Alpine Lakes, Eagle Hunters, and Silk Road Heritage with Hashmat Singh

Overview

Kyrgyzstan’s landscape of alpine peaks and lakes is a spectacular—yet seldom visited—paradise for hikers. With Hashmat Singh, Trip Leader extraordinaire, we’ve created an active hiking adventure that explores this mountain realm and its fascinating and vibrant cultures. Our day hikes bring us into the dramatic red-rock canyons of Jeti-Oguz, through the verdant meadows and to glacial lakes above Kyzyl Suu, and into the Chong Kemin Valley, which covers an incredible range of ecosystems and terrains. We traverse lush gorges, hike below the lofty peaks of the ‘Celestial Mountains’ and to the shores of magnificent lakes—including massive Lake Issyk-Kul and stunning Lake Song Kol, one of the most idyllic settings on the planet.

We’ll also delve into culture throughout our journey, as we experience life on a jailoo, or summer pasture, spend a few nights in a traditional yurt, and visit the lively animal market at Karakol, where locals buy and sell horses, sheep and goats. Witness the amazingly athletic Kyrgyz horseback games up-close and meet eagle hunters to see this thrilling ancient art in action. This fascinating crossroads, once a vibrant link on the Silk Road, also offers a rich culinary tapestry, with traditions that reach both east and west, as well as back in time. At our meals with local families we’ll taste dishes that have been influenced by Russians, Turks, Chinese, Mongols, and Tartars. Join us for an exhilarating Silk Road adventure with beloved leader Hashmat Singh—he’s been captivated by the beauty of Kyrgyzstan’s terrain and the welcoming nature of her people, who are relaxed, open, and eager to share their world.

Itinerary at a Glance

*Please Note: Some departures are in reverse order. See Detailed Itinerary for more information.

Day 1
Bishkek’s Bustling Bazaar

We meet and transfer to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital and largest city. Settled in the 6th century, it’s filled with pretty parks, graceful mosques, and a lively restaurant scene. We take in the rhythm of life at the famous Osh Bazaar, where locals buy and sell food, clothing, hardware, carpets, and more.

Day 2
Stunning Views and a Look at the Past

It’s a day of spectacular views as we hike past rushing waterfalls, through scented juniper forests and mountainside meadows. We learn some startling Kyrgyz history and view impressive Soviet architecture.

Day 3
Ancient Architecture and Music

We visit the striking 80-foot Burana Tower, view ancient gravestones called balbals, and hike up a mountain for scenic panoramas. This evening we gather around a campfire for drinks and are introduced to Kyrgyz culture with an evening of traditional music.

Day 4
A Great Salt Lake / Mysterious Petroglyphs

The north shore of Lake Issyk-Kul is the center of the area’s resort zone popular with both travelers and locals. Boating gives us a unique perspective on this sparkling paradise, often called the Pearl of Kyrgyzstan, where Silk Road traders once stopped to rest. We search for petroglyphs, have lunch with a local family, and pass by clear streams, meadows, and roving herds of horses.

Day 5
Seven Bulls Hike and the Amazing Horse Games

Our hike takes us through verdant grasslands and past shepherds’ yurts to a panoramic lookout. We explore an extraordinary geological formation, the famed red sandstone Seven Bulls rocks, and visit with a family in their home. Today’s highlight is a demonstration by the amazingly athletic Kyrgyz horsemen as they participate in a wild, no-holds-barred competition.

Day 6
Karakol’s Animal Bazaar / Dungan Dinner

Today we get in on the action at Karakol’s famous animal market—old-style commerce at its best, with buyers touching and evaluating the horses, sheep, and cattle—and visit bazaars to discover everything from Soviet memorabilia to beautiful Kyrgyz carpets and handicrafts. We visit with traditional Dungans—Muslim people of Chinese origin who immigrated to the region—and share a delicious home-cooked banquet with them.

Days 7-8
Comfy Camping / Pristine Kyzyl Suu

Our camp at Kyzyl Suu is comfortably furnished with tents and cots, and provides the perfect base for hiking. We step into the nomadic world, leaving everyday life far behind as we journey across lush alpine meadows and into the solitude of humbling mountains.

Day 9
Yurt Camping / Fairy Tale Canyon / Family Farm Visit

We head for the wilder southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, visit Fairy Tale Canyon with its remarkable red-and-ochre ridges, share a lunch of traditional Kyrgyz dishes at a local family’s home, and hike to a beautiful panoramic spot at Lake Issyk-Kul. Our yurt camp is near a family farm where we visit with locals who show us around. We overnight in Jaichy yurt camp and enjoy dinner with a traditional musical performance.

Day 10
Eagle Hunting / Panoramic Hikes

Today we meet with an eagle hunter and learn about this ancient tradition, which was especially important in the days before people had rifles for hunting game. Have your camera ready for the moment when you can put on leather glove and actually hold one of these magnificent creatures. We hike to Kara-Choku Mountain and back, past waterfalls, with a spectacular panorama and a picnic lunch along the way.

Days 11-12
Yurt Making Village and Camping on a Jailoo

We head for a remote area of the Lake Song Kol, a beautiful place to experience life on an idyllic jailoo, or summer pasture. Here we meet shepherds and can participate in their everyday life: milking mares, tending cattle, or making traditional Kyrgyz milk products like kymyz (fermented mare’s milk). At the “Village of Yurt Makers” we visit a family and learn about this essential element of Kyrgyz nomadic culture. Hiking to Jalgyz-Karagai Pass gives us a stunning panorama of Lake Song Kol. We overnight both days at Jaman Echki yurt camp, where nighttime stargazing is spectacular.

Day 13
Felt-Making

We leave Lake Song Kol—gleaming like a brilliant sapphire—and head to Kochkor, where we have lunch at a family’s house and see a demonstration of the traditional art of felt-making. This ancient art is not only beautiful; it’s also vitally important to the Kyrgyz people, as felt is used for making everything from shoes to yurts. We transfer to Bishkek, where our festive Farewell Dinner includes traditional music.

Day 14
Farewell

We bid a fond farewell to Kyrgyzstan and transfer to the airport in Bishkek for our flights home, which depart early in the morning.

Highlights

Highlights

Hike and camp in the beautiful, nomadic world of Kyzyl Suu Valley at the base of the Tien Shan—the Celestial Mountains
Experience authentic yurt camping in Jaichy Valley and at Lake Song Kol
Witness amazing horseback games—the precursor to polo—of the nomadic Kyrgyz culture
Savor traditional cuisine with a Chinese-Muslim Dungan family
Follow the ancient Silk Road to luminous Lake Issyk-Kul
Learn about the ancient art of falconry and the extraordinary skills of men who hunt with golden eagles

Details

Length: 14 days
Cost From: $5995  
Arrive: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Depart: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Lodging: 7 nights in hotels and guest houses, 6 nights in tents or yurt camps
Meals: All meals are included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

Varied hikes of 2-5 hours; maximum altitude about 11,300 feet.

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