On the bicycle again: Kars to Narman

If you look quickly at a road map, you’ll see no direct roads west from Kars to Narman. The reason is, of course, the mountains — Allahuekber Mountains and the eponymous national park. Check more carefully, however, and it’s possible to string together village roads and unpaved mountain tracks. Sounds like a nice bicycle touring route, doesn’t it?

As a warmup, we started with about a day and a half of flat riding on the Kars Ovası (Kars Plains). The elevation (about 1900m) means that the temperature was pleasant even though it was the beginning of August.

IMG_20210807_152134 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210807_160943 by bryandkeith on flickr

As I mentioned in my previous post, Kars is famous for its geese.

Kars is famous for its geese. by bryandkeith on flickr

On our first night of the trip, we found a pleasant hidden creek side campsite near the district center (ilçe merkezi) of Selim.

IMG_20210808_061132 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210808_061045 by bryandkeith on flickr

Kars has been a crossroads for years and is still diverse (for Turkey). The following day we went through the Kurdish village of Katranlı, then the Terekeme (similar to Azeri?) village of Bölükbaş. These Alevis:

These guys were from the Alevi village across the way, Laloğlu by bryandkeith on flickr

were from the Alevi village of Laloğlu on the other side of the valley. There are some Turkish villages around as well. It’s the Armenians, of course, that are missing.

IMG_20210808_103028 by bryandkeith on flickr

The first climb of the trip started in earnest from Gürbüzler.

IMG_20210808_144426 by bryandkeith on flickr

We were still below the pass when we stopped to camp at a comfortable site with a çeşme (a fountain with drinking water) where we were able to bathe.

IMG_20210809_092831 by bryandkeith on flickr

After backpacking in Sarıkamış, I expected these mountains to be forested. I was surprised that near the pass that it still looked like this:

IMG_20210809_115310 by bryandkeith on flickr

We found the trees and a very nice forest road heading down the other side to Kaynak.

IMG_20210809_124724 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210809_130703 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210809_131922 by bryandkeith on flickr

One of the reasons to come to Kars and Erzurum to pedal in August is to escape the summer heat in Antalya. It worked. About 10 minutes after I took this photo,

IMG_20210809_133453 by bryandkeith on flickr

the storm caught up with us, and we were lucky to find shelter under a large roof. After Ferda changed out of her wet clothes, you can see that she even put on her down jacket:

We almost made it to this shelter before an incredible strong windy cold thunderstorm burst upon us.  15 minutes later the sun was out again! by bryandkeith on flickr

The stormed passed quickly, and the sun came out again. It was a fun descent to Kaynak,

The village below is Kaynak (Şenkaya). by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210809_152810 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210809_153108 by bryandkeith on flickr

down passed Şenpınar,

IMG_20210809_162253 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210809_162504 by bryandkeith on flickr

and on to Gaziler (aka Bardız). The cows were heading to their barns after a day in the fields. We were offered shelter in the local school.

IMG_20210809_163706 by bryandkeith on flickr
Literally hundreds of cows were coming home after their day in the fields.  They knew exactly which shelter they were to go into for the night. by bryandkeith on flickr

The following morning started with a continued pretty descent.

IMG_20210810_115436 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210810_115559 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210810_120013 by bryandkeith on flickr

We crossed the creek and spent the entire afternoon climbing up to the Kurdish village of Dörtyol.

IMG_20210810_130303 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210810_155759 by bryandkeith on flickr

I tried to speak a few sentences of Kurmancî, but as in Adıyaman, I learned that their Kurdish here (in Şenkaya) is rather different from what I learned (Mardin Kurmancî). Then, however, an older man from Diyarbakır came by, and we could understand each other quite well! It was my longest Kurdish conversation ever! (Don’t get too excited. It was a short exchange of a few sentences.)

We camped above the village where friendly Mahir and his sister and mother brought us water, bread, greens, and tomatoes. Like many Kurds in Turkey, Mahir grew up in western Turkey (Kocaeli?) and hasn’t learned the language.

IMG_20210810_170208 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next morning we continued to the top of the pass,

IMG_20210811_101046 by bryandkeith on flickr

had a short descent to Çatakköy (Oltu),

IMG_20210811_103544 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210811_110245 by bryandkeith on flickr

and then (once again) spent the whole afternoon climbing another pass.

IMG_20210811_140527 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210811_151306 by bryandkeith on flickr

I was amazed in the small somewhat remote village of Güllüdağ (Narman) to come across a team from the health ministry giving covid 19 vaccinations to villagers and answering their questions about the pandemic, the vaccines, and the side effects.

Amazing to see this mobile unit giving covid 19 vaccinations and answering questions in a fairly remote village (Güllüdağ, Şenkaya) by bryandkeith on flickr

Here’s our group (left to right): Hacer, Emek, Ferda, and Görkem at the top of another pass.

IMG_20210811_163144 by bryandkeith on flickr

Another pleasant campsite:

IMG_20210812_070158 by bryandkeith on flickr

It was mostly downhill the next morning to what they call “Narman Peri Bacaları”.

IMG_20210812_120154 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210812_125409 by bryandkeith on flickr

In English that’s “Narman Fairy Chimneys”, and if you search the internet, you see the same photos of a couple pinnacles. I didn’t expect much.

IMG_20210812_154714 by bryandkeith on flickr

However, the place is misnamed and certainly undersold. It’s a whole red rock sandstone canyon, like something you’d find on the Colorado Plateau. The area isn’t extensive, and but it’s definitely more impressive than the two pinnacles in all the Instagram photos.

IMG_20210812_161155 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210812_134457 by bryandkeith on flickr

The thing to do — and we were actually discouraged from doing this by the folks at the onsite restaurant in the above photo (because the road is unpaved) — is to take the road through the village of Yoldere and up to the top of the canyon where there are some great places to enjoy the view.

IMG_20210812_163416 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210812_165032 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210812_172438_42 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20210812_171650 by bryandkeith on flickr

What a nice Narman surprise.

We spent three nights resting at the surprisingly comfortable Peri Oteli in the center of Narman. Rest days are always nice.

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5 Responses to On the bicycle again: Kars to Narman

  1. Jennie & Derek Werner says:

    Interesting as always!

  2. Mike Painter says:


  3. Curt Bradner says:


  4. Cecilia says:

    Hello! I stumbled across your blog because I was searching for information on the route Erzurum to Narman to Kars.
    I see that you did it the other way around.
    Would you recommend it? How were the gravel roads very steep?
    We also did the route from divrigi to Kemaliye through the mountains and it was beautiful but some part were way too steep to cycle and we had to push our bikes.

    Would you say it’s similar to the divrigi Kemaliye route? Or better in terms of gravel and steepness?

    Thanks a lot in advance

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Hi Cecilia,

      A couple things — I have not ridden from Erzurum to Narman. I imagine you’d want to go to via Pasinler, then head north along the east side of the Kargapazarı Dağları on village roads.
      I rode from Erzurum to Tortum to Uzundere mostly using the highway.
      The Kars –> Narman route that you’re reading about on this page is good. It is easier than the Divriği –> Kemaliye route following the Çaltı Çayı on the south side via Dazlak and Burmahan. Is that the route you’re talking about? I wouldn’t call it “through the mountains”, rather steep hills and canyons. Just want to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.
      From Narman to Kars you’ll have a short steep unpaved climb out of Çatakköy and a steep climb out of Kaynak, but I think that one is paved. Our hardest climb was steep and unpaved out of Gürbüzler. The Selim-Şenkaya highway will go near there so there might be a new road and/or construction now.
      Hope that helps.

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