Photo by Artem Volkov
The road is mainly asphalt – it being the main road between Bishkek and Kashgar ( China ). There is one stretch before Naryn, which is gravel – over the Dolon Pass – but even this is quite good.
Unfortunately, however, the road surface can be uneven which can make for a bit of bumping around.
The road heads East from Bishkek along the Chui valley with mountains in the distance on the right hand side. There are two possibilities - the "old" road, which passes through a number of villages - and the "new" road - built sometime in the 1960s, which bypasses the many villages. It is dual carriageway and runs parallel to the Chu River , which forms the border with Kazakhstan for much of its length. (In fact, at one point you cross the river into Kazakhstan - but only for a short distance and you don't need a visa).
After the town of Kemin you enter Boom Gorge – meandering between steep sided cliffs alongside the Chu River – climbing up towards Balykchi and Lake Issyk Kul.
From Issyk-Kyl the road undulates until it reaches Kochkor – then climbs steadily to the Dolon Pass. The Naryn side of the Dolon Pass passes through a narrow gorge before opening out onto a plain at Ottuk, about 30-40km before Naryn. Then it drops quite steeply into the town itself. (About 10km out there is a fork in the road - The left fork leads to the eastern end of town and the right fork to the western end).
The road to China is at the eastern end of town – and climbs up over the ridge that forms the southern wall of the narrow valley in which the town nestles. Eventually it emerges and after At Bashi it follows a long, wide, river valley. This part might be a bit boring – but you pass over a stretch of road designed as an emergency runway in the time of conflict/crisis. (It was never used, although the Chinese did cross the border once in the 1960s.)
Just past this section is the turn off to Tash Rabat – and we strongly suggest that you think about including it if you decide on crossing Torugart. You have to ford a stream … and the road is not asphalt – but it is not bad. There are yurts in the valley during the summer months.
At the end of the valley the road swings Eastwards around the southern tip of the At Bashi range and climbs towards Torugart. This is where the asphalt runs out and a stone road, which goes on for 60km starts.
The scenery on the Kyrgyz side is quite varied - on the Chinese side you descend through another gorge past a number of small “Kyrgyz” villages until you reach the border post most of it is not asphalt. The road to Kashgar is then a fairly easy ride.