I arrived Toktogul with style! There is no better way to arrive a place with thirst, hunger, without money and a puncture. Just a few kilometers before arriving Toktogul, I had another puncture while riding around the reservoir. While pumping my tyre, the pump broke! And there was nothing I could do, I can do some minor repair on my bicycle, but not my pump. And I had to ride slowly with my half flat tyre towards the nearest truck workshop to get my flat tyre fixed. While the pressure is still high on my tyre, I rode fast towards Toktogul, as the people here told me that there is a bicycle shop at the bazaar in Toktogul. Upon reaching Toktogul, I found a hotel that can take me for the night with 800 som (some 18usd). I had not much cash inside my wallet, only some 200 som that can pay me a meal. I went to the centre of Toktogul town and found out none of the ATM machines here accept my card! Some of the ATM machines here immediately rejected my card once I chose English as the chosen language! It was hillarious. It seems that the ATM machines here only speak Russian and Kyrgyz. I had little money left, I was hungry and thirsty, without food and ATM card doesn’t work around here. Great! The nearest place my card can work is in Bishkek which is some 300km ahead and I will be very slow getting there since I have to climb 2 huge mountain pass, the Ala Bel and the Tor Ashuu pass, which both sit at over 3000m altitude.
Luckily, the next day my family in Bishkek contacted the people in Karakul, not so far from Toktogul. And later a guy from Karakul came to my aid like an angel without wings and lended me 10000 som in advanced that I promised to pay later when I arrived Bishkek. Plus the hotel owner understood my situation and let me to stay the first day for free without paying, so nice on how I’m being treated here. I stayed 2 days in Toktogul, taking a rest from the steady climb from Tashkomur to Karakul. People in the bicycle shop in the bazaar in Toktogul surrounded my bicycle, guess they never seen such bicycle here in Toktogul. After a good rest, I then proceed towards Bishkek.
Right after I cycled out from Toktogul, the climb immediately started for me. Again, it’s a battle of lungs, heart and the mind. The battle of the body and the mind started again for me and it lasted a few days! I never stopped puffing and panting on every breath I took. The road demanded me to climb about over 2000m vertically in only about 60km, which is very tough! Toktogul only sits around 1000m and Ala Bel pass is sitting at 3200m altitude. So I cycled mostly between 7-12 km/hour, riding very slowly and taking many stop in between. And sometimes I had to stop for a long time since the headwind was slowing me down even more and I had no energy to fight it, since I spent all my energy fighting the gravity. As always during big climbs, when I’m puffing heavier and the muscles of my legs feel really painful, my body demanded to stop. But my mind always resisted, asking me to continue, to keep moving. But this time, I only managed to do about 50km a day only. It was tougher when I climbed Tibet four years ago, which took me 11 days of tough climb to get to 5000m altitude from the lowland Chengdu which sits only at 450m altitude. But I carried less back then and I was younger and more fresh.
At first I planned to ride fast to end my ride in Bishkek for this season. But looking at this climb and the surroundings, I decided to take it real slow. Its not only the mountains that are slowing me down, but the beautiful view around here as well. It was hot in Toktogul, somewhere around 40 celcius but right after I climbed into Ala Bel, temperature dropped drastically, it started to rain ice and it was very cold at night. Climbing over the Ala Bel, I arrived the beautiful plateau of Sussamyr. This plateau sits between the Pamir and the Tian Shan range. I rode slowly in Sussamyr, it has everything my soul needs, rivers, canyons, valleys, mountains, nomad yurts, fresh air and beautiful views of over 3000m altitudes. People here smiles, kids waving and chasing me, demanding to be photographed, and horsemen stopped and posed for my camera.
Instead of cycling the whole day sunrise to sunset, I only cycle for some 2-3 hours daily here in Sussamyr, not rushing to get to Bishkek but rather finding a good place to pitch my tent and explore the valleys around here. Some places are best reached not by bicycle, but by walking. I explored one of the beautiful valley here on foot. 3 things lead me, which are my heart, the small path and wild horses. Using these 3 things as my compass, I went deep in the mountains. Good thing, I never get panic anymore nowadays when I’m lost in the wild. “I’m never lost”, I remind myself, always. Im not getting to point B from point A. Im going nowhere, I just wandering, so how I can I get lost. And I’m glad that I never use GPS when Im traveling. Now Im so used to find directions by looking up at the sky. And being in the wilderness without spotting any human is never dangerous and scary anymore to me. Sometimes I like it, alone, quiet, dark and mysterious…
After Im done getting myself deep inside the heart of Sussamyr, I then faced the last mountain, the hardest of all, the Tor Ashuu pass. This is almost as tough as the toughest mountain I climbed in my entire life, the Gongga Pass just outside Kangding in the Sichuan-Tibet road. It’s as hard, really reminds me of Tibetan mountains, except that I didn’t get any near death experience here. Took me over 6 hours to pull my bicycle with all my heavy luggage to the top of the mountain pass, which sits over 3600m altitude. It was really steep. At some point, while half way climbing it, I actually gave up and put my hand up, hoping that some trucks will stop to pick me up to take me to the top, but none stopped. So I climbed really slowly, I actually took a rest in between even for every 200 meters when I was almost at the top. And it didnt stop there, once I reached the top of the mountainpass, I didnt celebrate since I saw a long, dark… scary tunnel. It was about 3km tunnel cutting through the peak of the mountain. Again, I was hoping that any truck will pick me up to cross this tunnel. Im afraid of long dark tunnels, paranoid since I had a near death experience, a truck almost… probably half a meter away from hitting me when I cycled inside a dark tunnel in Northern Norway 2 years ago. I then just ride through it, had no other choice. It was scary, the road was wet and slippery, I couldnt see much but I was more afraid that cars and trucks couldnt see me. After I cycled through it, I then celebrated it, both the big climb towards the pass and the dark tunnel. It feels like I just successfully climbed Mt Everest with just wearing sandals and short pants.
Standing outside the tunnel, I see the road goes down, no more climb all the way to Bishkek. And my ride is officially over here at Tor Ashuu. I dont actually need to cycle anymore now, the gravity will push me fast, I just need to sit on my bicycle and enjoy. The gravity then pushed me fast towards Sosnovka, which is some 40km away and sits 2000 meters vertically below Tor Ashuu. I then start pedaling again easily to get to Kara Balta, which is just next to Bishkek. And the last day of my ride towards Bishkek, was the easiest. After all the climb, from Mongolia to China and Kyrgyzstan, cycling 60km on flat road to get to Bishkek was nothing. People are selling fruits along the road, the traffic was really busy, pollution in both the air and the sound. I see good roads with lights, traffic lights, zebra crossings and police everywhere. Young guys are blasting their favourite music from their Mercedez and BMW, probably driving their parent’s car, hoping that they can attract those girls with long legs wearing heels walking at the roadside. I’m now back at the civilization. The mountains are now behind me, the mountains are now history, nothing more than good memories…
The ride up north from Jalalabad was quite easy at first. It was flat, riding through villages and there were many shops at the roadside selling drinks so I don’t worry much about supplies. The road hugs the border of Uzbekistan for a few kilometers. Whenever I stopped by in a shop to get some drinks or whenever cars slow down to talk to me, the very first question they will ask is “Atkud a?”, which means where are you from in Russian. Sometimes I do get bored from this same question and I just joke with them saying that I’m from Senegal and they believed me!
The owner of the hostel that I stayed in Jalal-Abad suggested me to go to Arslanbob, a very beautiful place not so far from Kochkor Ata, north of Jalal-Abad. But when I reached Kochkor Ata, I decided to keep pressing north towards Tashkomur. I don’t feel like going to popular beautiful places anymore nowadays. But instead, everywhere I go, I will try to find the beauty in it, I will try to find the beauty inside everything that I see. Sometimes, its amazing when you get to see beauty inside ugliness, to see light inside darkness, to see the good intention within every bad action. Trying to find the real within real.
I usually wake up as early as 4 am in the morning whenever I’m the wild sleeping under the stars, get my stove to work to produce a cup of hot coffee while its still dark and prepare myself to see the birth of the sun from the distance horizon coming from the east. This is usually the time I will let my mind fly away far, travel to another realm that my physical body can’t reach, and I will let it fly deep. I spend an hour in the quiet morning, trying to see the beauty of all things, realizing that all the beauty that exist around me are all made by a microscopic particle… realizing that everything in this universe, from the super huge asteroids to the very tiny particles no larger than a grain of dust, are all made by the most fundamental unit called atom, vibrating at different frequency, manifesting themselves at different attributes, so that we humans can compare them after it reaches our 5 senses. The sky finally changes its colours, the sun finally rising, I keep watching, keep watching the world around me from a totally different perspective, a world that is built by vibrating atoms, trying to see the real within real, trying to see the ocean by diving deep inside it, not from the surface of the water anymore. The vast world around us happens within us. It has to reach our 5 senses before our brain can confirm that it is real. Living this kind of moment, I always question myself, is this really real? Is this the real real?
I wonder how does it feel like once our soul gets out of our physical body forever… when death takes us. Is it only then we realize the real real? Just like when we wake up from our dream? The world inside our dream feels so real until the moment we wake up, until the moment our soul is connected again with out physical body. Then only we find out that the world within our dream is nothing more than illusion. Slurping my hot coffee while watching the birth of the sun, I feel thankful of my existence. I exist to experience existence! I experience the taste of the hot coffee going through my mouth all the way to my digesting system. I experience the joy of watching the beautiful sunrise in the early morning. I feel glad going through the good moments and even the bad ones. I’m glad that I went through all the tough climbs and the hardship fighting the strong headwind in the steppe and deserts, so that I really can appreciate the moments when I’m relaxing outside my tent enjoying the hot coffee and the beauty of the sunrise. I’m glad that I encounter many bad people in my life on the road, so that I really appreciate and be thankful whenever I meet the good-hearted people. I’m glad that I’ve been through hunger, fatigue and sickness so that I really appreciate whenever there are food in front of me and be thankful that I’m blessed with good health and strength. I’m glad experiencing the hardship when walking in darkness, so that I can be thankful when I’m walking easily when its bright. And I’m glad of all the struggle living on the road, so that one day I will really be thankful when I’m back home…
My mind just keep flying, keep traveling deep, far away inside some mysterious realm… a realm that doesn’t exist in the prison of space and time. A realm I refer to as mysterious, simply because it’s a realm that cannot be reached within our 5 senses. A realm… that only the spirit and the mind can reach, not the physical body. And it only comes back when I’m done with my coffee, when the sun is getting higher above the horizon, when I’m done doing nothing but sitting and watching the rising sun, when I start packing all my stuffs to be on the road again. I rode slower since I’m in Kyrgyzstan, feeling more relaxed but somehow I managed to cover more kilometers in a day. I guess I’m slower because of 2 factors, I’m getting older and there are so many big climbs here in Kyrgyzstan. But I do more than 100km a day here because I started my ride very early in the morning and finished riding late in the evening, the day is long now since its summer. The climb isn’t so hard but its very long all the way to Karakul, before I flew fast downhill towards a beautiful reservoir in Toktogul.
Osh is by far the best city Ive been in Kyrgyzstan. Compared to Bishkek, people here smiles more. They are friendlier. Osh city feels more like Kashgar compared to Bishkek. The people, the food, everything. Bishkek looks more a city inside Russia compared to Osh. There was a major riot in 2010, a big fight between ethic Kyrgyz and Uzbek, hundreds of people died from it but now the life here isn’t so tense anymore. I see Kyrgyz and Uzbek are smiling to each other, greeting each other, shaking each other’s hands, living in harmony. I feel safer here too. I ended up staying 5 days here, taking a rest from cycling and continue to perform my fasting in the month of Ramadhan while Im not moving. I made some friends in the restaurant that I usually go but language is always a barrier. In this case, google translate seems like a very genius invention.
It feels like Im living in an oven here at daytime so I spent most of my time under the shade. On one fine evening I climbed Mt Sulayman, very close to the city to see the whole view of Osh from the peak. It is only a few easy steps on stairs to get to the top, a very small mountain. It was already dark when I got up there so I got to see the night view of the city and the beginning of the highway M41, which snakes all the way to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan through the Pamir mountains. On top of the mountain, there is a small room for prayer and they said Prophet Muhammad used to pray here during Isra’ Mi’raj. Now the peak of this mountain is filled with young local couples and some tourists.
After a good rest in Osh, I then got back on my bicycle seat to continue my journey towards the north, to get to my final destination in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. It was an easy ride towards Jalal-Abad, mostly on flat roads without much climbing but the traffic was quite heavy, especially with trucks. The road is quite small and it was scary sometimes when trucks passed by me so near. I rode slowly again, not because of the headwind and big climbs, but the friendliness of the people. Kids were chasing me, shouting happily, adults were smiling and waving at me as I passed them. It was very hot here at this time of the year and it feels very hot as early as 9am. I stopped at a small shop at the roadside to get some cold drinks not so far from Jalal-Abad and to take a short 15 minutes rest. But I ended up staying there much longer since a few of them speak good English and we talked about so many things. They then invited me to take a break from the hot weather and swim in their pool. They don’t run guesthouse here but they offered me a room for the night. I wasn’t in a rush so I accepted happily. One of them, Nuraim and her mother cook very good plov for me. When her dad came home from work in Osh in the evening, they drove me to the nearby field where they planted some wheat and apricot. It was a very beautiful evening.
Talking to them, I realized that they are living a very good life here. They don’t live with debts like most of us who are living in the city. Nuraim’s dad, work in Osh for a few years after he completed his study in Moscow, didn’t earn much but managed to buy a house here in the countryside instead, since getting a house in a city is expensive. Then slowly he opened a small shop at their house selling groceries and expanding at a very slow rate from there. They’re very careful on their spendings. I then began questioning myself, many people from the countryside are moving to cities in search for a better life. But most of the time, I see that people living peacefully and happily are here in the countryside, not in a crowded city. I sensed happiness buried deep inside their heart, covered by their inexpensive simple clothes, by watching their movements, from the words that come out from their mouth, from their eyes and from the smiles that are carved on their beautiful faces. Its like diamond in the rough. The secret inside the “batin” (interior, unseen) will always show itself and can be seen at the surface in the “zahir” (exterior). Every unseen thing in the heart will manifest itself and can be seen on the exterior of a human, from their movement, facial expression and their words.
Talking about money, I don’t 100% agree when they say money can’t buy happiness. Try to live in poverty and see if we can lead a happy life. Most of the time, especially living inside the system of the world today, you need money to get things and to do things that can make you happy. You can’t directly buy happiness with money, but we definitely need money. The key is moderate and being grateful on what we have. If we want too much, much more than we need, that’s when greed starts coming into our heart and we will always struggle to fulfill our greed because human greed is infinite. The worldly things can never fulfill our human greed. Material possession is never the key to happiness. The more we posses, the more we afraid to lose it. None of these worldly materials are permanent. Everything is temporary, we are just borrowing it for a while, we are just owning it for a certain amount of time, even our own human body. We buy a luxury car today, it will start to age the moment it got out from the showroom. Slowly, the parts will become old and need to be replaced after a certain amount of time.
Moderate is the best. I learned this by living my life from the seat of my bicycle, on the road. If I have no money at all inside my pocket, I will feel worried, on how to get food and where to sleep in town. If I carry 2000 USD inside my wallet, I will feel worried that someone might try to steal this money from me. And I will always be careful whenever I walk in crowded public places such as bus stations or bazaar, and I hate that feeling. But if I don’t carry much, but enough for me to pay for my accommodation and food, then it’s perfect. It has been years Ive been living on the road, homeless, depending at the materials that I posses only that I carried on my bicycle, which is not much. I realized material possession is never the key to happiness, but freedom is! Being able to breath the fresh air is. Being able to see the beauty of sunrise and sunset is. Being able to smile when you are alone, to think about the good things, forget the bad things and able to forgive every bad things that happened in the past when you close your eyes right before you go to sleep is. Being able to feel contented is. And being able to say alhamdulillah, terima kasih, thank you, gracias, spasiba, xie xie or rahmat is….
Hello good people! Check out the promo trailer for the second season of my upcoming travelogue documentary, Dengan Basikal Aku Menjelajah (With Bicycle I Travel) that will be aired on our Malaysian TV Station very soon, TV AlHijrah (Astro 114). Please watch it in full HD and spread the newwzzz…. :D
I was rushing while leaving Irkeshtam Pass towards Osh, and I forgot to get all the necessary food and water supply before leaving Irkeshtam. I only realized it after I climbed the first mountain pass not far from Irkeshtam. It was too late to turn back then, it was only some 10km but I don’t want to climb the same mountain pass again. The next village which is Sary Tash is only 70km away. “I can easily reach it in a day”, I told myself, without knowing what challenge lies in front of me. After the first mountain pass, the road snakes down all the way to a river before it climbs again into another pass. Then again another… and another. The fourth mountain pass seems never ending. It was about 20km of tough climb all the way up to over 3000m altitude. I had no food and water and the road was very quiet. Not many vehicles pass by this road. At some point, I got worried. Luckily after a few kilometers, there were some Kyrgyz yurts in the mountains so I could get some water from them.
It took me the whole day to reach the fourth mountain pass which sits at about 3400m. I took many rests in between and at some point, I even felt asleep at the roadside for almost half an hour, I was way too tired. I was hungry and had no energy, I even pushed my bicycle at some point, and gave up pushing my bicycle to reach the mountain pass. I guess I didn’t eat well since the past few days. Finally after I reached the mountain pass, I felt relieved, when I see the road snakes all the way down the mountains and I see no more climb for at least some good 10-20km. The ride down took me some 15km easy ride towards Sary Tash, then the road became flat again. I was too tired to continue and I was hungry, the road was flat but the headwind was brutal. And I saw a few Kyrgyz yurts and a beautiful spot to pitch my tent, I then decided to stop and call it a day.
I approached the nomads who are living in yurts and was welcomed by the barking of their fierce dogs. It reminds me of the Mongols, where you have to face their dogs first before you received their warm welcomed. I was then invited to their yurts. They studied my face and knew that I was tired and hungry, so they fed me until I was full. I then asked their permission to camp at their grass, next to their horses. It was beautiful. Being a nomad, you are not far from heaven. I pitched my tent under the strong cold wind in the mountains at above 3000m altitude, laid down my mat and sleeping bag and get my stove ready for more work. After a while, they invited me again to their yurts to have more meals together with them. I told them I was tired and will dine together with them the next morning, since I wanted to spend the remaining energy to enjoy the sunset before I go to sleep. I then spent the best moment in a day living a nomadic life, which is enjoying the sunset. It is always special to sit quietly for some 20-30 minutes, watching the colours of the world changed, from day to night… from orange to red and finally into dark blue, before everything turns dark. It is always special to see how things change. And living on the road, traveling on a bicycle, I always managed to see all these, slowly. Just like how I see the changes of culture from Mongols to the Chinese, and slowly to the Turkic Uighur and to finally now to the Kyrgyz nomads. Living on the road, slowly I hear the phrase Sainbainuu (hello) is being replaced by Ni Hao, then slowly changed into Assalamualaikum then finally now, Salamat syzbe.
Before I went to sleep, while checking one of my bag, I realized that my money was gone… all of it! I put my money on 2 different places, some on my wallet and the remaining on my other bag. I kept and kept searching for it but failed to find it. It is very uncommon for me to misplace things, especially important things like money and passport. After years living on my bicycle, carrying 7 bags with me, I have trained myself so that I know which bag to open to find even the smallest thing. I know every single thing inside each of my bag. I spent some half an hour looking for it but failed to find it. I then started to think that maybe it was stolen while I was sleeping in Irkeshtam, since there were 2 other guys sleeping next to me and my bag was just next to them. I only had some 600 som (roughly 12USD), and the nearest ATM machine is in Osh, some 200km away, which takes 3 days for me to reach under this very mountainous terrain. And I had very little food left with me. But problems often come with wonderful solution. The nomads who live in the yurts not far from my tent, they offered me food without asking me to pay. Smiles and being grateful are more important than money to them. Theyre not living inside the system, so they know there are more things in this world, which are more important than money. But thieves, theyre totally a different creature. To them, money is god and it’s the source of happiness. So they will do anything to get it.
The next morning, the nomads heard my story and they pity me and filled the empty space of my bag with food and water. They understand the hardship of a traveler’s life and told me not to worry. The road will always give me problems, but the road will also provide me the solutions. Spending years on the road, traveling thousand of kilometers of it, you will never be the same person again once you are back to your home, to where you came from, they told me. After shaking all their hands, I then continued my ride towards Osh. I found my first solution in a nearby village, Sary Tash, where I managed to find a guy who is interested to change some Chinese yuan into Kyrgyz som. So I changed my remaining 300 Chinese yuan into 2100 Kyrgyz som, which is about almost 50 USD. I then rushed to a nearby minimarket to get all necessary food and water supply for the next 180km ride towards Osh.
I was surprised to find myself wearing my winter equipments, exactly the same layer I wore when I was riding in the Scandinavian arctic during the last 2 winter. Even though its July, but the altitude here is very high and its normal to receive some snow here at anytime of the day. And the combination of the cold and the high altitude, again I got sick. Seems that the food I ate didn’t digest properly, I didn’t sleep the whole night since my stomach was so in pain and I vomited a lot in the morning, making me feel very weak. Right after leaving Sary Tash, I faced a tough climb, the Taldyk Pass which sits at over 3600m altitude which I had to do it very slowly since my body was very weak due to my sickness. Then it was an easy ride down and the road was flat most of the time. After that there was only one more not so tough climb before the road leads me towards Osh, the second biggest city in Kyrgyzstan after its capital, Bishkek in the north.