Volkswagen Magazine

Touareg

The call of the mountains.

With majestic panoramas and hundreds of kilometres of rugged roads, the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan is perfect for a Volkswagen Driving Experience. The Touareg* mastered the route over hill and dale and brought the drivers to places seldom seen by tourists. An expedition report.

Text Nikolai Uschanov
Photos Andrey Gordasevich

A TEST OF NERVES.

On the road abroad, your own mother tongue can sound like music in the mouths of the locals. In our hotel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, it feels good to be sent on my way with a friendly “have a good trip”. And when the Volkswagen Touareg (pre-warmed, no less) is waiting in front of the doors of the hotel, it’s a grand moment for any adventurer. What isn’t yet clear to the drivers and passengers of the Volkswagen Driving Experience is that this will be the last moment of relaxation for a while. What lies before us is a nerve-jangling trial.

A mush of road salt and snow sloshes around under the tyres.

Heart of central Asia: Kyrgyzstan

Name and form of government Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan), presidential parliamentary democracy

Geography 94% of the country’s land mass is mountainous. The largest lake in Kyrgyzstan is Issyk-Kul, which is the second-largest mountain lake in the world (1,607 metres above sea level)

Location Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia and borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China

Population Approximately 5.7 million inhabitants, of which approximately one million live in the capital Bishkek

It’s still dark outside. Winter. According to the clock, the day has only just begun. In short, it’s ridiculously early. The destination of the Driving Experience, legendary Lake Issyk-Kul, is “just” 240 kilometres away – but the first kilometres through the bustling Asian city of Bishkek are a journey in themselves – even for drivers accustomed to the infamous traffic of Moscow. Cars overtake and cut off their fellows with merry abandon, death-defying old Ladas dart into the ten-Touareg column, drivers flash their brights and see yellow-going-on-red as a new shade of green – all while an unappetizing slush of salt and snow coats everything near the ground.

Over an hour later, however, our efforts are rewarded with the open road and a clear view. The first rays of the rising sun that peak over the snow-capped summits in the background are reflected in the paint of the Touareg. Right here and now, the world seems in perfect harmony.

Even a grey Touareg can stand out – it just depends on the surroundings! Kyrgyzstan is characterised by sparse vegetation, great routes and fascinating camels which, even in colour, blend perfectly into the landscape.

ADVENTURE OFF THE BEATEN PATH.

Test drivers say, “The landscape determines the character of a vehicle test,” and Kyrgyzstan provides a variety of road-related challenges for both car and driver. Broad plains with stony trails lead to the impassable high mountains and the most diverse terrains and road surfaces.

The first stage goes from Bishkek to Balykchy, a settlement on the world’s second-largest mountain lake. The suspension of the Touareg is not facing any severe tests just yet – a four-lane motorway leads through the flat landscape towards the northwest, past the Kazakh border control zone. It’s only a few kilometres later that the road heads up into the mountains, ascending the legendary Boom Gorge. According to legend, the gorge is home to the evil spirit Bo, who in the 19th century is said to have attempted to halt an expedition by the Russian Asia Minor explorer Semenov-Tyan-Shansky (1827-1914) – by any means necessary!

Much ado about nothing: A roadside ruin in Kyrgyzstan.

According to legend, dragons dwell in Issyk-Kul Lake. As we dropped by though, they had just flown off.

Tradition meets modernity in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan: Riders with one horsepower, four Touaregs with 193 kW each.

Bo attacked the expedition with storms and hurricanes, pelted it with hail and snow, set wolves on the people and broke the legs of their horses. In 2016, the evil spirit seems to be keeping up with the times. Since neither snow nor hail can stop the caravan of Touaregs, Bo has delegated the mission to his modern-day vassals, the traffic police, who enforce speeding violations of just two kilometres per hour over the limit. But not even that, of course, can stop this adventure in its tracks!

SEARCHING FOR DRAGONS IN THE LAKE.

Anticipation is one of life’s great pleasures – and for travellers, that pleasure is usually fuelled by postcard pictures, travel guides and books. In the 7th century, Chinese traveller Xuanzang wrote about Lake Issyk-Kul: “On four sides it is surrounded by mountains, and most of the rivers gather into in it. Its water has a greenish-black colour and its taste is both salty and bitter at the same time. Sometimes it is calm, and sometimes the waves roar in it. Dragons and fish live in it together.”

Now, most of the parameters he mentions have changed little since his day – the lake is still 200 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide, and when it comes to the taste of the water, hold on ... nope, nothing has changed there either. Only the dragons, it would seem, have departed the scene. Although, at the former Soviet military base in Karakol, a city on the eastern shore of the lake, torpedoes were previously tested. Alas, the drab buildings from the Soviet era still characterise the shoreline of the lake.

The Touareg’s four-wheel drive 4MOTION distributes the total power between front and rear axles as well the wheels on each axle as efficiently as possible.

Volkswagen Touareg

Expedition vehicle The Volkswagen Touareg proved itself to be a true mountaineer. Where others give up, the Touareg gives its all. In Kyrgyzstan, the Volkswagen Driving Experience got under way with ten Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI 4XMOTION.

Features All-wheel drive, reduction gear and electronic differential lock

Additional options Engine guard (a must for all off-road excursions)

Engine 3-litre diesel engine and 193 kW (262 hp) power; torque: 580 Nm

NATURE’S GRANDEUR.

The expedition traces the shoreline and then ascends into the mountains that surround the lake. They are what lend the Lake Issyk-Kul its beauty, and the reason it’s worth the effort to see this grandeur at least once in your life. In good weather, the colossal, snow-capped ridges that shine in the glaring sunlight look like the petrified ribs of the planet. Majestic. Between them, they have drawn the murky waters of the mountain lake up into their midst.

The mountain ridges look like the planet’s fossilised ribs.

The onward journey takes us through deep, washed-out canyon roads that put the air suspension of the Touaregs to a stern test. The dust that the Touaregs kick up lingers for a long time, like a veil in the air. And with every glimpse out of the window, one realises that right here, right now, is where one experiences the magic of this Driving Experience.

TEMPERATURE PLUMMETS TO -20 DEGREES.

It’s all uphill from here. Not half an hour after the Touareg liberates itself from a dry canyon with a slip, the air temperature suddenly plummets from 4 degrees Celsius to 20 below freezing. Outside, there is no longer any dust, but snowdrifts a metre high. The dazzling sunlight reflected off the snow hurts the eyes – yet the Volkswagen simply ploughs onward up the mountain. Left and right of us in turn are kilometre-deep drops into the abyss. The peaks of the surrounding mountains seem to take up the whole sky.

The Touareg keeps on going, even on terrible roads and in weather conditions you would normally leave other cars in the garage for.

At -22 degrees and on a pass at 4,200 metres above sea level, two brisk steps away from the vehicle are enough to leave you gasping for air. Is this altitude sickness setting in already? Fortunately we’re heading downhill from here – meaning a shortness of breath is replaced by a battle with one’s nerves. The route takes us over a narrow road cut into the mountain. Ever so carefully, centimetre by centimetre, the drivers crawl their Touaregs toward the valley. The wheels seek and find traction on the layer of ice. Then the weather changes from one instant to the next. The sun is blocked out by a thick, black cloud and it suddenly begins to snow.

The tension persists into the late evening – and then, upon arriving in the valley, changes into a feeling of great relief and enthusiasm.

FIRES OF CIVILISATION.

For city folk, a night in the mountains, far removed from the fires of civilisation, can become a little scary. The silence makes you feel as though you are wrapped up in cotton wool. Somewhere, deep down, most of the participants in the Volkswagen Driving Experience feel a twinge of fear in their hearts – a fear based on respect for the massive, eternal and merciless power of nature.

First you struggle for breath, then with yourself and your courage.

A short break: Artwork by the roadside while travelling through Kyrgyzstan’s northeastern region.

As Fyodor Dostoyevsky once wrote, it is amazing what a single ray of sunshine can do to the human soul. And indeed, the great sage was perfectly correct. Scarcely had the early morning sun tinged the nearby summits pink before the fears of the night dissolved like the morning mist.

ON FOUR WHEELS, A NEW PHASE IN LIFE.

At last it’s safe to take a philosophical approach to the ruminations of the night. In retrospect, the fear and liberation seem to me like the beginning of a new phase in life. And as melodramatic as this may sound, it’s all thanks to the capabilities of the Volkswagen Touareg. A vehicle that was developed to bring together different worlds: comfort, transportation and adventure. So it doesn’t restrict drivers, but instead gives them more opportunities.

Volkswagen Touareg

Engine: V6 TDI SCR 4MOTION
Engine displacement (litres/cm3): 3.0/2,967
Performance: 193 kW (262 hp) 
Gearbox: 8-gear automatic transmission
Consumption (combined): 6.6 l/100 km
CO2 emissions in g/km: 174
Acceleration (from 0 to 100):
7.3 seconds
Peak speed: 225 km/h
Kerb weight: 2,185 kg
Dimensions:
Length: 4,801 mm
Width: 1,965 mm (2,208 with mirrors)
Height: 1,747 mm
Luggage compartment: 697–1,642 litres
Additional engine variants**:
V6 TDI SCR 4MOTION (150 kW/204 hp) and V6 TDI SCR “Terrain Tech” 4MOTION 193 kW (262 hp) V6 TDI
Standard selection highlights: The 4MOTION all-wheel drive allows for need-based power distribution across all four wheels. That ensures optimum traction and propulsion on nearly any substrate.

**All Touareg engines have BlueMotion technology.