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Chapels of Curahuara and Sajama

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December 2011
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To The South

Near the pass

Osh, Jalalabad, Batken, Sary Chelek, Arslanbob. Whereever in the south you are going to, the most direct route is down M41 south from Kara Balta. Down, though, might not be the right word, since you first have to climb to 10,000 feet of altitude — twice!

Even leaving out the destination, and there are several you should not miss, this road is one you should travel anyway sometime while you are in Kyrgyzstan. The climbs up over two high passes, the passage through the Susumyr Valley, and the views of the Toktegul reservoirs (though they do just keep going on and on and on) make the long drive worth it.

The road goes on and on . . .

The directions are pretty simple. Drive west on Chuy Avenue all the way to Kara Balta. Hang a left at the only big intersection in town, and follow the road for as long as you dare. Measuring from the intersection of Chuy and Prospect Mira, the turn in Kara Balta is some 37 miles away. From Kara Balta you climb the Ala Too range from 2,500 feet of elevation in KB to 10,000 at the pass, in only 40 miles.
At the top, you drive through a tunnel. There is a stop light there, to show you which way the traffic is flowing, but no one seems to pay it any mind, and traffic is flowing both directions through the narrow tunnel, with only inches to spare. I don’t mind admitting that I was scared, both times I went through.

Picnic Time

After the tunnel, we were ready for a break, and found the nearest semi-flat spot for lunch. The road then drops back down to the floor of the Susumyr Valley at about 7,400 feet, in another 20 miles. Then it climbs up the other side of the valley, surmounting a second high pass at 10,250 feet another 40 miles along.


It’s still another 40 miles to the town of Toktegul, on the side of the Toktegul Reservoir. Though the lake-in-the-middle-of-a desert look starts out interesting (sort of like Lake Powell in Utah), it seems to go on forever and ever. In fact, 80 miles later when you reach the turnoff to Sary Chelek, you are still not entirely past the series of Reservoirs along the Naryn River.

Here’s a .gdb file you can use in Google Earth or your GPS.

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