In Photos: Biking Through the Silk Route in Kyrgyzstan

Roadtripping through the Tian Shan mountains with a herd of motorcyclists.  
Silk Route, Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia
The double-humped Bactrian camel is critically endangered but sightings are fairly common in the Kyrgyzstan countryside, along the Silk Route.

Is the bike an extension of my body? I think about changing gears and it’s done. I turn to look at where I want go and the motorcycle follows, just like that. That is why I find motorcycling so involving and sublime.

Riding down a tarmac road that ribbons through the Tian Shan mountains, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world, these meditations on motorcycling floated through my mind. Any rider who’s driven a stretch like the one I was on, with the cold, fresh mountain air blowing into my face, will confess to having similar thoughts.

I was riding from Naryn to Tash Rabat in central Kyrgyzstan, with a group of motorcyclists. As we rode through the undulating brown landscape, a dull drumming of hooves came in from the left, slowly building up like the surround sound in a movie theatre. As it got louder, a herd of wild horses came into my field of sight. The drumming took on a metallic note as they galloped onto the tarmac. Seeing our group, they shied away, galloping ahead of us with muscles rippling in the sunshine and manes flying in the wind. That minute or so of riding with the herd racing ahead of us is etched in my mind as the most memorable moment of my 1,500-kilometre road trip in Kyrgyzstan.

Until a few months before the trip, I couldn’t even have pointed out with certainty where Kyrgyzstan was on the map. But the lure of a motorcycling trip offering dual sport bikes, great tarmac roads, and scenic dirt trails through a snow-capped mountain range hooked me in.

Until its independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan was a territory of the U.S.S.R. Riding out of the capital Bishkek, I noticed Soviet influences in the stoic and sombre statues which signified the importance of state above self. In the countryside and smaller towns and cities however there was a palpable sense of a Kyrgyz national identity. This was reflected in the clothes people wore, made of wool, fur, felt, and leather, that represented the country’s nomadic heritage.

Our route was a circuit of Issyk-Kul, one of the world’s largest lakes after Peru’s Lake Titicaca, and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. Along the way we encountered nomadic traditions that live on here. This included equestrian games for prospective brides and grooms; the use of hunting eagles to catch game for dinner; and heart-warming hospitality. I came away with a sense of having visited a land that stood outside of modern times.

THE VITALS

Getting There Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek is a 4-hour flight from Delhi. Air Astana and Aeroflot have daily flights (approx. Rs 20,000 round trip).

Visa Indian travellers require tourist visas, for which they need a completed visa form, passport with one photocopy, two passport size photos, and a visa support letter from a recognized travel agent. These must be submitted to the embassy in Delhi in person or through an agent (visa fee Rs 2,950; form at www.kgzembind.in).

Motorcycling Tour The country offers tarmac riding and light off-roading. MotoRover runs week-long
trips, and organizes every-thing from visas to ground support (www.motorover.in; Rs 1.6 lakh).

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    Rishad Saam Mehta is a travel writer and photographer. He is the author of two books, the latest being "Fast Cars and Fidgety Feet" (Tranquebar, 2016).

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