Heart of Central Asia: Tour "Inner Tien Shan" with Alexander Vinogradov

Heart of Central Asia: Tour "Inner Tien Shan" with Alexander Vinogradov

Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, Issyk-Kul region, Naryn region, Chuy region, Kleppjarnsreykir
Almost 200,000 sq. km of magnificent mountains, lakes and steppes that have nurtured a people with a unique cultural identity that has been carried through the centuries. We are going on an expedition to the inner Tien Shan to see, touch and feel it.

Once upon a time, my mother told me about Kyrgyzstan and about the mighty Tien Shan, covered with snow-capped peaks. A characteristic radiance appeared in her eyes, clouded by memory - one of the most precious treasures was being retrieved from the depths of memory. And when such a dissonant name as Kyrgyzstan sounded to our ears, for me it was always something more than a republic that had suffered the collapse of the Soviets, with endless revolutions, guest workers and a weak economy, riddled with corruption.

Still, Kyrgyzstan is a big mystery. The tourist flow is not established, Instagram does not please with the abundance of photographs, the tourism office does not have an active marketing strategy, and even the official website functions sluggishly and is stingy with catalogs. Meanwhile, the Tien Shan is not only one of the seven largest mountain ranges in the world, but also abounds in natural and landscape diversity, which makes it one of the most beautiful places on our planet. Which, by the way, was noted by UNESCO, and in 2016 the Western Tien Shan was included in the World Natural Heritage List.

Almost 200,000 sq. km of magnificent mountains, lakes and steppes that have nurtured a people with a unique cultural identity that has been carried through the centuries. We are going on an expedition to the inner Tien Shan to see, touch and feel it.

Day 1: Legacy of the Soviets

As a rule, an overnight flight is not favorable for first impressions, so we did not have big plans for Bishkek. Behind us are 13 tedious hours of travel from the carefully closed doors of our home to the exit from the baggage claim area of ​​Manas International Airport, where a crowd of taxi drivers, obsessed with competitive zeal, is agitated. After sluggish bargaining, we put ourselves in the hands of the most zealous and for 600 soms we go to the hotel, towards adventure and a sunny Kyrgyz morning.


Bishkek is a city where it becomes clear that architecture is not what is worth visiting this beautiful country for. In general, people have settled here since ancient times, caravans of the Great Silk Road passed through, and in 1825 they even erected a fortress with a large garrison here. Probably somewhere in the wilds of the dusty streets of the city, their time-worn traces have been preserved. But still, the city met its golden age under the name Frunze, being an exemplary capital of the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The city center is imbued with an ineradicable spirit of nostalgia, firmly entrenched in monumental buildings, wide squares, spacious avenues and massive monuments, endlessly striving towards an unattainable bright future, dedicated to the eternal virtues of Soviet promotion. The city bears its patina of decline and stagnation, like the attributes of grief, alienated from the great mother. But not everything is so sad. In spring, the center of Bishkek blooms with numerous parks, and the long-awaited tentacle of capitalism blooms with glamorous facades on the main streets.

Hotel Navat

Of the many hotels in the widest price range, we choose the Navat Hotel for its location and unique design. In the comfort of authentic interiors made of bright felt carpets and the warm light of amber lamps, the receptionist oozes the sweet molasses of oriental hospitality. Everything here is wonderful and worthy of all praise. But check-in is only at 14:00, so we walk softly along the felt corridors in rustling shoe covers and head off in search of food.

Restaurant Navat

What should every self-respecting traveler experience in a new country? A woman and a kitchen) But let’s leave the beautiful Kyrgyz women alone for now, and immediately move on to tasting national dishes. On the advice of our cordial administrator, we go to a restaurant of national cuisine, part of the same brand chain with the hotel, with the same name. However, a small surprise awaits us here; the menu is really replete with national dishes, only Uzbek cuisine. The cook is also Uzbek - which they tell us with pride, since Uzbek cooks are held in high esteem. Can you blame them for such an omission... Uzbek cuisine is truly magnificent! I recommend tasting samsa with cheese and herbs.

Mystic Spa

Returning to women, why not surrender yourself into their tender, caring hands before a difficult and full of hardships and benefits of civilization trek to the mountains) From the abundance of massage parlors, we chose Mystic Spa due to its convenient location. There was also a Geisha salon nearby, but it positioned itself as a “VIP Pleasure Center,” which made me think that I, as a representative of the fairer sex, would not be welcome there. The cost of an hour of therapeutic massage is 1400 soms (~14 euros), and everything from the interiors to the quality of procedures is at the highest level. The last sip of comfort - greedily and in one gulp...

...a delicious dinner, a hot shower, a sweet dream on snow-white sheets. I dream of snow on the peaks of the Tien Shan...

Day 2: 38 Parrots

On the morning of May 25, after a wonderful breakfast at the hotel, we met the group, which included only 5 people:

Alexander Vinogradov - guide and organizer, a big fan and expert on Kyrgyzstan, a native of St. Petersburg;
Bek Bulat - (which means Iron Prince) our Kyrgyz driver and repeated savior;
Pavel is a tireless traveler and simply a wonderful person from the Moscow region;
Maxim- my old husband and new travel companion;
And me - you know me :)

Today our path lies in the protected surroundings of the high-mountain Lake Sonkel, located at an altitude of 3016 meters above sea level in the Naryn region. The drive is far and long, so along the way we will have stops at various interesting, iconic and simply beautiful places.

Burana Tower

We start with one of the most significant cultural and archaeological monuments of past years, the Burana Tower, listed by UNESCO, located near the city of Tokmak on the territory of the Buranovsky settlement. The tower is a restored and reconstructed minaret 25 meters high, remaining from the original 48. It was once part of a vast complex of buildings, a model of which can be seen in the nearby museum. You could get in via a bridge located at the level of the second floor. Now an iron staircase leads to the entrance, from where you can already see the surroundings. For the most inquisitive, there is the opportunity to climb to the top of the tower using a narrow spiral staircase inside. It's quite crowded there, so it's impossible to pass oncoming people, and the oppressive darkness and steepness of the steps give an incomparable feeling of claustrophobia. But on the upper platform, an expanse opens up, stretching into the distance to the very spurs of the mountains.

Museum of the Buranovsky settlement

The tower is part of an archaeological and architectural complex, which also includes a museum and an archaeological zone. The museum presents ancient finds collected throughout the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan. Traces of the earliest settlers can be seen here; well-preserved jewelry, parts of weapons and harnesses of the caravans of the Great Silk Road, as well as numerous objects of religious symbolism, including ancient Buddhist statues. In the open air there is a collection of carved cenotaphs that were used in the burial of representatives of the nobility, important, rich and respected Kyrgyz, as well as examples of massive stone millstones used in water mills.

Kajerta Waterfall

Then our path lies into the mountains - serpentine mountain roads stretch upward, drowning in a pale haze. We make a stop and make our way upstream of the stormy river to the Kazherta waterfall. It is located at an altitude of 2600 above sea level; falls into the gorge in a powerful stream, noisy, swollen from spring floods. The height of the waterfall is 25-30 meters.

38 Parrots

And here is the last Teskey-torpok pass, height 3133 meters, people touchingly call it 38 parrots. A picturesque serpentine winds towards it along the mountainside, not too reminiscent of a boa constrictor (the length of which in parrots is well known to us), but more like a long, winding scar. Here we freeze. We push the remnants of city smog out of our lungs; straighten our shoulders (we would like wings); It's time to rebuild - to allow the soul, compressed in the stuffy grip of everyday life, to follow the gaze, expand upward and into the distance.

Yurt camp

We get to the lake before dark. At this altitude, the grass is still yellow in autumn; real spring has not reached here. Soon the sun will fill the chromophores of the grass with light and countless herds of horses will flock to the pastures of lush green meadows, followed by tourists. But so far, on the vast deserted coast, you can only see 2 yurt camps, one of which welcomes us as the first guests. The yurts are insulated on the outside, and a stove-stove is installed inside, since at night the temperature can drop to zero. Contrary to the traditional equipment, here for the comfort of tourists there are real beds with thick blankets) A little absurd, especially if you imagine that the yurt will suddenly be carried away by some powerful gust of wind... and here in a basin framed by mountains, on the shore of a lake whose mirror the surface spreads out for many kilometers, in the middle of an open field, over which the trills of wild birds hover, and not a soul around... you sleep on your bed))) However, this idea is purely speculative and, of course, no wind will carry the yurt anywhere. Let it howl outside while we snooze in warmth and comfort. The next day we were promised a horseback ride.

Day 3: Wild Horror

A frosty morning licks your cheeks with a cold tongue. The firewood in the potbelly stove has long since burned out and the air has managed to cool down to the outside temperature, where the grass is covered with a silvery patina of drizzle. The toilet is unpretentious in a rustic way, leaning on the outskirts like an empty homeless person; and the water in the moidodyr washbasin is painfully fresh - if you pull your nose, you’ll get a couple of icy drops. Invigorates. The air is transparent and clean, there is space all around, silence, only birds and simple greetings. Warm up with hot tea. This day is reserved for rest and adaptation to the altitude - we do not need either of those things. Give us, dear man, some entertainment and impressions, saddle your horses!

Wild Horror

The owners have only two horses, and the herds have not been raised for grazing; there is nowhere to get others. So the horse route is cancelled, leaving only rides on a first-come, first-served basis. The first horse for a husband is peaceful, obedient, sensitive to the rider, a joy and not a horse. The second one is restive, dark in color, they caught him from free grazing, saddled him, he skids, turning his face up. The first is called Schoolboy, the second is Horror. The owners say “Dangerous” about him and don’t let him off the hook. So we go, like children on lead, walking along the lake. We walked for an hour, chatted with the owner’s son, Russian is not his native language, we understand each other through words. I ask you to let the horse go, but they won’t let you in: “It’s dangerous, it’s dangerous.” Boring. Once again I look at the guide sadly - Let me go! And he lets go...
And at this moment my horse, my wild, frantic Horror takes off into a mad gallop. Oh, how aptly someone gave him a name. Doesn't recognize the rider, doesn't listen to words or the bit. My horse starts galloping madly - I stop, catch my breath, and then rush again, so that my hands crack with pain, my cramped fingers, white from tension, tremble. I let go of the bow, swearing, pulling the damn rein as hard as I can, and I’m no worse off than a horse. He stood up, pranced in place, leading with a wildly crazy eye, with hoarse breathing flakes of foam flying from his mouth. Untamed as a force of nature, my beautiful wild Terror, I surrender. Taking advantage of the respite, I dismount and lead him back by the reins on unsteady, shaking legs. That's it, ride along. A will without shackles and without barriers.

Sonkyol Petroglyphs

Let's balance the day with something calm, for example a small expedition to the surrounding mountains with an exploratory overtone. The owner's teenage son Azamat volunteered to guide us. A nice fellow, sociable and kind, he runs ahead to find ancient rock paintings for us - geoglyphs. Among the hills covered with brown grass, layers of ocher-red and obsidian-black rock structures burst to the surface like dragon scales. According to visual geological assessment, this is volcanic basalt. On its flat, shiny surface you can find images of animals (mostly goats or roe deer), hunters with spears, and even something strange that looks like a mushroom or a flying saucer (hello ufologists!). Through cracks in the clay soil, low inflorescences of purple gentian and canary heads of mountain tulips, so miniature that even the wife of a marmot would disdain such an offering, make their way to the light. From above, the entire plane of the Sonkel valley, bordered by a collar of mountains, is visible, with green, blue and white merging into each other, discolored by a whitish haze, like the well-washed trousers of a clean poor man. The northern part of the lake is still frozen - the white color belongs to it, but it will soon recede under the pressure of the hot summer sun. Perhaps it's worth visiting him.

Song of Ice

Lake Sonkel, or Sonkul, has an area of ​​278 km² and dimensions of 27 × 16 km. On its southern side, where the white caps of the yurt camps nestle, spring has come into its own and fisherbirds are soaring and buzzing over the ice-free blue expanse. We drive along the circle of the eastern side, past fields turning yellow with flowers until autumn and come across unsteady swampy hummocks. The car can't move any further. We would like to walk on the ice crust, but it won’t work, tons of ice crumbled into tiny fractals, he walked around in a farewell spring dance; Wonderful waltzes swirl around the water to the ringing orchestra of crumbling ice floes. Captivating unearthly music. Sit and listen, listen.

Day 4: Long road, guest house

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