Land of mountains and lakes - gorgeous nature, fantastic people, great adventures!
From their majestic ice citadels to their sweeping verdant valleys, the mountains are the very soul of Kyrgyzstan. Fearless mountaineers pit their skills against peaks of over 7,000 metres while, far below, day-trippers stroll in flower-strewn alpine valleys. Crystal clear lakes reflect the ever-changing sky and families set up summer yurt camps on the jailoo, high mountain pastures.
The arms of two great mountain ranges embrace over 90 per cent of the country: the Tien Shan ("Heavenly Mountains") stretch for 2,500 km from east to west, while the magnificent melee of snowbound peaks which make up the Tajik Pamir spills its dramatic, arid slopes into southern Kyrgyzstan. Over 30 per cent of the country is blanketed in permanent snow and ice.
Kyrgyzstan's mountains are a playground for climbers. Peak-baggers head for the three giants over 7,000 metres.
Straddling the Kazakh border in the east, Khan Tengri ("Prince of Spirits") is the favourite pin-up - rising to 7,010 metres, its perfect pyramid summit of marble and fluted ridges burns in the sunset with the colours of hot coal, earning itself the nickname Kan Too, "blood mountain".
Vast and bulky Jengish Choko'su, known by its Soviet name, Peak Pobeda, is Kyrgyzstan's highest mountain at 7,439 metres. In the Pamir, Kuh-i-Garmo (Peak Lenin) soars to 7,134 metres and is famous among mountaineers as the easiest "seven-thousander" in the world. Off-limits in Soviet times, nearby ranges boast scores of unclimbed peaks, many of which do not require technical skills or much experience.
The mountains encompass a huge variety of beautiful landscapes: alpine valleys of heart-stopping green plummet from glistening glaciers to noisy rivers which leap over massive boulders; wide, silent valleys are home to yaks, birds of prey and rare Marco Polo sheep; and forests of ancient walnut, fragrant juniper and elegant Tian-Shan fir cloak the slopes.
You come away with a heart full of stunning panoramas but also more than that. Maybe it's the thin clear air or the long hours of sunlight, maybe the Silk Road relics and ancient petroglyphs you stumble upon, maybe the bewitching beliefs in life-enhancing rivers; but you take away a feeling of wellbeing, as though revived by the magic and mystique of the mountains.
Altyn Arashan Valley
This is probably the most visited site by foreign tourists visiting Karakol and is reknowned for its beauty. The Altyn Arashan ("Golden Spa") valley leads up from the Ak Suu valley, just South of the village of Teplokluenchka, to a Spartan "hot spring" complex. The road is not an easy one, very steep in places.
Barskoon and Tamga are twin Kyrgyz and Russian villages at the mouth of the Barskoon valley - which has an impressive waterfall and is a very popular base for trekking and horseriding. The 11th century scholar, Mahumud al-Kashgari (also known as Barskhani) was a native of this area. He is best known as the author of the first Turkic language comparative dictionary, which he wrote whilst living in Baghdad in 1072-1074. His map of the then known world has Barskoon at the center of the world.
Batken is situated in the extreme Southwest of the Republic, and consists of four mountainous regions, with altitudes ranging from 400 to 5,621m. The province was created in 1999 after incursions by armed militants of the Islamic Movement for Uzbekistan seeking to cross Kyrgyz territory between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Its administrative center is the town of Batken.
Jety Orguz Mountains
25 km South West of the town of Karakol is a lush valley with some striking red sandstone rock formations (the "seven Bulls" from which the valley takes its name).
There is a legend on how the rock formation was created. A Kyrgyz Khan stole the wife of another, who sought advice from a "wise man" about how he could reap his revenge. The wise man was reluctant to give advice but in the end relented, telling the Khan that he should kill his wife and give the body to his rival - "Let him own a dead wife, not a living one".
125 km from Bishkek, these canyons stretch for nearly 200km, into the Eastern Kyrgyz Range. The canyons have romantic names such as "Grand Canyon", "Bobsleigh"and "Skyscraper". To view the entirety of the Konorchak Canyons would take years - but it is possible to see some spectacular scenery with a few days' exploration.
They were formed about one and a half to two million years ago, and since that time erosion by wind and water has transformed a simple plateau into gigantic stone pillars, some of which are 400-500 meters high.
There are a number of beautiful valleys in the Kungey Ala-Too Mountains (The "Sunny" Ala-Too Mountains) on the Northern side of Lake Issyk Kul. The largest and best known of these are Grigorievka and Semyenovka - some 30 kilometers beyond Chalpon Ata as you travel from Bishkek. The area is criss-crossed by trekking routes - some of which pass over the mountains towards the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan.
Here, from the end of June until the end of September, sits a gathering of yurts which offer a wide range of services. The "yurt village" is marketed as an ethnological experience.
The Suusamyr Valley
The Suusamyr valley is a high steppe plateau - 2200 meters a. s. l. - that although only some 160 kilometers from Bishkek is also one of the more remote and rarely visited regions of Kyrgyzstan. Although it is on the other side of the massive Kyrgyz Range from Bishkek and the Chui valley, it is part of the Chui administrative region.
There are signs of early settlement dating back to between the 9th and 11th centuries. In 1992, the region was hit by a massive earthquake - reaching 9 on the Richter scale - and most of the villages suffered considerable damage, but fortunately there no casualities - a feature of the low population density.