Bishkek/Бишкéк, Kyrgyzstan to Shymkent/Шымкент, Kazakhstan–540 km this section (Total Mileage: 8156 km/40,075 km)
Heatstroke to freezing rain in 48 hours. The last six days have driven into my skull, with force and repetition, the importance of water in a water-scarce region.
Academics and politicians are fond of saying that water is Kyrgystan’s only natural resource. In reality, gold is the nation’s top export, but hydroelectricity and water-intensive crops take the other top spots, and the nation’s control over the watersheds of many of the region’s key rivers may be increasingly a point of geopolitical leverage in years to come.
While many areas of the world take fresh water for granted, the nations of Central Asia have faced repeated crises stemming from drought and unsustainable water use. The Aral Sea Crisis, which I hope to learn more about when I visit, is perhaps the most striking example of this, but many such conflicts over shared water resources have stoked tensions between nations and communities throughout the region.
Wanting to see regions of Kyrgyzstan that lay beyond the heavily populated northern valley, I cut south and then west. My route took me over two big fun climbs (~1500 m and ~1000m, respectively, with the highest point around 3300m) and through the country’s middle highlands.