Bishkek to Tashkomur
Even before you climb out of the Chuy Valley from Kara-Balta, the craggy Kyrgyz Ala-Too range rises like a wall. The road climbs through a crumbling canyon towards the highest point of the journey, the 3586m Tor-Ashuu Pass at the suture between the Talas Ala-Too and Kyrgyz Ala-Too ranges. Instead of climbing over, the road burrows through, in a series of dripping tunnels (built by the same team that constructed the metros in Leningrad and Moscow) that open to a grand, eagle’s-eye view of the Suusamyr Basin.
There is a 45som toll collected (or checked)at each end of the Tor-Ashuu Pass. In 2001 the longest tunnel (2.6km) was the scene of a freak accident when a car broke down midway through causing a traffic-jam.
By the time the truck drivers turned off their engines four people had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Cyclists should consider hitching a lift through the tunnel, particularly in the southern direction as there is a slightly uphill grade this way.
About 4,5 hours out of Bishkek a side road shoots across the basin towards Suusamyr, Chayek and eventually the Bishkek–Naryn road. This is classic Kyrgyz yurt country, with plenty of summer roadside stands, offering fresh kymys (1L 50som) and other dairy products.
After another 1,5 hours another road branches right, this one over the 3330m Otmek Pass, 106km towards Talas, and Taraz in Kazakhstan.