The Road to Bishkek

The road to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, took me through a wide range of terrain. Hot, flat valleys, heavily populated and with lots of cornfields, deep gorges with fast flowing rivers, a huge reservoir used to generate hydroelectric power, two 3000 meter passes, a wide sunny valley at 2000 meters altitude, a scary, poorly lit 1.5 km long tunnel at the top of a pass, an incredibly long and steep downhill ride, and a traffic filled potholed road leading to Bishkek.

I will let the pictures tell the story.

Here are a group of Russians I met. They were cycling up into the mountains of eastern Kyrgyzstan and then going mountain climbing. So in addition to all their cycling gear they had ice axes, crampons, ropes, etc. Crazy. Several locals came out to inspect their gear as we talked.

A common site: kids on donkeys pulling carts of hay or other stuff.

I rode past the Toktogol reservoir, part of a huge hydroelectric plant. Completed in 1982, it took 14 years to build and contains 19 billion cubic meters of water.

You see people selling fish from the reservoir by the roadside.

Some views of the road.

A typical Kyrgyz cemetery. I don’t know for sure but it looks Muslim. It is interesting that these structures seem more robust than the houses people actually live in. Very odd.

One of my campsites. A nice quiet spot.

During the night this little fella build a web right outside my tent.

Someone’s house in one of the valleys. I guess they don’t like neighbors.

I thought this was an amusing site. You see lots of this: people working on broken down vehicles. Preventive maintenance? Never heard of it.

More yurts in one of the valleys. This was an early morning photo and I liked the way the sun lit up the yurts while the background mountain was still in shadow.

Some Kyrgyz kids selling honey by the roadside. They love having their picture taken, especially when they can see it afterward.

More yurts in the valley. I find them fascinating because the lifestyle of these people must be so different from my south beach condo life.

I came across a couple guys gutting out two horses. It turns out they were hit by a truck during the night (the horses I mean). The smell was overwhelming.

In this family run cafe the women are preparing mutton.

Unfortunately this too is a common site. Engines groaning, these trucks lumber up the steep slopes belching fumes of black smoke. At least they were thoughtful enough to route the exhaust away from the shoulder where I was riding.

On the way up the pass. Trucks inching up the switchbacks.

I met these two Swiss cyclists on the way up and we rode together for a day. Here we are at the pass, 3100 m (10,000 feet).

Me at the pass before riding through the tunnel of death. It was designed and built by the same people who built the Moscow city subway system.

An amazing bird’s eye view of the road downhill from the pass. Thankfully I rode down this not up it.

After the Soviets pulled out of Kyrgyzstan in 1990 many Russians began leaving. But there are still a fair number still there, mostly in the north. Here is a Russian girl I saw on the way to Bishkek.

The country seems to be divided into two regions. The southern part is rural, mostly Uzbek and Muslim. But in Bishkek, in the north, you see a lot more Russians and few Muslims. The women in Bishkek dress western-style as opposed to the Muslim attire of Osh.

Doggone It

One annoying thing about Kyrgyzstan is the aggressive dogs. I only had one dog chase me in China. Here, a couple run after me almost daily. I used to get frightened by this but ever since I studied Haganah, the Israeli self defense system, I have a different attitude.

Haganah teaches you first that in any conflict there is a predator (I prefer the term aggressor), and a victim. Initially, if someone attacks you, you will be the victim. But Haganah prepares you to quickly turn that around. YOU become the aggressor and your would be attacker becomes the victim. You must be prepared mentally to inflict serious violence upon your attacker, including breaking bones, gouging eyes, elbowing throats and kneeing groins. The idea is to surprise your attacker by overwhelming him/her with unexpected violence. Of course, they also teach you techniques for doing this.

Once you have this mindset and have learned the techniques your attitude changes when you are out walking in public. I am now super sensitive to anyone who even comes close to me on the street. I am ready to kick or elbow anyone who even brushes up against me. It has helped: My first day in Kyrgyzstan a kid (drunk or on drugs I suspect) tried to take one of my water bottles from my bike I threatened him with an elbow to the face and he backed off. Another time a drunk guy stopped his car and offered me a lift. I politely declined but he insisted, and even grabbed my handlebars as I tried to ride away. A quick karate chop to his wrist encouraged him to let go and he stared at me as I rode away. Haganah teaches you to go for the weak areas: eyes, throat, groin, joints, etc.

You can read more about the Haganah system here:

Anyway, back to the dogs. I used to try to pedal away frantically when a dog chased me. Now, I stop and turn the attack around. I become the aggressor and dog becomes the victim. I stop my bike, pick up some rocks and chase the dog back to where he came from, throwing rocks and yelling like a madman. The dogs always turn and run. Sometimes I chase them for hundreds of feet well into their own territory. Once I chased one all the way into the house and threw a rock that landed on the front porch. Fortunately no one was there.

As I ride away I have to chuckle to myself. The locals must think I am a nut, running wildly after their dog screaming and throwing rocks. But I also consider it a favor to the next cyclist who comes by. Perhaps the dog will think twice about chasing future cyclists.

7 thoughts on “The Road to Bishkek

  1. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. August 19, 2008 / 8:28 pm

    The most consistent observation is the colorful (what we call “ethnic”) clothes many of the women and children wear. Also, the shops in the towns are usually covered with colorful materials. It must be a desire to get away from the bleak countryside.

    The other observation is that children everywhere you’ve been are beautiful; they are so warm and innocent. It is hard to imagine what type of toil and strife and hardship they will face when they are older. And by what means do some of these beautiful, innocent children turn into killers and destroyers; and that goes for the whole world. It boggles my mind to think that any one of us could possibly be reduced to such hatred and despair and cynicism.

  2. Jim August 19, 2008 / 9:06 pm

    Another good technique for dogs is to let them come, perhaps dismount on the opposite of the bike but that is not always required, then squirt water into their eyes with a water bottle.

    New England dogs do not like this and will quit the chase. I would hope that this would apply world-wide. Let me know….

    When Bonnie and I first got our tandem and we were crusing along at 17 or so, we were chased by a huge German Sheppard (he had the angle on us). As I saw him approach at amazing speed, ignoring his master’s calls, I shouted to Bonnie that we either had to stop or to accelerate like crazy.

    I think we reached 25+ and outran him.

    On another occasion, my pastor friend John and I were chased. I only had to outrun him, which I did.

  3. Kevin Koski August 20, 2008 / 12:03 pm

    Like the old joke: two guys were hiking in the woods when a bear started chasing them. One guy starts running like crazy. The other one says, “why are you running, you can’t outrun a bear.” The other replies, “I don’t have to, I just need to outrun you.”

  4. Kevin Koski August 20, 2008 / 12:13 pm

    Don, yes I really like all the colored fabrics. It makes the place seem alive.

    As for the children, yes they have a tough life ahead of them, but I don’t think they see it that way. If you grow up in a tough environment you get used to it. That’s normal, not good or bad. So for them, it probably doesn’t seem so bad. But if I had to give up my south beach condo and live at 3000 m altitude in the cold and wind, use a pit toilet and eat only bread and mutton everyday while herding a bunch of stinky goats around we got a problem.

  5. John K. August 23, 2008 / 1:25 am

    Hey Kev, another round of great photos. Strange to me that in two or three countrys so far I haven’t seen a tree taller than twenty feet. Even around that reservoir, very little vegatation. At what altitude is that? Looks like the whole country is above the tree line. Must be nice running into other cyclist along the way. Can you communicate with any of them other than a series of grunts and hand gestures? As far as that tunnel is concerned, you refered tp it as the “tunnel of death”, I beleive that just by seeing the universal red cross sign, if that’s what it is. Looks like it was painted by the Manson famliy. Take care, be safe. As far as your self defense, nothin beats a good firm chop to the throat. J.K.

  6. Kevin Koski August 23, 2008 / 12:56 pm

    John, about 80% of Kyrgyzstan is above 3000 m (10,000 feet). So only in the valleys do you see trees.

    Most of the other cyclists I have met speak pretty good English so communication has not been a problem. Few locals do, though, which is more of a pain.

    The simple James Bond chop the throat is actually very effective. Even better is to take your forearm, bent at the elbow and slam it into someone’s carotid artery. It takes very little force but you can knock someone out this way.

  7. Laly January 17, 2014 / 12:38 am

    Intéressant. Je crois toutefois qu’on peut envisager
    la chose d’une autre manière vous ne croyez
    pas ?

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