Central Asia Overland – Bye bye Bishkek

Tonight’s the end of the Crossroads of Asia portion of our trip, so we had our farewell dinner with those not continuing on to Uzbekistan, and our last night in little old Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan has turned out to be a lot colder than Xinjiang, but not so cold as to require thermals or my fleece top – quite a few items of clothing will be coming back unworn. That said, daytime Kyryzstan was just right – nice fresh sunny days rather than the dusty/drier desert heat of Xinjiang.

Overall, I have been a bit disappointed with the Kyrgyz leg of the tour – not with Kyrgyzstan itself (far from it) but because key elements of the itinerary had to change due to it being late in the season and getting cold. We didn’t get to see Tash Rabat at all, which was high on my list of sights. Back in the summer Explore had notified us that we wouldn’t be staying there but I was still hopeful that the route might take us past the caravanserai. As it turned out, this was never going to be, given that it lies 26km off the “main road” (ie track) that connects Kashgar with Naryn, where we were staying instead, and it was a long day’s drive plus Chinese/Kyrgyz border crossing (one coach – us – heading west vs an awful lot of trucks heading east).

In fact both our yurt nights turned into guest house stays due to the (tourist) yurt camps having been dismantled. The second was a lovely guesthouse on the southern shore of lake Issy-kul, but I’m not sure it was worth the half day’s drive it took each way…. The lake is lovely, with snow capped peaks on the north shore, but the scenery doesn’t change that much and we arrived at our guest house at dusk and left straight after breakfast, so no time to really walk or paddle; yes, the lake water was warm enough – we’d dipped our toes in at one of the photo stops en route…..

Our two days in Bishkek coincided with a summit of member states of the former USSR, which included (we eventually discovered) a visit by Medeyev – which meant all the main roads on city centre sights were closed to the general public for almost all the time we were there. We managed to explore the Kyrgyz capital despite that, and probably saw more of Bishkek’s side roads than we would have otherwise.

The main highlight has been this morning’s (Explore optional extra) walk in Ala Archa gorge – but almost didn’t as, technically, the gorge was “closed” for the day because the big wigs were due to visit in the afternoon. Luckily our charming local guide, Maria, worked her magic and we were allowed on on the understanding that we’d be gone by 2pm, and by the time we arrived back in Bishkek most of the roads/sights were accessible.

Next stop: Uzbekistan (via Kazakhstan!)