Written by Ralph Johnson
WR Trekking/ Mountains and Caving Expert Ralph Johnson has just got back from an extraordinary trip to Kyrgyzstan where he ventured into some remote and breathtakingly beautiful places hardly any has the oportunity to see. If you love freedom and adventure this is the trip for you to dream over...
This trip to Kyrgyzstan was one of the best ever!! Our biggest mistake was flying into Almaty and then travelling by road to Bishkek. Despite considerable help from the local trekking company (‘Edelweiss’) the time taken to cross the border from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan took ages and the return crossing was even worse. My advice would be to fly direct to Bishkek, it will save considerable time, frustration and the necessity to buy a double entry visa for Kazakhstan.
The first eight days we spent trekking, beginning in the Issyk-Ata Gorge, and crossing into the Alamedin Gorge. This is a remote area, with high passes, amazing views and an abundance of wildlife. The only humans we saw during this part of our trip were a few ‘nomadic’ herdsmen tending their stock on the high, level pastures, and a small group of local hunters. a pastime which thankfully is becoming increasingly less popular.
The terrain proved to be particularly arduous, with several exciting river crossings, and we gradually fell behind schedule, forcing us to modify our itinerary. The company managed to do this in a flawless fashion, thanks to satellite technology and even managed to supply us with several bottles of Russian Vodka to calm our nerves!
According to plan, we then moved into the Ala Archa National Park, which is a relatively short road journey from Bishkek. The national park receives a fair number of visitors but few venture beyond the confines of the car park, although a few hardy soles make it as far as a spectacular waterfall, about half-way to Base Camp at the Ratsek Stop. Base Camp involves a walk of about 6 kilometres, with a height gain of 1200 metres. This took us in the region of 4 to 5 hours with the porters doing it in half that time!
The campsite at Ratsek Stop lies close to a fairly modern building that provides accommodation (including a sauna), but neither received any occupants during our stay. The site is basic, with running water, with a ‘long-drop’ toilet at a suitable, if somewhat strenuous distance, from the tents. We had daily visits from small herds of ibex that wandered past (and occasionally through) the camp. Have your camera ready at all times, the large males were particularly spectacular. I guess the reason for their indifference to humans is that hunting in the park is forbidden and they do appear to have a rather inquisitive nature.
This particular spot is somewhat busier than the Issyk-Ata Gorge, particularly at the weekend but can by no means be described as crowded. Small groups of walkers and climbers arrive occasionally with a view to climbing one or more of the 4000m+ peaks all within a day’s walk. The most popular being Utichel, Box and Korona (in order of difficulty). A local guide is recommended.
Needless to say the camaraderie amongst those occupying the tents is second to none. In the evenings the vodka flows freely with the supply seeming endless despite the remote location. and there is an abundance of English speaking campers to assist with communication as groups swap stories of exploits in the mountains, and folk songs, accompanied by the inevitable guitar (on this occasion played by a particularly talented Russian). Amazingly their knowledge of Beetles songs was far superior to ours!
In conclusion I would say that the local population are extremely friendly and helpful. Both capitals (Bishkek and Almaty) are well worth a visit, a local guide would prove well worthwhile. ours proved to be fluent in English, incredibly knowledgeable and informative. Our trekking staff went well ‘above and beyond the call of duty’, particularly our Russian guide (Sasha) and our cook (Tanya) who produced some of the most exotic meals I have ever tasted on an expedition.
Ralph Johnson August 2010.
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