During the planning stages of our central Asia Trip we decided to search for a few confluences that had yet to be done and that we’d have a good chance of successfully completing ourselves. After much discussion with our guides to be in Kyrgyzstan we opted for 40N 73E, which from then on was dubbed by our guide Dimitry as our “special place”.
We arrived in Bishkek and met Dimitry and headed back to the Asia Mountains Guest House near the center or town. As it is nearly impossible to rent a vehicle in central Asia, we opted to use the services of Asia Mountains to facilitate our trip. We typically are not the coordinated tour kind, but in Central Asia it turned out to be well worth it as we were on a limited schedule and wanted to see as much as we could. The staff at Asia Mountains appreciated the fact that we preferred things to be a bit more free form and allowed us nearly every latitude in developing our tour.
After flying from Bishkek to Osh we headed south in our Russian Military Jeep towards Kojo-Kelen, an amazing area of redrock sandstone mountains with occasional granitic outcroppings. The trip began simply enough on smooth Tarmac but soon gave way to sketchy loose gravel, which then transformed into rutted tracks. It’s clear that since the demise of the Soviet Union that the secondary roads and infrastructure have suffered greatly in Kyrgyzstan. It was also quite evident that we were headed into very rural Kyrgyzstan and that not many a tourist, let alone westerners trod this way.
During the Soviet era the area had active coal mines in the mountains, which brought the road system and electricity to the region. We traveled up a track that leads over the Alay Kirkasi range through the Jiptik Ashuu pass where you can look south toward the High Pamirs and spy Lenin Peak on the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border on a clear day.
Our journey to the confluence came at the later half of an amazing day in Kojo-Kelen, an area of such spectacular beauty that had it been in the west it would most certainly be a national park. We hiked for a few hours to a snow pack waterfall at which point we asked Dimitry how many people come to Kojo-Kelen, wherein he told us we were the fourth westerners to have visited, period. And that to his knowledge there had been no others. We were astounded. The tiny community that lies at the entrance to Kojo Kelen was comprised of earthen homes, and people working the fields behind hand plows being pulled by horses and cattle, a true step back in time.
As we returned out of Kojo-Kelen we started thinking in earnest that we should high tail it and try for the confluence. It looked fairly attainable and just a few miles from the road, albeit nearly straight up.
We headed off up the mountain path adjacent to a prominently protruding coal vein. We initially were having problems with getting a clear enough signal on the GPS due to the extreme relief of the mountains, so Doug walked with it balanced on his head to make certain we didn’t lose our signal. We passed two small earthen homes on the way to the confluence. Out of one sprang a young mother and her two infant children. She offered us tea straight away, but Dimitry explained as best he could in Kyrgyz that we would stop on the way back down the mountain. The remaining ascent to the confluence was straightforward and the view from it was simply breathtaking. Dimitry was very pleased that we had made it to our “special place”.
We descended back the same path we had come up and encountered the young mother. She offered us fresh airan (yogurt) and borsok (Kyrgyz bread). This young woman, who lived in a 100 square-foot earthen home with a thatch woven pen for her goats on a high ridge in remote Kyrgyzstan was beyond hospitable, and genuinely inquisitive to how we came to be in her stretch of the planet. It left us all a bit teary eyed for her generosity and welcoming nature. This complete stranger it seemed would have offered us all that she had without hesitation. After enjoying her hospitality, we left her with all of the foodstuff we had on us, which wasn’t much, a few snickers and energy bars, but we thought at least it was more calorically than we had consumed.
We descended further down the path back towards our Jeep only to cross paths with another family headed to their summer Jailoo high in the mountains on two horses. The father was very curious where we were from and much as the young mother had, wondered how we came to be here. We explained as best we could where Alaska is and why we were there. He expressed extreme gratitude just for us having visited his area of the world and wished us well.
Without a doubt the day was one of the most humbling experiences we have had in search of a confluence to date. The beauty of Kyrgyzstan and its people is astounding, and we cannot recommend traveling to this remote pocket of the world more.