ET in Kyrgyzstan: the next big tour
‘eh…Kazakhstan, you mean? Or Uzbekistan? Where’s Kyrgyz…uh…’
‘Kyrgyzstan, yes, is in Central Asia. To the left of China and north of Tajikistan, if that helps.’
My idea of paradise is a little rustic and closer to alpine environs, and this is why I’ve picked Kyrgyzstan as my next cycling destination. In a list of countries that I maintain and update from time to time, there’s one that has stuck on in my mind–Kyrgyztan. Part of the Soviet Empire until 1991, this Central Asian country pretty much has it all, or at least all that a cyclist would want to explore and experience in one go. A fabulous stretch of mountains (cold white desert ones, mind you), the world’s second largest mountain lake, vast empty alpine stretches, and a country where 90 percent of the land lies above 4,000 feet–I smell adventure, and it’s just around the corner!
Over the last two years, I’ve tried to cover the holy grail for touring cyclists, the Manali-Leh Highway. But for more than reasons than one, things never worked out, and quite frankly, that ship has sailed for me. I want something tougher. This is holy grail part deux. Mountains are the heart of this country, and as a cyclist, I want to fart my carbon footprint across all the ranges it boasts. Images from the Alays, the Pamirs, and the highlight of the country, the Tien Shan flash in my subconscious from time to time, telling me its time.
This will also be the first time I’ll be camping and carrying my own supplies. The easy way out is to book a tour with a tour company and rest in guesthouses and casually cover the miles while a car carries my luggage, but that’s too easy. It’s my ego talking, but I feel I need a bigger challenge than just riding long miles. To carry my home with me is all that I strive for, and a tour company does everything it can to mess that experience up for me. A good friend wrote in his blog, ‘shitting on your haunches is damn satisfying’, and a tour company would strive to put a WC between your legs before you can say ‘dumpy’.
I told my folks I want to fund my trips hereon, and they can buy the air tickets to show their support. During all these months of inactivity, I made sure my savings grew, and I can safely say I have enough to buy a new touring bike and ride it around the Pamirs! My 36-year-old Specialized Sequioa gave in last year, and I’ve been bikeless (I have an MTB but that won’t do the trick) for a while. I’ve had eyes on the Surly Long Haul Trucker for a few years, and it’s time the Surly came home. The big bossman is one of the world’s best touring bikes in the market, and it can go literally anywhere you want it to. Pure steel with tires that take you around the world, all at the cost of your legs–that’s the zenith of my materialistic desires.
The reality is that I know I’m not ready, and don’t see myself good to go for a while. I’ve been hit by waves of depression over the last couple of years, and my mental health hasn’t been able to support my physical aspirations. A few weeks ago, I cycled to work after nearly 10 months of no action on the bike. The following weekend I strutted down to the trails for a quick spin. It’s a slow start, but definitely a small victory worth celebrating. The last tour I went on was in January 2017, that to to Gujarat. Pfft.
My counsellor suggested I affix my plans, set an itinerary, do my research, and mentally prepare myself for the journey. The very next day I ordered a Colin Thubron novel about his travels in Central Asia. I have my maps marked. My room reeks of alpine fernweh, an ache to travel to a distant place where I have to earn every kilometre I explore. That’s just the joy of cycling in the mountains, and don’t let any lazy rider tell you otherwise. This trip will be gruelling, both mentally and physically, but that adrenaline rush on the downhills or atop mountain passes is something I’m willing to burn every muscle and breath for.
Over 30 per cent of Kyrgyzstan is covered in snow, so just like in Ladakh or Spiti, the summer months are when I can have a go. It’s a while from now, but this blog needed to be put out there. I’ve put words to my dreams, now it’s time to put the feet on the pedals and drag myself up the Kyrgyz mountains!