Tailor-made Tour 16 days from £3795 per person
Places Visited: Bishkek, Song Kol, Issyk Kul, Karakol, Jety Orguz Pass, Telety Pass, Karakol Gorge, Ala Kol Lake, Arashan Gorge, Cholpon Ata
One of our absolute favourite tours in Asia is this adventurous route trip through the wilds of Kyrgyzstan. It involves a memorable, and at times strenuous, 5-day trek, for which you’ll need to be in good physical shape. Once you’ve savoured the distinctive post-Soviet atmosphere of the capital, Bishkek, sun-lit mountainscapes and shimmering water form a relentlessly breath-taking backdrop to your road journey into the Tianshan range. After a few days basking on the shores of beautiful lakes, you’ll be head deep into the mountains to begin one of the great treks of Central Asia – a route that’s best undertaken in the spring when the tulips, crocuses, giant edelweiss and other Alpine flowers are at their most profuse.
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Fly from the UK to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan.
On arrival at the airport you’ll be met by your TransIndus guide and accompanied to your hotel downtown. Spend the rest of the day recovering from your journey, perhaps venturing out in the evening for a meal at our favourite restaurant, the Arzu, which serves succulent Central Asian grills on a pretty terrace with fountains.
A full day’s sightseeing in the capital starts with a tour of its principal landmark, Ala-Too Square, where you’ll watch the impressive changing of the guard ceremony before heading off to the National Museum of Fine Arts and Osh Bazaar in the afternoon.
A city of wide, tree-lined boulevards and marble-fronted municipal buildings, Bishkek retains the feel of a Soviet-block capital circa 1990, though it makes an engaging place to find one’s feet before heading into the mountains. After a visit to Ala-Too square and the museum, you’ll head for sprawling Osh Bazaar. Your guide will show you around the fragrant spice and nut section, and the tailor’s wing across the road at Kyyal Bazaar, where lines of small shops sell horse tack, yurt paraphernalia and the traditional ‘akalpak’ felt hats.
Today, a spectacular drive south of Bishkek begins with a visit to the picturesque Burana Tower and over the Ala-Too mountains to beautiful Song Kol Lake.
Rising from a grassy plain against a backdrop of ice peaks, the Burana Tower in the Chuy Valley forms a superbly iconic spectacle. The remains of a minaret that once stood 45m (145ft) tall, it is virtually the sole vestige of an ancient Sogdian city that once stood on the site. Dotted around a field next to the tower is a collection of eery grave markers with carved faces, believed to be around 1,500 years old. Your ultimate destination today will be one of the most visually arresting natural spectacles in Central Asia: Song Kol Lake – a shimmering expanse of water encircled by grassy hillsides. You’ll spend the night in a yurt camp by the lakeshore.
After breakfast, spend the day walking and riding horses around the lake, visiting nomad encampments and panoramic viewpoints. Strong swimmers may be tempted to take a dip in summer, but be warned: the water is extremely cold!
At an altitude of around 3,000m, Song Kol is a large freshwater lake surrounded by grasslands where nomadic herders graze their flocks in the summer, living in traditional felt yurts. Horses are available for rides ranging from short ambles to day-long rides. Your accommodation will be in one of a dozen or so yurt camps that spring up here between May and September. Warm layers are essential at night, when temperatures plummet. It can snow at any time of year this high above sea level.
Today’s drive takes you northeast to into the country’s central heartland. You’ll pause for lunch at the town of Kochkor, where there’s a lively bazaar, before pressing on in the afternoon to Issyk Kul.
Enfolded by the snow peaks of the Tianshan ‘Celestial Mountains’, Issyk Kul is the world’s second largest saltwater lake after the Caspian Sea. It stretches for 112 miles between two ethereal snow-capped ranges, at an altitude of 1,607m (5,272ft). You’ll spend the night in the dusty, downbeat town of Balykchy, just inland. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Balykchy’s fishing and steamboat building industries collapsed and an air of torpor hangs over the place today – hardly an advert for the country, but a good place to get to grips with the plights of many of its inhabitants.
This morning you’ll get your first proper look at Issyk Kul, as you head out of Balykchy and drive along the lake’s southern shoreline to Karakol. Weather permitting, the vistas south across the water to the snowfields of the Tianshan will be wonderful.
In the course of the day you’ll visit a yurt-making workshop, take tea with a local family in a typical Kyrgyz village and enjoy picnic lunch on the lakeshore. Before reaching the end of the day’s journey, you’ll also explore the Skazka ‘Fairy Tale’ Canyon, famed for its weird red and ochre rock formations. Your night halt will be at a guesthouse in the town of Karakol, a former Russian colony that preserves much of its traditional Tsarist-era wood architecture, including a magical little Orthodox church. For supper, you’ll have the option of dining in a local restaurant or with a local family.
After a tour of Karakol’s sights, you’ll drive out to the Jety Orguz Gorge, local beauty spot cradled by the northern slopes of the Terskei Ala-Too range, and camp at the foot of snow-capped Orguz Bashki.
After a tour of Karakol’s handful of sights, your trip takes you to the Jety Orguz Gorge, in the northern slopes of the Terskei Ala-Too range. The valley is known principally for its striking sandstone landforms, such as the blood-red crags of the ‘Seven Bulls’. Beyond, the road winds along the river through beautiful forests of blue spruce, crossing no less than five log bridges before arriving at the flower meadows of Kok Jaiyk at the upper reaches of the valley. Overlooked by the shining ice summits of Orguz Bashi peak (5,165m), your camp for the night will be at an altitude of 2,600m.
After an al fresco breakfast, leave your car and driver behind to begin a wonderful six-day mountain trek. Today’s first stage involves around 6 hours of trekking.
The route starts with a gentle ascent of a narrow, wooded gorge leading to alpine meadows, where you’ll pause for a picnic lunch before pressing on to the tent camp at the foot of the Telety Pass – a hike of approximately 16km which should take between six and eight hours.
The day’s trek involves a gradual climb to the first pass of the route, followed by an easy descent the other side over flower meadows and, later, following the course of the East Telety River as it crashes through woodland to Karakol tent camp, at an altitude of 2,500m.
Complete this stage and you will have covered 18km in six to eight hours of walking, the highlight of which will have been the superb views from the Telety Pass.
A wonderful round route, starting and ending at Karakol Camp, takes up the eleventh day of your trip.
Anyone interested in plants will have plenty to get excited about in the blue spruce forest and meadows carpeted with primroses, asters, and giant white edelweiss which you cross in the course today’s walk. The real show-stopper, however, is a viewpoint from where (weather permitting) you’ll have a marvellous, uninterrupted view of Karakol peak (5,216m), the highest summit in the Terskei Ala-Too range.
Ala Kol Lake
Today you’ll descend the Karakol Gorge, crossing the river before beginning a sustained ascent up a switchback path to a beautifully situated mountain hut at Sirota.
From Sirota, you leave the forest behind, following the course of a mountain stream to a waterfall the gushes from Ala Kol Lake, site of your next tent camp, at an altitude of 3,600m.
Arashan Valley Camp
A varied stage of walking ensues today, beginning with a short climb to Ala Kol, one of the country’s most beautiful glacial lakes.
The name ‘Ala Kol’ translates as ‘Colourful Lake’, and you’ll immediately see why. A spectacular phalanx of ice peaks rise sheer from its shoreline – one of the loveliest views in the Kyrgyz mountains. An hour-and-a-half ascent brings you to a high pass above the lake, from where it’s downhill for the rest of the day to the Keldike Valley. Eventually, after six or seven hours of walking, the trail plunges back into spruce forest again as it drops down to the Arashan Valley Camp, where you’ll be able to ease your tired limbs in a thermal hot tub!
The trail drops down the valley to the tiny spa of Altyn Arashan, a cluster of log cabins and bathing pools, where you’ll re-join your driver to begin on the onward leg to Cholpon Ata, a ritzy summer resort on Issyk Kul Lake.
Jet skis, bathers and sun worshippers from Russia and Kazakhstan throng the shores of the lake at Cholpon Ata in high summer, but for most of the year, this resort on the north shore of Issyk Kul is relatively peaceful. The main reason to pause here, apart from the fact it boats the best accommodation in the area, is to see the collection of ancient petroglyphs in a boulder-strewn field on the outskirts, where you’ll head with your guide around late afternoon, when the low sunlight accentuates the rock etchings.
After breakfast, the final stage of your journey takes you back to the capital Bishkek via the spectacular Boom Gorge, a popular site for white-water rafting.
Spend the remainder of the day souvenir shopping. In the evening you’ll have the option of attending a culture show in a local restaurant featuring recitals of traditional Kyrgyz folk music and song.
Time to say goodbye to Central Asia as you transfer in the morning to Bishkek airport for your return flight to the UK.
Tailor-made Tour 16 days from £3795 per person
✓ International flights from the UK
✓ 14 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Full board
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Places and Experiences in this tour
A city of wide, tree-lined boulevards and marble-fronted municipal buildings, Bishkek retains the feel of a Soviet-block capital circa 1990, though it makes an engaging place to f...
This high-altitude lake in central Kyrgyzstan is one of our very favourite destinations in the region – a spot that has everything you come to this part of the world to see, in ab...
Dominating the east of Kyrgyzstan is chimeric Issyk Kul Lake. Around 113 miles (182km) in length, it’s the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca, and one of Cen...
At the eastern end of Issyk Kul, Karakol was created at the end of the 19th century as a Russian military garrison town, and is today the region’s main hub. A sleepy grid of down-...
Jety Orguz Gorge and Valley of Flowers
Karakol serves as a jumping-off place for one of Kyrgyzstan’s most distinctive landforms, the blood-red crags of the Jety Orguz Gorge. The most photographed formations in the vall...
Balasagun and the Burana Tower
Rising from a grassy plain against a backdrop of windswept ice peaks, the Burana Tower in the Chuy Valley forms a superbly iconic spectacle. The remains of a minaret that once sto...
Trekking and Horse Riding in Kyrgyzstan
For the most vivid experience of Kyrgyzstan’s dramatic mountain landscapes, it pays to venture away from road level and up to the remote ‘jailoos’ where the region’s nomads look a...
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