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Tien Shan  

Emerald Lake of Sary Chelek. Trekking. 10 days.

Region: Western Tien Shan, Chatkal and Atoinok Ranges, Kyrgyzstan
Activity: trekking, 2 nights at hotels, 10 nights in tents.
Trip Category: regular
Difficulty: medium, no need of special skill and gear. Kids over 16 years are allowed.
Dates: June - October. Fixed dates tour to join: June, 24 - July, 03; September, 02 - 11

     The Western Tien-Shan mountains is a real treasure of spectacular lakes including the grandiose lake Sary Chelek. The trekking route takes you through picturesque mountain passes, deep gorges, along the torrents of mountain rivers. In addition to Lake Sary Chelek, which water, depending on a time, looks from deep emerald to deep blue, you will encounter a number of other smaller lakes which look like a chain of crystal-clear diamonds scattered among the rocky mountain peaks. Lake Sary Chelek and its surroundings are full of natural beauty. Located at the altitude of 1873 m the lake is cupped in the basin among mountain ridges. With the length of 7,500 m and the width of 2280 m, the lake is 234 m deep. It was formed as a result of tectonism of the area about 2000 years ago. On a fair day the extreme transparency of the water makes underwater inhabitants as well as deep water landscapes clearly visible. The lake is located on the territory of Sary Chelek Biosphere Reserve. The lake is surrounded with rocky cliffs and thick juniper, fir and spruce forests, which reflect in it's clear water.


Day 1 Arrival to Osh, meeting and transfer to Aflatun settlement - at the confluence of the Aflatun and Utur rivers. Camp 1 (1300 m). Distance: 350 km; approx. 6 hrs. Altitude drop: +300 m. Osh, being famous for the warmth and hospitality of its townsfolk, is the biggest city in southern Kyrgyzstan. It welcomes the visitors with streets lined by green trees, numerous open-air cozy cafes, bright boisterous bazaar and the main point of interest - Suleiman Mountain that rises in the middle of the city. There is a cave here which accommodate historical and natural museum. You will have the opportunity to sightsee the city on your last day of the tour, whereas today, without losing time, we head for Aftalun settlement and further to the confluence of Aflatun and Utur rivers where we set up Camp 1 at 1300 m.
Day 2

The beginning of active part of the tour. Trekking up along the Yushniy Aflatun river. Camp 2 (1700 m). Distance: 18 km; approx. 6 hrs. Altitude drop: +400 m. Today our trekking starts and we move up along the Yushniy Aftalun river. The first day always overwhelms with new sensations, fascinating landscaped vistas. Lush multicoloured alpine vegetation contrasts the austere grandeur of mountains. A rather good unpaved road runs along the canyon of Yushniy Aftalun river among the picturesque spruce forests. After 18 km ascent we set up Camp 2 (1700m).

Day 3 Continue trekking up along the Yushniy Aflatun river and then further along Uyalma river. Camp 3 (2100 m). Distance: 12 km; approx. 5 hrs. Altitude drop: +400 m. After breakfast we continue the trekking up along the gorge to the confluence of Aflatun and Uyalma rivers. In the Aflatun gorge as well as Uyalma hollow the bottom and northern slopes are hosts to spruce forests, whereas the southern slopes are abundant in desert-candle. The steep slopes of the gorge are formed of limestone. The upper part of the gorge is rocky with overhanging ledges. At the confluence of Aflatun and Uyalma rivers the wide valley is covered with grassy plots and spruce forests; further up the two gorges get narrower. The left side of Uyalma gorge is gently sloping, there are traces of landslip and mudslide, while the right slope is rather steep and is covered with spruce forests. Trekking further upstream, we reach the place where Camp 3 is to be set on the bank of Uyalma river (2100 m).
Day 4 Trekking over Kuldambes pass (2750 m) and then descent to Lake Sary Chelek over Ashuu pass (2551 m). Camp 4 (1900 m). Distance: 10 km; approx. 5 hrs. Altitude drop: +650 m /-850 m. Today we cross two easy but quite high passes - Kuldambes (2750 m) and Ashuu (2551 m). The path first runs along the turbulent Uyalma river, then, near Kuldambes pass, it serpentines through grassy area. At the approach to the pass the slopes acquire more flattened forms. The path starts to zigzag among the alpine verdure and gradually reaches the stony section. Easy trekking over Kuldambes pass is done at the background of various mountain scenery and picturesque landscapes. After crossing Kuldambes pass we start slow descent to Ashuu pass - the viewpoint which affords stunning views of the northern part of lake Sary Chelek. Short trekking to the banks of the lake where we set up our Camp 4 (1900 m) for the overnight.
Day 5 Day’s rest on Lake Sary-Chelek. Walks along the lake shore. Return to Camp 4. Today is our rest day when you can have a walk along the lake shore, take photos of the lake from different angles and by different light. Lake Sary Chelek, the third deepest and one of the most beautiful alpine lakes of Central Asia, is an impressive attraction in Chatkal ridge (a part of Western Tien Shan). In summertime the temperature of the water in the lake is +19°С. Dozens of brooks make their way along the neighbouring small canyons and feed this fresh lake. The bluff shore submerge into the impenetrable depth of 234 m. The northern shore of lake Sary Chelek is covered with forests of spruce and silver fir-trees mirrored in the lake water. In Kyrgyz “Sary Chelek” means “yellow vessel”, “yellow bucket” or “yellow scoop”. However, this name can be justified only in autumn, when leaves of the trees turn yellow and the lake looks like a scoop full of honey. In summertime the water of the lake is blue with emerald hues. Old-timers say that once the lake contours reminded a bucket and it got its attribute “yellow” because of buttercups that carpet the slopes and reflect in the lake water.
Day 6 Cnt. trekking. Ascent along Lake Sary Chelek over Makmal pass (2654 m). Descent to the Kyzyl Suu river. Camp 5 (2000 m) at the confluence of the Kyzyl Suu and Kurumdu rivers. Distance: 13 km; approx. 6 hrs. Altitude drop: +750 m /-650 m. Today we leave the lake shores and trek upstream the Sary Chelek river. After 1 km the river narrows and turns north. The slopes become steeper, at times broken by grassy areas with cones of spruce trees. Everywhere from the cliffs there are running streams. By the riverbed there stand lonely birth trees. The gorge narrows and it seems that the cliffs reach for each other. But the path is well within view and soon we ascend to easy Makmal pass. From here we can glance again at the grandiose water basin of lake Sary Chelek surrounded by rocky cliffs and woody slopes where pointed tops of pyramid-like Tien Shan spruces reach for the blue sky, and floating clouds reflect in the quiet waters of the lake. Feast your eyes on the scenery and start the descent to Kyzyl Suu (Red Water in Kyrgyz) river. Soon we reach the Kurumdu river - tributary of Kyzyl Suu river, and set up Camp 5 (2000 m) on a cozy forest clearing.
Day 7 Trekking downstream the Kara Suu river to lake Karakamysh (Kara-Suu). Camp 6 (1800 m) on the lake shore. Distance: 12 km; approx. 3 hrs. Altitude drop: -200m. Continue the descent along the Kara Suu (Black Water in Kyrgyz) river to the shores of the scenic lake Karakamysh. To the South-East there opens a splendid view of compact Min Teke mountains, whereas on the West there rises mountain ridge separating the area from a chain of lakes (Kyle Kol, Iri Kol, Chacha Kol - "Kol" means "lake", Bokaly, etc.) neighbouring lake Sary Chelek. Lake Karakamysh (Kara-Suu) is fed by Kara Suu river. About 6.5 km long and 1.5-2 km wide, the lake has the average depth of 90 m. In summertime the water warms up to 17-19 degrees. The banks of the lake are overgrown with Tien Shan spruce, juniper, mountain ash, barberry and other bushes. The rocky shores go deep into the water where shoals of fish are clearly visible. We set up our Camp 6 (1800 m) on the picturesque Kara Suu bank.
Day 8 Trekking up to and over Kuturma pass (2446 m) and then descent to lake Iri Kol. Camp 7 (1300 m) on the lake shore near Arkyt settlement. Distance: 12 km; approx. 6 hrs. Altitude drop: -500 m. After trekking along the eastern shore of lake Kara Suu we start an easy ascent to Kuturma pass (2446 m). Here the landscape is really amazing: grey cliffs covered with clefts and dints are reflected in still green-bluish surface of the lake water. The road bends along the pinkish rocks and leads to the southern part of the lake that turns into the riverbed of the Kara Suu river. Soon the current becomes turbulent. This can be clearly seen from the path that runs up to Kuturma pass. The ascent is relatively easy and rather rewarding: from the pass there opens the wide panorama of huge southern part of Sary Chelek hollow with Lake Sary Chelek itself. To the left there are the oblong contours of another lake - Iri Kol whose shore will accommodate our camp for the night. Descent from the pass does not take much time and soon we reach the shore of lake Iri Kol located at the altitude of 1800-2040 m. Here we set up our Camp 7 (1800 m). Lake Iri Kol is formed by rock obstruction and is fed by springs. Bathing in its cool water brings relaxation and takes away the fatigue after day’s trekking.
Day 9 Trekking from lake Iri Kol to the southern part of lake Sary Chelek in Upaly ravine. Continue trekking round lake Kely Kol and further to the Arkyt Sai river where the vehicle will be waiting to pick you up (1400 m). Distance: 10 km; approx. 2 hrs. Altitude drop: -400 m. Transfer to Osh. Accommodation in the hotel (320 km; approx. 5-6 hrs). Our destination today is again Lake Sary Chelek. Following the path that runs from lake Iri Kol, we skirt lake Kely Kol (“round lake”) that is 700 m length and 200-400 m width. Now we head towards main riverbed of the Arkyt Sai river, to the point from which we will be transferred to Osh. Our spectacular trekking is completed. Today we leave the enchanting mountainous area. Some are looking forward to comforts of civilization, while others regret that encounter with nature was so short. We trekked an unforgettable route, one of many that the Tien-Shan offers. Today we return to the city warmth of Osh with its numerous cafes and restaurants, and free Internet access. We spend overnight in a comfortable hotel.
Day 10 Departure from Osh. Transfer to airport. Departure home. If you have some spare time before your departure flight, visit the local bazaar - the real oriental bazaar where one can find something for his taste: from garments imported from China to fresh delicious fruits and original articles of the local craftsmen.


Note. The itinerary of above is draft and can be changed to meet weather, your special wishes, etc.

Cost: please for an offer!

Included:Meeting and seeing off in airport; all transfers on comfortable air-conditioned transport according program; hotel accommodation 3* in Osh in twins / double rooms, with breakfast; service during trekking part:   full board (three hot meals a day);   accommodation in double tents;   mountain guide, cook, service staff; pack horses service;   individual equipment (sleeping bag, sleeping bag insert, camping mat, kitchenware) rental;   camping equipment (dining tent, tables, chairs, kitchenware, dining sets, toilet tent, gas stoves etc.); paperworks: National Park permit;   ecological fees; 1st aid kit.

Not included:
international flights, visa fees if applicable (note: most Western nationals are visa-free for 60 days!), personal gear, insurance, tips.
Options. extra nights in Osh, SGL accommodation (+$100), flight to/from Bishkek; Bishkek accommodation and excursions; gear rental, extra excursions.


Osh. Suleiman Mountain cave museum.
Osh. Suleiman Mount cave museum.
Sary Chelek trekking
Start vof the trekking
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Summer pasture.
Summer pasture (jailoo) hut.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Camping in the gorge.
Camp 3 on the Uyalma river bank.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Sary Chelek Lake.
Sary Chelek Lake.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. River crossing.
Crossing the stream.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. River gorge.
Hike in the gorge.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Lunch on a meadow.
On the pass.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Sary Chelek lake.
Mirroring in Sary Chelek Lake
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Meditation on lake shore.
Meditation on lake shore.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Tien Shan. Mountain pass.
Crossing the pass.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Tien Shan. Lake Sary Chelek.
Iri Kol Lake.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Tien Shan. Horse caravan crosses the river.
The brdge on a stream.
Kyrgyzstan trekking. Tien Shan. Lake Sary Chelek.
Kely Kol Lake.
Book the tour "Emerald Lake of Sary Chelek. Tien Shan. Trekking." !