Kyrgyzstan – becoming nomads

Here is my personal experience in this beautiful wild land, below is the day-by-day guide written by my companion Anne.

Kyrgyzstan. Before organizing this expedition, I had to learn how to write correctly this name. Every language has its own way to write it (Kyrgyz Republic is the correct one). Also, before planning any out of path trekking using topographic maps, I had to understand where this beautiful country is exactly located and learned some Soviet topographic words. But I’m not alone in this, as almost every person asking me about my destination was reacting “Kazgyz…what??”.

If you add the fact narrated in the movie The Dawn Wall, Kyrgyzstan had a very bad reputation. But all the present information I could find online was telling about a beautiful country, very wild, with welcoming nomad people and high mountains, exactly what I research in my always less frequent long distance travels.

Let’s go straight to the point: Kyrgyzstan is an amazing and safe country. We lived one of the most beautiful travel experience in our life there, both in wilderness and meeting people. Now, I’ll tell you all the story.

My companion Anne and I planned to make 3 long distance trekkings, starting with a not marked one in the Ala-Kul lake region, in the Tien Shan mountains, moving then to Pamir where we reached the popular Traveler Pass near the Advanced Base Camp of Peak Lenin, ending with a long and more difficult trail called Heights of Alay, a 4-5 days ring in self sufficiency near Sary Mogul town close to Tajikistan.

The Ala-Kul lake is a very touristic spot, as you can see from how many people hiking on the classic route and from the huge amount of garbage you stumble in every single step. Luckily we decided to go there from Takyr Tor glacier, a not marked, self designed route. Reaching it from an exposed traverse and glacier crossing it was quite an adventure (that I recommend only to very experienced trekkers!), but the effort has payed off, as we walked alone for 2 days in forgotten valleys and alpine landscapes. It was beautiful, in an ancestral and primitive way.

Then we reached the main trail, and here it was quite terrible. Big groups of tourists from all around the world, hiking up with dubious gear, guided by random people (a guide asked us about the route as he never walked to the lake before), just with the goal to make this popular spot represented by Ala-Kul lake, a great pic to share on Instagram or travel blog.

And really, garbage, garbage everywhere. We saw people packing all their garbage in big plastic bag and hide them behind rocks, inside few old huts or burn them on a big fire. I really don’t understand the point to go to a place for the reason that it is wild and beautiful, consume it within a few hours of experience, take some pictures, and then destroy it with lots of leftovers…

Peak Lenin in Pamir was definitely different, as it recently opened for trekkers. Before it was only a mountaineering destination, with people coming from all Soviet Union to climb the easiest 7000m in the world.

Today it is a strange mix, between few of us exploring the base of the mountain in self sufficiency, enjoying the silence of the biggest north wall I’ve ever seen, and tons of mountaineers sleeping in base-camps organized by international agencies, using showers, wi-fi and enjoying sauna before every dinner, leaving garbage in big holes, where cows go to eat plastic bags, climbing then up an easy mountain, sometimes even with oxygen, reached by thousand of mountaineers.

Again, same place, a completely different experience between who is approaching nature to consume a goal and those willing to contemplate its pure beauty, vastness and silence.

Alay Heights was another story, much closer to our Huayhuash expedition of April.

It’s a recently opened route, exploring the most remote corners of this 5000m range that stand in front of the Pamir one. This means there is no tourism here, no fancy services, nothing but a few local people encountered on the trail.

I was amazed by the unique landscape of the Sari Mogul pass, where black mountains rise close to blue lakes. We also got lots of snow (in August!), making the experience more magical.

And the weather here was just incredible, as we started under the snow, walking then for two days under the summer sun, ending with a powerful thunderstorm at 4000m, with our hair pointing the sky for electricity. Weather shaped the emotions of every single day.

There are few yurts on the trail and a small town, that can host you. We preferred to sleep in our tent, but local people were very welcoming, offering us to stay at their home for a couple of hours, enjoying tea and home made jam.

A group of Kyrgyz people were so amazed to see foreigners that they asked us to take a selfie with us…definitely incredible!

During this expedition Anne and I were in full contact with wilderness, depending on weather and our own strengths, hiking for miles, entering in contact with a well preserved nomadic culture. Our travel was in a big contrast with a starting tourism industry, that already started consuming this wilderness and nomadic culture, offering it to bulimic tourists, that are visiting it without any idea of what’s going on or how to make no impact.

I still remember a big group of Italians met in Karakol Town guided by a foreign agency, with noisy people (also for Italian standards) speaking in catch-phrases about “this is the Kyrgyz way amici!”, spending tons of money all around just to feel powerful.

It’s incredible to visit the same country, same places, breathing same air, walking on same ground,  even speaking with same local people, but having a completely different experience from the one of others visiting Kyrgyzstan.

Our consumeristic culture teaches us that we have the right to travel, we have the right to see places, we have the right to climb mountains and treat wilderness as a playground. This brings to a destruction of all the environment and the culture within a few years, creating a hunger for a “next paradise” looked by travel blogger, where wilderness is still preserved.

When also this next paradise is undiscovered and shared on social, the mass tourism arrives, not respecting millenary equilibrium between people and wild lands, leaving behind a destroyed land, as Iceland, Bali or Dolomites are becoming every day more, and looking for the next destination to devour.

My idea is that we don’t have the right to travel, to explore and live wilderness. These are gifts we receive. Our approach must be respectful: when we go into wilderness we must have as less impact as possible on it, leaving no traces and protecting it for next generations. We also have to stay presence, to listen the big silence of nature, enjoying every single moment as a precious gift.

Coming back home I decided to reduce my long-distance travels. I’ll keep flying sometimes, as I think the mind opening coming from visiting different places and cultures is fundamental to evolve my life vision. But I’ll do much less than in the past years, focusing on my local wilderness, that never like today needs to be preserved from destruction of a local bulimia of wilderness growing up every day more. Discovering it with a conscious approach, and inspiring people around me to do the same.

After this travel, I updated my Manifesto here on my website, that I invite you to read.

Travel less, travel better, more respectful and conscious.

Before going to the day-by-day description by Anne, I would love to thanks people and companies that helped us in this expedition:

Thomas Capelli for being a great hiking companion in Heights of Alay
Fabio Palma for being our satellite contact and link to home
Paolo Vercellesi for the medical consulting in preparing the expedition
Kyrgyz CBT organization for logistic support
Rewoolution for the best merino wool base-layer
Cascade Design for Thermarest and MSR gears
Amer Sport for providing us Salomon S-Lab Alpine shoes and other gears
Vibram for resoling our shoes with incredible grip rubber
Firepot Food for fueling our expedition with best dehydrated meals ever

Day by day guide by Anne-Kathrin Melis

10/08/2019 – Our first day in Kyrgyzstan

We took our first taxi in Kyrgyzstan – from the airport to our car rental agency in the centre of Bishkek. For us Europeans obviously for a ridiculous price, although we found out later that we paid an enormous tourist-bonus. During the 40 minutes ride we enjoyed our first impressions of Kyrgyzstan. Old buildings and monuments remembered of Soviet times. In the background we took a glimpse of the mountain ranges that would expect us during the next two weeks.

We arrived at the car rental agency where two friendly Russian guys handed us over our Lexus RX350. We decided to rent a car for being more flexible, but looking backwards from today it was not necessary or useful. If you want to explore the mountainside we do not recommend to rent a car (also considering the relatively high cost of 60 USD per day).

After having picked up the car, we headed towards Karakol – 400 km, 6 hours by car from Bishkek. Even though we were incredibly tired after having basically skipped the night, we decided to stop by the Konorchek Canyons, a small creek canyon with red cliffs. It was a small hike with less than 1 hour one way (depending on how far you want to go into the canyon). After a small rest and taking pictures in the canyon, we went back to the car and continued our little road trip. Soon we arrived at Issyk-Kul (or Ysyk-Köl), which means “warm lake” in the Kyrgyz language. I tried to take a bath a few days later and would not quite call it warm, but ok. The Issyk-Kul is the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. In fact when you are driving on its shore, you have the impression to be on the seaside instead on a lake. On our way we saw a lot of “street food”, like smoked trouts. Luca could not resist and bought one of them, I refused being sceptical about the fish from the border of the street. Spoiler-alert: I made the better choice.

Around 7 pm we finally arrived at our Airbnb Guesthouse which was offered by Nurdin and his family. We were warmly welcomed and made ourselves comfortable in our room. In the meantime Luca was feeling more and more sick. We headed to a nearby restaurant to have a small dinner. We had a great lentils soup and some rice with grilled vegetables. For vegetarians it is quite difficult to find food in Kyrgyzstan since almost all of their dishes is made with meat. Usually we had to go for the side dishes. Another difficulty was giving by the fact that the menus usually were written in Cyrillic script, but Google Translate gave some more or less helpful indications on what we were ordering. Luca ate almost nothing – a very very bad sign.

The next day we wanted to start our hike in Altyn Arashan, but Luca was staying very bad the whole night. We need to blame the smoked fish? We will never know for sure.

12/08/2019 – Altyn Arashan (MAP)

One  day of rest later, Luca was finally feeling better, so we headed with our private transport in an old Russian jeep to Altyn Arashan, a valley near Karakol. Until the last minute we were in doubt if we should take our rented car or if we would need a “special” transport vehicle, since Google Maps was showing us a normal street to reach Altyn Arashan. It turned out that it was the right decision to not take the rented car. The “street” was impossible to drive on. Even the old Russian jeeps the locals are using to reach their properties or bringing up tourists were having serious difficulties to proceed. Some parts actually do not merit to be declined as a street. Honestly, we could easily have walked this part, but it would have cost us almost one entire day in addition to our planned itinerary. Having arrived at Altyn Arashan, we headed to the traditional yurts located there to have lunch. A very nice woman approached us at once and was telling us that she was just about to cook – even a vegetarian lunch. So we sat down for the very first time in our lives in a traditional yurt, enjoying a delicious Kyrgyz soup, vegetables and rice. After our tasty lunch, we finally started hiking. We headed towards a beautiful and sunny valley. The landscape was quite similar to our Italian Alps, with the difference that it was full of wild horses. Just beautiful! After around 6 hours of walking along the valley, we decided to put down our tent, since soon the itinerary would have become steeper and steeper.

13/08/2019 – Takyr Tor Glacier and Ala Kul Lake

We got up early and headed uphill along a small mountain creek. It was a really warm day, the sun was making the climbing up quite hard. But not only the sun made the ascent difficult. All the way up we were surrounded and attacked by horseflies. Huge flies thats bites hurt incredibly. I was screaming for pain every single time they bite me. It was terrible. We walked up and up like this for about 4 or 5 hours until we finally reached altitudes where the horseflies got less and less.

We were heading to the famous Ala Kul Lake, but instead of taking the normal route, we found an alternative route on the map that was passing over a glacier. We had no idea about the conditions of this glacier and if it would have been possible to pass it without special equipment. In the days before at Karakol, we were asking a few guides and tourist offices about this alternative route, but this path was not even signed on their map and nobody had any idea about this track. So when we decided to take this route, we were aware of the fact that in the worst case we would have needed to turn around in case the glacier was not crossable. Every hour that we were climbing up across the pass to finally see the glacier, I was getting more and more afraid and stressed. Turning back again after 8 hours of walking up would have really been a pain in the neck. There were about 150 metres of elevation missing, when we met other hikers for the very first time during the whole day. They were coming downwards from the glacier pass, a mountaineering group of about 10 Russians. They were fully equipped with backpacks of 100l, helmets, ropes, axes, crampons, every possible mountaineering tool you could imagine. So well, that was really scaring me off right now, since we were only equipped in our usual ultralight mode – small backpacks, trail running shoes – that was all. The only piece of alpinism equipment we had, was small crampons that we could put over our shoes. Fortunately Luca stayed optimist as always, so we continued climbing up. It was only 150 metres of elevation missing, so hey, why not take a look. So after another half an hour of walking up, we finally arrived at the pass and the Takyr Tor Glacier was appearing in front of our eyes. One of the most incredible views I have ever had! It was just beautiful. The glacier was huge! Having had it seen only on the map, we imagined it a lot smaller. But the good news was: it did not look too bad to cross. It was cold up there at 4.000 metres, so we soon headed for the descent after having valuated very carefully were to pass the glacier. We put on our crampons and walked very carefully along the right side of the glacier which was a thick layer of ice. We almost arrived at the end of the glacier when it started raining heavily. We continued our descent, trying to walk faster to arrive at the lake before we were completely wet. The descent though was endless, and the rain too heavy. We put up our tent in the last minutes of daylight close to Ala Kul Lake, completely tired and destroyed.

14/08/2019 – Karakol valley

We got up in the morning with the hope of catching finally a beautiful view of the lake but unfortunately the rain had never stopped since the evening before. Since we were very tired, and not keen to pack all our stuff and the tent under the pouring rain, we waited and waited inside, hoping the rain would stop. When it was about noon already and it still raining, we finally decided to start packing and continue hiking, otherwise we would have lost a whole day. We were heading along the side of the lake, staying upwards on a rocky path. We continued like this for about 1 hour until we arrived on the other side of the lake, where we saw the popular campsites of the guided tours. We were shocked by the amount of garbage we found around this area. People were literally putting their tents onto mountains of garbage. It was really terrifying. In the meantime the weather did not get better, so we concluded our stay at the famous Ala Kul Lake with having had no views but those of garbage, so we continued our way along the next valley which was directed to Karakol valley, where we planned to stay the upcoming night. It was a steep descent and since we were now on one of the most famous foutes for tourist we met lots of people climbing up. We walked downhill for about 3 hours when we finally arrived at Karakol valley. Just now the rain finally stopped. All our clothes and backpacks were completely wet at this point, and since the sun was already going down and with around 10°C (at night maybe around 0°C), there was absolutely no hope of having dry clothes until the next day.

15/08/2019 – Back to Karakol

We got up in the morning and – surprise – it was raining heavily again. Our plan was to follow Karakol valley until the base of Peak Karakol (5.216m). It would have been a 2 or 3 days hike back and return, so we checked the weather forecast with our satellite device. The forecast was rain, rain, rain also for the next days. That is why we decided at this point to head back to Karakol – which was about 25 km of walking down an unpaved road under the rain. It was a long, long way. Luckily after about half of the way a Russian jeep was passing, offering us a ride back to Karakol. Even if we do not like to use exterior help or transports during our hikes, we took the offer happily this time. We really needed a warm shower and dry clothes.

16/08/2019 – From Karakol to Bishkek

Since we ended our hike earlier than planned and the weather forecast predicted endless days of rain around Karakol, we decided to anticipate the second part of our travel. We left Karakol in the early morning and headed back towards Bishkek, were we had our flight to Osh the next day. We decided to take the way around the other side of Issyk-Kul this time, passing “beach” villages changing with endlessly seeming plane lands across the border of Kazakhstan. We arrived at Bishkek in the late evening were went to sleep early, since we had our flight to Osh at 7:30 am the next day.

17/08/2019 – Sary-Mogul and Tulpar Lake (MAP)

After not even 1 hour of flight we arrived in Osh, which is located near the border to Tajikistan. Having had arrived in Osh we headed to the local CBT Office to organize our transport for the next days. Our plan was to do the “Alay Heights Trek”, but since we arrived 2 days earlier than planned, we checked out other possibilities of trekking in the area. A driver brought us from Osh to Sary Mogul along the famous Pamir highway, a road traversing the Pamir Mountains through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. We decided to head directly to the start of the next trekking. The plan was a 2-days-trek to the Advanced Base Camp (4.400m) of Peak Lenin (7.134m), so the driver took us directly to the starting point at Lake Tulpar-Kol (3.500m). We arrived in the afternoon and started walking uphill to bring us farthest possible along the planned itenary. After about 1 hour we passed the first Base Camp for climbing Lenin Peak. It was ridiculously well equipped with Wifi, gardens, kitchens, tents with beds ecc. But if you looked a few metres behind the camp, you saw mountains of garbage. A respectful approach to the mountains is something else! Since the sun was not going down yet we continued to walk for about another hour when we finally put down our tent. As soon as the sun went down it got very freezy, but our sleeping bags never disappointed us. An important note to this point of our hike: We were basically in front of Lenin Peak, so the freezy air was obviously coming down from the 7.000m giant. The sad thing was, that we did not see the peak though. Unfortunately it was very cloudy, so we could only imagine the beautiful mountain that was right in front of our nose.

18/08/2019 – Traveller’s Pass

We got up that morning, hoping to finally take a glimpse at the majestic Lenin Peak, but unfortunately it was still cloudy and even raining a bit. Another group of guys who were sleeping close to our tent therefore decided to go back to the village instead of continuing to the Advanced Base Camp, since they were afraid of snow on the so-called Traveller’s Pass at 4.100m. Luca and I instead decided to go ahead, still aiming to arrive at the Base Camp. It was a few hours of walk until the Traveller’s Pass, passing the “Onion fields” which are literally fields full of wild onions. The hike to the pass was technically not very difficult, but quite exhausting. When we arrived at the pass it was really really cold, I could not feel my hands anymore. The view to Lenin Peak from the pass was supposed to be one of the most beautiful ones in that area, but due to the bad weather we still could not see the peak even if right in front of us. From the pass to the Advanced Base Camp it was supposed to be another 4 hours of hiking. We were undecided, since we were very tired and frozen. It was even snowing now! A group of guys who were coming down from the Advanced Base Camp to stock up their food. We asked them about the temperatures up there. When we told them about our tent and our sleeping bags with 0°C comfort they were just laughing at us. Great. Since it was really cold and the weather forecast did not predict an improvement during the next day, we decided to turn around back to our starting point. All the way downhill we were hoping that the weather would still change so that we could finally take a glimpse at Lenin Peak, but we were not lucky. We arrived back at Lake Tulpar-Kol where we organized a transport back to Sary-Mogul. Back in the village we headed to the local CBT Office to ask for a place to sleep. They brought us to the house of a family where we were welcomed by two adorable children. They showed us our place to sleep – basically the family had changed their living room into a dorm room with about 10 beds. It was all really cozy with carpets covering the whole floor. Besides us there were only a few other tourists, one of them Thomas from France, who should soon become our travel buddy for the next days. The mother prepared dinner for all of us, a little bit grumpy for Luca’s and my request for a vegetarian alternative, but in the end we got an amazing dinner. It was a kind of stew with potatoes and all kinds of vegetables – delicious! We had some nice talks with the other guests and we were telling them about our plan to do the “Heights of Alay” Trek during the next days. Since Thomas did not have any plans yet we invited him to join us.

19/08/2019 – Heights of Alay Trek, Day 1 (MAPS)

The guys from the CBT Office were suggesting to not do the trekking, since the last groups coming from the Sary Mogul Pass were forced to turn back because of snow on the northern side of the pass. Of course we were adventurous enough to just ignore this suggestion. In the morning we were expected by a guy with a Lada Niva for our departure to the starting point of the Heights of Alay Trek. Our first Lada Niva ride! What an amazing historical car – indestructible Russian quality. The car took us to the beginning of the trek where we started our continuous climb for about 4 hours up to Sary Mogul Pass (4.306m). We had a stunning view from up there – it was beautiful. From up there we also finally saw the northern side of the pass, and yes there was a lot of snow as expected. The descent was really steep, and the icy snow was not helping obviously. Since it was not the first time for us to be in a situation like we stayed relaxed. We brought our light crampons, but in the end did not even use them to go down across the snow. It was fun though sliding down the pass. Everybody arrived down safely, so we could continue our trekking across the river valley. After about 1,5 hours we passed a yurt camp, but we continued for another 20 minutes to search for a quiet and independent sleeping place. The valley was quite steep and rocky so it was not too easy to find a spot for the tent, but in the end we chose a nice plain with green grass (and lots of cow shit). So looking at all the cow droppings I was quite sceptical regarding the place we chose, but the guys would not want to hear my doubts. My doubt was not about sleeping in the middle of cow droppings, but about the fact that if there are cow droppings, then there will also be cows. Well, the sun was already starting going down and in fact also the cows were starting to choose their sleeping places, and – surprise – they chose the same place as us. Since Luca is officially in charge of scaring away cows during our travels, he started yelling at our hairy friends to not have them incidentally walk over our tent at night. Even if they seemed really scared when being yelled at them, they would always come back again surrounding our tent. It is quite scary if you lay down in your tent and close to your face you hear some large animal breathing. Another nice experience is when you go “to the toilet” at night in the dark and you only see the reflection of 50 pairs of eyes in a circle around you. Our travels may seem adventurous to some of you and you might see a lot of dangers, but to be honest for me the number one danger on all our travels remain the cows – no matter if Norvegia, Peru or Kyrgyzstan! 

20/08/2019 – Heights of Alay Trek, Day 2

After the scary night with the cows, we got up early the next day to continue walking downhill along the valley. After around 2 hours we reached the tiny village Kichi Sary Mogol. It was an idyllic and beautiful place, men were cutting hay, children were playing on the streets, and everybody was watching us curiously while we were passing the village. After about 4 km of walking along a plain road we arrived at the next village Kyzyl-Chara. At the village we needed to turn right into neighboured valley, where we started to climb uphill again. It was only about 300m from that point, but we had already left behind a lot of walking that day even if only downhill. We were really tired and the sun was burning on our faces. After about 1,5 hours we arrived at the house of a shepherd who was helping us with the right direction to continue. We soon arrived at the top of the pass, where we met Thomas again. We had an intense and long break since all of us were really tired now. Continuing downwards over the pass, the valley “Kosh Moinok” opened up in front  of us. A perfect Kyrgyz panorama! It was a beautiful valley with green meadows and a river floating in the middle of it, hundreds of horses strolling around. A yurt hut made the scenery perfect. The sun was already about to set, so we put our tent close to the river and enjoyed our dinner in the last moments of sunshine for that day, enjoying that beautiful and peaceful place.

21/08/2019 – Heights of Alay Trek, Day 3

The next morning we got up early as usual and starting walking uphill towards the Sary Bel Pass. It was only around 300m of elevation, so nothing too serious. It was sunny and quite hot this day and for the first time we miscalculated our water reserves that day. During the long walk in direction to the small village of Kojokelen, we did not find any water sources, and we had not filled up our bottles in the morning. After a few hours in the sun we were quite suffering, and the landscape was very dry, passing beautiful red sandstones on the left of us. Continuing walking downhill the landscape become more and more green and lively until we finally arrived in a valley with the first houses. We met a Kyrgyz family who spent their day on some beautiful tables and benches to have picnic. They were asking us for a selfie (obviously we were in a really good shape with our “idiot-hats” that we use on sunny days). We saw some stairs on the right of us, and since we were curious we went to check out where they headed to. We found a beautiful cave, formed by blue shining water that was completely pure since filtered by the stones. It seemed like a sacred place. We enjoyed the fresh temperature and the silence of that cave before we continued to walk further the valley. After about 20 minutes we finally arrived in the village of Kojokelen. The plan was to find a transport to the next yurt camp, which was located in the direction of the Jiptik-Pass (4.185m). Like this we would save about 2 hours of walking uphill again. A guy in a truck stopped next to us while we were walking along the street in direction of the next pass. He offered to bring us to the yurt camp, so we agreed happily after some price negotiation. The guy though explained that the first needed to go to the grocery shop (wherever that would be), then he would pick us up. In the meantime he brought us to his house, where his wife started to bring us food. She brought traditional bread accompanied by some delicious homemade peach jam and the famous traditional drink called “Kymyz” which is fermented horse milk. Well, I wanted to try it on my travel in Kyrgyzstan anyway, but I would have prefered not to be forced to drink up such a big glass to not offend our host. I would lie if I would say that I liked the taste of it, but it could also have been worse. I just thought “If I survive this, nothing can stop me anymore”, and in fact my digestion did not have any problems afterwards. After about 1 hour our driver finally came back to pick us up. We were grateful to have been hosted by his family and satisfied by the nice food. After having said goodbye to his lovely wife and family we took our places on the back of his truck and started to drive uphill in the direction of the yurt camp. I guess his truck was not too happy about the steep unpaved road since it started to smoke heavily after 10 minutes. We stopped and needed to refill the cooling water, taking water from a river down the valley. After this unforeseen stop and another 20 minutes of driving, hoping the truck would survive, we finally arrived at the yurt camp. Since we did not want to stay in the camp, we started walking uphill trying to find a good spot for the tent. The sun was already about to set and the valley got steeper and steeper, the river always more farther from the possible tent spot. I would say this was the evening where we had most difficulties to find a place. If you are able not to argue in such a situation after an exhausting day of hiking, you reach an important couple goal. We finally found a small place, putting up our tent with the last rays of the sun. Together with Thomas we enjoyed our dinner on a big flat stone, reflecting about our travel, a bit nostalgic since the next day would be the last day of hiking. It was in fact our last night in the tent for this travel. Knowing it was almost the last day, we were enjoying the last pieces of our sacred stock of chocolate. You have no idea how good just a small piece of chocolate makes you feel when you hike for days without real food.

22/08/2019 – Heights of Alay Trek, Day 4

We got up enthusiastic and sad at the same time, facing the last day of the Heights of Alay Trek. Today’s destination was the Jiptik-Pass at 4.185m. The unpaved road over Jiptik-Pass used to be a regular transportation road before. Thanks to this fact the whole way was really large and only gently becoming steeper. We started hiking with sunshine for about 2 or 3 hours, but while getting closer and closer to the pass, we saw clouds developing and arriving in our direction. After a little less than 4 hours we finally arrived at the pass, and you know when you say things like “The last day ended with a bang” – well, in this case it literally happened like this. We just arrived on the pass, me sitting down to take a little rest and Luca taking some pictures with his drone, when it started to hail all of a sudden, and we heard a loud thunder just above us. Luca just looked at me and said “Run!”. I think you can imagine that an exposed mountain pass above 4.000m is the last place you want to be in the middle of a thunderstorm. So we started running downhill on the other side of the pass under thunder, lightning and hail. I was scared to death, running desperately and in panic. We ran like this without ever stopping for at least 30 minutes to lose altitude as soon as possible. As soon as we were becoming slower a loud thunder above our heads reminded us that the danger was not over yet. Just when we arrived on the bottom of the valley, we become more relaxed. We were exhausted and completely wet, having been running like crazy for half an hour with hail hitting our faces. Definitely the scariest moment of this travel!

So we continued to walk down the valley. The plan was to walk until the next yurt camp and grab a ride back to Sary-Mogul. It was really cold, the hail had turned to heavy rain now. When we finally arrived at the yurt camp, there was nobody – no car, no person to give us a ride. So we continued to walk and walk until we finally had a phone connection. We called the CBT office and asked to send someone to pick us up. We hate to be “lazy”, but we were completely wet and cold and the walk down to Sary-Mogul would have taken several hours. Luckily only half an hour later somebody came and picked us up and brought us to the beautiful guesthouse where we had also stayed before. A hot shower and a warm homemade vegetable soup later, we fell asleep satisfied after our great adventure.

23/08/2019 – Back to Osh

We took a shared taxi to Osh in the early morning. It was us and Thomas, the driver, and a woman with her two small children. Well, we were seven people in a car with five seats. You can imagine how comfortable our 5-hours-ride was. We arrived in Osh and found ourselves with 30°C now, compared to nearly 0°C just a few hours before. Since we were quite hungry at this point, the driver suggested to bring us to the Osh market to have some “Maida manti”, a kind of dumpling filled with vegetables. He brought us to a hidden court at the side of the market with tables and benches to have lunch. Several women were standing around the area, each offering their home-cooked meals. We bought 1 kg of Maida manti for four people, which was served out of a giant plastic bag right on the table in front of us – plates and cutlery not needed. So we ate this 1 kg of Maida manti with our hands, accompanied by some black tea. Since it was almost the end of our travel all of our worries against weird food and the hygienic conditions were gone at this point. After we had left our luggage in our apartment we came back to the Osh market to do some souvenir shopping and try all the food we had not tried yet. I also finally tried “Shoro”, a traditional fermented wheat-based drink. The taste was quite similar to beer. I really liked it and on a hot day like this it was really refreshing.

24/08/2019 – A very bad last day

We got up in our apartment the next day and prepared for checking out. The plan for this day was just to stroll and chill around in Osh until we would go to the airport in the late evening. I did not feel quite well and a very bad feeling around my stomach increased steadily. We had to check out anyhow and so we soon went to leave our luggage at the CBT office to start our sightseeing day. I did not go very far, when I threw up on the streets of Osh for the first time. Poor Luca and poor people who were walking close to us. I hereby want to apologize! Well, when it happens for the first time you kind of hope that whatever was disturbing your stomach would be out now and you can continue to enjoy your happy day. Unfortunately this was not the case and I continued throwing up all around Osh. I decided to go to the CBT office and stay there until we needed to go to the airport. It was quite a long afternoon, but by the time our taxi arrived in the evening, it seemed that I finally had “finished”.

Even if the last hours in Kyrgyzstan could not have been much worse for me, I look back happily to our travel. It was a wonderful experience. We saw amazing spots of nature but we also met amazing people. It was the most authentic experience I ever had on a travel since Kyrgyzstan is still only at the beginning of developing its tourism and a touristic infrastructure. In fact I hope that it will stay like this still for a while, since I am afraid that mass tourism one day will destroy also this beautiful country.