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Khan Tengri and Peak Pobeda   Peak Lenin   Turkestansky ridge

Kyrgyzstan is covered almost only by mountains, so possibilities for trekking and mountaineering are very broad. Kyrgyzstan has 3 over 7000m mountains accessible from its territory - Khan Tengri and Pik Pobeda in Tien Shan and Peak Lenin in Pamir.
For general travelling, northern Kyrgyzstan is quite russified and one does not have so intensive feeling of Central Asia there. But southern Kyrgyzstan (Osh region) is real Central Asia (similar to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), with huge outdoor markets selling heaps of cheap fruits and vegetables and local specialties, with Uzbeks drinking tea on streets etc.




Air Pulkovo flying through St. Petersburg and Aeroflot flying through Moscow could be the cheapest (at least from the Czech Republic), because they serve both ex-USSR countries and other world. Air Pulkovo flies to other Russian destinations as well, Aeroflot flies to non-Russian destinations only. You can buy whole journey from one company which reduces the cost of an international flight to Russia. Flying on the territory of ex-USSR is generally a bit cheaper that getting to Moscow or St. Petersburg from outside.

News 2003 !!! - copied from Lonely Planet Postcards
A private airline called Altynair has recently started a twice daily Bishkek-Osh flight. Their booking office in Bishkek is Abdumomunov kochosu, 195. Phone: (0312) 22.54.46; 22.56.59 E-mail: altynair@elcat.kg Price one-way as of mid-May is US$35.

Osh to Batken or northern Tajikistan:
In Osh, two buses a day (one around 7 am and the other 11 am; 6 hours) leave for Batken from the Hotel Alay while shared taxis wait for passengers early in the morning (at around 7 am) at the Univermag behind the same hotel. Some continue to Lejlek and Isfana. A place in a shared taxi to Batken costs 250 som/5 euro (1,250 som/25 euro for the whole car) if it goes the shortest way (4 hours) via the Uzbek Sokh enclave. If you don't have an Uzbek visa or if Uzbekistan has closed its borders again for whatever reason, you can ask to avoid the enclave via a partly unpaved and dusty detour which commercial lorries use (ask 'tsherez obyezd' or 'tsherez Ak Turpak'). This takes 6 hours and will cost you 400 som/8 euro per seat (or 2,000 som/40 euro if you charter the whole vehicle).

In Batken, transport for the surrounding villages, Osh and Isfana leaves from the bus station ('avtobeket') close to the bazaar in the morning. Shared taxis for Isfana and destinations right over the border in Tajikistan wait for passengers next to the post office in the morning.
Bruno De Cordier, Belgium (Oct 03) 

There is now a Tajik embassy in Bishkek. That's good new for European citizens with visa free regime with Kyrgyzstan especially - all Central Asian embassies are now there. And one can fly to Bishkek through Moscow even without Russian visa with Aeroflot company...


Entry formalities


As with many other former USSR countries, you should register at OVIR (Office of Visa and Registration) till 3 days of your arrival. Registration in every regional town, where you intend to stay more than 3 days is not required as far as I know (and no one I know had problems with that). A registration without a travel agency support means going to OVIR, then going to a specified bank to pay about 2 USD per person and going back. With some necessary waiting this could take from half day to one day. Local travel agencies can make this registration in advance without your passport and can give you something like a registration form on your arrival. It costs just a few dollars, so If you don't want to waste time, I recommend it.

News 2002 !!!
According to Dostuck Trekking company website, citizens of some countries do not have to register at OVIR at all - see http://www.dostuck.com.kg/old/news.shtml. It is not clear, whether it includes the citizens of Eastern European countries (like Czech Republic, Poland ...) that don't need visa to Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz embassy in Vienna said no OVIR registration was necessary, travel company from Taskent said they had different information from Kyrgyz embassy in Uzbekistan. I had it for sure in 2004, but no one was interested in that to tell the truth. The OVIR registration is a piece of paper, with police stamp on it, so can be e.g. send by post to your country in advance by travel company.

You can even have problems (as me) with explaining, that you were in Kyrgyzstan less than 3 days, when you cross e.g. border from Kazakstan (Bishkek - Almaty) by an ordinary bus. They usually don't check anyone on this route and give no custom declaration forms (a first potential problem when you leave then) or stamps to passports (a second potential problem when you want to prove that you are not in K. too long without an OVIR registration). I was even told they had no stamp, when I asked for it on the border...they are lazy to give you this but not lazy to require money for not having it. So the rule is, try to ask for stamp whenever you cross the border in Central Asia. To sum it up, I recommend to have both the entry stamp in passport and the stamped custom declaration when entering Kyrgyzstan in order to avoid paying fines/bribes.


Mountains and trekking


Trekking permit was abolished in Kyrgyzstan starting from year 2004.

As far as over 7000m high peaks is concerned, one should have a peak permit.  100 USD should be paid to Ministry of Tourism (the same institution where you get trekking permit I guess), but in practice, I don't don't know about any independent mountaineer that had this permit. And I haven't ever heard about anyone checking this permit as well. But this may change in future.

Border permit is really necessary for practically all trekking regions in Kyrgyzstan (e.g. Peak Lenin, Peak Khan Tengri, Turkestansky ridge....). It should be requested from a local travel company. I recommend to arrange border permit about 2-3 weeks in advance by email with a local travel company. Companies charge around 10 dollars per person. One can arrange this permit by himself as well, but official waiting time is 10 days (this generally applies to travel companies as well) and if you want it quicker, you have to pay something more (unofficially). I heard of people who were arranging it by themselves after arrival and paid +100 USD more for the whole group and received it second day (in 1999). So better arrange it with a travel company in advance for their normal price.

The easiest way to get the permits is to contact a travel company by email, give them personal data by email and pick + pay the permits when in Bishkek (manyh companies have representatives in Osh as well). My more complicated arrangent in 2004 included sending the papers by DHL to Czech Republic in advance.

Not all travel companies want to arrange just boder pemit without other services to independent groups. For 2004 Turkestansky ridge trekking, I contacted companies, that had Turkestansky ridge trekking programes listed only. First I contacted big Uzbek Asia Travel, because we were coming from Taskhent. They were initially OK for arranging just border permits + OVIR and try to deliver them to Tashkent for our arrival, but then changed their mind strangely when when we wanted to cross from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan over Rishtan boder post, that was not suitable for foreigners according to them (they might be right, but we managed to go through). So I don't recommend them for independent groups. Kyrgyz companies are much more willing, e.g. Asia Mountains (http://www.asiamountains.co.uk/english.html)  was my choice, great !!!, for plus 40 USD mailed all border permits + OVIR by DHL to Czech Republic in advance - so we did not have to go to Bishkek or Osh, IMTC Tien Shan (http://www.itmc.centralasia.kg/) should be good as well (just requested 2 weeks for border permits processing instead of usual one). Bigger Tien Shan travel could finally pushed into quite acceptable offer as well (but this would be my last choice for an independent group).

For arranging permits or transport from Karakol, Igor Khanin (Alp Tur Issyk Kul) should be more reliable and cheaper than much more famous hotelier Valentin Derevyenko (Yak Tours). Address for Igor is Brick factory 61/1, Karakol, tel. 00996 3922 20548, email khanin@infotel.kg. He's a mountaineer himself, so he can advise with trekking or climbing there well. But Valentin's hostel is very good (and the only one in Karakol probably) anyway. Because it is listed in LP, it has a lot of visitors.

Many treks are shortly described in Trekking in Russia and Central Asia by Frith Maier, but maps are insufficient there.

Notes for neighbourind Kazakstan

Kazakstan is mainly desert, but there are beautiful mountains on it's borders with Kyrgyzstan, China and Russia (Altay).

Although visa to Kazakstan is expensive (about 70 USD for a month), one saves on trekking and peak permits - there are no 30 USD trekking permits and no 100 USD peak permits (for over 7000m mountains) as in Kyrgyzstan. But border permits to places closer than about 50 km to Chinese border are still necessary (this includes e.g. an access to Khan Tengri). All people I know where arranging these permits through local travel agencies in advance by email. A passport are not necessary for this.

Altai mountains and Belukha peak especially is easily accessible from Kazak (southern) side, even easier than from Russia (but most people go there from Russia probably because most of Altai lies there). There is a road to Rakhmanov Springs resort - it is right under the highest mountain - Belukha. You need a border permit to go to Rakhmanov Springs and 10 days are necessary for getting it in Oskemen. So it is better to try some travel agency from Oskemen (former Semipalatinsk) for arranging it in advance, some are listed e.g. in LP guidebook. Good 1:100 000 Russian military series maps for around Belukha mountain are here.


Khan Tengri / Peak Pobeda - how to get there (2001, from Kyrgyzstan)


Khan Tengri is without doubt the most spectacular of ex-USSR seven-thousanders and is significantly more difficult than e.g. Peak Lenin. Peak Pobeda is even higher and even more difficult to successfully get to the top - there are years, when no group of many reaches the top.  And if you get bad luck, as five Czechs in 2004, you can end up under avalanche, when going from Kyrgyz side, even if you go early in the morning (or better in the night) over the dangerous area between first and second camp. Pik Lenin should be free of avalanches during all summer when going over Lipkin rocks and not over Razdelnaya (classic route is over Razdalnaya). You can find descriptions for these ascents on many sites, including site of travel companies.

For Khan Tengri (an approach from southern - Kyrgyz side) and Peak Pobeda, basecamps are on rocky moraines on opposite sides of Southern Inylchek glacier. People usually use the Khan Tengri side for going to Khan Tengri and Pobeda side for going to Pobeda, but it is not necessary - crossing the glacier takes about 1 hour. A helicopter flight from a place called Maida Adyr to a base camp and back saves lets say 7 days of walking to the basecamp and 5 days back, I highly recommend it. It takes about 40 minutes one way.

The helicopter that operates most frequently for tourists is owned by 3 travel companies and in the high season (July, August) flies even several times daily on from Maida Adyr to basecamps or for scenic flights. I arranged the date of the helicopter flight through Dostuck travel company for 110 USD per person one way in advance by email without any problems. We even put up tents in their basecamp compound for free. Russian MI-8 helicopters can fly very high, they even fly above the 6000m high saddle bellow Khan Tengri without problems, if necessary - good news for rescue purposes. A whole helicopter, taking about 2.5 tons of load, cost 1100 USD one way, taking up to 18 passengers (included in that load).
I think local travel companies operate on about 140 MHz radio frequency (called radio-amateur frequency in the Czech Republic) and whe had 28 MHz radios (called Citizen Band frequency) unfortunately. Radios could be borrowed from travel agencies basecamps as well. 
Big car (up to 15 people) from Karakol to Maida Adyr can also be arranged in advance (although not generally necessary) by email through e.g. Igor Khanin (Alp Tur Issyk Kul travel company) khanin@infotel.kg for about 150 USD for whole car one way. Is is about 8 hours journey. A bus goes to Karakol from the capital - Bishkek several times a day for a few dollars or you can rent a whole car/bus for about 10 USD per person (as we did in 10 people). Prices of transport are generally quite low in Kyrgyzstan.



Peak Lenin - how to get there (1999)


Peak Lenin is the easiest from five ex-USSR over 7000m mountains. It is generally just walking on glacier/snow with with poles and crossing/jumping crevasses (with rope, ice axe and crampons of course).

Base camp for Peak Lenin is accessible by truck or 4WD car in about 8 hours from Osh (a main town of southern Kyrgyzstan, second largest in the country). A car can be easily arranged at a bus station, the cost of for small 4WD used to be about 100 USD one way. The only problem with arranging a car on the spot is some uncertainty if they come for you on a requested date when you want back. If you prearrange a bus type truck with a travel agency, it used to cost about 25 USD per person one way in 1999. If you don't have a fixed date for coming back, some car brings people to the basecamp almost every day during July and August. You can wait for them or you can ask someone in the travel company's basecamp to call a car for you by radio (they even have satellite phones sometimes) - car could come from Osh second day. This is probably the most flexible and reliable option even if you need a fixed date of return to Osh.

Osh is accessible by bus or plane from Bishkek or by road form Uzbekistan. The flight from Bishkek used to cost about 30 USD in year 2000. By minivan it took about 15 hours at a price of about 15 dollars. The flight seems to be quite cheap, but it is usually occupied for next 1 or 2 days. It is possible to get to Osh from Uzbekistan as well, more about this is in e.g. LP guide. I don't know about any helicopter that would operate in this area for tourists, but it would be useless and too expensive for Peak Lenin anyway. I think there is no helicopter available even for rescue purposes.



Turkestansky ridge (Matcha) - how to get there (2004)


Turkestansky ridge offers probably the best scenic mountains for trekking in Kyrgyzstan in my opinion. Other areas in Kyrgyzstan are usually more wide, but here mountains are more vertical, valleys are narrower and wilder. Compared with its beauty to Fann mountains in Tajikistan only from my experience, these mountains are much less visited, wilder, suitable for longer treks (up to 1 months), prime choice for big wall climbers as well. There are called small (Central Asian) Patagonia as well, because of its several verical big walls, where many first ascents can still be made. The part of Turkestansky ridge around Sokh is called Matcha as well. Matcha is exacly the area where Turkestansky, Zeravshansky and Pamiro-Alai ridges meet.
We haven't met any other trekkers there in the first half of July, just maybe 10 summer huts of very hospitable local shepherds and probably thousands of cows and sheep, hundreds of yaks, tens of donkeys and horses. This is the kind of mountains I really love.
The area has generally a very good weather from the end of June till the beginning of September generally. We had one rainy day during 15 days in the first half of July approximately. But we were told, that at the end June, quite a lot of snow can remain in the mountain passes and and it can rain even for a week. And when we left, it was raining even in otherwise  very dry Samarkand and Tashkent for several days, so the weather is not very predictable these days...

Approach to these beautiful mountains is not long theoretically, when one looks at the map. But in reality, it is complicated by state borders, enclaves and border crossing that might be open just to locals (this is the problem of Uzbekistan only, Kyrgyzystan and Tajikstan don't differentiate among border posts).
The fastest access is to fly to Tashkent and go over Khojent in Tajikistan to Batken area of Kyrgyzstan. It takes just about 5 hours. I took this way on the way from the mountains back to Samarkand and Tashkent. It is necessary to go over Oybek international Uzbek border post about 100 km south of Tashkent, near the village of Buston on Tajik side, buses Tashkent-Bekabad (Uzbekistan) go around this post all the time. We were not allowed to use the post near Bekabad to enter Uzbekistan from Tajiksitan as foreigners, although major road and railroad goes over Tajiksitan here when one looks at the map. It might be possible to cross by train here from Taj. to Uzb., but the train goes perhaps once a week (Thursday to Kokand, Monday from there I was told in Tashkent train station). But better to ask again, this would be and ideal way of going from Khojend area of Tajikistan to Samarkand, if the train alows foreigners to cross the borders (it should, even Moscow - Andijan trains go this way).

Over Rishtan border post and Sokh enclave to upper Sokh river 

I wanted to spare money on another 7 day 40 EURO Tajik visa (they did not have some transit or double entry transit visas) and did not wanted to go over the probably nearest Uzbek international post Dostuck (on the way Andijan-Osh, several hours away). So I tried Taskent - Kokand - Rishtan border post access into Kyrgyzstan. Rishtan is the major post for accessing Uzbek enclave of Sokh. But is can be closed at all after bombing in Uzbekistan etc. for some time.
One can go Tashkent - Kokand - Rishtan by one car from Tashkent and has to change car there, because Kyrgyz allow only cars from Sokh to go to Kyrgyzstan over this post. This post is probably not open to foreigners, so it might not be possible to enter Uzbekistan there, but leaving is always easier than entering. I recommend this option only to those, who who speak Russian. There are several posts there in fact and we had to show Kyrgyz boder permit all the time (fortunatelly we had it in advance sent by DHL to Prague !!!). Sometimes we paid bribes, sometimes the driver of the car (better option, he was local and that was cheaper). 
Crossing over Rishtan to Uzbek enclave of Sokh took about 3 hours and about 35 USD on bribes for our group. We did not get exit stamp on our double entry tranzit Uzbek visa there, not another entry stamp when entering the Uzbek enclave of Sokh. We would not get the stamp probably even if we asked, because this is not the international border post I think. On the other hand, if we got the stamp somehow, we could formally have problems entering the Sokh enclave, because this could be formally counted as second entry into Uzbekistan and our second entry (we had double entry transit visa, not multiple entry) had to be left for journey back from the mountiains to Tashkent.
When returning from mountains over Oybek international post, we had some problems because of not having this exit stamp. But the border guards at the post were quite polite, they did not want bribes. I insisted that not having the exit stamp was not my fault, they did not give it to my passport, there was no talk about illegal crossing over Rishtan. They tried to call to Rishtan post from there to confirm we crossed there for about 2 hours. I don't know, if they connected, but we were given entry stamp at Oybek finally and no one was interested in one missing exit stamp at the airport at all.  My friend had more problems with missing exit stamp when coming to Samrkand directly from Tajik Penjikent. Apparetnly, this border crossing is international as well. He was detained there for a day or so, filling protocols of breaking the law etc. and got some deportation from Uzbekistan stamp into the passport when entering Uzbekistan, instead of entry stamp. But I guess proper diplomacy including bribes could be more efficient.
When one gets over Rishtan post to Kyrgyzstan, it is not necessary to continue to the enlave of Sokh of course. One can go to e.g. Vorukh to start trekking to Karavshin area of Turkestansky ridge. We passed through Sokh to Kyrgyzstan again (no border post from Sokh to Kyrgyzstan there !!! so no possibility to get exit stamp at the place where you really exit the territory of Uzbekistan) and went by a mountains road by another UAZ car arranged in Sokh to upper Sokh river. The road ends in Zardaly. We got off in the small settlement of Daugman in Kalai Makhmud valley. I would be possible to go by car even about 3 km further, till the road finally turned north to Zardaly again. The upper part of this road was new, even the people in Sokh did not new where it goes exactly. UAZ for up to 10 people in good condition or small UAZik jeep (for up to 6 people) is the proper vehicle for this mountain road. Tashkent - Kokand - Sokh takes 1 day over difficult Rishtan post with shopping in Kokand, Sokh - start of trek another half day (more for us, when we changed our bad UAZ for better state small UAZik jeep).

Where to go in the mountains

There are 3 possible places, where one can get off the car/bus and continue by foot/donkey/horse to the mountains.
First and most accessible place is Ozgeryosh, where bus goes from Isfana (over Katran). It's about 8 hours by foot (donkey or horse not a problem) to Aksu valley with the view of pik Aksu - the most attractive highlight of this part of Turkestansky khrebet.
Second place is Tajik enclave Vorukh. Bus should go there as well, car for sure, donkey or horse from there not a problem, but it takes 2 days to get to Karavshin or specifically the valley of Aksu or Karasu, with several bit walls - these are the highlights of this part of Turkestansky khrebet.
Third possible place, not used at all nowadays, but user normally in Soviet times, is the upper river Sokh. This is the place where we started. The access there is complicated by the transit through the Uzbek enclave of Sokh. They haven't seen a foreigner in these place for years, but I would recommend this option for people speaking Russian for this reason as well. There are donkeys and maybe even some horses in upper Sokh river, but not many together (one family has one ready to go, another has two...), so we started by foot (and we could not use them for more than one day anyway).

Our trek

Our trek started in Kalai-Makhmud valley (Daugman village), near the the first and highest fivethousander of Turkestansky ridge (Pik Skalisty) over Karavshin area and even over pik Aksu area to the last fivethousander and a big wall (pik Sabakh). It took 15 days and maybe 3 hours (including 1 rest day). Our group consisted of 4 men and 3 women, first half we went together, second half more or less separately. 
First half was more difficult (3 snow covered passes), therefore I wanted this part to be the first and start from Sokh river. It was much closer to Rishtan border post as well and the end the end in Ozgeryosh was then close to Tajikistan and our way back to Taskhent over Samarkand. And another reason - in case we started in Ozgeryosh and finished successfully our thek in upper Sokh valley, we would have to enter Uzbekistan enclave of Sokh (no post there so no entry stamp) and then exit this enclave by official post. I can imagine some problems we would face by not having an entry stamp and therefore from the officials' point of view somehow sneaking into the enclave and wanting to exit. But it would be possible - many people transit over Sokh enclave (Sokh village precisely) on the way from Osh to Batken without visa and stamps, but they can't go off the bus and pay some unofficial fees for military escort over the territory, as I read somewhere.
If you want to do a part of the trek with the support of donkeys, then our direction is not very good. First, you can go just in Kalai Makhmud valley and to Kudaktyr 3300m pass (one day all) and second, there are not many ready to go donkeys at the start of Kalai Makhmud valley to rent. We could get 2 or maybe spent much more time by arrainging other from more distant places, so no advantage eventually. But there is much more donkeys to rent in Ozgeryosh and Vorukh and people are used for this.
I took just poles for the trek to go as light as possible, but light crampons would make the first 3 snow covered passes (Dvojnoj, Shurovskovo, Mingteke South - all Russian classification 1B, other passses without snow when we were there) more pleasant (snow generally soft, but hard under the upper layer). I would take neither rope nor ice axe - the steepness of snow OK to stop without ice-axe and the glaciers were mostly covered by the layer of rocks, almost no crevasses (and these visible). But if one take more hardware, it is possible go over more difficult passes of course.
Map of our trek route on the originally quality maps called Matcha and partly Turkestansky khrebet is here .





There is a Cartography Agency selling maps in Bishkek (Kiev 107, tel. 21 22 96). If I remember, they had a complete coverage of Kyrgyzstan in 1:200 000 sheets plus 1:50 000 of Ala Archa mountains near Biskek. Maps can be bought here only and it is even better not to rely on that and have them before going to Kyrgyzstan. See the map section for some possibilities. If you are used to buying maps in every better bookshop, you can forget this in ex-USSR countries.

Very good 1:100 000 tourist maps issued in Uzbekistan cover all Turkestansky Chrebet, including Fann Mountains, Ak-Su and Kara-Su regions (generally the border of northern Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan). These maps should still be sold somewhere in Tashkent. Czech map shop Kiwi sells them.

Trekking maps of Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan for downlaod on this site

  • Matcha (1:100 000 - good for trekking, for Aksu and Karavshin and Matcha areas) - overview map, detailed map - archive of 12 files (incl. list of passes and their difficulty
  • Turkestansky ridge (1:100 000 - good for trekking) - overview map, detailed map, list of passes
  • Fann mountains (1:100 000 - good for trekking) - overview map, detailed map - archive of 12 files - about 10MB, list of passes
  • Karakol area (1:250 000 - not ideal for trekking, big file) - map
  • All Tajikistan military series in four 1:500 000 sheets with reach in Kyrgyzstan and more interestingly in Afghanistan here
  • Pik Lenin area (1:500 000, 1:100 000) : 1 2
  • Central Pamir 1:200 000 (from pik Lenin over Pik Somioni to pik Revolution) with english names and pass grades here : west half, east half

Good military maps of all Central Asia (including even Russia part Altay and Afghanistan) can be bought in Kazakstan in the shop of Cartography Agency in Almaty also known JHER or GEO store (address is in LP guide, Tole Bi 155, tel. 684019 ). If I remember, scale 1:500 000 for whole Central Asia was available in the shop as well as 1:100 000 ! for mountains of Kazakstan (Altay - even Russian part, mountains near Almaty ... - some of these can be found at Czech map server). 




Lonely Planet Central Asia is very good for general information and for travelling to more populated areas (Kazakstan, Uzbekistan,northern Kyrgyzstan), but not so good for less known and populated areas (Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan).