Discovery Kyrgyzstan
 
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008
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Ala Archa Mountaineers' Cemetery and Monument
Ala Archa Mountaineers' Cemetery and Monument

 

Less than an hour from the hustle and bustle of downtown Bishkek, the capital city, is the Ala Archa Natural Park, which is quoted as one of the highlights of Kyrgyzstan. The alpine valley was turned into a national park in 1976 and sees a large number of visitors every year. 

As well as stunning natural landscapes, (the park encompasses over 10 large glaciers, more than 50 mountain peaks -with 140 classified mountaineering routes of various levels of difficulty/complexity, and 30 mountain passes), the national park is also rich in flora and fauna - with over 800 species of plants, 160 species of birds and about 170 specials of animals, (many of which are featured in the small museum located in the park). 

It is popular with locals and tourists alike  taking in the natural beauty of the surroundings, picnic in its environs, stroll along its network of paths or undertake a more strenuous trek along one of the variety of routes, go horse riding or skiing.

Perhaps the most poignant of the various interesting places in Ala Archa is to be found on the path which leads to the right of the gate of the base camp. After climbing up a fairly steep slope the path leads though a wooded area where there is a cemetery with nine graves and memorials to another 32 “fallen” mountaineers which is maintained by members of the Federation of Alpinism and Rock Climbing of the Kyrgyz Republic.

            The federation has a website (http://www.memorial.in.kg/) where you can more information - in Russian only, however - including:
       -   information about the history of mountaineering and climbing in Kyrgyzstan;
       -    biographical notes/obituaries about some of the personalities of Kyrgyz mountaineering, including:
        -   a helicopter pilot whose craft crashed in the Arpa Valley, south of At Bashi.  Over the course of many years he had ferried climbers, hunters, skiers and others to remote mountain sites - and often flew "rescue missions".  A helicopter rotor blade stands as a memorial to him in the cemetery; 
        -   a 17 year old who died of a heart attack during a volleyball game in Moscow;           
        -   a prize winning film producer who specialized in stories set in the mountains;
        -    photo galleries

The cemetery was begun in September 1964, with the grave of the mountaineer Vladimir Kurgashev - one of the nine who are actually buried on the site. Every year, on September 14th, hundreds of people arrive at the site in the Adygene Gorge for a solemn meeting to commemorate and honour the "departed" alpinists. Even on an ordinary weekend, this shady spot may see upto 100 visitors.

One of the graves is located just outside surrounding the main collection of monuments and some people say that this is because he committed suicide, (cutting himself free to save his comrades who were tied to him, rather than pull them down with him).

The cemetery has a Visitors Book in which people can write impressions of their visit. Between November 2004 and September 2005 there were over 1500 entries made in it.

During the course of 2006, a special memorial, (designed by the local architect, George Kuz'menko), is being constructed. It will comprise of a series of steps leading upto a marble platform from which rises three "pyramid" shapes. It was inspired by the nearby Peak Korona and is meant to resemble a crown - "korona" means "crown" in Russian.  (Coronet Peak is visible from the observation area set just below the final rise to the cemetery on the other side of the hill.)

After the cemetery, the path continues for 7km up to the Adygene glacier. 

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #9

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