Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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The Kyrgyz krebet

The Kyrgyz range of the Tian Shan (or Celestial) Mountains has several valleys that cut into or through it. The most famous are Kaindi, Too Ashu, Sokuluk (with the village of Tash Bulak), Ala Archa, Alamedin, Issyk Ata, Kegeti, and Shamsy. Each with their own characters and attractions.


KAINDIThe town of Kaindy sits across the main road from Bishkek to Tashkent, and was important for a Sugar factory. High in the mountains above the town was an early gold mine. The road climbs gently into the mountains and though the valley housed a pioneer camp, the valley is rarely visited by foreigners.


TUU ASHUThe Tuu Ashu Canyon is best known because the pass (actually Ashu means "pass" in Kyrgyz) at the top is the highest point on the Bishkek-Osh road at 3586m - and the gorge from the town of Kara Balta is well worth the journey in itself with steep walls and spectacular views. At the top, the old road can be seen climbing over the very summit of the pass, but there is now a tunnel burrowing through the mountain, (apparently built by the same construction team responsible for the Leningrad and Moscow metros) . Emerging out of the tunnel on the other side of the pass is a splendid vista of the Suusamir plain.


AK SUUTravelling from Bishkek - this narrow canyon is best approached by turning towards the mountains after Belovodsk and passing through the village of Kyzyl Dyikan. Here can be seen one of the first orthodox churches to be built in Central Asia. The road follows the stream bed deep into the mountains - and it is said that this is very good fishing country.


 TASH BULAKTash Bulak ("Stone Spring") is a village sitting astride the Sokuluk river which flows through alpine meadows and woodland with many varieties of wildlife. The village is still known to many locals by it's Soviet name Belagorka, and it was the site of a very successful collective farm. Nowadays the village is not as prosperous but is still quite attractive with decorated houses. It can serve as the starting point for several walks. Nearby is the Pigeon's waterfall - not to be confused by its more famous namesake in the Alamedin valley - which plummets over the steep cliffs. There is a trail over the mountains to the Kochkor-Suusamyr road, which used to be used to drive sheep over the mountains, but it hasn't been used in recent years and is generally impassable now. There is a route between the Sokuluk gorge and Ala Archa over the Czerny pass (3900m).


CHUNKURCHAKOnly twenty five kilometers from Bishkek, this tiny gorge lies to the east of the village of Tash Dobo. It is the home of the Chunkurchak State Biological Reserve - created to protect the sites where rare varities of tulips grow - such as the Craig Tulip ("King Tulip"), which can grow heads as wide as 15-18 cms, and the Zinaida Tulip which sports bright red flowers with green veins on the outside and yellow-gold intside. The flowers usually bloom in April and May. The gorge itself is very narrow at the mouth and not easy to find. Once inside it opens out to form a wider Tahr valley, which boasts 200m cliffs towering over a rushing stream. It is famous for the Pigeon's waterfall.


ALAMEDINThe Alamedin valley is one of the most striking features of the Kyrgyz Krebet, just South of Bishkek. The village of Koi Tash, 30 km from Bishkek, is the confluence of four roads: one from the capital; another which climbs to the West over the ridge, past Golubinyi Waterfall (Pigeon's or Dove Waterfall) to Kashka Suu in the Ala Archa valley; a third to the East towards Issyk Ata, and the fourth leading upto the main Alamedin valley. The canyon narrows and the stream, one of the main rivers flowing through Bishkek, cascades down to the Chui plain. Ten kilometers further on is the Tyoplie Klyuchi Sanatoria. At a height of 1800 meters a.s.l. there is a bathhouse with naturally, radon, heated water - (Take the advice of the doctors and restrict swimming in the pool to no more than about 10 minutes.) - and a complex of cottages further up the road, which was opened in 1984 by the then Ministry of Power. Beyond the complex the vista opens out into a beautiful alpine valley - ideal for a day trip out from the city - and there is a trekking route over the mountains. There are waterfalls, glades with berries, mushrooms, juniper and birch forests and views of glaciers and the Usechenko peak (4650m), as well as a number of other canyons to the East.


Seventy seven kilometers from Bishkek, nestled at a height of 1775 meters a.s.l. in the Issyk Ata valley which cuts into the Kyrgyz Range which runs south of the city. The slopes of the mountains have numerous alpine meadows and in the vicinity of the resort are fruit and decorative trees. The waters have attracted visitors for many centuries and this used to be a place of pilgrimage and in the nineteenth century villagers expressed their gratitude for the healing properties of the water by smearing onto a large rock, which has an inscription on the Buddha on it, which dates from the tenth century. The Tibetan inscription is on the face of a boulder with an eagle sculpture on top. Unfortunately, contemporary, modern, graffiti now joins it. There is a legend about a young woman who bathed here everyday in the river. The magic force of the mountains kept her young and preserved her youthful beauty, even when all the other women of her age were old and wrinkled … so that she she still appeared young and beautiful. Nearby, it is said, was the home of an Uzbek shamaness, famous for her healing powers, who led a hermit's life here until the 1950's, after her husband and son were both killed as Basmachi rebels. Turkic nomads worshipped the springs and early Russian colonists used to take the cure here - when the only accommodation was local yurts. The river is famous for trout - and often attracts poachers. Another problem faced in this beautiful valley is the illegal chopping down of trees.


TUYUK AND KOK-MOINOK Between the Issyk Ata and Kegeti gorges are tucked away two small gorges - Tuyuk and Kok Moinok, connected by the Kok Moinokpass (2911m). Nestled under the "Sugar Head" peak lies the Kok Moinok lake.


KEGETINinety kilometers East of Bishkek lies the Kegeti valley with steep forested slopes. The map shows a road passing over the mountains towards Kochkor - but it is not really passable - the road is blocked by landslides and even in the height of summer it is almost impossible on horseback. A two or day three trek takes you up the Kel-Tor gorge, a side valley, to the Kel-Tor lake (Dead Lake) with it's turquoise water and numerous beautiful waterfalls. From the valley you can visit the Bel Saz jailoo, the Sharkyratma waterfall, Kushkonok forest, Kisl Beles forest, Chaunde Gorom viewpoint and Kara Unkur (Crying cave). It is also possible to make a trip into the neighbouring Tuyuk valley and Karagai Bulak. The village of Kegeti lies at the mouth of the gorge although the road into the valley leaves the main road at Ivanovka and travels through Ak-Sai, Rotfront and Leskhos.


SHAMSYThe Shamsy gorge is considered by some people to be the most beautiful of the canyons in the Kyrgyz Hrebet. It was selected as the site for a "Hunting Lodge" for the former Shah of Iran - which was built but never occupied. Apparently the word "shamsy" means "dark" in Fahsi (Iranian - Persian) but as the valley has been called this for many years, this is probably just a coincidence. The golden mask of the ancient beauty, Queen Shamsy, was found nearby. Twelve kilometers into the valley is the junction of the Shamsy and Tuyuk rivers. (Not to be confused with the Tuyuk river of Kok Moinok). The wooded slopes and high mountain plateaus are home to a wide range of fauna and flora. In summer it is possible to cross the mountains and head towards Kochkor.


The village of Kyzyl Suu is nestled under the Kyrgyz Hrebet, some 35 km east of Tokmok. The Kurandy jailoo is surrounded by slopes covered in conifer forests and alpine meadows. Konorchak Canyons A bit further afield are the Konorchak Canyons - 125 km from Bishkek these canyons stretch for nearly 200 km. To see Konorchak Canyons completely would take a long time - but it is possible to spend a few days exploring the spectacular scenery. The canyons have romantic names like "Grand Canyon", "Bobsleigh" and "Skyskraper". They were formed about one and a half to two million years ago and since that time erosion by wind and water has turned a plain plateau into gigantic stone pillars, some of which are 400-500 meters high. The canyons see almost no precipitation at any season of the year - between 1980 and 1990 the canyons received no snowfall at all, and in the last decade of the twentieth century snow has fallen twice. If the air temperature in Bishkek is 20 degrees below zero, in the Konorchak Canyons it is +5 degrees - however, in recent times the climate in the Canyons is becoming a little colder. One peculiarity of the Konorchak Canyons is that plants growing there tend to be very large - much larger than usual. One of the main attractions at Konorchak is an extinct volcano, Segizkhan Shokhy, dating back to 2.5-3 million years ago with slopes covered with fossilized seashells the size of the child's fist and the remnants of lava. It is claimed to be their favourite valley in the Kyrgyz range by many of the locals.


At the eastern end of the Kyrgyz Range - converging together through this narrow canyon are a highway, a railway, and the Chu River. Most people simply drive through and don't stop - passing over "Red Bridge", which crosses the Chu river at the mid-point of the Gorge and onto Issyk Kul. To the west from here you can see the Konorchak canyons. The road is lined with statues of Snow Leopards Eagles and Stags and an occasional "pioneer". The Bishkek Balykchi railway also travels through the gorge - rising high above the road. There are walls designed to prevent landslides cascading down onto the road below - but despite these, occasionally landslips do manage to close the road for a time. The gorge offers plenty of opportunities for rafting, camping and trekking. It also offers possibilities for White Water Rafting.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #6

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