The other side of the Tossor pass

Day 10 – 9th August – Naryn to Tossor pass junction on the Bolgart river to Naryn (200km)

When I got on the bike today I was not really looking forward to the ride today – the track on the GPS indicated about 90 kilometres to the point where the dirt track leading to Tossor pass started. If the road was the same as the one we had taken to Naryn on the valley, we were looking at a round trip of almost 200 kilometres on a boring road, under a scorching sun, just to get to see a junction and say ‘this is where we would have come out if we had done the Tossor pass from Issyk-kul.’

So when, barely 15 kilometres out of Naryn, the tarmac disappeared, and the road became dusty gravel, my mood did not improve – I was not looking forward to eating dust again.

But improvised plans often turn out to be the best, and soon after the road turned north and entered a narrow gorge with the Smaller Naryn River waters raging at its bottom.

From there on, my mood changed completely – the views were incredible, the road challenging enough to be interesting without being too difficult or dangerous, and the landscape changed from alpine ravine to andine plateau to high central asian pass.

This is a bulldozer that we found on the way up. It looked abandoned but it wasn’t – it bears witness to how hard it is to travel around in this country. Everywhere in our route we could see signs that there were constant rock slides that blocked the road, sudden rises in the amount of water coming down the mountains through the ravines that washed away the road. When that happens, someone must put fuel in this lump of metal, start it up and clear the road.

Absorbed as we were in so much wild beauty, before we realised we reached the turning to the Tossor pass route.

We could have tried and ridden it a bit, but it was already two o’clock and we had agreed that was the time to turn around. On top of that, some dark clouds were gathering and we could hear thunder, so we decided it was time to go – the route back was long and there some places in the gorges were rocks could easily fall onto the road in case of bad weather. No matter how beautiful this place is, it should be treated with caution.

It is still hard to adjust our brains to the vast distances here – by the time we were back in Naryn we had done 200 kilometres, 180 of which off road, which might be the longest I have ridden offroad so far.

At the CBT office, where we went to collect our permits for the border area, we met Katja, the German girl we had seen juste before going up to Song-kul lake who had told us that Tossor pass was too difficult. She was alone, having gone separate ways from her friend (boyfriend, riding buddy…? we don’t know) who she was meeting in Osh again in a few days and she also wanted to do the offroad route to Torugart pass, but she had to do it the following day, as she was on a bit of tight schedule to get her bike to a mechanic in Osh for a service. We wanted to do the short ride up to Tash Rabat tomorrow and then rest there for the rest of the day before doing the offroad route back to Naryn, as we did not know how hard it would be, but she did not want to do the route alone and tried to convince us to do the offroad route on the way up and go straight to Torugart pass and then to Tash Rabat to camp or get a yurt there.

In the end, we agreed to go up with her on the had route and postpone the hiking one day, as it did not make that much of a difference to our plans, so tomorrow we meet at 9am in the CBT office to head into the unknown!

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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!