Alpine Lakes, Nomads, and a Silk Road Heritage

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

Days 1-2
Bishkek’s Bazaar / Ala Archa

After exploring Bishkek and its famous Osh Bazaar, one of the best markets in all Central Asia, we stretch our legs on a hike in the forested gorge of Ala Archa Canyon.

Days 3-6
Lake Issyk-Kul / Horseback Games / Karakol Market

We explore azure-blue Lake Issyk-Kul, over 100 miles long and surrounded by mountains, visit a massive lakeside petroglyph site, and hike below the red-rock towers of the Jeti-Oguz. We’ll be welcomed by a nomad family for a delightful lunch in their ornately decorated yurt, and at a local village, we’ll sip tea from a samovar as we watch the skills of Kyrgyz horsemen at a wildly photogenic ulak tartsha event—a thrilling sight! Karakol has a traditional livestock market, and here we walk among traders of horses, sheep, and cattle. One evening, we dine with a Chinese-Dungan family—and join them to make traditional “hand-pulled” noodles.

Days 7-14
Yurt Camping / Eagle Hunter / Lake Song Kol

In the beautiful Kyzyl Suu Valley, we enjoy our special camp by a crystal-clear stream, perfect for hikes among summer jailoos (yurts) and grazing horses. Heading to our yurt camp above the wild southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, we’ll sample a lunch of traditional Kyrgyz dishes and meet a member of a family of eagle hunters to see him work with his golden eagles—we can even hold one of the birds! At remote Lake Song Kol, at nearly 10,000 feet, our hike brings us up to airy Jalgyz Karagai Pass (11,276') for panoramic views to the highest peaks in the Celestial Mountains. Depart on Day 14 from Bishkek.

Highlights

Highlights

Hike and camp in the alpine splendor of the Tien Shan—the Celestial Mountains
Witness an amazing Kyrygz horseback game (the precursor to polo)
Boat on luminous Lake Issyk-Kul, visit the famous Karakol livestock market
Meet a traditional eagle hunter, dine in family homes, learn about nomadic culture

Details

Length: 14 days
Cost From: $6195  
Arrive: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Depart: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Lodging: 7 nights hotels and guesthouses, 6 nights tents or yurt camps
Meals: All meals included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

Varied hikes of 2-6 hours; maximum altitude of 11,276 feet