When we weren’t eating dinner and talking to the 3 other guests, we spent the evening in Arslanbob doing some planning, as we hadn’t got anything more than a very rough idea of how we are going to get to Bishkek from Arslanbob and we couldn’t put off any longer getting a plan.
The guidebook says “beware although maps show a road across Kyrgyzstan…the central cross-mountain section…is an unpaved, seasonal affair. It can become impassable after mudslides and closes altogether from October to late June.” “With barely 2 vehicles an hour passing through even in summer.” We looked it up on the map and noticed it went over a 3000+m pass. We asked the CBT coordinator in Arslanbob. Bad road he said “very rough”.
That sealed it and it became our Plan A – to get to Kazarman and then make our way north to Bishkek. A harder route but we don’t want to stick to the highway to get to Bishkek. We figured this would be our last chance for a proper adventure this trip.
It relied on us finding a driver willing to take us. While we’d been told there are some shared cars from Jala-abad that go to Kazarman we know from experience in Uzbekistan that the driver finding other people to make it shared can be difficult and that we’d likely end up paying for the whole car rather that wait hours in the hope of someone else turning up.
If we couldn’t find someone to take us for a palatable price then plan B was to go further up the highway and try and cut into the centre from there.
A second risk with plan A was that we’d get stuck in Kazarman either because we can’t find transport out or because all we can find wants to charge us a fortune given it’s isolated location.
That is where plan Z comes in, we can attempt to hitch. While we’re not keen on camping we are carrying a tent, sleeping bags, small stove and have the ability to filter water to go with the tea bags and sugar we’re carrying. We scored 2 small lightweight aluminium pans at Osh Bazaar, mainly for boiling water for making tea (we couldn’t find a lid so bought 2, so 1 could go on top like a sort of lid). We don’t want to use any of them but we like to have a fall back option to be relatively self sufficient if needed when travelling off the beaten path. We figured we were kitted to give Plan A a go.
So what happens when you don’t really have a plan is you end up in the middle of nowhere.
We got up early again, to travel while it’s cool and there is plenty of time. We’d ordered breakfast for 7 but rarely this trip has it been on time so when by 7:20 we were just twiddling our thumbs waiting for it we got our hosts to do takeaway and hit the road.
We retraced our steps from the day before, taking 2 buses to get back to Jala-abad. It might have been early but both were super packed and got hot. Marie had woken up not feeling great with bad stomach ache but we don’t have time to spare on this trip to be delayed by a bit of belly ache so we pressed on. The buses were tough with the crappy roads though and by the time we got to Jala-abad she was a little grumpy and by far the longest and roughest leg was still to come.
We found out we needed to get a taxi to the place the shared taxis leave for Kazarman. We were told the price and confirmed it with the cheerful old driver but he promptly reneged after we got there. We couldn’t be bothered to argue. He had however delivered us to the right place and with just 3 vehicles up the corner of some yard a driver was trying to do a deal with us before we’d even got out.
We agreed a price for the whole vehicle and to leave straight away. It was expensive compared to the bus but only half of what we’d set as our upper limit of what we deemed palatable.
As soon as we got in the driver indicated he wanted to fill the front seat, but we’d shook on our deal so said no, not because we wanted the vehicle to ourselves, but because we didn’t want to wait around. He was just trying his luck, when we refused we departed, leaving town via a purchase of watermelons that got put in the front footwell – a good sign we thought – and a purchase of oil for the car.
Then came fuel, the driver wanted paying apparently to buy fuel but we weren’t going to do that so instead we paid for the fuel out of the fare that we’d already put aside during his shopping trips. We had the feeling we were going to end up arguing about price but we hoped to get to Kazarman before that happened.
The first hour was good seal and then we were on to gravel. We passed through small villages, saw lots of people on horseback and horses being transported and passed by fields and fields of beautiful sunflowers.
We also passed across the biggest mudslide we’ve ever seen.
Then we climbed up and up to the mountain pass. We got level with winter snow that hadn’t melted. Nomads with herds of animals were dotted about the mountain’s sheer sides. It was a stunning drive.
6 hours after we left Arslanbob we were delivered to the homestay of the local CBT coordinator in Kazarman. She speaks reasonable English. The driver surprisingly didn’t argue about the price, maybe partly because we were tentatively talking about him maybe taking us up to Song-Kul Lake as our next leg. Our host got his number as we didn’t want to be rushed into making a decision.
A couple of groups had pre-booked so we got the crappy room despite being the second there. It was normally the dining room and one other room had to walk through it. It had a sofa bed. We declined the option for one of us to have a bed made on the floor. When our host went to fetch us a second duvet we figured it might get cold at night but then it got put on for us and we realised she had given us one each, thoughtful but unnecessary.
Our host made us chai in the dining yurt and we studied the map and guidebook and quizzed our host to work out what our options were. As expected they were limited and none were cheap. We made a decision to try and do a deal with our driver to head to Song-Kul Lake as there are lots of nomads that have a guest yurt there during summer.
Decision made we left our host to get hold of the driver and headed out to explore Kazarman. First we found an ATM so we didn’t have to worry about running out of money before getting to Bishkek. Then we just walked.
Its backdrop is stunning – the town sits in a basin of 360 degree mountains – craggy hills and rolling hills backed by snowy mountains. We passed houses and Soviet era concrete apartment blocks
Rundown, decrepit places are interesting, they have a story to tell and you have to marvel at the people who manage to live there year round. It’s more amazing when you go into a shop or 3 and there are barely any provisions.
But what makes the difference is the people – when people aren’t friendly isolated places can feel threatening, lawless places, but here people spoke, particularly kids practicing their English. Even an old man on a horse asked to have his photo taken.
We like the middle of nowhere.
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