Day 9: Aug 7. Naryn to mountain camp. 141km, with 1,529m of climbing
Riding out of Naryn early this morning it was easy to see from the terrain why the Russians had built it up into a strategic town and fort in the late 19th century.
However, the move made the British very nervous. They saw it as just one more example of a grand Russian scheme to seize control of routes to the Himalayas and thus access to India. Naryn was just one minor move in the Great Game they fought through much of the 19th century.
Britain held onto control of the Indian subcontinent until 1947; and the Russians controlled central Asia until the breakup of the USSR in 1991. Today, Russia’s influence, economic, cultural and language ties across the region are still strong, though variable from country to country.
Today Naryn looks to be a thriving town spread long and thin along the former military road. Today, its pride of place is a campus of the University of Central Asia, an institution established, and still supported by the Khan Foundation. He is the 49th and current leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims, yet the institution is non-religious, helping all people in their economic and social development. So peace and steps towards prosperity is a mark of Naryn today. (No, I don’t have a drone with me so I sourced this photo online.)
At the first big climb, my fleeting thoughts about the world past and present evaporated. My single focus was cranking my way to the top. Thereafter the road came back down alongside the Naryn.
The long stretch to lunch was punctuated by a few minor hills. But once again the rare roadside sign was highly misleading – but at least more accurate than the ubiquitous signs of 22% grades all the way from Almaty to here. Yet this particular one, the first at 12%, was barely a 6% blip, my Garmin told me.
As every day, some of our crew with one of our vans had set up shade and another energy packed, delicious lunch about halfway along today’s route. Soon after lunch, our route crossed the Naryn river and the tarmac gave way to our first unpaved road. This half-day of stones and gravel was only a foretaste of two huge days up in the mountains on even steeper and rougher roads.
Our camp this evening was the first of three beside rivers over these four days of riding to our next rest day. Very much bush camps – a river to wash in; and shovels to dig one’s own latrine hole, should you need one.
Before dinner, Carolina, our tour leader briefed us on the next day’s climb up into the mountains. And once again, I’ll let her briefing board tell the story.