Old Austrian Road
Old Austrian Road, besides being a historical monument, offers some amazing scenery along the way.
The road in the East Kazakhstan Province connecting the Katon-Karagay and Kurchum districts was built in 1914-1916 by Austrian and Czech World War I prisoners of war to strengthen the border with China. This 60-km (37 mi) long road is currently in bad condition, but it passes through amazingly beautiful places at an altitude of 2000 meters (6500 ft) above sea level. You’ll see picturesque Lake Markakol, worth the trip alone. Moreover, one of the passes offers a breathtaking view on the legendary Belukha Mountain, the highest peak of the Altai Mountains (4509 m – 14793 ft).
Useful tips for 2020-2021
How to get there
If you’re going to visit this corner of the Altai Mountains on your own, make sure you have a car suitable for rough roads. It is best, however, to go there as a member of a 4WD expedition. As mentioned above, the road connects two districts, so it can be accessed both from Katon-Karagay and Kurchum districts.
Here is the detailed route description if you’re driving from Kurchum District. Set off from the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk and drive towards the village of Samarskoye, which is about 150 km (93 mi) away. Then take a ferry to Kurchum. From Kurchum drive an extra 180 km (112 mi) to the village of Terekty, where you can refuel. From there, head to Urunkhaika (a village on the shore of Lake Markakol). Leave Urunkhaika behind and drive further. Having driven 11 km (6.8 mi) turn right. After a few more kilometers the Alatay Pass begins. Please don’t attempt to ascend the pass when it’s raining – the road can be extremely dangerous. Eventually, the pass descends into the valley of the Kara-Kaba River, and here you will see the first bridge. There will be three more of them on the way. In some places you will have to wade the river. Further on, the Burkhat Pass begins. At the exit from the pass, serpentine and steep descents await you again. The descent leads to the valley of the Bukhtarma River. There are two directions you can take from here. If you go along the right fork, you will get to the village of Uryl, Lake Rakhmanovskoye and Lake Yazevoe. If you turn left, the road will lead you to Bukhtarma.
Food and accommodation
Before setting off make sure you have enough food and water. Since the area is very remote, be ready to spend the night in a tent.