|Riding towards Ala-Bel Pass in the early morning|
As I ride the M41 road in the shining peacefulness of the high altitude morning, the green pastured hills rising in folds to the white-capped rocky peaks behind, I think about how much I have come to love this country. Young children run out from the dark doorways of yurts to meet us on the roadside, waving and calling bright “Hellos!” So enthusiastically do they give their greetings that nothing short of an endless stream of waving, calling and tinkling of the bell until they pass out of sight behind us seems an adequate reply. The mothers and grandmothers in headscarves, bright cover-all dresses and woolly leggings carry between them buckets of fresh mares milk; a young man and his elder “Salaam” us from their tall dark horses as they move their small flock along the roadside.
From the dusty but lushly treed heat of the Fergana Valley lowlands, where Uzbek and Kyrgyz sit at low tables under shady roofs, eating and drinking through the hot hours of the afternoon, to the high road passes where lorries and Ladas are pulled up beside the Soviet “wheelhouse” shops that sell soft drinks, cigarettes, lollies and alpine lake fish, the road has been varied and rich. Bowls of chai have been shared, offers of midday vodka laughingly turned down, vegetables gifted by generous bazaar sellers who chuckle at us trying to buy one onion and one potato for our panniers. We’ve downed cups of tangy but creamy “kymis” (fermented mare’s milk) from roadside yurts, played variants of volleyball with teens at their yurt camps, found idyllic campsites night after night, and when we’ve needed been given rides in the high cabs of Kyrgyz truckies.
Our own journey has been much enriched by sharing conversations over chai with Kyrgyz who really love their country. Many have been the changes they have seen in the last decades, most notably the Soviet period, their withdrawal in the late 80s, and the subsequent efforts to build the current modern state. The latter has not been easy, and many hark back to the superior infrastructure, job opportunities, education system and moral timbre of the Soviet time. They lament the corruption within the government, and long to build a healthier country. They love their land, and those who can afford it come in the summer to the high pastures to enjoy their beloved clear mountain air and nutritious horses milk to strengthen them through the winter in the lowland towns and cities. They want to give the best to their children, including this time in the natural world. They speak quietly and with incredulity of the violence between Uzbek and Kyrgyz in 2010; how neighbours and innocent people were played upon by self interested politicians, incited to a period of violence that blew previously peaceful communities apart. It changed the state of relationships and identities in ways that are taking a long time to heal. They tell us proudly in words backed up by hearty action, of the Kyrgyz tradition of hospitality, to provide places of warmth, rest and sustenance for travellers after the challenges of the road, from the Silk Road caravans of a thousand years ago, to the “velo-turists” (cycle tourists) of today.
This love we have grown for Kyrgyzstan is only a small drop to their huge love for their own country. Their concern, their care, the work they put into building its future, holding on to the things that matter to them and reforming what they see as unhelpful. It makes me think of my own country NZ, and to look forward to being back in it, to be able to do the same there, working to oppose and reform where things are bad, and to treasure and teach our children to treasure the beautiful and healthy things of our own beloved homeland.
|On the road near Kochkor|
|Outside of the major cities, Ladas are the car of choice|
|A ex-Soviet "wheelhouse", a common dwelling or shop throughout the country.|
|Our camp among the yurt camp, Kyzart Pass|
|We're always rather a novelty where-ever we go! Our Kysart yurt camp hosts watch Ollie prime the cooker.|
|The cemeteries are always grand. On the road from Kyzart to Chaek|
|Entering the gorge of the Suusamyr Valley, Aral to Kyzyl Oi road|
|Riding through the gorge|
|Stoked to be in the Suusamyr Valley, the joys of the quiet backroad!|
|Out of the Suusamyr, onto the M41|
|With Aisal and her family, who offered a welcome haven from the ferocious head wind! Near Ala-Bal Pass.|
|A reasonable spot for lunch? Chichkan River.|
|Down the gorgeous gorge of the Chichkan River heading south towards Toktugul.|
|Loving Kyrgyzstan and loving the biking!|