Naryn is a long, thin town that straddles the fast
flowing Naryn River and is set between high, steep cliffs. It still
houses an army base and headquarters for the customs at
Torugart and so camping on the hills overlooking the town is
forbidden Naryn is known mainly as a stopping point for travellers on
the way to/from Kashgar, and unfortunately many guidebooks published in
the West are not very complimentary about the town. The region offers
many possibilities for trekking and if you are not in a hurry to pass
through on your way to China Naryn could serve as a centre to explore
this unspoilt and largely unknown region of the Central Tian Shan.
The modern town of Naryn was founded in 1868 as a Russian garrison
town, and much of the current town is post-war. Early settlements have
been found in caves near the town of Naryn, however, and there are
stories that suggest that the name itself is quite old. One picturesque
Kyrgyz story tells of a herder who had sold his cattle in the Andijan
region (now in Uzbekistan) and on his return, exhausted, he settled
down for the night at a place called Jailoo (=
«pasture») and turned his horse free. The horse
wandered and fed at a place called Arpa (=
«barley»). When the man tried to coral the horse
the next day it ran away. He chased it and when he caught it he killed
it and cooked its meat. He left the head behind and called the place
At-Bashi (= «Horses head»). He ate the meat along
his journey and called the place where he had his last meal from the
carcass Naryn which was the name of the dish he had
cooked a sort of soup with finely cut meat. If you find these
places on the map you will see that they are quite far apart
the man went a long way to sell his cattle and chased the horse for
quite a distance!
Another source suggests that the name comes
from the Mongolian word for «sunny».
Situated about 350 km from Bishkek and 200 km from the Chinese border
at a height off 2800 m. asl Naryn can be very cold, especially at
nights. In fact it is known as the coldest town in Kyrgyzstan and
temperatures in winter C. The average annual temperaturehave been known
to fall to -40 C. In summertime, however, the days can be very hot and
The town has suffered considerably from the economic decline that
followed independence. The government established a Free Economic Zone
in 1991 to provide favourable conditions for investors as a measure the
economy of the region.
The population of the town of Naryn is about 45000, (and there about
260000 inhabitants in the whole of the Naryn oblast) most of
them (99.9%) are Kyrgyz. Kyrgyz is the first language of the population
and it is not unusual to find people who cannot speak Russian.
Generally speaking, the people are friendly and like foreigners, but
don«t be surprised if they stop and watch as you walk by.
Unfortunately there is a problem with alcohol with the high
unemployment and the fact that people really do believe that drinking
vodka helps to cope with the altitude!
The River Naryn is the longest river in Kyrgyzstan, (535 km in length)
and is in fact a river famous from antiquity. Its ancient name is the
Syr-Darya and like its northern twin, the Amu-Darya, it flowed into the
Aral Sea. Nowadays, extensive cotton farming in Uzbekistan absorbs most
of its waters, so that the Aral Sea is drying up. It is possible to
travel from the town to the source of this once famous river.
Downstream, in Kyrgyzstan, the river is used extensively for
hydroelectric power generation and it flows into the giant Toktogul
Reservoir that you would see if you used the main Bishkek-Osh road. The
river is a potential source of friction with Uzbekistan, since
Kyrgyzstan wants to retain more of the water for its own uses.
There are three main approaches to Naryn. From Bishkek, 10 km from the
centre of town the road forks and there is a confusing road sign which
has arrows indicating Naryn both to the left and to the right The left
hand fork leads to the top end of town, (Moskovskaya/Razzakova) and the
right hand fork takes you the bottom end of town dropping
steeply through a chasm which cut through the cliffs.
The road from Torugart (At-Bashi and Tash-Rabat) descends steeply from
the mountains and also brings you to the top of town. If you approach
Naryn on the Osh Road, there is a very good view of the river valley
with the town in the distance a few km from the town centre. There are
also minor roads into mountain valleys and one of the most interesting
takes you to Ece Naryn and the valley of the Little Naryn River, and it
is possible to reach Lake Issyk Kul by this road (… but you
probably need a 4WD vehicle it is not a good road).
At the Eastern edge of town, just off Moskovskaya, is Victory park with
a tank. On summer nights this is the scene of impromptu discos and,
unfortunately, is sometimes the site of unseemly disturbances.
A little further below, on Moskovskaya, is the town Museum. Here you
will find exhibits about the history of the town; paintings of places
and famous people from the Naryn region; a room containing the personal
effects of Jakeev Tabaldi, a famous revolutionary who helped build
railways in Central Asia, joined the Red Army and worked for the
Bolsheviks in Naryn and Issyk-Kul regions; and a room containing a
number of stuffed examples of wildlife found in the Naryn region. The
largest room is dedicated to examples of local Kyrgyz
handicrafts Shyrdaks, Ala-kiyis, Tush-kiyis etc. Naryn is
renowned as a centre of excellence for the manufacture of Shyrdaks.
Continuing along Moskovskaya you cross the Naryn River by the main road
bridge in winter the river totally freezes here. In summer
children are often to be found swimming at the foot of the rocks. The
water of the river and the stream that cascades over the cliff-face is
the water supply for the many houses that you can see crowding the
You now come to the long main street (still called Lenin Street) where
you can see the towns 3 trolley buses. There is a small market on
Orozbekova Street, which runs parallel to Lenin Street.
The main square was redesigned in 1999 and is still watched over by a
statue of Lenin. The town of Naryn is the administrative centre for the
region and the buildings opposite the main square house the offices of
some of the many different local authorities.
Continuing along the main street a couple of kilometres you come to the
new mosque (finished in 1993), which was financed by Saudi Arabian
money and has a distinctly Arabian design. A little further on is the
town баня (sauna) now privatized. Several houses near the
riverbank also advertise saunas utilizing naturally hot
water. As you reach the end of town, on the hills overlooking the road
are several ski fields that, in winter are used by the locals.
On the main Naryn/Torugart road, a little past the turn-off to
Ece-Naryn is an old water mill on the banks of a stream still
used to grind flour today. Further on is the old military hospital
built by the original Cossack garrison.