An introduction into Kyrgyzstan. The unexpected beauty of Kyrgyzstan. A warm welcome to beautiful mountains and a nomadic lifestyle. Kyrgyzstan is truly stunning.
In general, we don’t like to plan much on our trip, we do a bit of research on the country and then we take off. Since we wanted to do the Pamir Highway we were gonna skip through Kyrgyzstan quite quickly to make it to Osh before the fall would start. Oh boy, were we making a big mistake.
Luckily our Pamir Highway starting date was not set, allowing us to squeeze some extra days into our Kyrgyzstan itinerary.
Day 1 – First attempt at hitchhiking – An introduction into Kyrgyzstan.
The easiest way to enter Kyrgyzstan would have been to take a marshrutka or shared taxi to Bishkek. But we had heard about an amazing 3-day trek in the Karakol Valley. Looking at the map it would be way easier to go straight to Karakol from Almaty (Kazakhstan). However there is no direct bus, marshrutka, or shared taxi on this route. After a bit of research this trip should be doable trough different taxis, hitchhiking, and a bit of luck. The other option would be traveling to Bishkek first and then to Karakol, this would be a two-day trip. Easy choice.
The plan was to take a shared taxi to Kegen(closest village to the border), then hitchhike to the border and hopefully get another ride into Karakol. The shared taxi to Kegen was easy and literally after 5 minutes we hitched a ride to the border. Only to find out that the couple taking us had no idea where they were going. Eventually 2 hours later we made it to the border. Hoera!
The border in Kazakhstan was really encouraging and had a big sign saying “Good Luck!”. The process was fast and we barely even noticed that we were in Kyrgyzstan. The border guards on both sides were extremely friendly. The border guards in Kyrgyzstan offered us a “taxi” to Karakol for about 70 dollars, we of course said no because we were going to hitchhike(little did we know)!
We waited for a while, no cars. One car passed, did not take us in. Eventually the only possible ride we saw in the next 4 hours was two buses full of German tourists. Hopefully we looked at their minibusses since they were half empty. But after a quick chat we found out these “friendly” Germans did not have any room and are not gonna take us (bastards).
The border guards kept offering us the ride, but we said no, hoping that a car would show up. One problem though, the border was closing soon and we had nowhere to go. Karakol was still 3 hours away and we were in the middle of nowhere (beautiful though). So reluctantly we accepted a ride from the officer. The same officer, who stamped our passport, promptly ran inside, changed out of his uniform, and told us to get into his old Mercedes and drove us to Karakol.
Understandably, we felt a bit bummed out because of the amount of money this was costing us. This was soon forgotten when we started the drive from the border. The scenery was breathtaking. Everywhere we looked it was like looking at a painting. Animals grazing everywhere, yurts, and nomads riding horses in the sunset.
We arrived at the hostel and our Brazilian friend who was going to join us for the Pamir Highway was there. We spent the evening sharing travel stories over pizza and some beers.
Day 2 – Jeti Öguz
After waking up to a delicious breakfast at our hostel we and our friend Haig went out to explore Karakol. Our first stop was, of course, the local bazaar. The bazaar itself is hectic and wonderful. We found a restaurant in the middle of it all, it seemed that all the locals were in there, not a table free. This had to be good food, so we waited for a table to free up. We ordered a lot (!) of food, all traditional Kyrgyz delicacies. Our bellies were happy and full.
After the market we headed towards the Karakol trekking office and got information about the 3-day trek to Lake Ala-Kul we wanted to do. Not sure about the weather forecast we decide to wait what would happen the day after. Since the weather was good today we decided to head out to Jeti Öguz. We took a shared taxi there, who would then wait for us while we walked into the valley.
The trek started in a tiny village that was overlooked by a giant red rock formation called the “seven bulls”. Maybe it was the lack of vodka but we couldn’t make the seven bulls up. It was beautiful though! From the seven bulls we started walking into the Jeti Öguz, after 1,5 hours the valley opened up and we were in paradise.
Animals grazing everywhere, shepherds chasing their animals, yurts hidden in the forest:
Day 3 – Start of the Ala Kul trek
Today was the day we were gonna start the 3-day trek up to the Ala-Kul lake, passing the Ala-Kul pass at 3900 meters and ending in the hot springs at Altyn Arashan. Covering almost 60 km’s.
We took a marshrutka from the hostel to the start of the national park: Karakol Valley. Time to start!
It started as an easy climb in the forest and after a few hours the valley opened up: showcasing a long, wide, winding river and mountains in the background. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After walking about 16km we reached the first camp. From there the real climbing began up towards the second camp where we would stay in for the night. This 500m climb over 3km seemed like forever, but with every step the view got more and more beautiful.
We reached our yurt camp after a few hours of climbing. Unfortunately all the yurts had already been occupied so we got placed in a cozy tent and borrowed sleeping bags and mats. We enjoyed a simple, yet delicious dinner with our fellow trekkers. Since we were high up in the mountains, it was cold – very cold. The solution to that was of course to build a fire! That evening we sat around the campfire, played a fun riddle game, and talked through the evening. We were all strangers but were good friends in no time. The night was cold, but beautiful and the stars put on a glorious show for us.
Day 4 – Test of character
The second day of the trek was supposed to be the hardest. We would ascend 1km in altitude over a 5km trail until we reached the pass. We got up bright and early and started climbing towards the Ala-Kul lake, the big mountain pass, and finally descending into the Altyn-Arashan village.
Halfway up to the pass we reached the beautiful Ala-Kul lake. After resting and taking in the beautiful lake we started the very steep climb up the pass.
We started trekking, but soon we noticed that the sky was getting very very dark. Oh-Oh, we looked at each other and thought for a moment whether we should turn back – but after a quick thought we realized that there wasn’t anywhere to go – so onward we went. Within minutes the weather changed from bright and sunny to a full-on, raging hail storm. We plowed through, determined to make it to the top. Soon enough the hail storm passed and it was back to sunny and calm. I guess this is mountain weather at its best!
After a few hours we made it up the 3900m pass and wow was it worth it. The view over the Ala-Kul lake was stunning. We rested for a bit and enjoyed to view, after the pass, we thought that it would get easier – it was only a 16km downhill after all, how hard can it be?
This “easy” walk was truly a test of character. We had nothing left in the tank, our bodies were completely done. BUT eventually we made it to Altyn-Arashan and it felt amazing to locate our guesthouse and sit down to eat a delicious warm plate of Plov. What made it even better were the super hot, hot springs that we could dip our sore muscles in. Needless to say, we fell asleep nice, early and refreshed.
Day 5 – Finito!
The next day we had a 15km flat walk back to a village where we would catch a marshrutka back to Karakol. We found out, from a friend that there were some hidden hot springs – not on the map. We were determined to find them before heading back. After a few kilometers walking and searching we found the natural hot spring tucked away in a hillside by a river. There was no one there so we could enjoy this secret little spot in peace. Sitting in a hot spring overlooking the river and beautiful forest. Life is good.
When we came back to the hostel, we took a well-deserved shower, had delicious food and beer.
Day 6 – Barskoon
After a good day of resting we to a marshrutka towards Barskoon. A small village called which is on the edge of the Issyk-Kul lake. From Barskoon it was easy to get to the Fairy Tail canyon and some waterfalls in the area.
In the village we stumbled upon a local yurt factory. This yurt factory has quite the reputation and is famous for it’s (surprisingly) yurts. The local craftsman guided us through the factory and showed us the steps of building a yurt. He was a real craftsman with a passion for yurts and woodworking. He even sat us down for a mini-concert.
After the yurt factory we went back to our guesthouse and enjoyed a lovely homemade meal.
Day 7 – Fairytale (Skazka) Canyon
This morning we decided to go to the Fairytale Canyon. Unfortunately, we got kind of scammed by our guesthouse, as we thought that our taxi driver would take us to the canyon and wait for us and drive us back. But as soon as he dropped us off he drove off… But this was a problem for later because now it was time to explore this beautiful canyon we had in front of us. The canyon was a deep red color, filled with glorious rock formations of all shapes and sizes. Inside of the canyon was a labyrinth of paths and you could easily get lost there for hours wandering around. Looking at the strange but beautiful rock formations we understood why they call it the Fairytale Canyon.
After the canyon we decided to eat our lunch by the “beach” of the Issyk Kol lake. It felt like a beach because the lake is so big, you cannot see the other side and there is a strong tide coming towards us.
Since we got ripped off by the taxi driver, we decided not to pay for the ride back and decided to hitchhike. Luckily this time we didn’t have to wait that long and soon a friendly old man picked us up in his beat-up old Lada. Eventually it took another 3 cars to reach Barskoon again.
Day 8 – Way to Bishkek
After a half a day ride in a Maschrutka we made it to Bishkek. Where we were greeted by a little dog called Alma (apple in Kyrgyz) at the Apple Hostel.
The rest of the day we hang out in the Hostel where we met some other people, watched formula 1, and a brilliant Rambo movie.
Day 9 – Osh Bazaar
We met up with Haig again and explored the famous Osh Bazaar in Bishkek. The Bazaars in central Asia are so nice, fresh fruits, meat and vegetables everywhere. We did some shopping for the upcoming Pamir Highway road trip and had a good time talking to the extremely friendly locals at the Bazaar.
That evening we took a short flight into Osh to start our epic Pamir Highway adventure. Before ending the night in Osh we visited the local “Skybar” and watched how locals destroyed their voices in karaoke.
Day 10 – Osh
We had some time left before we would kick off our road trip. We met with Tom in the morning and set off on exploring Osh.
Climbed the sacred Sulaiman-Too mountain in the middle of the city and enjoyed the view over the city. Elisa took a few slides down the fertility slide. Apparently if you slide down this slide seven times it will give you strong babies in the future.
The rest of the day was spent on trying the local cuisine and another visit to the sky-bar.
An introduction into Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan was beautiful, we had no idea of the amount of hiking trails, valley’s, lakes and mountains that this country has to offer. We have only seen a small part of it, we’ll come back to Kyrgyzstan.
After Kyrgyzstan we continue our way through Central Asia into Tajikistan. Make sure to check out our travel map!