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Author: Maria Zehentner / Translation: Elke Weninger
Beitrag vom: 31.08.2017

Kyrgyzstan - the first country which conjured up melancholy in us!

Kyrgyzstan, June - July 2017

The Tajik border crossing lay high up in the mountains at 4.000 meters and I assume that you do not get many chances in life to enter another country at such a great altitude. The customs barrier and the customs house didn't look a lot different from all the other barriers and checkpoints we had passed before while driving along the Pamir Highway. The wind was blowing strongly and it wasn't comforting at all to leave Akela. The officials prefered to stay in their chamber as well and so this crossing of a border ran very smoothly and fast. After some small talk everything was sorted.
I had already put the passports back into the glove compartment when Leander suddenly stopped Akela abruptly. He made me check the passports if we had been given the exit stamps and behold – they were missing! We turned Akela around as a lack of these exit stamps would definitely have caused problems at the Kyrgyz border. After murmuring some excuses the officials put the exit stamps into our passports. Now we had officially left Tadjikistan and could drive on without being worried anymore.

20 kilomters of dreary no man's land with rather simple roads still separated us from the Kyrgyz border. Akela had to struggle up the Kyzyl Art Pass at a height of 4.250 meters for the last time. It felt, therefore, like ages until we had reached the Kyrgyz border. Hooded men wearing military uniforms approached us and made us leave Akela. After checking our faces and scanning our passports they wanted to inspect Akela, something we didn't fancy them doing at all. Trying to speed up the procedure we told them that Lennox had problems coping with the height, which – of course – was not true.
Yet our attempts to do so remained unheard and while Leander had to open the storage boxes of Akela, another official made me open all the drawers in the living cabin. They only mocked the fact that we had horns of a yak which Lennox had been given by a farmer. Apparently it was forbidden to take them outside the country. However, we played dumb and when nobody was watching, Leander quickly put them back inside Akela. Out of sight out of mind! Then they demanded a so-called ecology tax of €15 after currency conversion, no idea what for, and this was nearly fatal for us. We had spent our last Tajik money in a supermarket and had not got any Kyrgyz money from the bank yet.
Even though the official understood what problem we had he still didn't show any mercy but wanted to get the demanded money. Luckily we could find enough dollar notes and Russian rubles in our “symbolic travel cashier” which we had received from our friends on departure and which contained numerous currencies from across the world. We passed them over to the man, who was content with them and opened the barrier.

It was already getting dark when we reached Sary Tasch, the first village after the border. Mihai, Oana and Vladimir were already waiting for us, completely frozen, in their guesthouse. Though it was summer, the temperatures in the high mountains drop incredibly during nighttime to a mere zero degrees. Usually such guesthouses are heated very badly, if at all, and this is what made us enjoy our dinner in a rather cool atmosphere. It was our last joined evening since it was time to say good bye the next morning. This is what made us drink some bottles of beer and toast to the great time we had spent together. Since we were still at a height of 3.200 meters above sea level, Leander and I could feel the impact of only half a bottle of this brew very quickly. We felt a little bit drunk, bearing a wide grin in our faces and the tension we had experienced throughout the past days seemed to crumble away and resulted in a very relaxed mood. We woke up the next day with slight headaches and a hang over but the evening had been worth every minute.
Saying good bye to a family that is so similar to ours regarding their attitude and who we had spent time with speaking about the bad roads, life, and who we had spent so much time laughing with was truly a celebration. We had exchanged stories about our experiences, had led serious and funny and also deep conversations and though it was sad to say good bye, this also meant that we would meet again some time and we were already looking forward to that. The men patted each other's shoulders while we girls hugged each other in tears. The children gave each other presents before the time had really come to say good bye for good. The three of them got into their Ural, Mihai started the engine and accelerated. We will miss you so much! We wistfully watched them until their shape had become one with the dust of the road. This was exactly the time when Lennox realized that his playmate had really left for good and this made him start crying in a heart breaking way. I put my arms around him, trying to comfort him but had tears in my eyes as well. In this rather male-oriented “Offroad – world” consisting of moguls, dust, dirt and technical discussions about repairs and spare parts I had found a proper and good interlocutor. Something which had, well – how shall I put it? - done so good?!?

1.300 kilometers driving on the mother of all really bad roads had left its marks in us and we had wonderful and unforgettable memories of it inside of us. Still, we more than once came close to our own personal absolute limit. Driving along dirt roads which are covered in potholes for hours cause fatigue and damage to the body, the mind and the spirit. We were completely fatigued and felt worn out and shattered. Our bones and bodies hurt badly and had become lazy due to driving so much. The final kilometers had taken heavy tolls on us. The mere thought of climbing back into the driving cabin and driving on made us turn green in our faces. We have had enough of only driving and sitting behind the steering wheel. We were longing so much to get peace and quiet and relaxation, but these were buzzwords which we had to keep on longing for.
Akela mastered the challenges superbly and proved to be able to fly despite his 10 tons along these bad roads. Unluckily the speed caused the damage of yet another front shock absorber, which was completely destroyed. Apart from that, some seals had to be changed and there were also some other smaller or bigger faulty parts which had to be taken a look at in a garage. Therefore, we knew what we had to do in the next major city we would come to. The inside of Akela had mainly remained in working order, but there were still some dividing walls inside of the cupboards which had come loose and needed fixing and some joints had been distorted. Luckily, these were all problems which we could get rid of by having them repaired.

We wiped away the tears from saying goodbye from Mihai, Oana and Vladimir and made sure that Akela was ready to be driven. The landscape of Sary Tasch was very inviting for us with its yurts, clay houses, horses, cattle and lush meadows and being embedded in rolling hills on the one side and a snow covered mountain range reaching a height of 7.000 meters on the other. We skimmed the neighboring area to find a suitable plot to stay.
After looking for some time we believed to have found one and steered the truck onto an off road piste. However, a major pothole made all our dishes and cutlery, cups, glasses and bowls drop on the wooden floor of Akela and break. Everything had kept perfectly safe and sound in the cupboards along the thousands of kilometers going along the Pamir Highway and now, one major pothole had ruined it all? Only two plates had survived the crash onto the floor yet not for long as they soon afterwards became victim of our reduction of aggression and also broke into pieces on the floor. What we learned from this incident was to either store dishes better in their storage places or make sure their way to the floor was shorter and would not make it break. As it is commonly known, shards bring good fortune, and after all it had only been dishes which can be replaced.

Unluckily, the weather god didn't mean well with us. For the next few days we had rainy weather conditions and consequently postboned relaxation and rest and carried on driving. We sorted out Akela to be able to drive again and aimed towards the city of Osh, the official end of the Pamir Highway.
Going constantly slightly downhill we passed small streams, white yurts, copper coloured mountains which were partly very green and numerous horses and their fillies. Compared with the bizarre and craggy landscape which we had driven through within the last weeks this landscape appeared very idyllic and nearly like at home and was really good for us!
We rolled into Osh, the second largest city of Kyrgyzstan, late in the evening. We directly steered Akela to the Tes Guesthouse, which Remo and Stefan, our Swiss friends, had recommended to us. For one adult we had to pay (converted into euros) €5,50 including the plot to park Akela, internet, the shower and breakfast, yet it was worth the rather high price as it was clean and nice there.
The courtyard there was roofed and we instantly spotted a young man with a broken leg in plaster. When traveling one quickly gets talking to other people getting around in a similar way and we learned that CJ, Christopher James, riding an Enduro from Vancouver to Kyrgyzstan, had had a bad crash and now had to wait until he could fly back home. He was glad and appreciated any change in his situation and therefore helped Leander the next day to repair the shock absorber of our Cross. While they were doing this, Lennox and I were strolling through the Bazaar of Osh. We had to go through the usual formalities when entering a new country: internet, change money, getting a new hauling rope for the bonnet as the old one had torn, food,... At lunchtime we returned to the hostel completely shattered and being very hot. Leander and CJ got on like a house on fire and stayed in the hostel while Lennox and I looked for refreshment and cooling down in a nearby swimming pool.

We stayed in Osh for two days before saying good bye to CJ and the city. On departure we tried our luck in two garages, which we had come across by help of an Overlander App, to get a new shock absorber for our oldie but in vain. They tried to talk us into used ones for €60 a piece which we denied to accept. We simply had to make do without new ones for the time being. Our first night in the wilderness of Kyrgyzstan led us through the region of Jalal Abad, located very close to the Uzbek border. A little lake near the small village of Kayirma provided a place for encouragement and cooling down after spending many hours sitting behind the steering wheel. However, on approaching we could already see huge heaps of rubbish.

Kyrgyz “party people” cheered up by listening to roaring music and drinking loads of alcohol there on the shores of the lake. Consequently we passed this location and after some meters could stop in a barred area after paying a small amount of money. Though it was quieter there it still was not really clean. Moreover, the lake was freezing cold and aligned with rubbish which made us leave that location after only one night. We were thinking where to go to find a place without people, beautiful and preferably next to a lake and realized our plan by driving to Sary Chelek – the remote beauty. Though this place wasn't really exactly on our route, the guidebooks spoke of this area as one of the most stunning in Kyrgyzstan and other travelers also spoke of it with admiration and this made us put it on our “to do list”.

Before getting to the village of Arkyt we passed the walnut forests of Arslanbad. From there we had to use “real dirt roads” at a height of 1.800 meters to get towards the lake.
Due to the extraordinary climate of this area there was a very varied flora. Moreover, apparently lynxes, bears and even snow leopards are native there.
Unluckily, none of these shy creatures was visible for us, let alone could we take a picture of them, yet since minute by minute crowds of Kyrgyz people keen to party on the lake shore were taken to the lake, we weren't surprised by that. We hadn't expected anything like that and got to the water as late as the evening. Most of the biggest hustle and bustle was over, but we could still see what it had resulted in: there were handkerchiefs, plastic bottles, remains of food and other rubbish everywhere – along the lake shore as well as inside of the water. The Unesco put this area on its list of “sensitive nature” in the year 1978 but I occasionally ask myself what this list is really worth.

By no means do I want to accuse anybody of any underlying motifs but I do get the impression that this list merely serves the purpose to attract as many tourists as possible, preferably those who will spend a hell lot of money in really beautiful areas such as that one. Wherever it is known that a location or building is protected by the Unesco, entry fees have to be paid, which are at times quite a lot as well. I wonder at times what the membership fees are used for. It would be very helpful to simply provide dustbins and take an occasional look at these places. The Unesco biosphere region of Sary Cheleck was about to sink into rubbish, following the motto “a tourist destroys a location as soon as he or she has found it”. We went to bed after dinner and were a bit disappointed due to this situation.
Before turning in we had planned our next day's activities and intended to walk to other mountain lakes. Lennox should be able to walk the distance of a total of 12 kilometers, containing hardly any altitude.
We set off early in the morning the next day walking on a path which led us through jungle-like vegetation. On this path we passed a small forester's lodge and frequently had to cross small rivers. Even our son forgot his usual moaning and whinging and perfectly kept up with our speed of walking. When arriving at the object of our desire we endulged in a very good snack. The lake was clean, but very very cold. It was so cold that keeping one's feet in the water for a longer period of time made them hurt rather badly. This, however, proved to be no obstacle for our youngster! He bravely dashed into the water and dived around. It's perfectly sound to call him touchy and bitchy at times but when it comes to water he hasn't felt any pain whatsoever from the very beginning onwards. We chose a different and slightly longer path for the way back.

This path did not lead across the wild landscape and was more comfortable to walk on. We were lucky to catch a ride back to Akela being parked at Sary Cheleck for the last 1,5 kilometers as a pick-up car stopped and we could travel on the loading area in company of potatoes, drinks and a goat. On arrival at Akela we felt as if struck by lightening. Hundreds of people were camping - everywhere! There was hardly any piece of grass untouched, rubbish wherever we looked! Somebody had even dumped his rubbish right in front of our entrance to Akela. It was beyond belief! We threw our walking gear into the living cabin, got into the driving cabin and quickly drove off and left in unlimited fury Sary Chelek, the remote beauty, which quite obviously gets mistaken for a rubbish dump.

Akela took the way down without any problems and so we got back to the main road in quite a short time. Happy to have escaped from the crowds of people we already had to start looking for a pitch for the night again as it had turned rather late by then. After several attempts to do so we found a flower-filled meadow with a small pond. Horses were grazing, frogs were croaking and the beauty of this plot was more than inviting to grab the camera and take pictures. When the sun was setting Leander followed this invitation and set off to take pictures. Spending a quiet night there and enjoying a long and good breakfast we set off the next morning to drive towards Son Kol Lake, a planned checkpoint during our stay here in Kyrgyzstan. We had to devide the distance of altogether 400 kilometers into many legs for various reasons. Firstly, because the roads were in quite a bad state and, additionally, because we were fed up with spending hours and days behind the steering wheel. We wanted to enjoy and relax and let our minds drift off.

After driving for some hours we saw the Toktogul dam appear in front of us, the second largest dam in Kyrgyzstan. Our expectations were low after our past experience regarding lakes but we still gave it a try. The navigation system showed us a place which looked as if we might be able to reach the shore and so we left the main road and drove on a dirt road towards the lake. However, as there had been a landslide and many big rocks and bushes stood in the way, we couldn't get there after all. The engine was as still running when we quickly stormed out of the driving cabin to the water – only few meters had to be passed. Lo and behold – the water was clean and warm and wonderfully aligned by rough pebbles, and best of all: there was no rubbish anywhere.
Lennox stayed in the water, but Leander and I tried to find an even spot to park Akela for the night, which turned out to be quite tricky within this impassable landscape. Consequently, we put little rocks and stones under one side of the truck's tyres to level the living cabin. Very quickly did we look for our swimming gear to join our son when we realized what paradise we had landed at. Around us there were only cannabis plants, yet to our disappointment, only male plants which do not provide any sensual orgy when smoked.

The water was absolutely amazing! We were splashing and fooling around and enjoyed every single minute. Lennox more or less spent the whole afternoon in the water and though being a good swimmer, we always had to have an eye on him – you cannot leave a five-year old child unattended in the water or on the shore near the water – but unluckily Akela was parked outside visibility. Had the pitch been just slightly better it would have been perfect, but hey – you cannot have everything! To keep an eye on Lennox I looked for chores which had to be done and washed some clothes and cleaned the filter of our water system. On top of that, all of us required a good cleaning with soap and water! Leander made use of the time to work inside of the truck on his taken pictures and photos.
We spent the following day in a similar manner. Swimming, relaxing, swimming – before we packed up our belongings and made Akela ready to drive again. The road we took to get to Son Kol led us around the dam of Toktokul which made us hope to find yet another plot next to the water. Unlucklily we couldn't find one as the shores on the other side of the lake were boggy and prone to have loads of mosquitoes. Therefore, we went to the next village and parked Akela at a small rise to be at least able to use the internet.

Looking for pitches and locations to stay for the night was really nerve racking with our huge truck and we have had enough of it. It was even worse on days, which we had spent driving the whole time. The spots were too narrow, too wonky, too boggy, had too much rubbish, were not high enough for us to pass with Akela or had too many people and the like. For one or the other among you this might sound too choosy or particular to make such a big fuss when trying to find a few square meters to stay for the night, yet nobody who hasn't been travelling in a ten-ton vehicle will be able to comprehend our thoughts and worries. It was a fact that we had to spend a long and tiring time to find a suitable pitch after a hard day's driving more than once. After a quiet night – something quite unusual when staying inside of a village or city where one is frequently faced with nosy people or noisy streets – we started off the next morning to drive towards Son Kon Lake.

Driving longer distances usually provided enough time to have good conversations. It turned out that both of us experienced Kyrgyzstan “different” to the other countries we had been to. Kyrgyzstan gave us a tingly and funny feeling in the stomach linked up with melancholy. This hilly landscape with its many lakes was very much alike our home country and for the first time since we had left Austria did we realise how beautiful it was and is at home. Just outside our houses we had mountains to climb and crystal clear lakes to swim in. Everything we had desperately been looking for throughout the last weeks we had at home, just outside the doorstep! However, we either weren't able to or didn't want to appreciate its beauty. We were stubbornly convinced that outside in the big wide world everything would be even more exciting and breathtaking,even though this wasn't always true, at least not often enough. And these seemingly endless searches had become utterly more than enough.

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  1. Philomena
    Ja, zu Hause ist es immer noch am Schönsten (so soll es ja auch sein), aber jemand sehr kluges hat einmal gesagt: ,,Wer niemals fort geht, kommt niemals Heim."
    Und ihr wisst´s es ja am besten, schwierige Wege führen oft zu den schönsten Zielen.
    Macht´s es gut!
    Liebe Grüße und alles Gute
    1. Maria Zehentner
      Maria Zehentner
      Hallo Philomena,
      vielen Dank für deine lieben Worte. Da hast schon recht, manchmal - wenn die Dinge vielleicht nicht ganz so laufen, wie man es sich wünscht, oder vorstellt, bekommt man leicht etwas Heimweh! Doch wir finden immer wieder die Motivation, sei es durch neue Bekanntschaften die wir machen, aussergewöhnliche Landschaften die wir entdecken dürfen, oder einfach nur durch Worte wie deine!! Seit über einer Woche sind wir wieder zurück in der Mongolei. Leander und ich sind beide krank angereist. Lennox ist fit. Morgen werden wir Richtung Russland aufbrechen und durch Sibirien Richtung Vladiwostok fahren. Wir hoffen, dass uns der russische Winter (der ein Jahrhundertwinter werden soll) etwas verschont. Mal schauen wies läuft. Ich hoffe dir und der Family geht es gut? Grüß alle lieb von uns. Dickes Bussi an euch alle, ML2
  2. Chrisi Huber
    Chrisi Huber
    wie immer wieder grandios geschrieben, Maria, mit allen ups and downs einfach authentisch und emotional. Wir fühlen uns quasi wieder wie live dabei ;-)
    die Landschaft hat echt Wiedererkennungswert mit der Heimat :)

    Wir drücken euch!
    1. Maria Zehentner
      Maria Zehentner
      Hallo liebe Chrisi,
      vielen Dank für deine lieben Worte! Es freut mich besonders, wenn ich so etwas lese, denn wir haben am Wolfgangsee darüber gesprochen, dass die Motivation aus diversen Gründen manchmal ein wenig in den Keller rasselt, was das Schreiben anbelangt. Es gibt natürlich doppelt Auftrieb, wenn ich weiß, dass so liebe Menschen wie ihr es seit immer live mit dabei sind.
      Jetzt sind wir bereits seit über einer Woche wieder in der Mongolei. Leander und ich sind beide krank angereist und nehmen Antibiotika, damit wir schnellst möglich wieder fit werden. Lennox geht es gut. Aber nachdem wir jetzt schon ewig in einem Hostel in Ulan Baatar stehen wird es auch allmählich langweilig und wir sind gierig aufs weiterfahren. Morgen geht es los Richtung Russland, wo wir durch Sibirien Richtung Vladiwostok fahren werden. Hoffentlich verschont uns der russische Winter ein wenig, denn unsere Heizung funktioniert nicht reibungslos. Aber was läuft bei uns schon ohne Probleme ;-) Eine dicke Umarmung und ein dickes Küsschen von Lennox an euch beide! Bis bald ML2