|West Tien Shan|
Western Tien-Shan consists of Kurshaminski, Chatkalski, Pskemski, Ugamski ranges. Known for the unique extensive walnut forests, which used to grow in abundance over the slopes of western Tien-Shan. This is the area with a number of excellent opportunities for relaxing horse back riding and leisure trekking.
Sary Chelek biosphere reserve and lake
Located in the west of the country the Sary Chelek biosphere reserve, lies in a relatively small mountain hollow in the Chatkal Mountains. It was founded in 1959 to protect local varied flora and fauna. More than 1000 species of plants, 160 species of birds and 34 species of mammals such as deer, bear, lynx, wolves, foxes, badgers, porcupine and even snow leopards can be found in this relatively small, unspoilt national park.
Turquoise lake of Sary Chelek is also located here and set at 1873 meters above sea level. Measured by 7.5 kilometres long and 350 m.- 1500 m. across the lake is 234 m. deep at its deepest. Originally the lake was resulted from the collapse of two ridges of mountains which blocked the river and held back the waters. But there are also a group of scholars that think it resulted of a shift along a fault line some 2000 years ago.
There are also a number of some other smaller lakes to the south-east of Sary Chelek, they are: Kyla-Kol, Iyri-Kol, Aram-Kol, Cherek-Kol, and Bakaly-Kol. But Sary Chelek is regarded as the "gem" - the "Jewel in the Crown".
Some fishing is permitted in the rivers feeding the lake, but not on the lake itself. Swimming is not allowed. Hunting is absolutely prohibited within the reserve.
There is an extensive network of paths and horse routes through the area. Several of the trails lead to the lake and have been used by rangers and local people for many years. Some routes start in the buffer zone around the reserve, for example from the tourbaza at Arkyt village. One day hikes are also possible. There are 3-5 day routes, which cross the Chatkal Mountain range to Talas in northern Kyrgyzstan. The maps describing the area are available from us.
There is also a museum situated in a building next to the Reserve administration building with stuffed animals, insects and birds, examples of different spieces of trees and it's timber. Labelling and descriptions are in Russian.
Access to the park is strictly controlled and camping is not allowed. In the local communities it is possible to find accommodation in yurts or guesthouses.
The local communities offer a variety of services, and there are a number of workshops producing local handicrafts: felt, leather, wood, silver as well as national costume, musical instruments, horse tackle and objects of everyday use.
On the way to Sary Chelek is Uium Tash - renowned as an ancient place of judgment. If a person who had committed lots of sins would try to pass through, he/she would get stuck, squeezed or crushed but a pure person would pass through unharmed. If someone was suspected of lying or stealing, they were asked to visit this place - and the fear of this potential experience could inspire sufficient to lead to full confessions.
Set at the altitude over 3000 meters above sea level and hiding in the Ferghana range, there is the remote, small plateau of Saimaly-Tash. The name means something like "patterned or embroidered stone" and refers to the fact that here is a gallery of thousands of stone paintings - petroglyphs which are littered around the landscape.
There are around 11000 drawings scattered over two moraine slopes which are three kilometres long. The first has about 9500 stones. In the middle is a small pond which is considered as holy and is known to have been used as a site for meditations by local shamans.
The drawings are dated to 2000 BC and only some to 3000 BC. It is thought that they represent votive offerings brought by locals from the valleys to be nearer the heavens. There are images of animals, carts, agricultural activities such as ploughing, traditional ritual dances, all without any background. The number of solar images suggest that sun-worship was the common religion in the region.
Saimaly-Tash was explored and became known to the outside world in 1902, when the Kyrgyzstan officials built a road from the Ferghana Valley to the township of Naryn. One of the Russian cartographers, Nikolai Hludov, became fascinated by stories he heard from the local shepherds about "painted stones" in the mountains, and organized a small expedition to investigate. He reported about his discovery to the Archeology Society in Tashkent and later large expedition was organized to excavate the site. However, the area remained relatively unexplored until the 1950's.
It is not that easy to reach that destination. The road from Djalal-Abad takes around 2-3 hours along a rough track in 4WD vehicles. But the vehicle cannot reach the spot and from some point you will need to continue the rest of the way (about 10 kilometres) on foot.
Besh Aral bio-diversity reserve
The Besh-Aral bio-diversity reserve is situated in the Chatkal Valley, 340 km from Jalal Abad town. It is large mountain region with undisturbed wild landscapes, rushing rivers, picturesque alpine meadows and clear mountain air, and a great diversity of plants and animals.
The reserve has a total area of 63200 hectares and was created to preserve the habitat and to restore the populations of several endangered species found in the Western Tien Shan. In particular the Menzbir's marmot and the Kauffmann and Greig tulips. There is a wide variety of both plants and animals, due to the different relief, remoteness and difficult access. Although an ancient way of the Great Silk Road passed through the Chatkal valley. Access to the valley is over either the Kara-Buura pass (3305 m), or the Chapchim pass (2841 m) by gravel roads that are often impassable during winter and spring time of the year.
Deciduous forests here comprise of walnut, apple, pear, almond, maple, hawthorn and also an undergrowth of shrubs such as honeysuckle, cotoneaster, Meyer's currant, laxative buckthorn, spirea and dog rose. Woodlands of poplar, birch and willow grow on the floodplain along the river valleys, with undergrowth of sea buckthorn, honeysuckle, willow, cotoneaster, dog rose, and the dove-coloured blackberry. Amongst the herbs growing here are liquorice, yarrow, St. John's wort, and other grasses.
In the Soviet times this area was widely used for livestock breeding and for haymaking. The major areas of walnut and other fruit trees are in the western end of the Chatkal Valley, which is accessible only by horseback.
Chatkal river and surroundings
Located in the Western Tian-Shan, the River Chatkal flows for 189 kilometres in a remote valley in the very west of Kyrgyzstan. For 120 km the river flows through the mountain range of the same name and finally reaches Uzbekistan.
Traces of early human civilisation have been found in the area and in caves of Obirakhmat and Khodjakent. There were found petroglyphs from the Neolithic period, stone-processing sites and hunting tools. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of nomadic cattle-breeders in the area dating from the early Iron Age. In the lower reaches of the Chatkal river have been found over 2,000 burial mounds and 3 sites of ancient settlements.
The Chaktal river is often used for rafting expeditions.
Unique walnut groves of western Tien-Shan
The unique walnut groves of Western Tien Shan lie mostly within the territory of South Kyrgyzstan. This is the only place on the earth where this species of trees grow wild in abundance over the mountain slopes. Basically it is not clear how the seeds or trees arrived here as they originated in South Pacific countries.
As a rule oriental people have their own opinion in everything that seems strange for other people and it usually represents in stories and legends The story of walnut groves tells about hardworking man who was charged by the prophet Muhammad with finding a beautiful and comfortable place - a paradise on earth. He travelled through many lands until he found a picturesque valley with a foaming mountain river -but which lacked trees. Inspired by his reports, the prophet sent him a bag of seeds of many different types of fruit tree - including, of course, the walnut tree. The hero climbed to the top of a mountain and spread the seeds over the valley transforming it into a "garden" which he tended for many years.
In Kyrgyzstan and other former soviet republics walnuts are known as "Gretskie" or "Greek" nuts, because of Alexander the Great, who sent plants back to Greece from his campaign in Central Asia. Nuts from the area were exported along the Great Silk Road as well as other goods and wares in its heyday.
Besides the walnuts the region boasts many different species of other fruits.
Arslan Bob is post card perfect valley located just several kilometres from Djalal-Abad. Set at 1700 m above sea level region has a number of cultural and historical spots like Arstanbap-Ata mausoleum dated to the 15th century, Yrdysa Paigambara mausoleum and other spots. There are also have been found some springs of mineral water which considered curative.
Arslan Bob is said to be named after an 11th century hero who died in Arslan Bob surroundings - betrayed by his wife to his enemies. His footprints, handprints and bloodstains are still visible at the spot.
The region provides many easy walks throughout the region. Nearby are two spectacular waterfalls with caves which used to be used by the devout for prayers.
Remember that some areas should be avoided unless you are on organized tour with a local guide who knows the area.