The changes in our plan required some new visas, so we got stuck in Bishkek for a couple of days. We actually started to feel at home there. Especially at the Dordoy Baazar, where people were already greeting us like good friends, asking how our cars were doing and what we were looking for this time. But it was time to move on. We wanted to drive to Osh and cross to Uzbekistan. The road didn't seem an easy one, as it was going above 3500m and we heard it started snowing in the upper parts, which was not the best news for Karossi and his summer tires. We were also not sure how he would handle the mountains, as we never tried to drive so high. We had no other option but to give it a try and find out.
It was a nice sunny day when we left and we were hoping to make it to the Toktogul Lake. The views were splendid and they where only getting better with time. We were driving between enormous mountains, getting higher and higher with every kilometer we drove. It wasn't long till we saw the first snow, but the road was clear and Karossi didn't seem to mind the attitude. And the view was splendid. Everything was going great until suddenly, without any warning we got stuck in a traffic jam. Right at the peak of the mountain. We came out of a turn and saw long lines of cars covering all the way up to the tunnel we were suppose to drive through. We were told the problems were caused by snow and ice covering the last part of the road, but we soon saw what the real cause of the delay was.
You can tell a lot about people in Central Asia, but one thing is sure, they are not the best drivers. They are very nice and extremely charming, but the moment they get behind the wheel, they turn into monsters. I guess that plus the state of some roads is the reason why there is no car insurance in this country. We kind of got used to it, at least as far as it is possible, but sometimes they still manage to surprise us. And what we saw on that peak was the biggest chaos we have came across so far. The road was made for two lines of cars, one in each direction. Or at least we were sure it was this way. Local drivers seemed sure it was big enough for three cars to drive side by side, all trying to get to the top. Unfortunately the drivers coming from the other side of the peak seemed to have the same idea, so the road got stuck for good in no time. The whole chaos was accompanied by a lot of honking and shouting, as of course no one wanted to drive back and make place for the cars coming from the opposite direction. It took some time and a lot of noise to clear the street and let the cars pass, but as soon as they did, drivers started lining up again, just as they did before. And so the street got stuck again, just as it did before. And when the cars from the opposite direction started getting out of the tunnel the whole circus started again.
We spend a few long hours up there, being able to witness this process quite a few times. We thought those people will finally notice that they are only making things worse, but somehow they never did. But we had fun in that traffic jam, I can tell you that. We met some great people and learned a bit more about Kyrgyzstan. And we were very happy to have our new winter jackets, as it gets quite cold at 3500m. And we finally made it to the tunnel, tough it was already dark when we did. And the road really was in poor condition. Snow and ice covered it thickly, so that we were glad to have a four wheel drive once again. With this and David's driving skills we somehow made it to the top with our summer tires and we were finally able to enter the tunnel. We were told one of the reason for the traffic jam is the tunnel itself. It has absolutely no air conditioning, so that only a limited number of cars is allowed to enter it at the same time. They used to pay no attention to it, but a few years ago they had a traffic jam there and a few people died in it, because of the fumes. We understood it the moment we entered. You could hardly breath in there. The air was so thick and gray that we could hardly see our own lights. And though we had all the windows closed the smell of fumes was everywhere.
We were very glad to be out! It was high time to find a place to sleep, but we decided to drive down to the valley, as the temperatures on the peak were already below freezing. We found a very nice spot, camping in the snow, but though we went down to 2500m it was freezing all the same. We had ice in the car when we woke up, but thanks to out high tech sleeping bags we were able to survive it quite well, even though it was the coldest night we had so far.
We have managed the second mountain crossing without any problems, being able to enjoy the views with hardly any traffic. And the views were amazing indeed. Lake Toktogul was simply splendid! Deep blue water with different rock formations made a fantastic impression, so that when we found a restaurant with a lake view we didn't hesitate for long. And we ended up eating the best fish I have ever eaten with the best view I could imagine. It was worth going through the cold night a day before.
I have to say the road from Bishkek to Osh was the prettiest one we have ever driven. All the way up and down we were able to enjoy one splendid view after another. Mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes made our drive unforgettable. And we got to see some animals too. They were walking happily along the highway, totally undisturbed by all the cars around them. I started feeling really sorry for all people taking an airplane between those two cities. They have no idea what they're missing.