Just on the very latest moment we receive our pasports with all the visas: friday 13th at 16.00 hours....Now we can sleep again... The next morning we fly to Almaty, Kazachstan. On monday morning the whole group gathers at the Turkestan Hotel and wait for the contact person from the shipping agent. At 11.00 hours he calls the hotel and say that the customs have lunch till 14:00 hour. So we wait more...Finally he shows up and we go by taxi to the warehouse to pick up the motorbikes. There we have to wait till 16.00 hour for the container is opened. Yes, we have our bikes.
But due to the rough transport, the fuel tank of Haralds suzuki is leaking. We ride back to the hotel, while petrol is leaking on the hot engine, but luckely the bike did not catch fire.
The next morning we visit the basar for breakfast and buy epoxy resin to fix the fuel tank.
Finally we are on the road. We want to go to the Singing Sand dunes in Altyn Emel NP in east Kazachstan. There are no signs at all so we follow one of the tracks into the NP. The tracks get worse and some times quit steep over the green hills. Although it is fun riding on our motorbikes here. At a farm we ask for a direction but they can not tell us which way it is. They can not show us because the map is in english. So we ride on compass to the south and after some hours the track ends at a small russian truck where apark ranger lives in summer time with his wive.
He wondered why and how we get here since we never passed an entry gate to the NP. Udo is pointing to his GPS and explains "I just follow the compass to the south". Marat, the park ranger is laughing and say that we were total out of direction to the sand dunes. "You can only reach it through the main entrance and that is far away". He invite us for tea and biscuits and we talk about his sidecar, the NP and our trip.
On our way to Kyrgyzstan we cross a pass road with nice curves. Instead of going the max speedlimit of 50 km/hour we rode a little bit faster... On top of the pass was a police van with a speed camera. We and 3 other cars were stopped. The police man showed us the images in the van on a laptop which had recorded the speed of 76 km/hour. The fine is 85 euro for each, he explains. All the car drivers are paying a fine at the back of the police van and it looks not even 5 euro's. So are we screwed..? Udo shows that he has no wallet and Harald has only 9900 Tenge in his wallet, which is about 50 euro. We show a credit card but the police officer with a hughes police hat don't accept credit cards. He looks angry and is getting irritated. Udo is sitting next to the officer and is thinking, mmmhh, that hat would be a nice shelter if it is raining.... After a while the police man takes 9500 Tenge and push us hard out of the police van. Uuhh, where is our receipt???
The border crossing from Kazahstan to Kyrgyzstan tooks only 2 hours. 30 minutes was for the paper work and the rest of the time was waiting in the burning sun of 38 degrees celsius between 40 other cars with running engines.
We stroll around in Bishkek and see a lot of beautifull buildings in suprisingly clean streets and well maintained city parks.
After a day Bishkek we hit the road to Naryn where we turn right to Kazarman. This is the most desolated area of Kyrgyzstan. After Kazarman the gravel road starts winding slowly through green hills till the foot of the Kaldama Pass. The Pass it selfs is in some parts very steep and has several hairpins. Most of the time the dirt road is narrow and if a 4WD comes down the track we can just pass each other. On top of the Kaldama Pass and looking to the other side we have spectacular views into the deep valley.
In the mountains we see everywhere yurts. These are from the nomadic Kyrgyz people that lives here during the summer months on the jailoos. A jailoo is a small green plateau of grass field in the mountain range.`It takes a while before we reach lower grounds and find a nice camping spot. Horses are grazing around the tent and a little boy on a mule is looking surprized what we are doing here. We are modern nomads on a jailoo.
We are heading to the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border via the city Sary Tash. There we hear from other traveers about shot guns in Khorog, the town at the end of the Pamir Highway that we want to travel to. At the border crossing itself the customs tells us that we only can go to Murgab, after that the roads are closed for travelers. Entering Tajikistan over a 4232 mtr. high unpaved pass road where the views are spectacular.
Riding over a bad corrugated gravel road the snow capped mountains of the Pamir come every kilometer closer and gets more impressive. Along the road there is a fence which is the border with China and at some places it is only 5 meter from the side of the road. We see a hole in the fence, should we enter..naahhhh.
Then the clear blue lake Karakul is appearing. The altitude is 4000 meter. We ride around it and stop in the village Karakul. There we meet other motorbike travelers from Poland, Russia and England.
They came from Murgab and say that further traveling is no option. As a week ago a general from the Tajik intelligence services was killed in Khorog, probably by an opposition warlord that cemented his control over the region. His death triggered the government millitary forces and the shooting begon. Stories go around that more than 100 people are killed.
We decide to stay at the Aigerim homestay with a Tajik family. The woman makes a pot of tea for us and we get fresh bread with apricot jelly. We get a large room where we can sit on pillows on the carpet. For a bed we just have to take as many of the colorful blankets we need. For dinner we get plov, a pillaf rice with carrots.
The next day some bikers go back to Murgab to see if the situation is changed and if its possible to go further. We go that way for a part, just to ride over the 4675 m high Akbaytal Pass. A strong cold wind is torturing us at the top of the pass. We quickly shoot some pictures and descent again. And again the views are jaw dropping.
Back in our homestay we are welcomed with hot tea and bread. This family is super friendly. Later the bikers come back and there is no change in the situation.The checkpoint at Murgab sent everybody back. Ofcourse we understand this and that they want to secure travelers, but it is a shame that we cannot go further to ride a loop through Tajikistan and experience more of the Pamir Highway. So we have to go back onces...
We head back to the Kyrgyzstan border and see the snowy mountains disappear in our mirrors. The last day we camp under a clear sky and see the Great Bear constellation between two mountains. Even that we had a short stay in Tajikistan we only can say: WOW.
We enter for the second time Kyrgyzstan at the same borderpost because this is one of the two bordercrossing which is open to foreigners. The other bordercrossing is going to Uzbekistan and for this country we don't have a visa. Although we are riding on the same road as a few days ago, we have totaly different views as we heading the other direction. The second large city is Osh and has a surprisely nice entrance which is worth to stop for some pictures.
We stay in a really nice guest house with a patio which is covered with grapes. It is so quiet relaxed to sit here so we decide to stay an extra day. We met several other motorbikers who transported the bikes in the same shared container to Almaty. Everybody have some stories to tell and time flies.
North of Osh we take a other route. We follow the Naryn river through the Fergana valley where it is beautifull riding on your motorbike. Bizar cream brownish coloured mountains on both sides of the valley which changes colour when a big white cloud is passing by.
We leaving highway M41 which is partly unpaved to a 4-WD track. The track is going to lake Song-Kol and is also possible with 1-WD.... Song-Kol is a alpine lake on 3016 meter and is surrounded by lush pastures and where herdes spend summer time in their yurts. We ride around the lake and find a beautifull camping spot with views over the giant pastures.
We heading north through Kazachstan over the A350 to the Russian border, about 1200 kilometers. From Almaty the road is still good, but the further we go the worse the road gets. Although it's a bitumen road, there are so many bumps and holes that our speed is between 30-60 km/hr. Every second we get a punch through our suspension that we feel in our wrists, back and shoulders. And that the whole day long. After three and a half day we reach Semey and we feel all our muscles...
This north east corner of Kazachstan looks like a big empty space on the map, but there are several villages. Around the city Semev it was the main nuclear testing ground from the formal Sovjet Union. Semev is maybe better known to the world by it old Russian name Semipalatinsk. It was here that the Sovjet militairy between 1949 and 1989 exploded around 460 nuclear bombs. And the villagers were given no protection or warning of the dangers. The UN Development Programme says that over 1.3 million people have been adversely affected by the tests. Sad, very sad.
"Welcome to Russia", is what the immigration officer say to us. That is really friendly and the first time we hear at a border this trip. We cross the border to Russia without any problems (bordercrossing Semey (KAZ)-Rubtsovsk (RUS)). At the border are no facilities to change any money and in the first few villages along the road there isn't any ATM where we can get cash. It is another 400 kilometer to Barnaul, the first big city in Russia. Our petrol stove is broken and therefore we can not make any tea or cook a meal. So the first days we live on water and bread and just make it to Barnaul on our last drops of petrol. In Barnaul we could manage in the third outdoor shop to buy a new petrol stove and even pay with creditcard.
From Barnaul we are heading to the Altai Mountains over the Chuysky Trakt (M52) . It is 10 years ago since we where riding here but there are just a few things that we remember of the area. However it is beautifull again, the roads are good and the curves are great to ride your bike. Small villages we pass have little wooden houses and often blue windows. They look so cosy. And everybody is asking: where are you from? The Russians seems even more friendly than 10 years ago.
After a day nice riding we find our self a very nice camping spot on a 20 meter high cliff just above a wild river. In the morning we see the sun rising above the river and we are sitting on the first row to watch it. This is the best of the Altai, it offers the best camping spots.
Along side the road there are some small markets where they sell souvenirs, honey, herbs and other stuff. The souvernirs are mostly made of wood and the honey is fresh from the bees.
About 150 kilometer before the border with Mongolia we pass a road sign. Till here we rode exactly 10 years ago and stopped here because we didn't had a Mongolia visa that time. We make again a photo and now we ride further to the border. Snowcapped mountains appear the further we go to the border. Even we were a short time back in Russia, we loved it. Sure we go back once...
Arriving at the Russia-Mongolia border (Tashanta, Altai-Tsagaanuur) we have to cue up with a dozen of Mongolia rally cars (a charity rally from England to Mongolia in cars less than 1300 cc and they leave the cars for charity). This causes a long waiting time and after 5 hours (2.5 hours Russian site and 2.5 hours Mongolian site) we are in. We have to pay 6 dollar for tax (which tax is not clear) and 12 dollar for the obligate motorbike insurance. It is already getting dark when we leave the border and it also started to rain. And the road is not more than a earth track. So after 5 kilometers we pitch our tent just beside the road. We make some macaroni and than the storm begins. We secure our tent with some rocks but it shakes in all directions. After one hour it calmes and we go out to make a coffee. But when Harald opens the tent a family is standing for the door. Father and 4 kids. How long are they waiting here? And we did not hear their motorbike because of the storm. The father checks out our tent and petrol stove and his kids follow him. They want to touch everything. We think it's a discovery they make. We give them all a cookie and when our cookies are finished they all get on the small motorbike and leave. This is a nice start in Mongolia. The sky clears and a 180 degree rainbow is appearing. Beautiful.
The next day the sun shines and the road is dried up. We get the first impressions of the landscape. Mountainous, arid land with no trees. Only some grass vegetation. Everywhere we see white dots in the land. These are gers (round Mongolian tents). Sometimes only one, sometimes a few gers together. We encounter also many small chinese 150 cc motorbikes. Often packed with a whole family and luggage.
There are 2 main roads to Ulaan Bataar (capital of Mongolia), the northern route and the south route. We decide to take the longer south route. As main route we expected a descent road (not paved) but many times it is only an earth track. When wet, very muddy, when dry, very dusty. But always very bumpy. And because of the bad condition, everybody tries to find (make) the best way. This means that the road split up in several tracks. Sometimes more then 20. In the beginning we are a little worry if we are on the right track, because some cars and local motorbikes riding on different tracks. Sometimes the tracks go left and right around a mountain. But soon we learn that at a certain point all tracks come together or go to the same village. But it gives a strange feeling riding in a kilometers wide valley, dozen tracks going somewhere and the map/GPS navigator showes only one road...
West Mongolia is on an alpine plain of 1500-2000 meters. Some passes go over 2500 meters. And when we get at one of them it starts to rain. At the pass summit it turns into snow. It is freezing cold and the wind make it worse. Then 2 horseriders with an eagle are standing beside the road. We stop and look at the big eagle. That's an impressive bird. Harald can hold the eagle on its arm for a photo. This is cool! The track goes on and we have to cross several small rivers. A few are a bit difficult to cross because of the loose gravel, but we keep our feet dry.
Sometimes we pass stupa's with prayer rolls. Buddhist people always stop here and turn the rolls to spread the prayers. We do the same for safe traveling.
In the small village Zereg we want to get petrol but the pump is closed. The next village is Darvi and is 80 kilometers further. We can make this and ride on. Arriving in Darvi it is crowded with people and we pull over to see what is going on. There is a Mongolian style wrestling going on and we just see the last game. Two men in blue wrestling outfits try to push each other on the ground. Finally the biggest guy wins. All the spectators clap there hands and the awards are given by men in traditional clothing which is decorated with dozens of medallions. The spectators are also dressed up in traditional clothes. Men in colorfull jackets and special hats, women in beautiful dresses and the kids make there best clothes dirty in the dusty sand. This looks great and we can shoot some nice pictures. These are the nice happenings of traveling.
We take a detour to Kharkhorin where the most important khiid (monastery) of Mongolia is. Erdene Zuu Khiid means hundred treasures and was the first Budhist monastery in Mongolia and had between 60 and 100 temples inside the white walls at its peak and up to 1000 monks in residence. The monastery went through periods of neglect and prosperity until finally the Stalinist purges of 1937 put it completely out of business. The Erdene Zuu Khiid remained closed until 1965. In 1990 the communism collapsed and religious freedom was restored and the monastery became active again. This beautiful temple complex are build from stone and wood and are painted colorfull.
We are heading to Ulan Bataar where the traffic is terrible. It is a complete chaos and now we understand why mongolians go living in a ger somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It took more than a hour to manouver through the traffic before we reach Oasis Guesthouse. This is a real relaxing place to recover from all dust, dirt and thoughnes of the past days.
We stay a few days at Oasis guesthouse in Ulaan Baatar. We met a lot of other travellers here and share information. Bikers from Gemany, Swiss, England and several 4WD travelers. We do a little service on our bikes , change oil and filters, because we are halfway our trip.
At night we go out to Ulaan Bataar down town with a Oasis group and see the fantastic show of the Mongolian National Song and Dance Academic Ensemble. All performers are dressed in traditional clothes and perform stories from the nomadic Mongolians with dance, songs and are accompanied with traditional music instruments. It is really fantastic. (no pictures allowed...). After we go for a nice dinner with the group. Most take a pizza but I take a mongolian noodle dish with vegetables, Tsuivan, and flush it away with Chinggis Khaan beer.
Chinggis Khaan was the great emporer that concored in the 12th century large parts of Asia, China, India, Siberia up to nowadays Turkey. To honor him the Mongolians build a huge 40 meter high silver statue of Chinggis on his horse near Ulaan Bataar. If you stand close it is very impressive and you can go up the the horse head to have a panoramic view.
Back on the road we visit one of the most important monastries of Mongolia, Amarbayasgalant khidd. This is the best preserved monastry because it was not destroyed during the 1937 purge of the Stalinists. The monastry was build between 1727-1737 by a Manchu emperor and dedicated to the great Mongolian Buddhist Zanabazar. Zanabazar was an artist and Living Bhudda and is today considered one of the greatest Renaissance artists in all of Asia. The building look very nice, with a lot of details carved out in wood or painted. Insight are a lot of buddha's. It brings a relaxing, meditative feeling if we stroll around. So calm! But what is that??? Then the quietness is broken by loud rock music. We walk to where the music is coming from and then we see that in front of one of the temples a Mongolian rockband is recording their latest album. First i think it does not fit in here, but when we get caught by the rythem , it's very cool. So much contrary! Meditative buddhism mode fired up by hard rock. We are head banging like Beavis and Butthead...
At many parts road workers are constructing new paved roads. Sometimes we can ride over fresh layed bitumen, then parts over the sandy/gravel underlayer. So if you want to travel some adventurous roads you have to come quickly (within 50 years) to Mongolia before all roads are paved...
The last day when we are camping near a river we get visited by 2 mongolians on their chinese 150 cc motorbikes. They are again interested in our Suzuki's and our camping gear. We like their bikes. They dress up the bikes with a colorfull carpet over the buddy. So it still looks a little like a horse as the nomads use. The next morning we pack our steel horses and ride to the border with Russia.
The border crossing on the main road from Ulaan Bataar (Mongolia) to Ulan Ude (Russia) is a piece of a cake. Within one hour all paperwork is done and at the Russian side the immigration officer even helps to fill out the forms for the motorbikes. We are back in Russia and like it already. We ride to the center of Ulan Ude for a lunch break and to look around. We park our bikes at a square where Lenin is watching over our bikes...
We decide to ride up to Lake Baikal and take the road up along the less traveled east side of the lake. It takes some time before we get a glance of the lake, but after a while the huge lake appears. It is the oldest sweetwater lake in the world (25 million years) and the deepest (1642 meter) We find a nice place to pitch our tent along the lake and stay a couple of days to relax. After taking a dip in the water we think it is also the coldest lake in the world, brrr...
In Irkutsk we stay in a lovely Russian style wooden cottage from Galina. It is very cousy and she gives us some tips to visit the city. It is nice to stroll around the center and near the Angara river where some beautiful Orthodox churches are.
For days we follow the Trans Siberian Railway track. Several times we pass a train and when we wave the train driver horns back to us. When we have to wait for a railway crossing the same train passes and horns again. Cool!. I count 77 wagons pulled by 2 locomotives. Amazing!
From Irkutsk to Europe we have 7 hours time difference. In Russia we have on this part 5 time zones, indicating how big this country is. Every day we enter a new time zone and get 1 hour extra. So when we pass a time zone we put the clock back one hour. So this means we know what is going to happen... We are riding back to the future... At the end of a day we ride into a side track to find us a camping spot. Because of the rain we had the last days the track is so muddy that the bikes get stucked. Udo is helping to push out Harald's bike and get a muddy shower. Thanks Bro...
The nights are getting colder and we make often a campfire. Serveral times we have night frost. With 2 C in the morning it is very cold to get on our bikes. Many times we make coffee stops to get warm. The good thing from this cold weather is that there are no more bugging musquitos, but we are not sure what we prefer, coldness or musquitos...With the cold weather the autumn starts early in Siberia and every day we see the leaves of the trees changing more color. The rowes of trees along the road come in green-red-orange and yellow. It is like the Indian Summer. So beautiful!
After a fuel stop Harald's DR is not starting anymore. It is common in Russia that you repair your vehicle at the spot where it breaks down. So right at the fuel pomp we start looking what the problem could be. First we try 10 minutes to kickstart the bike but nothing. Then Udo has an idea. Coffee. We make a cup of coffee and take some of the delicious Russian cookies. Then we check the sparkplugs, They give a spark, so the electrical system is working. What can it be? First a coffee and more cookies and then we look at the carburator. It seems OK. After one more coffee Harald put some fuel into the sparkplug hole and after pushing the kickstarter it fires up. So probably the carburator is not working properly. He takes the carburator again apart and cleans all parts. Build it together and....Yes, fire in the hole. After 4 coffees, a dozen cookies and 4 hours we can move on. This is the first problem we had with the bikes sofar this trip.
In the Ural we also have bad luck with the weather. Foggy and rainy days makes riding not so fun. Here we see several shops along the road where they sell souvenirs, fur hats, hunting guns and knives and distillery sets to make your own moonshine. It is a pitty that such a set does not fit on the bike...
The rain is following us from Russia into the Ukraine. The whole trip till now we had little rain, but now it comes double. The last week we pack every morning the wet tent and put it up again in the rain. Mostly late in the evening it gets dry for a time. This and the cold makes us decide to ride home without making sight seeing stops. The wettest day was 7 hours of pouring rain on the bike...But when we come to Kiev the sun breaks through. So we decide to ride into the city center and we spot some gold shining "onions". They are from the Pecherska Lavra, a hystorical site of orthodox churches. It is a beautiful complex with a lot of paintings on the churches and graves with mummified holy priests. But enough churches. Let's ride our bikes because now it is sunny. We eat a shaslick on the road and buy some fruit for dinner from babushka's. We find a place to pitch our tent and we can dry our stuff in the evening sun. But what do we see in the forest? More Babuska's....
When the sun sets we see cranebirds flying over. Are they also flying home, like us?
Poland, Germany, home.
We transiting through Poland and Germany and see a beautiful sunset at our last camping night, just before we enter Hollland. Our thoughts go back to the beautiful people we met and places we visited. It was a great trip. Almost 19.000 kilometers through 8 countries. Zero problems with our Suzuki's! The tyres are finished, the chain is gone, our clothes are dirty but our minds are full with great memories. Thank you beautiful people.
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