Kyrgyzstan is not a huge country. Its about the size of South Dakota or Kansas, but crossing the country is no easy feat. The country is filled with mountains, leaving only about 30% of its land on flat ground. Bishkek to Osh is only 310 km, if you were able to fly like a bird. But because of the difficult geography, the roads wind back and forth taking you 620 km and between 8-10 hours! But you don’t want to miss a single hour because it is one of the most stunning drives you will ever take.
The drive starts off fairly easy as you cross the Fergana valley. You must skirt around Uzbekistan as it juts into southern Kyrgyzstan. Mountains to the north and south line your view as you drive right along the border to Oozgen and then Jalalabad. The Arslanbob mountains eventually dominate your view as begin to drive directly toward them as you approach Jalalabad. After passing this massive group of peaks, you will start to follow the most blue river you have ever seen. The Naryn river cuts across northwest Kyrgyzstan and it appears that it is lined with opals. The color is a tremendous teal that makes it almost appear fake against its brown, dusty surroundings.
The river slowly takes you to the massive Toktogul the so perfectly reflects the Suusamyr-Too mountains range. As the road continues due north of the lake, the only way to get there from the southerly approach is to drive around the shore. The road steadily climbs the range until you reach a snowy bluff that descends into a long valley between beautiful mountains. The driver may hit 150-160 km/h as he zooms down this long, flat, straight piece of pavement. The horses and yurts zip by as you fly down these open pastures.
Then comes the climb of your life. The road snakes back and forth for almost 30-40 minutes as the only way past the mountain range is over it. Each switchback offers a more and more stunning view of the valley and mountains below. As far as the eye can see, the white capped peaks fringe the horizon. The road eventually cuts straight through the mountain and the 3.5 km tunnel marks the end of the climb. The light at the end of the tunnel is breathtaking. You are face to face with tall snowcapped peaks everywhere with a small valley winding through which is presumably where the road will take you.
What took ages to climb, flies by as the driver takes each switchback with terrifying speed. The only thing slowing him down is the occasional flock of sheep that is migrating to higher lands with now thawed green pastures. And in no time we are down off the mountain and in the northern flatlands of Kyrgyzstan. The flat road takes us through a few villages as the natural landscape slowly turns into more and more suburbs of the capital city Bishkek. The ride is slowly coming to an end, but the view of the majestic mountains we just crossed continues to loom in the south with the suns last rays making the snow glow. Welcome to Bishkek.