The so-called Old Austrian Road is located in the far northeast of Kazakhstan, near the Russian and Chinese borders.
It is a rough but beautiful track through 60 km of wilderness; you will need to be completely self-sufficient with your car, motorbike or bicycle.
The Austrian Road was built from 1915 to 1917 by Austro-Hungarian WW1-prisoners captured on the Eastern Front. With the help of nothing more than shovels, saws, pickaxes and cables, they created a legendary track through a remote wilderness in the far northeast of Kazakhstan, under highly unfavorable climatic conditions.
3 years for a stretch of about 60 kilometers – the suffering those numbers must hide!
By the way, there are also Austrian roads in other parts of the former Soviet empire, for instance in the Kyrgyz Pamir-Alay.
An important bridge had broken down around 2014, but it has been restored. It is definitely not the worst road in Kazakhstan, in general, it’s pretty decent most of the way, but its remoteness and lack of other traffic means you should be able to take care of yourself.
In short, you can travel the Austrian Road. But, as a foreigner, you will need a permit.
Trekkers can also go along the Austrian Road, but on foot, it is much more enjoyable to head over the mountains from Katon-Karagay and end up on the western end of Lake Markakol. You can arrange for a boat trip in advance to Urunkhayka.
Our Discover Altai tour visits the sights of the northern bit as well as Markakol and takes you along the old Austrian Road.