The town of Karakol is a great base for a trekking holiday in Kyrgyzstan. There are a number of easy day treks, overnight trips or more extensive expeditions into the mountains.
Originally a Russian colonial outpost, Karakol is situated at the far eastern end of the huge Issyk-Kul lake, a traditionally popular summer holiday spot in Kyrgyzstan.
The streets are lined with white-trunked poplars and apple trees and lilacs blossom in the gardens of the sweet Russian cottages decorated with wooden gingerbread.
The eastern end of the Terskei Alu range provides the backdrop and trekking trips into the mountains of Kyrgyzstan can be arranged, either independently or with a guide.
To begin the hike to the valley of the flowers, catch a bus from Karakol to the tiny hamlet of Jeti Oguz, which is also the name of the stunning group of rock formations which guards the entrance to the valley.
The “broken heart” and the “seven bulls” are reddish ochre in colour and rise out of a mantle of green vegetation like piles of richly-coloured stone pancakes.
The walk continues past the dilapidated buildings and gardens of an old Soviet-era sanatorium, which is open during the summer months. Follow a four-wheel-drive track – the access way for herdsmen who spend their summers living in the high pastures in their yurts.
Snow-capped mountains, tall dark pointy fir trees and herds of horses grazing on the green-grass meadows. Young foals wobble about on slender legs or lie snoozing in the warm sun.
Rushing snow-melt in the nearby river is loud in our ears and draws us onward into a perfect alpine valley studded with a riot of wildflowers.
The meadows are filled with gaudy primulas and delicate wild irises – purple with white veins – and there is no mystery to why this is called the valley of the flowers. There are millions of buttercups and this even though the flowers are not yet summer’s full show.
Thick pine forests climb up the hillsides and in the distance we can see round white yurts perched below the snowy mountains – the only other sign of human life in this peaceful valley.
A lop-eared grey donkey comes to greet us curiously and then wanders back to the mares and foals grazing in the meadows. After a few hours lazing about in the sun and drinking in the view we return down the path to the village to catch a bus back to Karakol.
There’s no doubt Kyrgyzstan has amazing potential as a trekking destination.
By Natasha von Geldern
How to get to Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
The best way to get to Karakol from the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek is by share taxi. This can be arranged from Osh Bazaar in Bishkek – just turn up, find a taxi driver (or they will find you) and wait for all the seats to be filled. The trip takes around five hours.
Share taxis are the most efficient way of getting around in Kyrgyzstan and you can travel hundreds of miles in a comfortable car for only a few dollars. The only potential downsides are the occasional smoking taxi driver and fat old ladies who fall asleep on you.
Are you interested in reading more about travelling and hiking in Kyrgyzstan? Email me and I’ll send you my free ebook ‘Travels in Kyrgyzstan’ – 25 pages packed with words and photos about this wonderful country!