Remote Treks in Kyrgyzstan
If snow-capped peaks, creaking glaciers, sparkling streams, rushing rivers and alpine forests are not enough for you, then consider the adventure factor. Exodus has been running treks to Kyrgyzstan for 20 years; in that time the experience has changed enormously. Perhaps some of the adventures in the early 90s were a bit too exciting and certainly the standard of service on trek has improved. We no longer need to ask clients to collect yak dung so we can cook dinner – or even to peel the carrots – and the tents don’t usually leak! However, the sense of adventure and wilderness is just as it was way back then.
The first trips were in 1991 when there was a coup in Moscow. We had no idea what was happening and whether we should dash out of the country or not. We didn’t and all was fine! We had a short-wave radio and were kept informed by BBC World Service as all Russian radio stations were blocked.
During the first ever Tien Shan trek we used horses to transport the tents and food but the guys in charge of the horses could not manage to load them properly. We had a thunderstorm the first day and finally (at dusk) some of the horses turned up with scraps of food and only a few tents. The men had buried the other tents so they would not get stolen but we never found them again! The rest of the food caught up with us five days later and was rotten. We begged food from local Kyrgyz and check posts and ate a lot of Alpen with local milk (which had somehow come from UK as emergency rations and they had managed to carry this on the horses) with local milk.
Our first ever trip to the Pamirs was also a bit of an adventure. We had to walk for hours in the rain only to find that there was no food and the tents were terrible. I wrote a note to the local operator that night and sent it over the pass by horse. Next morning they miraculously arrived by helicopter bringing food and whizzed me up into the skies to discuss the problems (with vodka of course!). Things did improve after that but then we had the ‘marmot incident’ where one of the porters tried to trap a marmot (as he wanted its fur for a hat). Some of the trekking group saw this and made him release it.
Helicopters have often played a part in my Kyrgyzstan travels. We have used them to take us to a new location when the itinerary changed unexpectedly whilst out on trek, and to deliver food supplies when roads were blocked. And of course, when the waters of the Inylcheck River rapidly rose to an unexpected level preventing us from crossing, the trusty helicopter came to rescue us.
Once we could not cross a pass so we turned back and eventually a truck came to transport us to the next valley where the tents and cook team were. We were stopped on some tiny back road at midnight as the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan had decided to have a meeting in a yurt encampment in the same valley and the police were suspicious of us! We eventually managed to convince them that we were harmless.
Today, things can still be a little unpredictable apart from the trekking which is always most enjoyable. When in the Tien Shan, it is unlikely that you will see any other trekking groups, although you might see a few climbers focussed on the summit of Khan Tengri or Pobeda peak or winging their way to base camp by Russian helicopter. Trekking in some of the most beautiful valleys of the Pamirs, where the colours of the earth are every shade of red and green, rusty brown and silvery grey, you may find climbers heading for Ak-su or the peaks of Kara-su Valley.
Our porters are often young lads passionate about the mountains who use their holiday time to work with our groups. Their delight at being there is seldom less than ours. Add tasty traditional dishes, local bread and home made cream and jam plus the odd vodka or fermented mare’s milk (should this be your tipple) and maybe Kyrgyzstan is starting to sound enticing.
Kyrgyzstan is a huge country; the Pamirs and the Tien Shan are at either end so you could go completely wild and do both treks! The dates fit and the scenery in the two places is quite different. The majestic Tien Shan Mountains border China whilst the Pamirs border ancient Silk Road sites and Samarkand. You will be made to feel very welcome and I very much doubt you will be disappointed.
Suzie Grant, Exodus Tour Leader