Having lingered long enough in Bishkek while arranging onward visas, I took a bus straight to Osh. From there, it would be back on the bike. In at the deep end – unfit after a 6-week break while horse-riding, I knew the legs would suffer with the endless uphill towards the Pamir Mountains, known since Victorian times as ‘The Roof Of The World’.
Bishkek was more like a Russian city, but Osh… Osh had a very different feel. It was central Asia, with the history of the Silk Road simmering below the surface. It was chaikanas with tea served in metal pots and the mouth-watering smell of shashliks being grilled on the street. The bazaar was bustling and the shaded parks were where old men sat and played chess, young men sang karaoke in broad daylight (sober) and children played on fairground rides… It reminded me of the towns in Xinjiang, Western China, where the Silk Road once continued to join east with west.
But winter is coming and that means snow in the mountains. If I wanted to bike the Pamirs I had to be on my way. So one day, I packed my panniers again and started pedalling.
Shortly out of Osh, I met a French couple cycling the other way. They said there were three cyclists just ahead of me. So when I saw a partially camouflaged tent in the bush by the river and a couple of guys wearing outdoorsy gear, I cycled on down, forded the river in bare feet and went to introduce myself. We cycle the next days to Sary Tash. It was mostly uphill, it got colder as we went. The company was good. The beer when we reached this small, border junction ‘town’ was great…