The international border demarcation in this part of the world is a bit of a mess and not entirely static. One particularly grey area relates to the few parcels of land that Uzbekistan has claimed within Kyrgyzstan borders. These are called the enclaves, and are irritatingly positioned directly between Osh and our only feasible open border crossing into Tajikistan.
Understandably the enclaves are viewed by the Kyrgs with a degree of resentment, but also looked upon as a bit of a challenge to overcome. Our former host in Osh regularly ferries locals toward the border, taking great joy from avoiding the numerous police checkpoints and more importantly, being part of the Kyrgyzstan effort to overcome this irksome intrusion. Before departing, we were informed of the current road layout and how we would avoid entering Uzbek territory; the language barrier was a bit of an obstacle, but thankfully there is a universally recognised charade for ‘do not cross’ and ‘man with gun’. As Omran explained the intricate details of which dirt road to take and which hidden junction to turn down, it felt a little as if we were being briefed by the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris. Briefing over, we left our faultless hosts in Osh and headed for the border town of Batken, although our primary objective was really avoiding ‘man with gun’.
Despite the deteriorating road surface and the Wacky Races style of driving adopted by the people of this region, good progress was made toward the enclaves through the beautiful Fergana Valley. Whatever reasons are given for the establishment of Uzbek land within Kyrg territory – and the numerous abandoned oil wells en-route gave us some indication – it was certainly not to facilitate cycle touring. The coarse gravel roads have been cut over, rather than between mountains, and do not make for particularly easy cycling terrain. However, one-by-one the enclaves were negotiated and the police checkpoints proved far more welcoming than we had feared.
After a rest day in Batken, which will be remembered as a largely bland town but one in which we were furnished with quite outrageous levels of hospitality, the Monday morning border crossing into Tajikistan passed with relative ease. The series of oddly placed and remote sheds would have probably been better suited to a garden allotment (as perhaps would some of the occupants of said sheds), but the process was as smooth as we could have hoped for.
Finally, in topographical news: the last 100km into Tajikistan has been almost entirely downhill, which will make for an interesting few days through the central ranges, towards Dushanbe.