Notes on Central Asia

Practical notes for other travellers 

We decided to separate this out, as it doesn’t help with the flow of the narrative.

Route: Aktau, Beyneu, Kungrad, Nukus, Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Ferghana (and back to Tashkent, by train), Shymkent, Bishkek. And then a motorised diversion via Osh and the Pamir highway to Khorog and back to Bishkek.

Put another way: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,  Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan. 

Now we’re in the ‘stans, we only have very small scale maps (1,700,000 and 2,750,000), very little content in Open Street Map, and transliteration into Latin alphabet is wildly variable. For example Aqtau is also written Aqtaw or Aktay. Kungrad and Qonghirat are the same place. However, OSM does seem reasonably effective at finding accommodation. 

Less English spoken than anywhere else we’ve been, except perhaps Bulgaria. Our Russian is improving only very slowly. There are more languages, too. This is written in Nukus, where we expected Uzbek and Russian, but also found Karakalpakstani.

We discuss the roads Aktau-Kungrad in detail in blog posts. After that it was always asphalt, apart from a few odd bits where we knew it was a less major road. The road out to the yurt camp (Ayuz Qala) was good and quiet. The non-main road route east from Khiva was a bit bumpy, but quiet. The old main road after Samarkand, to Jizzax was in poor repair and uncomfy in busy rush hour traffic which sometimes passed to close. The M37 dual carriageway is ok, nice and wide, usually some hard shoulder.

Aktau is a fair sized city. We saw two outdoor gear shops as we rode in: Uniform on the coast road (closed all the time we were in Aktau) and Robinzon, visible left where said road ends in a three way junction, with a statue of a ship on a plaza. We saw no bike shop, but didn’t look. Saw few bikes, so shop unlikely. ATMs aplenty, none offering dollars, as needed in Uzbekistan, whereas in Baku most offer; though many appear not actually stocked.

Shetpe had basic shops and a hostel.

Beyneu had multiple hotels and many shops. Didn’t see an ATM, but surely there must be?

When setting off across the desert, typically Gid carried 5L of water and 4L of juice and milk. Clare carried 6-7L of water and iced tea. We topped up whenever we got a chance, and drank a litre each at shop stops a couple of times a day. We never came close to running out. However, the longest stretches with no supplies available were later, Beyneu to Kungrad. On our second Kazakhstan leg, Tashkent to Bishkek, the accommodations were sparse.

In Uzbekistan the roads were mostly fair and traffic light. However, when cycling between major stops, typically 300km apart, it was about 50/50 possible to find an official hotel that did registration. The other times we were in teahouses, once a motel that was new, and once in a lovely family’s home. The sleeper train ticket counts as one, apparently. Nobody checked the slips when we left Uzbekistan. We visited several sporting bike shops in Tashkent before we found a 9 speed chain, in all of them spares selection was patchy and pot luck. We never got a whiff of such parts elsewhere in Uzbekistan. The contacts listed in Caravanista mostly were uncontactable. In bazaars, 622-37 and 622-47 tyres were common, and 26″ were also seen. However, no tubes with Presta valves that would fit our rims, fortunately we needed no tubes. Alloy 700c rims reasonably common on local bikes, but not sure of hole count.

Kyrgyzstan had the worst combination of mediocre roads and significant traffic and crap drivers. However, we didn’t actually ride much there. We were already there when they reintroduced registration, so we don’t know how that panned out. Accomodation of some kind easy to find. Bishkek has some useful bike shops, although many become ski shops from Nov on, and the one that doesn’t works very short winter hours.

Tajikistan we were on a softies motor tour with a driver who knew the area. On this route there did seem to be enough homestays to serve a bike tour, but probably not at exactly ideal intervals. And not all the homestays or teahouses have signs out. The 500,000 scale map obtained from the CBT in Bishkek would be invaluable if cycling as OSM doesn’t show hills. We got a local SIM card (Megafon) that worked in Murghab, but not most of the rest of the trip. WiFi was only in the Pamir Lodge in Khorog. We only visited the least developed areas of Tajikistan, hardly surprising facilities were limited.