy joined us when we had our dinner and told us they would come back the next morning.
The old man and his grandson
We had hoped we could sleep on one of the outdoor eating platforms, but the manager then offered us to sleep in one of the private dining rooms. He thought it would be too cold outside, but sleeping in the dining room turned out to be like sleeping in a sauna…. The hospitality shown to us is amazing – it is like being back in Turkey again.
The private dining room where we stayed
Day 95 Andijon – Osh
Knowing that we only had 40 km to Osh we didn’t even set our alarm clock, but we woke up at 6.30 anyway. When we got out of our room the staff was busy preparing the food and we enjoyed watching the chefs as they prepared the various dishes to be offered that day. They tried to explain what they did but once again the language barrier made it difficult for us to understand.
Chef at work
We decided to have spicy khao soi-looking lagman for breakfast and when as we were finishing our meal the old man and the boy came back and offered us to come over to their house to have coffee. It is always interesting to be invited to people’s houses and we had plenty of time so we accepted the invitation.
Baker at work
The house was actually two houses with a lovely garden with grapevines and fruit trees in between. We had coffee, bread, biscuits and I got some home made wine as a second breakfast. It was clear that both the old man and his grandson enjoyed to practice English and after a while the boy’s sister joined in and she was also good at English. It seems that this family is really focused on learning foreign languages.
Grapes in the family garden
After spending about 1.5 hours at the family’s house we finally left for the border. Since it is forbidden to bring out the local currency we had to stop at a shop close to the border to buy whatever they had that we might need. We ended up with coke, icecream, a new soap, some socks and a pen.
At the border it was extremely crowded and there was a long que to even get into the border area. We didn’t line up among the people, but went in the line for trucks and rode up to the front of the line. A soldier saw us and let us through into the border control area without having to wait in that long line.
The uzbek family who invited us to a second breakfast
There were many more lines to wait in. First line was to the customs to declare all our valuable belongings and foreign currencies. We saw a french backpacker couple in the front of the line and when an official took them aside, we quickly jumped the que and joined them.
Next que was to have our baggage X-rayed. We only x-rayed our handlebar bag since the bikes and the bikes wouldn’t fit thew x-ray machine and would have to be inspected manually.
After declaring the foreign currencies and getting our bags x-rayed it was time to line up in the long line for passport inspection. An official saw us and the french couple and came and told us to join him. He then put us at the front of the line and we got our passports stamped without even being asked to provide any of those registration slips we have worked so hard to get.
Documents needed to exit Uzbekistan
We were then released to go to Kyrgiz side of the border. Kyrgizstan has decided to become a country for tourists and got rid of all ridiculous visa requirements. We simply showed our passports to the official and 1 minute later we were through.
We spent about one hour at the Uzbek side of the border and one minute on the Kyrgiz side. If we had waited in all those lines it would definately have taken a full day to pass and we felt a bit guilty as we past the people that had been waiting for hours. It didn’t feel fair, but we didn’t oppose being treated as VIP:s.
It is only 7 km from the border into downtown Osh and we went to a guesthouse where backpackers usually stay. At the guesthouse we once again met the polish and german cyclists we have been cycling with before and we went out to have dinner together with them.
Unfortunately it was extremely hot in the guesthouse so the following morning we decided to move to a better place with airconditioning.