After a very pleasant meeting with Jim and Sonia we had an excellent night’s sleep and a splendid breakfast at the Albatros Hotel. We stocked up with provisions at the nearby supermarket and my unerring sense of direction took us out of Bishkek on the road to Tashkent. The long dreary road passed through small towns for about 30 miles until we turned left on the road to Osh and up into the mountains. A long succession of increasingly tight hairpins with dramatic views down the gorge of the Kara-Balta River took us to the Tor-Ashuu Pass at 3,586 metres with a long tunnel about 2 miles long and barely wide enough for a van and lorry to pass each other. The drivers of the huge trucks that came thundering through were astute enough to leave enough room for us and we emerged unscathed.
The other side revealed a beautiful plateau of rolling green hills surrounded by snow-capped mountains and large numbers of yurts with herds of sheep, goats and horses. Every yurt had a sign offering snacks made by the nomads including kurut, small balls of hardened curd which the nomads put in their horse-meat soup. The plateau extends for about 50 miles before it crosses over the Ala-Bel Pass (3,184 metres) and then drops sharply down to Toktogul City on the reservoir of the same name. This is a major honey production centre with dozens of apiaries (bees not apes) and thousands of hives at the side of the road with little stalls offering honey for sale. We drove round the reservoir to the small restaurant where we had spent a night in May but were unable to eat there because they would only take dollars in 50 or 100 dollar notes. So we had a meal of bread and cheese and spent the night in their carpark.