Day 6 – Monday 5th August – Tossor to Barskoon pass to Tossor (140km)
The day started with uncertainty – we had been recommended a route that reached Naryn across the moutains – Barskoon pass and Arabel pass – instead of bactracking along the lake to the main road, but we had been checking whether it was passable on big bikes and had found a recent report claiming that it was no possible to cross any other way than Tossor pass. We had marked that pass down as something to attempt at the end of the trip and if we were feeling brave, since it was a hard one – anything going wrong meant spending a night close to 4000m and we did not want to risk it so early in the trip, one mistake and our holidays would be over.
So we decided to go and ride to Barskoon pass to the junction where the track to the Arabel pass started, but even that was not a given, as it was a route that went close to the border area with China and visiting those areas requires a permit that is easy to obtain if you are part of an organized tour but not so much if you travel independently – you need to apply a month in advance or find an OVIR office, neither of which was an option from one day to the next. At least, the valley leading to the start of the road to the pass was said to be really beautiful, and you never know if you never try, maybe we could convince the guards at the checkpopint to let us through a bit up the pass to take some pictures.
There was nothing remarkable the first few kilometres up the valley that carries the same name as the pass (in fact, everything carries the same name there: the village at the bottom of the valley, the river, a waterfall… they were not very inspired when naming this place) but as we climbed the dusty landscape from the shores of the lake changed into a lush alpine landscape, with high peaks and pernnial snows as a background. I could compare it to one of the valleys in central Pyrenees, but this valley was at 3000m, the same as the highest peaks there. The road was unpaved but in great condition, because somewhere up the mountains and much further than we were going there was an important gold mine, and there were a lot of supply trucks going up and down.
Halfway up a valley we stopped to visit a monument to Yuri Gagarin, the first man to space. The reason this monument is here is that after he came back from space he spent some time recovering and relaxing in a sanatorium by the Issyk-kul lake, and this valley was probably the most beautiful place near the lake.
We found the checkpoint at the end of the valley, right at the foot of the winding dirt road that led up the pass. There was a car already stopped at the boom gate and its occupants were talking to the guard in the shack next to it. A weird Toyota probably imported from the Japan domestic market stopped behind us and the driver, who spoke English, told us that no permit was needed, the guard just had to write down the bikes’ registration and our passport information.
With that paperwork out of the way, we were free to start climbing the first of the 33 hairpins that led to the pass. The track was dusty, but because it sees so much traffic up the mine, there are trucks watering it down constantly to keep the dust to a minimum. After a thrilling climb, we reached the pass, at 3819m, and rode onto the breathtaking views of a vast open plain surrounded by high peaks.
We went across it until we found the junction leading to Arabel Pass and eventually meeting the road down from Tossor pass – it did not look bad here, but God knows what it was like further on. We spent a while taking pictures and rode back down, this time enjoying the views over the valley that such a high road offered.
By the time we were down to the shores of Issik-kul again we realised that we had spent so long in the valley that there was no way we could make it to our next destination in reasonable time, so we went back to the yurt camp where we had spent the night before and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming in the lake.