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Discover the unspoilt wilderness and semi-nomadic culture of Kyrgyzstan on series of day walks. Hike through the gorges of the Tien Shan mountains on a journey that takes you around the shores of vast Lake Issyk Kul. Meet eagle hunters among the surreal red mountains of Djety-Oguz Gorge and experience a night in a traditional yurt tent.
Explore Tour Leader
6 nights simple guesthouse
1 nights simple homestay
1 nights simple yurt
Trip maximum 16 Explore Average 11
Itineraries on some departure dates may differ, please select the itinerary that you wish to explore.
The trip starts today in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Situated dramatically at the foot of the Tien Shan range at an altitude of around 800 metres, Bishkek is a modern city of wide tree-lined boulevards and open squares.
There are no activities planned for today and you are free to arrive at any time although please note that your hotel room may not be available until after 2pm. Airport transfers are available to all customers arriving both today (day 1), and on day 2, into Manas International Airport (FRU), which is around an hour's drive from our guesthouse. As many flights don't arrive into Bishkek until late tonight or the early hours of tomorrow morning, your Leader does not plan to hold the welcome meeting until after breakfast tomorrow (day 2).
If you arrive with time to explore you may like to head to Ala-Too Square, a favourite place for locals to gather where there are some great examples of Soviet-influenced Brutalist architecture.
Asia Mountains 1 Hotel (or similar)
Flights from London usually arrive in the very early hours of this morning. We'll make a leisurely start and your Leader plans to hold a welcome meeting after breakfast (please check the notice board in reception for timings) before heading out on a sightseeing tour of the city by bus and on foot. We learn about the main monuments and buildings of the city, and take a stroll through Oak Park. A former Silk Road settlement, Kyrgyzstan's capital is a young city, starting life as a clay fort built by the Khan of Kokand in 1825 only to be destroyed by the Russians 43 years later. It was rebuilt in 1878 and it is from this time that Bishkek evolved.
We'll also pay a visit to the lively Osh Bazaar, a large, crowded and colourful market where you can mingle alongside the locals doing their every-day shopping. The variety of goods on sale is huge - everything from vegetables, grains, baked goods, spices, dried fruits, nuts, clothing, shoes, meat and hats. If you're feeling brave you may wish to try some Kumis (fermented mares milk and the national drink of Kyrgyzstan), a very acquired taste!
We head out of the city today to the beautiful Ala Archa Gorge, in the Ala Archa National Park, located around 40 kilometres to the south of Bishkek in the Tien Shan Mountains. Our hike takes us along the rocky valley, passing through pine forests and alpine meadows, to a scenic spot where the Ak Sai waterfall cascades down the steep sides of the gorge. The valley's wooded slopes, water meadows and craggy cliffs provide habitats for a variety of animals including the shy Marco Polo sheep, bear, lynx, wild boar, wolves and, in its upper reaches, snow leopards.
Today's six kilometre hike is expected to take around four-and-a-half hours with a total ascent and descent of around 800 metres.
Departing Bishkek to the east, we stop to visit the 9th century Burana Tower, all that remains of the ancient Soghdian city of Balasagun. The tower is believed to be the oldest minaret in Central Asia with a detailed external pattern of relief work in brick. Nearby are many balbals (memorial stones) dating from the 5th to 7th century AD. Many of the carvings of the deceased hold cups which are believed to represent hospitality, as well as swords representing a willingness to fight.
Our destination for tonight is the picturesque Chon Kemin Valley. Around 180 kilometres east from Bishkek and quite close to the Kazakh border, Chon Kemin is one of Kyrgyzstan's 13 national parks. Our small homestay is located on the valley floor, covered with green meadows that are full of wildflowers in spring and early summer, while forests of fir trees cloak the higher slopes. We plan to set out on an afternoon hike and enjoy the tranquillity of this remote place.
Today's five kilometre hike is expected to take around four-and-a-half hours with a total ascent and descent of around 500 metres.
Chon Kemin Homestay (or similar)
Today we drive south through the Kungey Alatau mountain range to reach Lake Issyk Kul. The second largest alpine lake in the World, it is 182 kilometres long, up to 60 kilometres wide and lies at an altitude of just over 1600 metres. Issyk Kul translates as 'warm lake' - the lake's saline waters never freeze over despite the region's sub-zero winters.
Heading north-east around the lake, we stop to see some ancient petroglyphs at Cholpon-Ata that date back to between the 7th century BC and 3rd century AD. More than 5000 stones of varying sizes are covered with figures of hunters, ibex, goat and reindeer. It's believed that the site may have once been a gigantic open air temple. Cholpon-Ata itself was a popular resort during the Soviet era and many sanitoria were built here. These fell on hard times after the break-up of the USSR, but today many are being refurbished and the area is undergoing something of a renaissance.
We continue on a road following the shore to arrive in the city of Karakol. Strategically located, this was once a Russian military outpost, and the gateway of expeditions into the Tien Shan and beyond. In the late afternoon we plan to explore the city further on a walking tour. We'll see a Chinese influence at the Dungan mosque built in 1910 in the style of a Buddhist pagoda (it is made of wood without any nails) whilst the strong Russian influence is evident at the Orthodox Cathedral. The great Russian explorer Prjevalsky died in Karakol before an expedition to Tibet and the small museum dedicated to him gives a great insight into the 19th century Central Asian explorers
This evening we enjoy a meal cooked by a family from an ethnic minority group, either Dungan or Uighur; both groups are Muslim people of Chinese origin. We not only sample their hospitality but also learn about their traditions and lifestyle.
Altamira Hotel (or similar)
We swap our bus today for a four-wheel-drive truck and head out for the whole day to the wilds of the Altyn-Arashan Valley. The name means Golden Spa and the valley is famous for its hot springs of 50 degree sulphur-infused water, the perfect antidote to weary bodies at the end of today's trek! Today's hike starts out from the middle of the valley near the thermal springs then follows the river, surrounded by pine forests on the surrounding hills. Ascending further up the valley the scenery opens up to reveal the spectacular snow-covered Palatka Peak (4740m). We return along the same route.
Today's 15 kilometre hike is expected to take around five-and-a-half hours with a total ascent and descent of around 230 metres.
After sightseeing in the morning we drive to Djety-Oguz, the Valley of the Seven Bulls, so named because there are seven large red sandstone rock formations towering over the valley. During Soviet times this area become known as a health retreat, becoming famous when Yuri Gagarin came here to decompress here after his first flight in space. Our hike takes us along the river, through pastures and past forests of spruce. Whilst at Djety-Oguz we will meet with a golden eagle hunter and witness this ancient skill in action. Central Asia is the birthplace of the ancient tradition of eagle hunting. The nomads who roamed the Central Asian steppes began to tame these birds of prey thousands of years ago and the tradition was passed on from generation to generation. Kyrgyzstan is one of the few countries that still follow some traditions of the nomadic civilization and there are a handful of expert hunters left to this day who are determined to keep this ancient practice alive.
Leaving Djety-Oguz behind we return to the shores of Issyk Kul and overnight at a yurt camp by the lake for a chance to experience a taste of the nomadic lifestyle, still practiced in Kyrgyzstan. Yurts are circular dwelling structures made from a wooden frame covered in felt and traditionally they were furnished with colourful rugs and blankets with a raised sleeping platform. We will sleep on more conventional beds and depending on the size of the group there may be two or sometimes three people sharing each yurt. There is a separate block with flush toilets and hot showers at the camp and a large dining yurt. After settling into our yurts, we will have the opportunity to relax and unwind or perhaps go for a swim in the lake.
Today's eight kilometre hike is expected to take around three hours with a total ascent and descent of around 400 metres.
Tosor Yurt Camp (or similar)
In the morning we continue along the southern shore of Issyk Kul before heading away from the lake to Kochkor, a typical Kyrgyz town where we will visit a workshop where shirdaks (traditional Kyrgyz felt rugs) are made. It takes the wool from approximately five sheep to make one shirdak rug and the process is slow and labour-intensive. Designed in an inlaid patchwork of highly contrasting colours such as red and green, yellow and black or brown and white, the rugs are usually full of symbolic motif images from everyday life such as goat horns, shepherds and yurts.
After lunch in Kochkor we drive back to Bishkek for our final night and the opportunity to celebrate with a final night meal and reflect on our experiences over the past week
The trip ends after breakfast today at our guesthouse in Bishkek.
There are no activities planned for today and you are free to depart at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Manas International Airport (FRU), which is around an hour's drive away.
Total distance : 34 kilometres
Summer day temperatures can reach a maximum of 28°C in the lower slopes of the Tien Shan in July and August, although, as with any mountain area, temperatures can vary greatly and you should be prepared for extremes of weather. Night temperatures drop dramatically, possibly reaching zero degrees at night.
2 Pin Round
Islam, Russian Orthodox.
Bring light and comfortable clothing that can be layered according to the temperature. The weather conditions in the mountains can be changeable, and it can become cool especially at night so make sure you bring warmer layers. Tops made from wicking materials which keep you drier and warmer are recommended as a base layer, and walking trousers are preferable to trousers of heavier material such as jeans. A waterproof jacket is essential at all times in case of rain and wind. -Breathable wind and waterproof jacket (you may also wish to bring waterproof trousers) -T-shirts -Long sleeved tops -Sunhat -Warm hat -Gloves -Long trousers -Shorts (if you prefer to walk in them) -Swimwear and small towel if you wish to bathe in the lake -Midlayer Fleece/pullover -Socks (liner and thicker pair)
We recommend you bring lightweight walking boots, make sure that your boots are worn-in and comfortable before the start of the trip. Also trainers or sandals for relaxing and general wear. We suggest that on international flights you either carry your walking boots in your hand luggage or wear them - should your luggage be lost or delayed, your own boots are the one thing that will be irreplaceable.
One main piece of luggage and a daypack.
-Sunglasses -Sun cream -Small Torch (with spare batteries and bulb) -Walking poles (if you normally use them) -Personal first aid kit - On each walk a first aid kit is carried but you should have your own blister kit, supply of plasters, aspirin and other essentials. -Insect repellent -Reusable water bottle (minimum 1 litre) - Get 15% discount on a Water-to-Go bottle www.explore.co.uk/about-us/responsible-travel/water-to-go-discount-with-explore -Lunch box/Tupperware (useful for packed lunches)
In Bishkek we stay in a hotel with a garden and small swimming pool. In Karakol we stay in a simple guesthouse, all rooms have en suite bathrooms. At the homestay in Chon Kemin we will be accommodated in twin share rooms with shared bathroom facilities. Yurts are circular dwelling structures made from a wooden frame covered in felt and traditonally they were furnished with colourful rugs and blankets with a raised sleeping platform. At the Tosor Yurt camp which is located by lake Issyk Kul, we will sleep on conventional beds with all bedding provided and, depending on the size of the group, there may be two or sometimes three people sharing each yurt. (Normally, couples would have their own yurt) There is a separate block with flush toilets and hot showers at the camp and a large dining yurt. The guaranteed single room option is not available at Chon Kemin or in the Yurts.
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Kyrgyzstan: Nationals of the UK, Canada, Australia and the United States don't need a visa to enter and can stay for a maximum of 60 days. Other nationalities may require a single entry visa and should consult the relevant consulate or www.kyrgyzvisa.com for more information.
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Customers booked on the ‘Land Only’ arrangements will receive a Free Transfer, provided you arrive and depart on the tour only itinerary start and end dates. The complimentary transfers will be arranged from the Explore designated airport or train station to your trips joining point, and then back from the ending point to the designated airport or train station. Generally the airport or station that Explore have selected will be the one that is closest to the town or city where the trip starts, or the one nearest to the joining point. It will be either an airport or train station but not both.
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