A Dustland Fairytale

Day 9 – 8th August – Song-kul lake to Naryn (164km)

The sun was already high and unforgiving when we left the camp at 9am. Even though the lake is at 3000 metres the temperature in direct sunshine is rather high, and with less atmosphere between the sun and our skin, we had got some sunburn on our noses the day before despite using sunscreen. By contrast, the nights had been very cold, and we were glad we had decided not to camp.

To leave the lake we took the south route through Moldo-Ashuu pass , which is the most popular one, as it is not as difficult as the east route through the tight hairpins of Terkey Torpok pass, and offers amazing views. The only drawback is that more traffic means more dust, and we ate a lot of it, particularly in the last part of the route, when we were already approaching the valley of the river Naryn and the road allowed for faster speeds. It was dangerous at some points, as visibilty was badly reduced and there was a lot of loose gravel outside the tire tracks that made the bike slide around.

We reached the main road sweaty, covered in dust and with our tanks practically empty, but with a smile from ear to ear. We filled up with 92 octane fuel in a decrepit petrol station and took the road along the river.

The landscape was now radically different – the high mountains had given way to an almost desert landscape not unlike the Red Waste in Game of Thrones (sorry about the geeky moment) and the road became rather monotonous.

Naryn was the biggest city we had seen so far outside Bishkek, and it would be just another bland collection of soviet-style buildings were it not for the number of tourists it attracts. It is not communist architecture nor the desert landscape that attracts people, but all the trekking routes. This is the main base for trekking, horse-riding, cycling, etc. to Song-kul, Tossor Pass, Tash Rabat and the Chinese border, Kel Suu lake, and many more. Once we had settled in the hotel and had a proper shower to remove all the dust from our bodies we went for a walk around the city and visited its main park.

There are things that you can only find in ex-soviet countries like this, like a a military base right next to the city’s main public parc. We walked up to its gates and it seemed to be abandoned.

At first we thought that the gates wer locked, but a closer looked revealed that they only had a chain laid across them.

We removed it and walked around the grounds for a while. I guess that the fact that we did not get arrested or shot confirtms that it was indeed abandoned.

Back in the main street we came across the CBT office. CBT stands for Community Based Tourism, and it is an association whose aim is to improve living conditions in remote mountain regions by developing a sustainable and wholesome ecotourism model that utilizes local natural and recreational resources. We already had a plan for the next few days – first day ride up the Tossor pass valley as far as we could go before it got complicated, as we had been told it was beautiful, and go back to Naryn for the night; second day go up to Tash Rabat and camp or get a yurt there and third day do some trekking. Nevertheless, we decided to visit the office and see what info we could get, and it was definitely the right decision! We found out two things: one – that they issued the permits to access the border area with China, which meant we could go further than Tash Rabat and ride all the way up the Torugart pass, one of the main crossing points of the ancient Silk Route and two – that the track looping back from the pass to Naryn across the mountains was a popular route and therefore accessible on our bikes. They told us that they could issue a permit in 24 hours, so we paid and changed our plans!

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