14-Oct-2006 -- This is the 18th confluence visit on a bicycle trip from China to Central Asia. The story starts at 32°N 107°E.
After a successful visit of 42°N 73°E a week earlier, we decided to hunt this confluence which is 20 km from the town Batken and had not yet been successfully visited.
Usually I don’t spend too many words on the events that occur in-between confluence hunts. In this case, its may be worthwhile to let you know about it.
Originally, we had planned to cycle the road Osh – Sari Tash – Dushanbe. From Osh, we would have one mountain pass (3615m) and then we would coast down to Sari Tash. From there we would continue to roll down following the river Kizil-Suu until we would reach Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe. Following this route, we never would have come across this confluence. But our plans were thwarted.
Until Sari Tash the road was fine. But then, there was no way of “coasting down” the valley. First of all, the road was nearly horizontal, secondly (and most importantly) heavy head winds pushed us back and thirdly the road surface consisted of walnut-sized rocks that made cycling almost impossible. We fought against the wind and at the end of the day we read 71km on my odometer with an average of 10.82 km/h and a maximum of 18km/h. And we continued this struggle for 3 long days, always fighting for nothing or just for the sake of reaching Dushanbe in Tajikistan.
I’m not saying the landscape was boring: we had great views of Peak Lenin (Jelaydar Chokusu) with a height of 7134m. We came through beautiful villages and met nice host families to spend the nights.
But this would end until we reached the border to Tajikistan. The border post let me get inside a small office, where another officer was sleeping. My arrival made him wake up in a sleepy but angry mood. He stared at me as if I was an alien. He forced me to sit down. But while doing so, I touched the desk, which caused the desk to shake and in the chain of events, his walky-talky fell on the floor where it broke into pieces. Now he killed me – at least with his gaze. A long and tough procedure followed, where I was forced to spread out all my belongings, all my money, report on every single piece of luggage in the bicycle panniers. We were scanned two hours in a derogative way. After the procedure was over, we thought we could cross the border – but no! The border crossing is only for local people and they said – in contrast to our guide book where the crossing was supposed to be open. As it seems, the border had recently been closed for tourists. One might now rightly ask why our luggage was scanned, it we couldn’t cross here anyway. I have no answer.
Normally, if one border crossing is closed, one just crosses at a neighboring border post. But in this case, the time we would need to get legally on the Tajikistan’s side of the border crossing (a couple 100m away) would be ONE WEEK by public transportation. On bicycle it would take us at least twice as much, if we wouldn’t freeze to death in the Pamir Mountains with several mountain passes over 4500m. Just to explain why it is a whole week by bus: back to Sari Tash, then into the Pamir Mountains (called top of the world) to Murgab, Kharugh, Darband etc. all on badly maintained gravel roads. The other option was to make a huge way-around to the North: back to Sari Tash (150km, one day), back to Osh (190km, second day), Batken (ca. 250km where this confluence is located on day 3), Khojand (ca.200km day 4), Dushanbe (300km, day 5) and back up the Gharm valley ( 346km). This schedule would of course only work under the assumption that all transportation would work fine and we would be able to cross into Uzbekistan (for parts of that route we had to pass through enclaves belonging to Uzbekistan).
We opted for the northern way around, since the Pamir version was too risky to cycle through in October. Once snow has fallen, it would cause the passes to close and make it difficult to get out again. But looking closer on my map, I found a dashed line that connected Daroot-Korgon with Kizil-Kiya. Following that route would be a huge short cut through the mountains. In Daroot-Korgron we asked for the possibility to make it over the pass which is called Tengizbay Ashuu and 3805m high. Local people had different opinion on whether it would be possible to make it over the pass by bicycle or not. Finally, we decided to give it a try. We let us take with a Jeep as far as the road would go and then we were on our own in the mountain wilderness. It took us two long days to reach civilization again. Partially we had to carry our bikes through and riding the bike wasn’t possible for a long time. We camped out one night and made it to Kizil-Kiya the next evening.
On “confluence day”, we took a bus from Kizil-Kiya through the Uzbek enclave “Sokh”, where we could pass through after a payment to the border guards. Our bikes were in the passenger carbine of the bus, which wouldn’t have been a problem, if the bus wasn’t overcrowded with three times as many passengers as available seats. We felt embarrassed to see the people in the alley getting dirty cloths because they were squeezed in-between our dirty bikes.
At a distance of 2.8km from the confluence, we let the bus stop and got off – to the surprise of everybody, because this location was in the middle of no-where to them. Besides the language problem, local people could not fully understand the meaningfulness of imaginary points.
At 11:55 am, I put on my running shoes and found my way to the confluence running wise. First I passed through harvested fields, where a shepard was herding his goats. Then the landscape became hilly and more difficult to run through. Due to the many steep hills, it was necessary to avoid mountaintops and deep valleys. I tried to find the ideal-line as a compromise between length and steepness of my way – same task as if I had to build a road through that hilly terrain.
The confluence itself is located in an unspectacular depression. But from nearby hills in 40m or 100m distance, your can have far views all the way up to Tajikistan’s Abanbari Qayraqqum reservoir.
After the visit had been completed, we coasted down to Batken in 15km distance and had a late lunch there. We crossed the border to Tajikistan and stayed the night in Isfara.
The difficulty to visit this confluence is actually the border problem. The border lines between Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are so ridiculously confused, that traveling through has become difficult. Some years ago the borders were meaningless, because everyone could easily cross these borders. But since relationships have worsened, tourists and locals have to undergo hassles at the borders. Some borders can not be crossed for local people. Traveling through this region you should have multiple entry visas for all counties in the area. Obtaining those, however, is also not hassle-free.
CP visit details:
- Time at the CP: 12:20 p.m.
- Distance to a foot path: 10 m
- Distance to a track: 2.8 km
- Distance to a road: 2.8 km
- Distance of bicycle parking: 2.8 km
- Distance to houses: ca. 5 km
- Topography: hilly
- Minimal distance according to GPS: 1.79 m
- Position accuracy at the CP: 5 m
- GPS height: 1480 m
- Vegetation: uncultivated grass land, no vegetation besides bundles of dry grass
- Weather: overcast and light rain (16° estimated temperatures)
- Description of the CP: In western Kirgizstan squeezed in between the zigzag borders of neighboring Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. High up in the mountains above the market-town Batken and the Uzbek enclave Sokh.
- Given Name: The Zigzag Border Confluence
Story continues at 40°N 69°E