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Old 09-29-2013, 11:56 PM   #1
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Uralistan: Bishkek to Kabul


It’s my first time posting a ride report so after reading through the rules for posting; it states that a report must have a definite beginning and ending. Well I have been on the road for some time now in Asia. I had never intended it to be like this, but it just is. So Briefly;

I had started back in March ’12 as a lowly backpacker; I was traversing Asia from Hong Kong to Istanbul over a summer break from my work here in Australia. One night in Urumqi, China I met a Frenchman doing a similar trip, he having ridden motorcycles through India and Vietnam and was sold on motorcycle travel, after a few beers I didn't need any more convincing.
We both went on to find our bikes and ride them over that summer to Turkey, He a 150cc Chinese bike from Urumqi and I, an '89 Ural 650 from Bishkek.

Kaldama pass, crossing the Fergana Range.

Tabriz, Iran.

Now almost a year later from when I first set out, I have found my way back to Central Asia.
After spending over 2 months in Northern Pakistan this spring with a small rental bike but mostly on top of buses and jeeps, (my 2nd favorite way to travel), I was really missing 2 things in my life, beer and motorcycles.

Indus Valley.

Rooftop to Shimshal.

Travelling over the Khungerab pass in the natco bus I recalled what I had learned In Se Asia months before, (I rode from Hanoi to KL on a Honda 150GL) that a nice light bike is the way to go, As you can really take them anywhere largely because of their lightness & fuel efficiency. I took that bike places where even my childhood XL125s couldn't.

Cardomon Rainforest, Cambodia.

Kashgar, China.

This time round in the 'Stans' I wanted to spend as much time as I could off any such highway, even if it starts with Pamir. I decided I would try to procure a Chinese bike just as David the frenchman had done a year before in Urumqi. In Kashgar, The old Livestock markets now house the new & used motorcycle markets and so while all the tourists went out to see camels and sheep I took a bus to see some bikes.

The range of bikes was a bit of a disappointment to me, most of them being a Chinese copy of a Suzuki gn150, Cruiser style with cast wheels. That did not appeal. From seeing Chinese bikes in SE Asia literally break in half on rough roads, I was at least dubious of those cast wheels. Since I only have 10 words of mandarin under my belt I knew I couldn’t even bargain for a bike, even if I wanted to.
The quoted prices were of course much higher than my sub 400$ budget from me being a foreigner.

Kashgar Motorcycle Markets.

With the 40+ degree day upon me and recalling the many army and police checkpoints heading to Irkestam pass it would be really a gamble to even be able to get to the border in the first place and on top of that the 1000 yuan fines for not having a local licence.
I reasoned to myself that I should just get another Ural in Bishkek and with my Russian vocab skills it would be a lot easier than taking a risk here.

so that was that after a few warm Chinese beers and kebabs, the next morning I hitched to Osh.

Bye Bye China.

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Old 09-30-2013, 02:14 AM   #2
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This one sounds promising.
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Old 09-30-2013, 02:30 AM   #3
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Old 09-30-2013, 03:40 AM   #4
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The previous Summer my Urals Ignition Switch had failed coming into Osh, fortunately I had previously met the Swiss guys at Muztoo Motorcycle tours and with a call to them they put me in touch with a local Ural mechanic, reportedly the best in Kyrgyzstan. (Muztoo can organize group tours through the ‘stans’ on enduro’s)

On my arrival back into Osh I thought I would pay Damila the mechanic a vist, for he may have or know of a bike for sale.
I am given two numbers, one for an Ural and one for a Jupiter. I pass on both knowing they are here if I cant find anything up north. The next day I take a suicidal taxi drive to Bishkek.

In Bishkek I had made friends with a couple of the taxi drivers that helped me find my previous Ural. As they regularly stalk tourist prey from their stand at the intersection close by the Sakura hostel. I visited their corner the next day and I am surprised to learn that they are both on Holiday, How dare they! I call them and they are away for at least a few more days, So I will be without their help this time around.
I walk around town enjoying the sites; especially the Russian dress culture is a welcomed site from the more conservative Pakistani one.

To find a bike in Kyrgyzstan the Avtogid Classifieds magazine is a good starting place, its almost only all cars, over 10 000 are stolen from Europe and delivered to Kyrgyzstan every year. The bike column though is a little depressing with just a few Urals and the odd Japanese scooter.
I return to the taxi stand and pick a new driver, we scan down the column and call 2 Urals, Unfortunately both have moved on, we then Hesitantly call for a ’73 Ural 650. Its almost 20yrs older than my one last year, I have my doubts about it even though the seller insists its in very good condition.
The taxi driver and I strike a deal on heading out of town to view the bike and the return journey then push on.
it’s a good 30 mins west out of Bishkek in a small satellite town and then another 15mins more negotiating the small dusty back roads to find the sellers house.

Alexey the Russian greats us down the road on a modified Ural Solo and shows us up to his house and through his large swinging gate. In the yard I count 4 Urals all in various states of disrepair…or repair. Its hard to know for certain.
I fix my gaze on a green one with sidecar. The bike has been resprayed and looks to be in reasonable shape despite its age. Alexey also fills me in on that the motor has also been ‘rebuilt’. To my disbelief it starts first kick from cold and I head out of the gate, I have never ridden with a sidecar before and soon find myself fighting for dominance with the bike in which direction we will next head in, other than the usual lackluster Ural brakes and some other finer details I am happy with the bike, Wethen strike a deal for 350$ to collect the next day without the sidecar and for a new trials type rear tire to be fitted and the aging rear to be fitted to the front. The tires are marked with ‘made in the Ussr’, so I presume they are the original 40-year-old 19x4.00 rubber.

Max the taxi driver, Alexey the Russian & One 40yr old Ural

On my way back to Sakura, I feel the throttle go and after pulling over and dismantling the throttle assembly I find one of the chain linkage pins has slipped out, luckily I am carrying my Leatherman with pliers and after 5 minutes I am back on the road, but this time with some doubt about how far I will go if this is the first 15minutes!

I park up inside Sakura's garage next to an African twin, the Swiss owner can’t believe my bike and really is happy to hear my plans.
Over the course of the next 3 days I visit both Osh and Kudaibergen bazaars to collect what I need for my ride, boots, gloves, helmet a suitable side bag, bungees’ for my pack and ofcourse tools and spares for the Ural,.One reason to go with the Ural is that you can find them everywhere in the ‘stans’ so spares no matter where you are, are never much of an issue.

Kudaibergen Bazaar goodness.

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Old 09-30-2013, 04:26 AM   #5
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previet chuvakk!!

I spent 2 separate 6month intervals near Biskek. That whole region is amazing. They have petroglyohs and all kinds of anthropology stuff just laying on top of the ground. The women are beautiful, college educated, and have a 50's american female mindset. WWII Decimated the male population there and its never quite caught up. 7 females for every male there. The men know this and are pretty smug ;o) Id love to live there a while just to explore it. KazAkstan is supposed to be much nicer, more modern, etc. Id love to explore the region.
Paka !
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Old 09-30-2013, 05:16 PM   #6
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My plans for this summers ride was to spend an equal amount of time in Tajikistan and the Afghan Wakhan. 2 weeks to Khorog, 3 weeks riding to Broghil with some hiking then returning to Tajikistan to ride Roshtkala valley and the far east before returning to Bishkek to sell my bike.

The Tajikistan Visa is one of the easiest visa's to get in central Asia and even at the same price as last year, 85$ for 6 weeks, double entry and one day processing. I nominated a start date 5 days from Bishkek in order to arrive in the country on the first day to fully take advantage of my 6 weeks.

Last year I took Bishkek-Naryn-Kazarman-Jalalabad-Osh route, So this time around I settled on taking the north south main highway. I found it actually quite sedate heading out of Bishkek and more so as I headed over the 3586m Tuu Ashu pass. In the hot July Temps I welcomed the coolness of the gushing mountain rivers that the road follows up. As I wound my way up, the Ural never skipped a beat with many Kyrgyz youngsters racing me atop their horses always straying never to far from their family's yurt encampments.

The other Side to the Tuu Ashu pass.

With it now Being just after 4pm I started to look for signs of a guesthouse or suitable camping spot. Then what luck I spot a sign for a guesthouse 15km off the main road.
Susamere is another one of those small soviet towns, that everyone new in town must be a suspicious character. None the less the 10$ homestay provided very comfortable accommodations with all fresh and natural filling meals, all sourced from the hobby farm out the back. The Husband informed me a good guest has 100gms of vodka with his meal, but a great guest has 200, So I was their first great guest from New Zealand.

The next morning, I wake to a flat battery, I had forgotten to turn off the battery isolation switch and being in central asia everyone has inquisitive fingers so someone had turned my ign. switch on. (Alexey had done away with the key and replaced it with a simple switch).
So with my hosts wondering why I havent left yet, at 8am i walk down the main street with my battery in hand asking everyone I pass by if they know where i can charge, they all tell me i have to go back to Kara-Balta. I ignore this and carry on walking, a young taxista then pulls over and after explaining my problem, he takes me to an old mans house and luckily there we can recharge over 3 hours, so i wonder back to the GH to read/ rest before an afternoon ride.


11.30 am the Ural fires up immediately and I leave Susamere in the wake of our dust as I return to highway riding. The weather continues to deteriorate as we press on. Many roadside Yurts selling Kimiz, yoghurt and honey's along the route, I find one selling lunch, so Manti it is. (Manti are dumplings not all too different from gyoza or pelmini)


After lunch I press on for KaraKol, As the day wears on the temperature starts to rise again until finally I reach KaraKol with the temps in the 30's. I stop to pick up some provisions before pressing on to look for a suitable camping spot. not too much further south the road enters a gorge with a steep canyon down to the river, The ural is really a pleasure to ride and I spot a place for the night. Its well off the road but it is a designated camping/ picnic area and fair enough after a swim and dinner, i did get some company that night with some loud vodka swirling watermelon devouring locals, Thankfully they didn't hassle I or the Ural too much and passed on by past my spot.

Camp for the night

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Old 09-30-2013, 05:35 PM   #7
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good stuff...
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Old 09-30-2013, 06:47 PM   #8
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Looks good, love the Ural.
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Old 09-30-2013, 07:04 PM   #9
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I'm super in for this one!
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Old 09-30-2013, 09:18 PM   #10
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Definitely count me in!!!
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Old 09-30-2013, 09:55 PM   #11
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Old 09-30-2013, 10:36 PM   #12
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The ride on to Osh the following day was a hot but relaxed one, taking my time as the traffic grew heavier and heavier. Once into osh I went directly back to the workshops for Damila to work on a few things that I had discovered on my ride down. Both front & rear brakes needed adjusting along with a leaking carb and the points ign. to be tuned. As I pull in the manager makes a crack about why i want "soviet piece of shit" for as he's got some big touring bikes that he's trying to offload (probably stolen too).

Damila was very busy at the time so the next morning it was to be addressed. Another item on my shopping list was a 20 liter canister. From last years experience, In the Pamirs I averaged around 8L/100km. With my sights set on the Bartang valley I was going to need over a 400km range So the 20 litre tank wasn't going to quite cut it. I originally was looking for a ex-mil steel jerry can but these were actually quite hard to come by. On my way to yet another bazaar in the stifling heat my taxi driver had mentioned he had some canisters at home, so we detour to his house and he fetches me a plastic one, which just so happens to be 20L. i think for a second and reason this is even better if the bike falls over on to its side as the soft plastic can absorb the impacts a lot better.
I am happy with it and we part ways after him dropping me at the bazaar, I pick up some rope and another occy strap to keep it in place located on top of the passengers right foot peg.
I was happy with my efforts for the day So found a nice beer garden and enjoyed a couple Cold drafts.
The next morning I meet Damila at the workshops at 11 he's just finishing up on the Ural and then takes her out for a test ride and comes back smiling and tells me I should take it and see what i think, what a transformation not just with having brakes now that actually brake but the torque from the engine too. thoroughly impressed i have no problem forking over the 20$ for his 2 hours work. He asks me where I'm headed this year and I mention Tajikistan and the Afghan Wakhan then I plan to be back here in 6 weeks, He tells me to come back in and that he will buy my bike. we shake on it and I ride back to the hotel to collect my bags.

On my way to Sary-tash.

I thought coming back to Central Asia it would in someway detract from my experiences last year, but riding up to Sary-tash it was bringing back some great memories coupled with making new ones. A thunderstorm rolled by while i took refuge under a large overhanging rock for 30mins before continuing on to Sary-tash. the weather did not look good neither did the forcast. I was planning to ride up to Lenin base camp but with the mountains engulfed in blackness I thought i would just stay the night at my old guesthouse from the year before.


I settle in unloading my bags before heading to the store to pick up some supplies for my next week in the Pamirs.

A 10yr old shop keeper pours me 50gms.

In the morning my Tajik visa begins, I wake up to strong winds and cold rain, So much for my plans I tell myself as I peer through the windows at breakfast. come mid morning though the weather starts to show signs of improvement then it even starts to dry up, so today's the day after all. A quick pack after I put on almost all my clothes that i have, in anticipation of the high border pass and then one last fuel stop. Having 20l of fuel hanging off the side of my bike i really thought once i push it off the center stand i would have some problems but with my tools and cooking equipment in my side bag, i think i brought it back to being perhaps 10kg and didn't really notice anything out of the ordinary while riding.
Riding up to Kyzyl-art pass first the rain starts again, then Hail. The Kygyz border guards put on lunch and some hot tea before I head out into the 25kms of no-mans land between the borders. By the time i reach the pass its snowing but can see blue sky off into the distance.
No hassles from the Tajik Guards who are more interested in the Ural than my passport but then stamp me in.

Riding out of Kyrgyzstan.

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Old 10-02-2013, 04:12 AM   #13
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Coming into Karakul.

Tildakhans Kyrgyz Home stay.

Central Asia is quite an amazing place really as the Political Boundary's of each state in no way truly represent the people who live there. The Kyrgyz inhabit eastern Tajikistan, from Alichur all the way to the Chinese border, well in fact they also live on the KKH from Tashkurgan all the way up to the Pak Border and also have camps in the Little Pamir in Afghanistan.

Tilderkhans comfortable Homestay is a friendly place that many overlanders use that puts on amazing food and a banya
(sauna) to warm up from riding the Pamirs.
Fortunately the weather cleared up overnight and was greeted with blue skies as far as I could see, After a hearty breakfast and bike loaded I continued towards to the Bartang, The unmarked turnoff is just 7km south of Karakul but there is a large OPEN laid out with rocks so I took it to be the correct turnoff. After a short distance the first of many river crossings, a good 15m with knee deep water that I waded through to find the right line. The Ural rolled through with me keeping the revs up and the shingle bottom didn't throw up any surprise rocks to throw me off course.
With the plateau above 4000m there really isn't too much fauna, some grasses and short bushes is about the extent of it always in proximity to the mountain streams and springs.

At The start of the Bartang Valley.

Leaving the Highway.

Rush Hour.

Lunch stop with some amazing Hospitality.

Heading Further Along the Plateau.


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Old 10-02-2013, 05:11 AM   #14
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Your photos and writting is amazing!!!!!
Thank you for taking us with u...
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Old 10-02-2013, 05:19 AM   #15
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Many thanks for coming along!
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