Joining Day 1:
Your Bishkek airport transfer will take you directly to our joining hotel, ready for the start tomorrow. Today you will meet your crew for your tour briefing and welcome dinner.
We take delivery of our 4wds. Leaving the bright lights of the city behind we drive to the magnificent Burana Tower, an 11th Century minaret that was spared from the ravages of Chinggis Khan’s armies, making it one of the oldest structures in Central Asia. We continue onto the astounding Chong Kemin National Park, a stunning park of rivers, gorges and forests located close to the Kazakhstan border before driving south to the shores of the mighty Issyk Kol (lake).
The beautiful Issyk Kol is the second largest alpine lake in the world and bordered to the south by the lofty snow-capped Tien Shan Mountains, this region is postcard perfect. We visit a wonderful field of petroglyphs at Cholpon Ata, dating back to 1500 BC, before driving along the shoreline of Issyk Kol with distant views of the Tien Shan Mountains. We will enjoy a special section as we venture into the Semenov Gorge, a landscape of exceptional beauty with the glacially fed Aksuu River dissecting the gorge.
We drive around the eastern edge of the lake where, reputedly, the Black Plague of the 13th century had its origins, before arriving at Karakol, our base for the next few nights
Today we explore the tracks on the western side of Karakol. We shall witness a traditional eagle hunting demonstration before exploring the red rock canyonlands including the beautiful Jeti Orghuz rock formations that lies at the head of a breathtaking alpine valley that tumbles down from the Central Tien Shan Mountains. We will enjoy a “feast” in a local yurt camp before returning to Karakol, allowing us time to explore this town. Today’s 4wd action is thrilling and scenery beyond apt description.
Driving east toward the mighty Celestial Mountains, we are amongst giant 7,000 m / 23,000 ft snow-capped peaks that form part of the Chinese border. We will cross the lofty Chong Ashuu (Pass) through a barren landscape of high-altitude desert, before descending into the wild green Sary Jaz Valley with breathtaking views of the Celestial Mountains, and returning to Karakol. Todays drive is simply breathtaking.
Turning west we drive along the southern shoreline of Isskyl Kol with the Tien Shan, that forms the Chinese border, in the close distance. Our overnight stop is in Naryn, a former stop on the ancient Silk Road and spectacularly located in the shadow of Naryn Too that forms part of the Tien Shan or Celestial Mountains as they are known to the Chinese.
It’s a relatively short drive today being a mix of paved and dirt tracks as we venture south to one of the finest remaining examples of Silk Road Caravanserais, Tash Rabat. Driving the narrow valley toward Tash Rabat is utterly breathtaking, we are following the ancient Silk Road, with a lush green landscape wedged between two valley walls, dissected by a milky river that rushes past our yurt camp. We spend the remainder of the day exploring Tash Rabat and its surrounds. We spend a night here and have dinner in a large yurt, it’s wonderful stuff!
Dragging ourselves away from Tash Rabat we turn north and cross a number of 3,000 m / 10,000 ft passes including the wonderful Moldo Ashuu (pass) that has an exciting series of dirt switchbacks with amazing views of the distant valley we just ascended from. From Moldo Ashuu (pass) we remain at 3,000 m / 10,000 ft until we reach the beautiful Song Kol Lake where we enjoy a second night at a yurt camp with an epic view of the lake and surrounding mountains.
From Song Kol we descend somewhat and drive into remote Central Kyrgyzstan. We spend the day crossing mountain passes and driving remote tracks before arriving at the old mining town of Kazarman, that is closed off for the majority of the year due to snow. We stay overnight at a homestay run by the effervescent Baktygul, the dinner Baktygul and her daughter put on is amazing considering the towns remote location and limited supplies.
Leaving Kazarman it’s only a stone’s throw to our next destination but it will take us a large part of the day as we drive amongst the valleys and mountains of the region. Our destination, Arslanbob, is home to the world’s last remaining ancient walnut groves and is scenically located under the Babash Ata Mountain Range. This village is unique in Kyrgyzstan as it’s home to the mostly Uzbek people. Tonight, we have a homestay with an Uzbek family and enjoy a traditional Uzbek meal.
Descending from Arslanbob we hit the main Osh – Bishkek Highway that hugs the border with Uzbekistan. Turning off the highway we reach the UNESCO listed Sary Chelek Biosphere Reserve mid-afternoon allowing us time to explore this stunningly beautiful region of lakes and forested mountains. We will spend two nights in the village of Arkit at the gates to the nature reserve.
Often referred to as the most beautiful place in Kyrgyzstan, and that’s really saying something, we spend a full day exploring the lakes around Sary Chelek and take a boat trip out onto the lake affording us amazing views of the 4,000 m peaks of the Chatkal Range that form part of the Western Tien Shan Mountains
We make our way through this epic landscape back to the highway, and into an incredibly barren landscape that winds and twists its way to Toktogul. We get wonderful views of the incredible azure-coloured waters of Toktogul Reservoir before arriving at Chychkan Gorge where we spend a night at a lodge with a remarkable balcony that hangs out over the raging Chychkan River, just below!
Continuing north we cross our last significant pass of the trip, the 3,500 m / 11,500 ft Too Ashuu before descending into the capital of Bishkek. We will enjoy our final dinner where we can reminisce on what has been an extraordinary 4WD adventure to a remote part of the world rarely visited by the tourist hordes
Spend a couple more days in Bishkek or fly home, the choice is yours.