This journey through the mythical Tian Shan Mountain Range, known as the Heavenly Mountains, offers uncharacteristically turquoise lakes, rolling mountains just about to touch the sky, and valleys so eccentric in beauty that even the best camera could not capture. With an average elevation of 2,988 meters above sea level – 93% of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous terrain – the country has become the ambition of mountaineers and mountaineers. Here the nomadic culture and its ancient traditions are revered even by the youngest. It is the ultimate destination for a heart thirsty for adventure. Despite having daily flights with a stopover in Istanbul (for around 600 euros, round trip), not requiring a visa, having a new tourist infrastructure – a free service of Safe Tourism: information points of the Kyrgyz police, which even organizes excursions and guided tours— and the possibility of renting equipment trekking and camping, tourism has barely arrived. However, it is enough to visit it once to want to return as soon as possible. Nature is everything in this great territory. The rules are simple: Kyrgyz people adapt to nature, never the other way around.
This tour of the jewel of Central Asia starts with a 40-minute flight from Bishkek-Osh, followed by a five-hour drive to the city of Jalal-Abad, until reaching the biosphere reserve of Sary-Chelek, home to six stunning lakes, mountainous taiga, and alpine meadows.
Wild horses by the Yushniy Aftalun river
The route of the heavenly mountains begins with a path of 12 kilometers heading south through the ravine of the Yushniy Aftalun River. A jungle mass and countless wild horses grazing star in the landscape. Nomads flock to the tall grasses of this region during the warmer months. There is always a reason to relax and join in the Kyrgyz hospitality; The constant invitations to black tea and bread with milk cream will never be lacking. For this first stretch, nothing better than camping on the shore of the Uyalma river and wait for the next day.
Lake Sary-Chelek, pure beauty
The second stage is the hardest: ascent to the Kuldambes pass (2,750 meters), with more than 1,000 meters of unevenness from the tent. A two-hour hike through a grazing meadow—Jailoos, yet another wonder of nature— teeming with cows, horses, and taigans. Ancient race without equal (already mentioned in chronicles of the Middle Ages), the taigans are in danger of extinction and are characterized by their strong hunting instinct. The subsequent ascent, meandering, lasts about five hours, but the panorama is breathtaking: a green blanket undulates on the horizon. Landscape dotted with snow fields and huge valleys. Who will be able to bear such beauty? You can no longer see the starting point, but you can see the destination. Descent in the direction of the Stay-Ashuu. The descent is gentle until reaching an endless jungle that, without loss, will lead to the lago Sary-Chelek and its indecipherable color. Almost eight kilometers of water surrounded by walnut forests and gorges, the perfect setting for camping.
Rest at Kashka Suu
The third day begins with four tributaries that must be crossed on foot. There is no escape: it is either that or find a horse. The path is full of wild raspberries. After an easy climb to Makmal pass (2,654 meters), with a view of the lake that will be unforgettable, bordering the Kyzyl-Suu River and descend through its unique glacial moraines, the track opens up to Kashka Suu, home of beekeepers and a place for a well-deserved rest.
A replenishing plate of plov
The fourth day is, without a doubt, one of the most relaxed and entertaining days: three hours of crossing following the riverbed Kara-Suu until reaching the lago Karakamish. The wildest nature gurgles in the landscape. Such a pure aquamarine color has never been seen. The path that runs alongside it leads to a field of yurts. Kyrgyzstan is a country made with care. The yurts are built hand in hand with just three materials: wood, fabrics and lambskin as knots. National proud; its flag shows the roof of the yurt through which the sun’s rays filter through. Nomads ask for photos and pose satisfied with their ak-kalpak, traditional hats. Nothing better than entering the yurt fields to delight in the Kyrgyz welcome. The traveler will find a great plate of plov: a mountain of rice, carrot and beef. There are also the usual ones: black tea, bread and watermelon. And it is not surprising: in Kyrgyzstan the guest is the manifestation of God, hence the hospitality touches the highest. In the afternoon, there is only one duty: to rest and prepare for dinner. They call it happiness here.
The Peaks of Min-Teke
Few paths are as special as the one in the next stage: reaching the Kuturma pass (2,446 meters) and descend to the Iyri-Kol, another crystal clear lake. The zigzag climb does not admit of confusion. Upon reaching the top of the pass, the peaks of Min-Teke they are distinguished monumental. As always, descending the mountain is also exhausting. Something that happens frequently is to find nomads leading huge herds of horses in the most unique places. Always ready to teach Kyrgyz good work and skills, finishing the route on horseback can be the finishing touch for an unforgettable trip. “Txuptxup ”, and the horse will start off. It will be enough to shout“So!” and it will stop. In the distance, Iyri-Kol and the murmur of its warm waters. The peasants reap. In the evening, a few sips of kymyz (fermented mare’s milk), natural remedy to live as long as you want. No one would want to end their trip at this point.
The stealth and altitude of the heavenly mountains motivate a state of perception proper to the deepest meditation. In the purest literary style of Peter Matthiessen: one woman goes on a trip and another returns. This is how it should be.
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