Cyclists searching for on oasis to explore on vacation will find just that in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and China, but sits as a peaceful breath of fresh air in the midst of Central Asia. Most of the country’s population is concentrated in Bishkek, Osh, and Jalalabad with nature, not people, dominating the country. There are splashes of people here and there outside the cities, but it’s majority wilderness that’s perfect for cycling tours. Here are a few things to expect on a bicycle tour around the country.
THE LAYOUT OF THE LAND
The Kyrgyz Republic is almost exclusively covered in mountain ranges, the most famous of which is the Tien Shan known as the “Celestial Mountains” for the heavenly feel of the cloudsencompassing the mountain peaks.
Other sights you’ll come across while cycling across Kyrgyzstan are massive alpine lakes, walnut forests, waterfalls, canyons, reservoirs, rivers, fields of wildflowers, and hot springs. Anticipate steep climbs and a work out for your legs, but the scenery along the way will make it worth it.
With the ruggedness of the terrain and poor quality of road development, expect most of
your biking tour to be on dirt, gravel, and grass. Only 30% of the roads in country are paved.
WEATHER EXPECTATIONS FOR CYCLERS
Kyrgyzstan’s climate is continental, so summers will be hot and winters, very cold. However, if you’re taking a tour cycling in the higher elevation mountain passes, expect cold temperatures even in summer months. The country has an average of about 245 sunny days a year.
Rainfall is seldom, but when it does fall it’s usually in March-May and October-November.
Unless you’re looking for a taste of tourism in Bishkek, expect to stay in guest houses or yurts during your cycle tour across the Kyrgyz wilderness. Guest houses and yurt camps in Kyrgyzstan are run by local families and are naturally much cheaper than hotels. Guest houses usually include breakfast in their prices and may or may not have running water. Yurt camps often provide breakfast as well and sometimes dinner for an extra fee, don’t have running water, and occasionally have electricity rigged up so you can have some light to read by at night. Guest houses have a few more amenities, but yurt camps have more cultural character. Hospitality is central in Kyrgyz culture, so in both places, expect to be taken care of very well.
FOOD OPTIONS FOR YOUR BICYCLE TOURS
For cyclists planning on buying their own food, bazars are a great place to do your shopping.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats, grains, spices, fresh bread, and dairy products are readily available at local markets.
For travelers that plan on eating out, Kyrgyzstan doesn’t have any chain restaurant to speak of, but there is always a small family run café on the side of the road. Local dishes are heavily carb and meat based. Here are some common dishes you’ll find in a local café:
- Monti: Steamed pastry filled with meat and onion. Fried versions are also available.
- Besh Barmak: Noodles and shaved meat.
- Lagman: Noodles, meat, peppers, onions, and possibly some other available vegetables served in a broth. Boso Lagman, a fried version without the broth, is also common.
- Plov: Rice, carrots, onions, boiled meat, and some spices.
- Shashlik: skewers of grilled meat served with raw onion slices and vinegar.
The best part of taking a cycling holiday in Kyrgyzstan is that restrictions in the country are few. First of all, getting into the country is easy than other Central Asian countries since the government recently started granting free 60 day tourist visas to citizens of 44 countries including the USA, Canada, and most of the European Union. Inside the country, trespassing/private property signs are nonexistent; travelers can camp virtually anywhere if they so choose and land is open and accessible. So whether you’re doing lightweight or expedition touring, Kyrgyzstan’s laidback and picture-worthy atmosphere makes it a fantastic choice for any cycling trip.
Photo by Kevin and Chris, sources: www.toko-op-fietsvakantie.nl, www.cycling4cancer.wordpress.com, www.cycling.martinhilbers.info, www.cyclinghighasia.blogspot.com, www.tien-shan.com