Osh and the road towards Bishkek.

"Victor" had arranged two alternative places to stay in Osh. The first was a dusty concrete parking lot behind a fuel station, without shade or security. The second was in the walled garden of a senior Kyrgyzstan bureaucrat (Kadyrov Suiunbai), with trees, grass, a river, a maid, two gardeners, a plunge pool and a sauna. It was a hard choice! Les and Clive negotiated hard and got the price down to $9.00USA per van per night including an evening meal.

Out host clearly enjoyed the experience of having eight eccentric foreigners in five campervans living in his garden. He showed us round his house which included a dramatic painting of him on horseback in heroic pose. He also invited us to watch England's defeat by Brazil in the World Cup (some sort of "foot ball" game I understand).

The tour of Osh organized by Ika and Victor (Phone Osh 3222 220 36) was surprisingly interesting, as was the market with everything from traditional felt hats to hand made horseshoes.

Because of the shortage of diesel in Uzbekistan all five vans were low on fuel and it was important to fill up before the 600km drive over the mountains to Bishkek. As only a small percentage (5%?) of Kyrgyzstan fuel stations sell diesel we returned to the fine "Jagson Oil" filling station managed by the helpful English speaking Arvind Mishra, an Indian friend of both Victor and Kadyrov (N40°33.5670' E072°48.2334' ). Jagson Oil also sell "genuine" Indian engine oil in sealed containers, a rare commodity in this part of the world.

The first part of the road from Osh to Bishkek passes through Uzgon, Zalel-Abad and Kockor-Ata. This route, though nominally in Kyrgyzstan, actually passes into Uzbekistan at least twice. On two occasions we only found out that we had been in Uzbekistan because we came to a checkpoint demanding to see our Kyrgyzstan "pollution" vouchers before we could re-enter Kyrgyzstan.

Carl spots a condor!North of Tas-Kumyr the road became spectacular with deep ravines and brilliant blue/green lakes and reservoirs. Unfortunately the area around many of the towns was spoilt by open cast mining and derelict industrial buildings.

The state of the road varied from "European Motorway" to muddy potholes with a number of good wild camping places. However the road from Tas-Kumyr to the Sary-Celek Nature Reserve was sufficiently poor to force us to abandon the trip after only 20km.

At Kara-Kol we encountered an unexpected road toll barrier. The tariff for foreign vehicles was:

  • Cars - $5.00USA
  • Vehicles up to 3 tonnes - $10.00USA
  • Vehicles up to 5 tonnes - $20.00USA
  • Vehicles up to 10 tonnes - $40.00USA
  • Vehicles over 10 tonnes - $60.00USA

The charge for local vehicles (payable in Som) was about 1% of the above!

The night of the 24th of June was spent wild camped beside a roaring river under 300 metre cliffs north of Toktogul.

The Osh to Bishkek road is strongly recommended to those with plenty of time.

Stephen Stewart.

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